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28 Mar 2014

Coachella: Chino Moreno—Frontman of the Deftones—Says His Side Project Crosses Has Helped Him Grow as a Musician

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Chino Moreno has a lot on his musical plate—and Coachella attendees will get to enjoy the intriguing work of one of the Deftones front man’s side projects, Crosses (†††), on Friday, April 11 and 18.

The Deftones busted out of the Sacramento music scene in the 1990s and were soon opening for prominent and established metal acts such as KISS and Ozzy Osbourne. The band also shared the stage with groups like Korn and Limp Bizkit, which went on to become their contemporaries. However, the Deftones captivated audiences in ways that Korn and Limp Bizkit never could, and were by no means a band that would be categorized as “nu-metal.” Not only could Chino Moreno scream a brutal assault of lyrics; he had a melodic voice and a fantastic stage presence. In fact, some have called him one of the best metal frontmen of all time.

Crosses is nothing like the Deftones (nor is it anything like Moreno’s alt-rock side project, Team Sleep). Crosses takes listeners on melodic, dark and hypnotic musical journeys, with a little electronica thrown into the mix. In Crosses, Moreno teams up with guitarist Shaun Lopez—who Moreno has known since childhood—as well as producer Chuck Doom. The band put out its first EP in 2011, and followed that up with another EP in 2012.

During a recent phone interview from Austin, where Crosses were slated to perform at SXSW, Moreno explained how Crosses came together.

“Shaun and I came up together early on in the Sacramento music scene,” Moreno said. “He was in a band called Far, and with me being in the Deftones, we played a lot of shows together early on. A few years ago, I ended up moving a couple of blocks away from him in Los Angeles, and he had a little studio in his pad, and I’d always cruise over to see what he was working on. One particular time, he was there working on stuff with Chuck (Doom), which turned into the Crosses stuff. I liked what I heard, and I was like, ‘Yo, let me get up on this.’ One song led to two, and then three and four.”

The first two EPs were offered to fans for free and promoted via social media. The experiment ended up being well-received, and led to a full-length, self-titled release in February. It reached No. 26 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Moreno cited a number of musical influences.

“The first time I heard Kraftwerk when I was a kid, that was something that really caught my attention more than anything. It sounded very futuristic at the time,” he said. “Around the time I was in the fifth-grade, I discovered Depeche Mode, and for me, that really changed the course of my taste in music. To me, that music had a lot of the low-fi electronics that the early rap music had. It had a really cool, sort-of dark melody that flowed throughout it. To me, that was the ultimate music.”

Moreno has said that his lyrics don’t necessarily address specific topics.

“At times, (the lyrics are) dark and desolate—but they’re also warm in places, too,” he said. “… I’m never trying to sell anything or any ideas. With whatever music it is … the music is presented to me, and what you get on there is my reaction to it.”

Moreno stressed that he doesn’t engage in side projects because he feels limited by the Deftones.

“Any of the side projects I do, I don’t do them because I feel like there’s something I can’t do,” he said. “It’s honestly just me working with different people. When you work with different people and do things in different ways, you actually learn from those experiences. I never had any sort of vocal training or music schooling, so playing with different people and playing in different projects has been how I’ve learned—and now, I continue to learn.”

Tragedy struck the Deftones in 2008, when bassist Chi Cheng was injured in a car accident that left him incapacitated up until his death in April 2013. Deftones fans contributed money to go toward Cheng’s health-care costs throughout, and the Deftones proceeded in the hopes that Cheng would perhaps one day recover and return to the band. Moreno said that in the end, the tragedy brought the band even closer together.

“I think it’s as simple as enjoying the people you’re around,” he said. “I’m lucky enough with the guys in the Deftones that we grew up together as kids, and we started in the garage in 1988 when we were 15 or 16 years old. There’s a bond there, and we actually still enjoy making music with each other. I’m most proud of that, and I know most people don’t have that. Chi’s passing was one thing that brought us closer together.”

He said he feels similarly close to his Crosses bandmates.

“I think that natural aspect of it keeps it inspiring,” Moreno said. “It’s not something that’s preconceived. This is what we do. We’re hanging out, and let’s make some tunes.”

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