In the following phone interview Deftones bassist Sergio Vega talks about joining the band, the jamming sessions of Diamond Eyes and the organic nature of music.
How have the live shows been going?
A lot of fun. We’ve been having a great time. We did a week of shows with Circa Survive, who were really awesome and cool to hang out with. Right now we’re out with Baroness. They’re really great guys and they’re a really great band.
Have you been playing a lot of the new material?
Yeah, we’ve been averaging around seven songs a night.
I remember I was at that Bamboozle Left show a couple years ago that was your first official show in the band. How do you feel you’ve progressed since that point?
I think we’ve expanded our repertoire a lot. We’re really having a lot of fun playing this new material live and also delving into the entire catalogue. Coming into the band and not being on those albums, I have a different relationship with those records. It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot of songs I’m excited to play. There’s a lot of songs that they want to bring back and play that they haven’t played in a while, and this environment is a good opportunity to do that kind of stuff. We’ve been having a lot of fun with the entire width of the band’s catalogue, really, playing it and having fun. With the time that we spend together we’re developing and settling in.
As a longtime fan of the band did you have a favorite record before you joined?
No, the entire time I was listening to the music I had known them as people. I always liked them as people and appreciated their music from that. I like all their songs and all their music because I had known them and knew where they were coming from. They don’t really have anything that is, like, “Oh, this is their typical album.” I just think it’s all really great. I think they’re a creative bunch of people and I’m honored to be a part of this.
What was your reaction to when you found out they were offering you the position?
I was sad. I had heard about Chi’s incident, and Chi and I were homies as well. I wasn’t, like, “Oh, this is awesome.” It was more, like, “That fucking sucks.” That’s where it was coming from. Then when I came up to see them, that was kind of exciting because we were friends. I had filled in for Chi before in ’99. That was the first time I had seen them all in that kind of environment since then, so there was a little spark when we came in contact with each other and met up physically. But, yeah, the first thing I thought was, “That kind of sucks.”
I saw that Chi just got released from the hospital not too long ago. Do you know what is the latest on him?
I don’t really have any inside information outside of what’s on his website. His family’s website is basically the tier of access that we have. It’s a very expensive ordeal and it requires a lot of diligence and support. It’s a slow process, and fortunately his family is the type that’s very much involved and proactive.
So the first question I have about Diamond Eyes is what is the deal with that owl?
[Laughs] Its value is kind of intrinsic. It’s not like it’s symbolic of anything, it’s more what that imagery does. That image really resonated with us when we were looking through some ideas. We had a lot of bullet points and things that we thought the album was evoking in us. We were looking through pictures and that one popped up. It’s such a nice image. We liked the contrast and how serene it looks, and we felt like that was the way to go with that.
It seems that the band has been reenergized with this record. I know it took them three years to do Saturday Night Wrist and then Eros got shelved, but as an outsider were you able to pick up on any of that?
There’s definitely an energy and revitalization and it comes from a lot of those factors that you said. One, I joined the band, and that brings a new energy and those things bring in new dynamics, but also the band when I first saw them had that energy with them anyways from the Eros stuff.
I heard you did a lot of jamming during the writing stage. What was a typical day of that like for you?
It was very structured. Everything was kind of similar. What we did was we would all roll in around one o’clock. We’d have a little bite to eat or whatever, and then somebody would just pick up an instrument and start fooling around. Then everyone would join up and build off of whoever the first person was. On different days that would be anybody, and then we just started adding to that. We would be sitting around, really just vomiting out ideas, and everyone would jump on each other’s ideas.
The whole while our producer, Nick Raskulinecz, was recording it. If anything struck us, we all would immediately work on it, add to it and really focus on it. If anything struck Nick, he wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Hey, man, that’s awesome. Why don’t you all pick up on that?” If we were not noticing something that was good, he’d be, like, “Check out what Frank’s doing. It’s pretty hot. Build on that,” and then we’d jump on it. That’s what our approach was.
Everybody was very supportive, and at any time anything was noticed to be kind of cool or hot in any way we would all bounce on it and add to it. All the while it was being recorded, so everything was being arranged, every little jam. It was a very efficient process where you just fucked off, but everything that you were doing was captured and usually became part of the record. Something would happen and somebody would jump on it so quickly that every idea would get nurtured in some way. Within two months we had the album.
Did you have a ton of songs ideas then that didn’t make it?
No. What happened was everything that was cool became a song quickly because everything was recorded. As soon as we had enough material, Nick said, “I think we got it. Stop.” The band was already on the tail ends of doing an album and didn’t really have the luxury of time for exploration. There was a feeling in the air of immediacy. There was a pressure to get something in and done quickly. There was a record already done. The label was cool in believing in the band’s request and idea that something really good could come of this, and fortunately everybody believed that.
Stephen has a pretty unique guitar style. Was that something you meshed with right away or did it have a little bit of a learning curve?
No, there was nothing to it. We were just jamming, so there wasn’t, like, “Oh, I have this velocity and this is the way I’d like you to come off it.” Everyone has their style and just starts riffing. What’s cool about this group of people is everybody is as quick to produce an idea as they are to jump on someone else’s. You never felt like you had to learn somebody’s anything. You know what I mean? It was happening from scratch and we were building something together. The way that it all would happen was very cool. I’d play the way I play. With the new material there were no preconceived boundaries because everything was from scratch, so that mitigates the bad kind of stuff.
How much guitar playing did Chino end up doing?
I forget, like three or four songs or something like that. He’d just jump on some. Sometimes he felt like playing guitar and he’d pick up a guitar, start playing it and then jam on something. It was all organic. It was just happening.
For you personally this was the first major album you’ve done in a while, so obviously technology has progressed a lot in that time. How do you compare this experience to what you went through with Quicksand?
When I was in Quicksand there wasn’t as much social networking and stuff. There wasn’t the same kind of access. You weren’t up online all the time, having access to people who were coming to your shows. There wasn’t anything like Twitter or Facebook, so in that way the environment’s changed. The experience of the show and playing is the same. The world that we’re in, in terms of how we connect and how we interact with people, there’s just a lot more access to each other than there was. It’s a continuation of the way that you felt before, but now I’m hanging out after the show talking to people and I also have access to people who are interested in what’s going on virtually.
Probably my favorite song on Diamond Eyes is “CMND/CTRL,” and I just really love the start-stop vibe of that song. Was there anything special in how you came up with that one?
It just came from jamming, basically. There was a riff, it got a ledge, and then once we had that first part we were playing it for a bit, I forget who it was, but somebody jumped off and did something else. We were, like, “Oh, that’s cool.” Then we had the next part. That song came together in a matter of minutes.
You guys mess around with time signatures a lot. How does that come into play?
It’s organic. We don’t sit there and say, “This is going to have odd time signatures. This is where it happens at.” We’ll notice it after the fact. We’ll say, “Oh, that’s cool. That happens to change here and it does this.” We don’t come into it thinking, “I want to write a riff in 7/8.”
What song on the album was the most difficult to get right?
None, really, because it all came together in the span of two months. Nothing could qualify as difficult in that kind of window. I guess the one that had the most tweaking was “976-EVIL.” We tried a couple different arrangements before we felt, like, “Oh, that’s the arrangement.” Everything else, for the most part, was, like, “Oh, that’s it.” Then later we fine-tuned it and maybe reduced things. Usually we’d have an arrangement, then take it and distill it and make sure there wasn’t anything extra happening.
I take it you’ve heard Eros. How does that stuff differ from Diamond Eyes?
I’ve heard a few songs. It’s not a lot different. I can’t really explain it. It sounds like the Deftones and goes back to the way every Deftones album is unique. No two Deftones albums are the same. Stephen said it well once where it’s a concept of where you’re at because everyone is constantly evolving. When you make a record, it literally becomes a snapshot of that place in time where you’re living at. It definitely sounds a lot thicker than the Diamond Eyes stuff. The Diamond Eyes songs are pretty short and get to the point. The Eros songs I heard were longer and they had more stuff going on.
Are there still plans to release that at some point?
I think the plan is that it definitely should see the light of day at some point that feels right when it’s not so much married to a tragedy. It should be able to speak for itself. The collection of songs are really good in it, so I think it’s going to come out when enough time has passed and you’re enabled to look at the material in a different way.
I want to mention Chino’s lyrics briefly. His writing has always been pretty dark and he’s focused a lot on the themes of sex and death, and this record definitely has that share of elements. Is that something you’ve picked up on and what’s your take on that?
I think that for the whole thing lyrically as well as musically, the whole thing is to get you excited in some way. Those things are the things that internally get one going. They’re exhilarating kinds of things. It’s just what it is. Not to be vague about it but it’s not like there’s any specific, like, “Oh, this is why.” It’s not so much about what’s it’s about, it’s more about what it’s evoking in you and how you feel. The band is really passionate about its music and excited to play and excited about the songs, and that’s really what’s paramount.
That kind of reminds of something like Sigur Rós, where it doesn’t matter as much about what he’s saying but more about what the vibe is evoking.
Yeah, in a way it’s like that. It’s not like the words are devoid of meaning or anything, I’m not trying to say that, but there’s a lot of that approach in our approach. It’s not so much that we’re going to be, like, “OK, we did this for this.” It’s really that we want to feel a certain way. We’re excited dudes and that shows up in our music. We like to bounce around and feel fucking horny, and that’s kind of what it is, to be blunt here.
So if there’s one thing you’ll take away from this whole Diamond Eyes experience, what do you think that thing will be?
I think mostly I’ve been impressed with these dudes and how well they’ve handled everything in their situation or treated me as a friend and contributor, and how well they’ve dealt with Chi and continue to deal with Chi. They’re fantastic people. These guys have had success and done really well by being good people, so I guess that’s what I’ll come away with. The aberration that you can be cool, you can be a decent person and do the things you want to in life.