Deftones Guitarist and Co-Founder Stephen Carpenter Talks to UG: 'I Didn't Want to Play on the New Record'

"It wasn't the style or the sound I was hoping we would take."

Ultimate Guitar

April 8, 2016 will mark the release of the highly anticipated release of the eighth studio album, titled "Gore." Although the band has been going strong since 1988, recent years might be described a turbulent following the tragic passing of bassist Chi Cheng in 2013. Tension within the band has been no secret since 2009 when the release of the album "Eros" was delayed indefinitely citing creative differences as the reason.

UG recently had an opportunity to speak briefly with guitarist and founding member, Stephen Carpenter about the new album. In the interview, it appears that creative differences are still a very real issue within the band. Nevertheless there has been no talk of a breakup or canceling tour dates which already stretch into late summer.

UG: The folks at UG are admittedly gear nerds, so let's dive right into the gear you're using on the new record. I know that historically you've kept your live rig and your studio setup the same.

SC: The gear is still the same live as it is in the studio. In fact I had to change my live rig because of what we did in the studio.

What specifically did you change?

Well previously on the "Koi No Yokan" record used my Axe FX but I only had one and I ran everything through one unit. The Axe FX offers you two amp sounds in each preset. I'm not a big fan of the X/Y Switching on them so I just use the Scenes. So I still needed that extra amp model for another sound. Now on this record I used one Axe FX unit on my left and one Axe FX unit on my right. So I'm actually using four amp models on each preset.

I bet that takes a while to dial in because you've got four different tones all blending together.

Yeah it takes forever to dial in. I went through a period of time when I wasn't too excited with my sound and I've had a lot of struggles with it but ultimately it boiled down to the fact that I was trying to do the wrong thing with it. Now I've got it working the way I need it and I've got my sound in a nice ballpark. I don't have my heaven sound yet but it'll get there soon.

What initially drew you to the Axe FX? Portability?

Yeah, I just love having everything all in one package.

That's got to be nice for traveling.

Yeah that's what it boils down to. Prior to having the Axe FX in my world I had two big giant racks with my power amps and pedals and all that shit. So it had an immediate impact on us shifting our gear around, especially doing any shows that would require us to fly from one date to another. That was the only way to make it work. Being able to carry our gear around made it possible to play a lot of those places that we hadn't played in a long time. Especially the Pacific Rim - you could spend your whole career working to pay off the shipping.

I've heard of bands that will have a rig built on each continent because it's cheaper than shipping their rig over and back for a tour.

Yeah that's us. I have three entire systems.

Do you have them stored around the world?

No I keep them all here now. I used to have my stuff stored in Europe but it got all rotted from salty air and god knows what else happened to it over there. Never again will I leave a rig just sitting over in Europe.

Was it in a proper storage building?

I don't even know where it was stored but it was definitely not a savory place because it got fucked up. So whenever we play over there we just ship our stuff now because I want my stuff at home with me rather than sitting somewhere and falling apart because it hasn't gotten any attention.

Like most guitarists, I would imagine that you are somebody who is continuously striving to push your playing. Is there anything in particular that you've been working on regarding your playing?

Absolutely not. I do not relate to other guitar players in that way at all. I don't do any practicing at all. I've been so consumed in recent years with working on my rig that I haven't spent any time focusing on my playing at all. I don't have anything dazzling to show anybody. If I got into a guitar battle right now I'd get blown away.

I think for some folks, its more about tone than it is playing.

I'm at a point right now in my life where I've spent enough time worried about the tone and I'm over that. I'm getting back to playing now with the tones I've got. That's what I've always done and it's always worked so I'm going back to that because this quest for tone stuff is ridiculous.

Photo courtesy of Frank Maddocks

Tone is just such an endless scape; it can be easy to get lost looking for the perfect sound.

Yeah but this is what it boils down to, right. As a metal guitar player, because that is the style that I play and that is the style that I like, it goes into one place and its right there in the middle. It needs to cut, it needs to be fucking hard, and you can define it any number of ways but ultimately it becomes one same sound because that is what that sound is supposed to be. So ultimately if you play metal guitar, you're going to come up with something that sounds roughly the same because that is what sounds the best. Really all you need is mid-range and you could really just dump the rest of the board if you're going for that aggressive sound.

You switched to the seven string a long time ago; what sparked that move?

Well what got me interested in it was getting into Meshuggah's music. I had never really had too much interest in the seven string prior to listening to their stuff. So I really liked the sound and the style they were playing and then when I realized they were playing it on seven strings, then I got it. I understood why people like that sound and it is beautiful.

It's amazing what one extra string can do to the possibilities on the fretboard.

It's a double edged sword, always, because the same thing can be said about the eight string, or the nine. Will we all be talking about the ten string in another year or two? Where does it end? I think the seven string is perfect. The eight string is perfect too. I can't wait to get a couple nine strings and have fun with it but if you're looking for clarity and melody, once we go down real deep, were giving all that up.

Is there any seven string on the new album?

No I played all eight string on the new album and my tunings were the same from the last two records. On "Diamond Eyes," I used standard so that's F#, B, E, A, D, G, B, E. Then I used the same tuning on the "Koi" record except I dropped it down to E, B, A, D, G, B, E. So I just used those two tuning on this new record and I only used the drop tuning on two songs so it's mostly just the standard tuning.

Jerry Cantrell makes a guest appearance on the new album. How did that come about?

Well we've been friends with the Alice in Chains guys for a lot of years and toured together. It just really worked out. I don't know who actually asked him to do it but I'm glad he did. It sounds fucking good.

He plays on the track "Phantom Bride," is that right?

Yeah, there goes that song from our setlist live. We can't bring Jerry on tour with us and ain't none of us playing his part, so there goes that song! He killed it on the record.

Are there any songs or guitar parts on the new record that you're really proud of or really excited for the fans to hear?

Oh god. I think my proudest thing about my guitar playing on this record is just playing on the record because I didn't want to play on the record to begin with. It wasn't until way later once I actually got into it. I look at all the songs on the record and they were all a challenge for me to get in to.

What do you think that barrier was for you?

I don't know. I just really like metal and I love all the metal that's being played now. I wish everybody would stop saying "djent" though. That's just dumb. It's just metal.

I still don't know what the fuck that is.

I thoroughly can get djent, I even have great appreciation for the bands, and I mean Meshuggah is one of my favorite bands. But it's just not a genre. It's just metal.

Do you have any advice to guitar players who are just starting out and wanting to get into metal? What defines being a metal guitarist?

Well if you want to be one like me just play your guitar, have fun, and enjoy yourself and you won't have to worry about too much. But if you want to be like all these great players out there, if you want to be a full on shredder and light that fretboard up, you're going to have to put sometime into it.

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So, you were saying earlier that you were having a hard time getting into playing on this new album. Why do you think that was?

When we were coming up with ideas and writing the songs, the stuff that was being written, you know, the other guys' ideas, I wasn't too interested in it. It wasn't the style or the sound I was hoping we would take. It wasn't what I was expecting or wanting.

That says a lot about you seeing yourself as part of a band and going in the direction of the band. Its unselfish.

Yeah I hear ya. My band is going one direction and I am going another one currently.

Do you think that will result in some more side projects or solo albums?

Well I have another side project going with my friend in England, Sol Invicto. We've got some songs done over the past decade, hardly enough to count it as a full on band. But that's mostly on me because I haven't been able to contribute very much. My friends in my band would probably say the same thing. It's just that life thing that's always going on. Time and life, that's the way it goes. I've also got ideas for my own personal solo stuff. I've got another thing I'm going to start with a friend of mine. So there's definitely going to be other stuff, no doubt about that.

That's not saying that you're going to leave the Deftones, is it?

I would never leave the band that I started but the band started leaving me, I can't control that.

That's a democratic way to look at it, really.

I mean, I have a great time for the most part. This record has been a struggle and we have got issues that I do not want to leave home but how things will be in the future, I do not know. But I know what I will do and what I will not do and there are some things that I will not do in the future because I just don't agree with it.

Well I can certainly appreciate a person standing their ground, artistically. In the meantime, you've got some tour dates coming up this spring.

Yeah we'll start that monster up in March and we'll go through until the end of the summer and probably into the fall. I don't know exactly where we'll be touring yet but the record will be out in April and we will be out there doing it again.

Writer's Note: I was also able to listen to the new album. Although I have been sworn to secrecy on the specifics (blood oath) I can say that whether you are a fan of the softer melodic sound or the heavy aggressive sound, you will be pleased with both on this album. The sonic diversity is perhaps a result of the creative rifts within the band. Blending the soft and melodic with the heavy and aggressive has always been the trademark of the Deftones' sound and this album does not disappoint. Tension often breeds creativity and brings out the best in a group. That seems to be the case on "Gore."

Interview by Justin (C) 2016

37 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This was a weird interview. He didn't really seem to open up or didn't understand the questions. But I don't care. I love Deftones and am so pumped for the next record.
    Europe, you know, that little fishing village by the sea that only has one building where you can store stuff. I hate that place too, it smells of fish.
    I guess the tension is because of the old battle between Chino's melodic approach to music and Steph's fondness for heavy stuff. It has been like that since Saturday Night Wrist.
    I think a lot of the tension could also be stemming from the fact Chino has so many side projects.
    This actually confirms all the rumors I hear about chino Writting most of the music sure the rest of the guys get to put their two cents and they are ok with it. you can also tell that some one is getting lazy when it comes to writting good riffs instead of these lethargic melodies. It also sounds like chino has a template with some of the songs that he writes. I wish steph had bigger say when it comes to writing process we need more of his choppy creative riffs. don't get me wrong I enjoyed the last three albums but the deftones have not come up with great record since up until white pony the rest were cool but just because I am big fan I am not going blow Smoke up their asses by saying everything they come up with is great
    love the deftones. Stephen will always be a strong influence on my playing. lots of groove and feeling in the music without trying to be flashy or too complex. as much as i love the stuff played on the 8 string guitars, unless he gives me one personally, i'll probably never own one. leave them to the guys who make magic with them
    I enjoyed this, an honest interview! These guys have always had conflict so I'm glad they have powered through it.
    I love his approach to guitar. It's huge smack in the face that I need to curb my unrealistic guitar hero dreams. I need to focus on cool songs and riffs instead of noodling on scales all damn day.
    I dunno how long you've been playing and if you need this advice or not, but as an guitar player with decades of failure (like all) I think I should impart some wisdom: JUST PLAY WHAT YOU FEEL If you write highly technical music and can genuinely pour your emotion into it that's awesome. But it always shows when guys are trying to fit a genre rather than being honest in their playing, ESPECIALLY in metal. If you pack honest emotion into your riffs it's going to sound heavier or darker or happier or whatever you're going for anyway. I used to listen to simplistic open E single-note riffs and think "God how can anyone be pleased with himself playing that? Did I really practice all those hours to play THAT?" Now I get it a bit more, technical is great and all but there's nothing worse than technical devoid of emotion. Like no one can dispute Yngwie's skill but it's all show, I don't think he feels a single note. Carpenter on the other hand doesn't care for show but can make you feel whatever it was that he felt. THAT is being a true artist
    Thanks for the great reply! I've been playing for >20 years but still have to remind myself to focus on playing with feeling and writing good songs rather than some other external agenda.
    Ah gotcha, my fault, mistakenly got the impression you were perhaps a younger player. My story with playing guitar is that I started at 13 and for a few years was better than everyone I knew, that was my thing to pick up a guitar and show off and show up anyone else who played. Then one night changed it all lol. A friend who I had helped get started was in a band, I got together to smoke down and jam with his band mate. Went in expecting to show off but they had both overtaken me and I was just in awe of their playing. These guys were genius, playing tons of tremolo stuff but always the two would be playing something different creating a more dynamic emotion. So I spent the next several years trying to catch up to them. That creating a writing paradox, cuz I couldn't write metal anymore when every time I wrote a good riff I'd be so happy with the technicality than I couldn't draw from any fury for energy lol. Took me a very long time to stop trying to live up to those two and not care if a riff was technical so long as it was emotionally honest
    from the get-go of the interview it almost sounded like he didn't even want to play guitar anymore. and the djent comment gave me a good chuckle. I've always loved his style and tone. love me some Deftones. ready for this album!
    I wonder if Stephen new that Agile made a 10 string guitar 2 years ago. Although I only know one band who uses them right now:
    Man, I love these guys. I especially love that their guitarist is a composer of very dissonant "classical" music, as well. It really shows in their music. Have you listened to the full version of the song "Mind Cemeteries" yet?
    yeah, it's a bit of a headtrip. Just don't add him on Facebook tho, 90% of what he posts about is modern gender politics.
    I don't necessarily disagree with his views, but this really isn't the time or place to discuss that topic. I'd rather just stick to his music.
    Agent 00Awesome
    Does anyone know if Jerry sings on his guest song or just plays guitar? I think him and Chino could have some great vocal harmonies.
    Bedside Shred
    Man I can't wait for Gore. Still haven't heard their last one but Diamond Eyes blows me away every time I listen. Carpenter better not be serious about the band "leaving him". Would never be the same without him.
    Stop what you're doing right now and buy KNY. Don't stream it, buy it. And play that shit in the car when you're driving at night and it'll blow your head off
    this. listening to entombed in my car was absolutely incredible the first time it came on. changed my life i'd say
    I'm so glad I'm not the only one that loves KNY. There's this thing in metal that usually praises older stuff as being better over new things, just because its old. I'm usually towards older stuff too but that doesn't mean I won't give new stuff the praise it deserves (if it really does of course). KNY > Diamond Eyes > Around the Fur, amazing masterpieces. What an incredible band.
    Koi No Yokan was a monster of an album. Maybe even my favorite they ever made. It's super intense. What are you waiting for, go check it out!!
    I think Koi is darker and heavier than Diamond Eyes for the most part. I also think it's better and more fleshed-out.
    Yeah you gotta hear Koi, I think it's more dynamic than Diamond Eyes. Both are fantastic but Koi is my favorite, takes you on more of a journey. Swerve City sets a great tone to start the album, 2 songs later Leathers begins and smacks you in the face, Entombed one of their great ballad types and Guaze might be my all-time favorite Deftones song. You owe it to yourself to listen to the album for the next month straight
    Personally, I'm stoked to hear Jerry Cantrell's contribution. Not that I'm a fan of AiC or anything, but it'd just be interesting to hear a guitarist that's a bit more "technically good" play on Deftones material. I'd always wondered if Stephen had any shred capability in him and it seems like this confirms he doesn't. Oh well, I still enjoy his music Edit: the thumbnail actually comes from a video that just popped up rather randomly in my Youtube feed, and it turns out Stephen CAN play solo-style leads. Hardly "shredding", per se, but he showed a side of his guitar playing in that video that I'd never seen before:
    Breaking news: Stephen Carpenter, citing a need to play heavier music, leaves Snakes 'n' Barrels, picks up drums and joins Dethklok
    well chino can't scream too well anymore, so the band going a more melodic approach is probably for the best. Steph is a great player, i hope he had his shot at making some heavy tracks!
    Well, i remember ''Mein'' song was Steph's idea and Chino didnt like the song but Stef made him do the song. Steph can suck it cause he's not doing really well. His side project sounded bad. As the guitarist he cant even handle 10 seconds of solo? wtf! Stef, you should stop drug and smoking. Cuz your those points make no sense.
    Well, I remember "Pink Cellphone" was Chino's idea. Stephen must have loved it... "As the guitarist he cant even handle 10 seconds of solo? wtf!" Oh boy, that was so stupid in so many levels...
    Cool interview. It shows that you don't have to be some sort of shred master to make something that sounds good in the world of metal. I'm really looking forward to Gore.