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Music

Tool's Maynard James Keenan recounts his awkward first meeting with Deftones

To many, the 2000 album White Pony is the masterwork by alt-metal legends Deftones. An artfully crafted body of work that draws on disparate genres such as groove metal and ambient, there’s always something else to discover across its 48 minutes, and without any real down point, it’s easy to understand why it is so coveted by fans of the band. 

Punishing and emotional in equal measure, it’s comprised of takes such as ‘Pink Maggit’, ‘Digital Bath’ and ‘Change (In the House of Flies)’, which rank among the very finest tracks the Sacramento band has recorded to date.

A significant point in the band’s career, it saw them break from the more straight-up metal style of their early years and move into the future that would see them become true pioneers of the genre, the masters of blending styles. It was the first album to feature turntablist and keyboardist Frank Delgado, a factor which helped to expand the band’s sound and really heighten the atmosphere they’d always teased. Alongside the moments in which frontman Chino Moreno contributed rhythm guitar parts, the band had a much more expansive sound than their previous record, 1997’s Around the Fur.

After the critical and commercial success of Around the Fur, the band found themselves as one of the hottest bands on the planet, and duly, this invited great pressure for them to deliver the follow-up as soon as possible. Despite this pressure, though, the band opted to take their time, and it proved to be a masterstroke. The band’s late bassist, Chi Cheng, explained why they did this: “We didn’t feel like we had anything to lose, so we made the record we wanted to make.”

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What they produced remains as refreshing as it was 21 years ago, remaing one of music’s great reflectors of the benefits of taking your time, as well as a testament to teamwork. 

One of the defining aspects of the collaborative nature of White Pony is that it features additional vocals by some rather eminent names. Rodleen Getsic appears on ‘Knife Prty’, Scott Weiland, the frontman of grunge heroes Stone Temple Pilots, appears on ‘Rx Queen’, and most famous of all, Tool’s Maynard James Keenan appears on ‘Passenger’.

The latter is a wholly enchanting piece, and the dovetailing vocals of Moreno and Keenan are so potent that it is now the stuff of metal legend. However, as Keenan revealed in a 2020 interview with Revolverthe first interaction the Tool frontman had in the studio with Deftones was an awkward one, and one that involved champagne and Tibetan singing bowls. Despite the initial awkwardness, Keenan maintains that the ideas he brought to the band helped them to break the creative impasse they found themselves in at the time. 

Keenan recalled: “I may have received bad or exaggerated intel at the time, but I was told the guys were having a bit of writer’s block or some turmoil within the band. Who knows. They certainly weren’t going to discuss that with me, an almost total stranger. And they are some very strong-willed gents. Dare I say stubborn. Wonderful people. But stubborn.”

Wanting to help the band find a new perspective, Keenan explained why he showed up with Tibetan singing bowls and champagne: “Up to that point, they seemed to have been able to navigate through their differences in ideas and approaches. Great first efforts. The evidence is all there. I felt like they just needed a bit of new perspective. So I showed up with Tibetan Singing Bowls, some percussion instruments, champagne, and asked them permission to do some experiments.”

The band weren’t willing to give in to Keenan’s hippie experiments, though, creating an awkward experience for all: “I had them each switch instruments, play on the bowls, take one loop and try some improvisation. Things of that nature. The look on their faces was priceless. I might as well have been wearing hippy beads and bunny ears. I could just feel Stephen (Carpenter) thinking, ‘What kind of acid trip crap is this?'”

Asked by the interviewer how he would describe his contributions during those early writing sessions and what the atmosphere was like, Keenan admitted that he was there long enough for the band to collectively want him to go away, which he maintains is what “unconsciously” made them re-connect creatively. 

He said: “I stuck around long enough for them to start itching to not have me around. They were able to keep up the courtesy to a point, but eventually it was time for me to let them be. The result of my interruption was for them to unconsciously remember or feel what connected them in the first place.”

Looking back on when he saw the next, Keenan described a much different atmosphere and one where his approach appeared to have worked: “By the time I saw them again, they had opened their own creative floodgates. I had no idea whether my approach would work or not and no idea if that idea would ever work again, but in this instance it did. Great album. One of their best, in my opinion. I honestly had nothing to do with it other than a mental break and temporary change of perspective.”

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