Chino Moreno on Palms, Unreleased Deftones Material, and Going into the Closet
We talked to Moreno about how Palms came together and creating concrete vocals out of rhythms that drift and drone.
Even side projects usually start with a purpose and schedule. And often, since the musicians involved are from various other groups, albums are composed and banged out quickly. Sometimes, the artists capture the moment and create something fresh and spontaneous. Other times, they bash out something unfocused, rudimentary and subpar. Palms did none of the above, pretty much breaking all the traditional side project conventions.
The seeds for the band were planted when three members of the now-defunct post-metal band Isis—drummer Aaron Harris, multi-instrumentalist Bryant Clifford Meyer, and bassist Jeff Caxide—decided to keep making music after the group’s 2010 break-up. They didn’t know what they were going to do for a vocalist, but at the time, it didn’t seem like a major concern, and writing songs wasn’t a necessity to meet a label deadline, it was a labor of love. Over a couple years of getting together in their spare time and writing, Palms assembled a batch of songs. Then, almost on a whim, Harris played some of the music to his friend, Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno, to find out what he thought of the material. At the time, Moreno had no plans to sing for Palms. And yet, by 2012, during downtime from Deftones, he found himself driving to Harris’ home studio to record vocals for Palms excellent self-titled debut, which came out June 25th.
Though it’s not as heavy as anything by Isis, Palms resounds with the same atmospheric intensity, and, thanks largely to Moreno’s yearning vocals, the band creates a multi-hued sonic canvas of meandering vistas and melancholy melodies that are alternately dreamlike and organic. During an off day from touring with Deftones, Noisey talked to Moreno about how Palms came together, being in the closet during recording (literally), and creating concrete vocals out of rhythms that drift and drone. Moreno also addressed the joy of making music just for the hell of it and offered hints about the fate of the long-shelved Deftones album Eros and the follow-up to last year’s Koi No Yokan.
Noisey: You’ve been pretty busy with Deftones, Team Sleep, and Crosses. How did hook up with three former members of Isis in the post-rock supergroup Palms?
Chino Moreno: It happened really organically over the course of almost three years. Aaron Harris and I became friends four years ago. We connected through my buddy Larry [Herweg], who plays in Pelican, and we talked for a while online. Aaron’s into hiking and doing outdoorsy stuff, so a few years ago, we started doing that kind of stuff together and talking about music. We became buddies. I’ve always been a fan of Isis and he’s always liked Deftones. At the time, Isis was still together, and we talked about our groups touring together. We didn’t think about working together on music at the time. Then Isis broke up. Aaron told me what happened and he was bummed about it. I encouraged him to keep working together with Jeff and Bryant, which they did.
When did you become directly involved?
Aaron came on tour with Deftones and worked as a drum tech for Abe [Cunningham]. We’d go out and hike and run every day. One day when we were out he said, “We’ve been demoing stuff out and I have a couple demos I want to send you.” I said, “Yeah, send ‘em to me when we get back to the hotel.” I listened to them. I wasn’t expecting to end up doing anything with them, but I had my recording stuff set up in my room, so I demoed out a rough sketch of some vocals over one of the tracks, which ended up being “Shortwave Radio.” I sent it back to Aaron 20 minutes later, and he really liked it and asked if I wanted to record with them. I said yes and thought, “Cool, maybe I’ll sing on the track just for fun.” They continued working on stuff and a year later they sent me an EPs worth of material and asked me if I would record it with them. I was between projects, so it was perfect, because when I get off tour, I like to stay busy doing stuff. Right away, I took the demos of the record and started writing over them.
Did the material come quickly, like with “Short Wave Radio?”
No, it was all done over a gradual period of time because there was really no pressure around it. We finished all the vocals in six months. We weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel or anything. They wanted to continue being creative and making music with friends and I had the same thing in mind.
Did you approach the vocals differently than what you do in Deftones?
There were no preconceived ideas. As a fan of Isis, I figured it would be kind of like Isis with me singing on it, but Isis is a little bit heavier than Palms. There’s more of a jagged edge to Isis. This is more cinematic and drawn out. I was little bummed about that at first, but any disappointment didn’t last because they weren’t trying to make an Isis record with me singing on it. They wanted to do something new. So they just presented me with the music and I reacted to it.
Aaron produced, mixed and engineered the album How did that work out? Is he a closet tyrant?
[Laughs] He’s great to work with, but speaking of a closet, I did sing the vocals in a closet at his house. It was all so lax. He set up a makeshift studio, I’d roll over to his pad, we’d go for a hike, and then we’d come back to his house and I’d go in the closet and sing for an hour or two. That was a good way of working. There was no deadline and we didn’t have to worry about spending all this money on a producer or studio. We didn’t spend anything on this record. That was very cool because it meant there were no constraints and no expectations.
What was the greatest challenge for you?
The song lengths. The Deftones aren’t the most pop-formatted band, but we rarely have songs that go over four and a half or five minutes. I think our longest song is six minutes. Palms songs are 10 minutes long, and there are a lot of musical changes and passages that don’t reoccur. For me, it’s a lot easier when there are recurring themes, because there are melodies I can go back to. With Palms, there are songs that start somewhere and end in a completely different place. It was a fun challenge, but it was time consuming, because there were a lot more lyrics and a lot more melodies to be written for every song than I’m used to. The first song we did was one of the longest, hardest songs: “Mission Sunset.” That has the most parts to it. I figured if we knocked that one out first, then everything else would come a little easier, and it did.
Do you plan on recording another album with Palms?
We’re not scheduling anything just yet, but we all enjoyed doing this, so I think we all want to do more stuff. And playing shows is fun, but we can’t do that much because I’m really busy with Deftones.
You mentioned that when you have any down time, you like to make music. What’s going on with Crosses, Team Sleep, and your other projects?
Crosses has recorded a bunch of material and we have a third EP that’s ready to go. We just signed a deal with Sumerian Records to release it. We’re thinking of putting it out in October and doing a couple shows around then. I’ve also been working with [Stolen Babies drummer] Gil Sharone, [Crosses member] Chuck Doom, and my buddy Todd [Wilkinson], who plays [guitar] in Team Sleep. We always hang out and make music. We all got together for the Guitar Center “Drum Off” that Gil did [in March 2013]. We wrote five or six tunes and played the gig. It’s all instrumental at this point. I just turned 40, and I’ve realized that I like having a regular output of music and doing it consistently, whether it ends up in record format or if it doesn’t come out at all. As much as I can do it now, creating music with other people is definitely fun. It’s my number one hobby. I’m not too much into video games or other things. I like to spend my time creating stuff with friends.
What’s the status of Team Sleep?
That’s still a little shaky because everyone lives so far away. It’s hard for us to get together, but hopefully we’ll find some time to work on that, too.
Before Deftones bassist Chi Cheng died in April, you had shelved a full album, Eros, on which Cheng had played before the 2008 car crash that eventually led to his death. Originally, the band said the album would come when Chi gets better and is playing with you again. Do you have any plans to release that material now that he’s gone?
It’s not on the schedule. Now that there’s been some sort of closure with Chi, it makes a little more sense to put it out now than before, so it’ll probably be sooner than never. Before, people figured it would never be released. At the same time, there are no plans right now to release it. Deftones are still trudging forward, and I don’t think we’re completely ready to reflect on that time in our career. It’s a pretty heavy thing. If you listen to the record—which I did recently—it really is a snapshot in our lives, and those were some of the last moments I spent with Chi. His accident occurred right in the middle of us finishing up writing that record. It’s a tough thing to reflect on. Listening to it the other day brought back a lot of intense feelings, which I don’t think as a band we want to present to anybody just yet. I still think we’re dealing with it internally. One day I think it will see the light of day, and probably sooner than never.
Have you written any new Deftones material since you released Koi No Yokan last November?
No, not at all. The best we work now is to go into the studio and make records with the five of us in a room, and capture that moment in time. I feel like we did that with Koi No Yokan and we started it with the Diamond Eyes record in 2010. It’s been well documented that before that time, we had so many troubles trying to make records and doing it, but not having that foundation—that communication that this band was built on. When we reconnected on Diamond Eyes and got back to that work ethic, it really benefited us as a band and as friends and musicians. So with Koi we took that same template and rented a studio in North Hollywood and locked ourselves in the room from noon to six every day through the week. It’s a really communal vibe and it’s a healthy way for us to make records. We do it in a short span of time. We don’t overthink the whole process. We just get together and start making sounds, and it has worked out. In a couple months, we have a record’s worth of material. Following that idea works for us, so I think we’ll attack it like that again when we’re ready to go in and do the next record. At this point, I don’t know when that will be. We still have a lot of touring for the rest of this year. We have festivals scheduled and we’ll probably do some more touring next year. But I’m thinking shortly after that we’ll go back in the studio and repeat the process.