Chino Moreno on His New Band Palms and Releasing Deftones’ Shelved LP

Photo: Travis Shinn

Between Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno’s plaintive wails and the jazzy, post-rock riffing and rippling of some former members of Isis, the post-metal supergroup Palms sounds like more than the sum of its parts. It’s just something about the way the band’s delicately orchestrated guitars and pulsing rhythms—as envisioned by guitarist-keyboardist Bryant Clifford Meyer, bassist Jeff Caxide and drummer Aaron Harris, all né of Isis—and Moreno’s New Wavey howls and whispers coalesce that make the six lengthy tracks on the band’s self-titled debut so appealing. Prior to the album’s release, Moreno spoke with Hive about what makes Palms works and to clear up some rumors about the past.

Your music, especially what you’ve done with Palms, balances heaviness with more reflective sounds. Why is that?

I think that is a good dichotomy and makes an artist well rounded. With the music I’ve made over the years, there has always been a yin and yang with the aggressive stuff and the more introverted, emotional stuff. I think it’s a good dynamic to float between those extremes.

Your Palms bandmates adopted that as their specialty in Isis.

Really, I didn’t think about all that stuff when recording. I just reacted to the tunes that they had already put down. The songs are very spacious and atmospheric in a cinematic kind of way. There’s a lot of warmth, but it’s also cold in certain parts. I think that they reach to both ends of the spectrum. When I’m doing one or the other, I don’t feel out of place or feel like I’m trying to do one or the other, the music just speaks to me.

Would you say that the roughest, wildest, and heaviest artists are actually the most emotional and vulnerable?

I wouldn’t say that’s true for everybody. For me, heavy music is something that came later in my life. I listened to a lot of British pop and New Wave [when I was younger]. I always connected with Depeche Mode and the Smiths. Then I got into heavier music over the years.

Since you referred to Palms’ music as cinematic, did you have any particular films in mind when you were recording?

No, but I definitely did envision a lot of landscapes. Even the titles, like “Tropics” or “Patagonia” reference regions. Some of the songs are colder, more cryptic, and have an intergalactic feel. Other songs feel like they could be in outer space or on a beach.

I can see that, but I know movies have creeped into your works with Deftones. With that band, you named a song after the 1988 horror flick 976-EVIL.

Yeah, I love that title. I love old horror movies, especially from the ’80s. Those were my coming-of-age years, so I have a connection to films from the ’80s.

Have you ever dialed that number with hopes of summoning the Devil?

No. No, I haven’t.

Photo: Adam Berry/Redferns

Going back to Palms’ thematic locales, you put “Tropics” and “Antarctic Handshake” next to each other. What connects those songs?

The sequence just worked that way. “Antarctic Handshake” sounded like the closing of a record. It’s a cold song. It’s very cryptic, but it has sort of a good vibe. Some of the lyrics are about saying goodbye in the most civil way, but it’s a sad feeling. The song just made me feel that way. The delayed drumbeat, it just sounds very distanced. It’s a sad goodbye.

Are you saying goodbye to someone in particular?

No. It’s an overall emotion. There’s a gamut of emotions, not just on the record, but in daily life, that everybody goes through. When I write a record, I don’t say, “This will be my happy record,” or, “This will be my sad record.” With music like this, it’s impossible to go with any one emotion. It’s a range, and I just go with it.

Are the emotions or meanings behind the songs so powerful that you don’t like to talk about them specifically?

No, not really. I never feel like I’m writing something and I’m expelling all these demons. I don’t make music in that mindset. I won’t say that never happens, but when I record, it’s just my reaction to the music. I like to say that it’s pretty genuine and I hope it stands the test of time. But, I don’t want to feel like I made it to feel fulfilled in any way. It’s very much a fun experiment. I don’t have an agenda behind it.

Are you concerned with people having preconceived notions of Palms’ music since you’re the guy from Deftones and the other guys are from Isis?

There are people who are fans of Isis and some who are fans of the Deftones, and they like certain things about our bands. Some of our fans go to our shows and don’t like the heavy stuff. Some only like the heavy stuff and fall asleep during the mellower stuff. I’m not a fan of having expectations. I know that sounds bad but I try not to have expectations. So when something is great, it really is great.

While we’re on the subject of Deftones, your bassist Chi Cheng passed away in April after spending about five years in a coma. Do you have plans to release Eros, the final album he recorded with you but shelved in 2008?

I get asked about that record a lot. For a while, I was giving the same answer, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” After Chi’s passing, I went back and listened to some of the record and it was a pretty intense experience to say the least. I think it should be released, but we don’t have any definite plans. There’s some work to do on it. Deftones have been moving forward in a strong, positive motion, so for us to stop and reflect on something five years ago, I don’t know if we’re ready for that. I’m not sure that’s where we want to put our energy. It is a special thing for us: it’s the last thing Chi played on. It will see the light of day. I just don’t know when.

Fair enough. Before we go, is it true that you once passed the dressing room of big, bad, rough-and-tough former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo, and you heard him listening to … the Smiths?!

[Laughs] Yes, it’s true!

That’s like catching your parents having sex. Did you make it so he didn’t see you catching him in the act?

It was like 1996. I was like, “You listen to the Smiths?” And he was like, “Yeah, I love the Smiths!”

Palms comes out tomorrow on Ipecac.