Deftones by 13th Witness

Being a Band

Deftones bring it back to basics
DEFTONES / Diamond Eyes (Reprise)

Keep it simple, play from the heart, and at all costs make it heavy. That about sums up what veteran alterna-slammers Deftones had in mind when they got down to creating their Diamond Eyes album just out on Reprise. While the band has rarely failed to elevate their brave brand of rifftastic bronto-beat to spacy new heights, Diamond Eyes brings the sound –– and the song –– right on down to earth.

Recorded by Grammy-winning producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Marilyn Manson, Velvet Revolver, Rye Coalition) at Burbank’s The Pass studio, the new album’s game plan was to get back to keeping things real, albeit in Deftones’ singularly surrealistic way.

“I really wanted this record to have a punchier, it’s-a-little-more-about-the-riff type sound, and less about the ambience,” says Raskulinecz. “I wanted it to be dense and thick and really heavy. And I wanted to create the space and atmosphere through Chino Moreno’s vocals, instead of having the music and the vocals be like that, which is a pattern they had fallen into with their last couple of albums.”

The band had been forced to scrap previous sessions done with bass player Chi Cheng, who was involved in an auto accident last year and is now temporarily out of the picture; old friend Sergio Vega filled in on bass for Diamond Eyes. Nevertheless, going into the recording of the album, the band was “incredibly amped,” says drummer Abe Cunningham, who notes that prior to recording, “We had no concept whatsoever. It was all about going into it with great mikes and great Neves and all that good stuff.”

The band underwent intensive pre-production rehearsals/writing sessions with Raskulinecz, who served much like a film director in shaping the band’s new songs. Under his strict aegis, the band put together nine of the album’s11 songs in the first week of warmup at The Alley in North Hollywood.

“We wrote it in the rehearsal space, and those guys just played,” he says. “I wanted to take it back to the basics, and part of doing that was just getting them in the room together and sweating and getting close and really tight. When they set up in the room, they had all their amps and other gear spread really far apart, like they were out on a big stage, and I made them push all their amps as close as they could to the drums. I wanted everybody to be standing really close together –– I wanted ‘em to be a band, you know, and it totally worked.”

By the time the band did get into the studio, they were well prepared, and rehearsed, having played every single day in that rehearsal room from noon to six.

“When it came time to start recording,” says Cunningham, “we were ready to go. It was a breeze, and a joy. We hadn’t been that prepared in 15 years.”

The band and producer chose The Pass for its famed and rather peculiar combination of supertight and ultra-huge acoustical properties.

“There are two studios in the building, and the room we were in is an older, ’70s kind of room, with a big control room,” says Raskulinecz. “The tracking room has a very high ceiling, and it’s kind of rectangular, but it starts to twist at one side and almost turns into a triangle. It’s a tough room to work in, because it’s really dead.”

Even so, that sonic tautness was exactly what Raskulinecz thought Deftones needed.

“I knew by the time we mixed this album that it wasn’t gonna be about how big the drum room was, it’d be about how tight and punchy the drums sound,” he says. “It’s hard to get that in a big room, because you get that sound in all your mikes, too; you can turn it off but it’s still gonna be in the overheads, it’s still gonna be there every time you hit the snare.”

Utilyzing the studio’s Neve 8078 board, Raskulinecz opted to go all-analog front-end, with old tube mikes and Neve mike pre-amps, then straight into Pro Tools, with no tape involved. The album’s hard-crunching guitar and bass sounds were entirely grabbed off miked cabinets, with nary a trace of direct-inject into the board. He used the Neve 8078 for all the drums input, and did all the guitars with Neve 1073s. While he favors a pure analog stream into those old Neve boards, for effects at the mixing stage Raskulinecz favored a wide range of digital tools for EQ, delay/reverb, compression and other enhancements. (The album was mixing on an SSL 6000K console at Paramount studios in Hollywood.)

“I like the Waves SSL G-series channel stripper for combining EQ and dynamics,” he says. “I like the Renaissance EQs –– they just sound good. You turn the dial and you hear it; it’s subtle, but it’s kind of aggressive –– if I’m gonna EQ something, I wanna hear it.”

Diamond Eyes’ paradoxically punchy but widescreen wizardry is dominated by Raskulinecz’s beloved Echo Farm effects. “I use it on everything, especially vocals,” he says. “But I really like the UAD plugins, too, and I think overall they probably sound the best; I love the SSL stuff, but the UAD stuff is great because they have a lot of the same versions of the same things.”

For that devilishly tricky process known as compression, Raskulinecz keeps it cheap and effective: “The DBX 160XT is my favorite compressor. You can buy them for a hundred bucks apiece on eBay nowadays, and I’ve got like eight of ‘em that I’ve bought over the years. I’ll use them on everything, because they’re really fast and they’re really clean.”

Raskulinecz also owns a number of DBX 160 VU compressor/limiters as well as a Teletronix LA 2A, and for other simulated tube compression currently likes the Retro Instruments Gate A Level and Retro Universal Audio 176. “And I love the Fairchild 660. The record I’m tracking right now, we’re using all of those compressors just on the drums. [laughs] Yeah, I like to mix it up.”

Mixing it up mikewise was a way to capture Diamond Eyes’ spectacular instrumental textures as well. For the guitars, Raskulinecz used a Neumann U47 alongside a Shure SM7. “You get the width, depth and clarity with the fat U47, and it’s just a large diaphragm condenser; then you add the SM7, and that gives it the guts and the beef and the hair.” For the bass, he used a Telefunken 251, which, he says, never fails to provide a very full range of sound.

Yet the guitar and bass sonorities were the product of an odd hodgepodging together of varied amplifier heads and cabinets alongside assorted mike combinations. The sole amps employed were those of guitarist Stefan Carpenter, with Marshall JMP 1 pre-amps.

“This record has a cool sound to it too,” says Cunningham, “because Stefan is playing a custom ESP eight-string; it’s the first album he’s done that on, and it really put the bass guitar in a totally different spot, because the guitar is actually lower than the bass.”

There’s very little “clean” guitar on the album, and most of the ambience comes from Chino Moreno’s vocals, the clarity of which was ensured with a Telefunken tube 251. If Moreno wanted to use a hand-held mike, Raskulinecz and his engineer Paul Fig assembled a U87 with one of those old radio-broadcast windscreens on it, with a lot of duct tape and a large piece of foam around it.

And as for the album’s simply spectacular drum sound?

“There were mikes everywhere, just an insane mike setup,” says Cunningham with a laugh.

“I like to use a lot of mikes,” says Raskulinecz. “I’m very particular about recording drums.” Cunningham’s drum-miking arsenal included a Shure Beta 57 on the snare top, a Neumann KM 84 on the side of the snare, and a Sennheiser 441 on the bottom of the snare; there was a Sennheiser 602 inside the kick, with an Adam NF10 speaker on the outside; the toms were captured with AKG 414 condensers. Overheads were Telefunken 251s, and then there were several room mikes, including a pair of RCA 44 ribbon mikes out in font of the kit, placed close to the drum but spread wide; old Neumann U47 tube mikes handled the big, faraway room sound.

The question is, given the modern recording studio’s tantalizing temptation to conjur enormous heaps of sonic magic, how on earth does a band keep its eye on the prize? Raskulinecz is convinced that simplicity –– and the message in the music –– is the key.

“I try to keep it stripped-down the whole time. It’s really easy to get too dense and go too far with it –– and you know, sometimes we do, depending on what the song calls for. But it’s really about the song and not about the overdubs, not about how cool something sounds. It’s about how great the song is.”

Ultimately, says Cunningham, a band ought to sound like a band.

“The studio is the place where you can get as busy as you want to get, epecially these days with the infinite amount of tracks you can use with digital recording tools. But you might shoot yourself in the foot, too, when it comes to re-creating that live.

“It’s just that we’re a rock band: it shouldn’t be that difficult. For lack of a better word, we’re a rock & roll band.”

Photo: 13th Witness