If Deftones first album, 1995's Adrenaline, revealed frontman Chino Moreno's fascination with the churning, abrasive rock side of Smashing Pumpkins, the self-titled debut album by his side project, Team Sleep, illustrates his previously covert obsession with the more textural electronic dabblings of Billy Corgan and company.
But Team Sleep, which came out last week, isn't really aimed at Smashing Pumpkins fans — or even Deftones devotees, for that matter. The album is an evocative combination of experimental beats, textural guitars and ominous melodies that's both original and enjoyable. Yet as excited as he is with songs like "Tomb of Liegia," "Ataraxia" and "Your Skull Is Red," Moreno isn't that concerned with how many people hear them.
"It's not something I believe people have to hear," he said. "It's mainly something that was done for fun and something that I really like. It's definitely not supposed to be similar to the Deftones. That band is pretty aggressive and metal-based, and when we're doing a record, I have to constantly think about not being too self-indulgent and not being completely myself. But when I'm making Team Sleep records, there are no guidelines, so I can go out and do whatever the hell I want."
Which is exactly what he and his Team-mates, who include ex-Faith No More singer Mike Patton, Pinback vocalist Rob Crow and ex-Helium singer Mary Timony, have done. "Ever" layers radiant guitar dribbles over a slow backbeat and melancholy vocals, "Princeton Review" features delicate vocals and gliding guitars reminiscent of Cocteau Twins and "Our Ride to the Rectory" is a melange of buzzing keyboards, handclaps, gliding guitars and vocals that cross Moreno's patented whine with music that is far more serene.
Team Sleep has been more almost a decade in the making. Moreno and his high school friends Todd Wilkinson (guitars) and DJ Crook (programming, turntables) first started working on electronic-based four-track demos, which they'd exchange by mail, in the mid-'90s. The first song they released was a remix of the Deftones track "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)," from the band's 1997 album Around the Fur.
In 2001, Team Sleep entered the studio with Deftones/ Pantera producer Terry Date (see "Deftones Singer's Team Sleep Project Awakening On West Coast"). Since then, they've recorded with producers Ross Robinson and Greg Wells, and gradually compiled the material, along with some four-track demos, into their debut full-length. What frustrated Moreno most wasn't that the disc took so long to complete, but that an incomplete version of the sessions with Date leaked to the Internet in 2003.
"That sucked, because the first thing people heard formed their immediate perception of Team Sleep, and that early stuff was totally not intended to be at all representative of us," Moreno said. "So we took a step back from it for a couple years, and during that time I worked on the last Deftones record."
When Team Sleep finally got back together last summer to finish their album, they were a different band. Not only did they want to make sure their disc was a departure from the songs that had leaked, they decided to alter their approach after recruiting drummer Zach Hill for their live shows.
"The first practice we had, he started playing the drums, and it washed out everything else," Moreno said. "You can't really turn the drums down, so we had to amplify the guitar sounds. And that's pretty much when it stopped being this little electronic project and actually became a full-on band. Before then, we hadn't even used much distortion."
Lyrically, Moreno wants his work with Team Sleep to be as different from the Deftones as it is musically. "In the Deftones, it's all about my pain and my life, so with Team Sleep I try as much as possible to step out of myself and write about other things," he explained. "Like, one song is about cults like Jonestown and Heaven's Gate, and another is about medieval castles and diamonds. I didn't want to complain anymore. I just wanted to fantasize a little bit."
Moreno received ample help with his flights of fancy from Timony, whose own songs are filled with myths and magic.
"I love mystical stuff, and Mary is all about that," he said. "She's so good at doing things that take you away from reality, and having her on the album inspired me to escape all the more. After years and years of screaming my head off, doing that felt really good."