Abe Cunningham: Hey man, how’s it going? Can I get to you anything to drink? Water? Wine? Soda? Beer? It’s only light beer but we have beer?
Anthony: [laughs] Sure man, I’ll take a beer.
AC: Cool. There aren’t any chairs in this room. Damnit. This room sucks. Follow me.
One thing can be said about Abe Cunningham, drummer for Deftones. He is the definition of a rad dude. As we walked backstage we were passed by Sean Kinney of Alice in Chains before walking past Mastodon’s dressing room where Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher were watching a nondescript YouTube video. Brann Dailor, Mastodon’s drummer was sporting a shirt with kittens and a lowrider on it. Sergio Vega, bassist for Deftones is sitting back on the couch listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, singing along to himself. Abe laughs and turns the music down as we sit down on a kush couch the band has in their dressing room.
A: So you guys just got done with Seattle last night. There were cameras everywhere for Alice in Chains since they were doing that video thing. Were you guys a part of that?
AC: Oh, no, that was just for Alice but there were cameras everywhere. They were shooting in 3D. It was totally crazy.
A: Yeah, for sure. Alright man. I wanted to ask, especially since you and Sergio were just enjoying some Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, what were you listening to when you were coming down for the show?
AC: Today? Last night? I was hoping that I could listen to my snores, but I don’t snore. And, instead of sleeping soundly like I wish I could’ve, I’m fuckin’ tired right now. I was listening through two doors in the back lounge of the bus to Stephen, our guitarist, watching The Hangover for the 500th or 600th time, so that’s what I heard. And then when I got up to tell him to, ‘Turn it down; I’m trying to sleep. I’ve been trying to sleep all night,’ he was asleep in his bunk and it was just cranked up. Great movie but I’ve just seen it like a thousand times. So that’s what it was.
A: Were any of you guys ever DJs for a college radio station?
A: Makes sense. You guys have been goin’ since ’88 –
AC: Yeah, it seems like a thousand years almost. No, actually it feels like [shrugs] five years, six years but it’s been like 22. It’s cool though. You know, we’re friends, man. We have a blast.
A: Alright. Well, hypothetically, if you had a radio show, what would you play?
AC: There would definitely be a little Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Ah, you know what? It would be the best radio show that ever was. Y’know, I’m just a victim of having an iPod on repeat and chock full of thousands and thousands of songs. Damnit. I can’t think of any specifics.
A: For sure man, I’ve got your guys’ six studio albums and the B-Sides & Rarities with Mastodon and Baroness in a playlist right now.
AC: We just played with Baroness. Those dudes were great. It was about a month we were together, like three and a half weeks and those dudes were so rad. Sweetest guys in the world. We just became super duper buddies, y’know?
A: Right on. I was at that first show in Spokane. You may have seen the banjo that some of my DJs brought for John. Anyways, we had an opportunity to interview Terry Date about a month ago and when we asked him what records he was most proud of, he cited that White Pony was one of them. What record do you think most represents you as a band?
AC: I would say probably that record. I think their all obviously – I could say all of them but I think at that point and even up until now that was the best. We were just all over the place with what we listened to, all of us, and we just, we’re music lovers all around. But that was the best attempt at us trying to harness all of our flavors that we like to represent but also the way, from start to finish, represent the whole spectrum but equally and it was just – we got the mix right on that one. Well, not the actual mix but the flow of the whole record. It was just one of those things that turned out super rad and I’m not just saying that because it’s our record. But it’s crazy. Now it’s ten years old. They just re-released it on vinyl. But its funny because we’ve been talk about it a lot lately and people have asked, ‘Why has this stood the test of time?’ I don’t know but it’s pretty cool.
A: Now, Diamond Eyes is a little more melodic but has more aggressive tones.
AC: Kinda of Around the Furrish?
AC: Yeah, it was kind of more like where we were at. I mean, every time we do a record – I mean there are certain bands, I know there are certain bands plan out every more they make and it works for some people but we’ve never been that way. Every time we make a record it’s just a slice of the time and space we’re at in that point in time and it’s there forever, for better or worse. Y’know, we’ve had some not so great times and records that came out during those times also but it’s cool man, yeah.
A: Alright man. Lets talk the change in time with the album art, I know that Adrenaline had the baby booger grabber and Around the Fur had the woman on it –
AC: With the boobs. . .
A: [laughs] Yeah. With the boobs. Then White Pony was literal and Self-Titled didn’t seem to have a meaning. Does the owl hold some visual representation for the band?
AC: Self-titled was like Guns ‘N’ Roses, er, no, Grateful Dead with the skulls and stuff. You know what? It’s funny, because, as with some of our titles too, even titles of our records or titles of songs, there’s never really a direct connection. Its usually something like, oh, that sounds cool so that became, y’know. Like You’ve Seen the Butcher has nothing to do with going to the butcher shop. So, I don’t know. When we were getting ready for Diamond Eyes we were getting close to due dates for art and what not. So the guy, Frank Maddox who did White Pony and everything after that, our record label did all that stuff but he did all of our covers, but anyways, he just had a bunch of ideas and what took me about that picture was just the stark contrast between the owl that was so white and so pure but the background was so black but it’s like – Hi Troy!
Troy Sanders [Mastodon]: Hi Abe.
AC: But it’s eyes are the blackest eyes. Y’know. You could look into those eyes and never ever ever ever see the end eyes because they just go forever so y’know, it was like, you could see through the eyes, back through the background and then. . . to infinity and beyond!
A: Right on man. So, let’s talk about Blackdiamondskye. How did this monster of a concert come to be?
AC: It’s a marketing scheme [laughs]. Not really but we’ve known the Mastodon guys for quite some time and whenever we kicked it or hung we always hit it off immediately and had a blast together. We never had toured together and just ran into each other on off days. So, we became friends over the years. The Alice guys we’ve know for many years mainly because we recorded a lot of records in Seattle and they were in the studio at some point which is actually kind of odd because it was the last record they made – that whole time around ’94-95ish when we were making Adrenaline so it was just kind of an over the years kind of thing. Anyways, so Diamond Eyes, Nick Raskulinecz did that and they were completing their record Black Gives Way To Blue so when we were doing this new record they were stopping by, hanging, and it just kind of rekindled it all. We also have the same management too which is insane so y’know, why not? Its three different kinds of rock bands and I wouldn’t say that its three different generations because we’re not far off from each other in terms of time but this tour is really short and sweet. It’s exactly one month long and its almost done now, but yeah, here we are and it’s been really cool. Everyone hangs and its just a really good time.
A: Cool man, that actually leads me to my next question. How have the fans been at the shows since all three band’s sound is different?
AC: It’s been cool I wasn’t concerned, I mean, I knew we would just go in and do our thing regardless, at least from our point of view. I knew that we’d just go and play and do our thing but people have been very open and accepting of Mastodon and they’ve been tearing it up before us. We both have pretty brief sets. Mastodon is 40 minutes and ours is 50 minutes and it’s been great, man. Its been really really cool.
A: Definitely man. Although the sets are brief you guys both tear it up really well. Its like this tour was meant to happen. Anyways, lets go back to album stuff. On most of your records you guys have been known to cover a couple of songs during your recording sessions. How do you guys decide which songs you want to cover?
AC: I don’t know, really. We usually try to do something that’s kind of out there and wouldn’t be the norm, y’know? Like the Sade thing. I mean, its not like we did it because no one expected us to do it but it was just fun. It sort of became a tradition at the end of each session to kind of whip a couple of those songs out.
A: Oh, for sure. I know that you guys had brought in Joe Fraloub out of Northern California to shred “Simple Man” for you guys-
AC: Yeah! Which was funny because when we were first starting out he owned a studio in Sacramento called Pus Cavern and him and this guy Joe Johnson – they were the two Joes. He later became a music attorney and also played with bands and all this other shit. Anyways, yeah, we actually recorded that at their studio and we needed someone who could shred the solo and he did so, yeah. That’s really funny too because we did that one a long time ago and Chino was not down. I mean, Stephen and I love Skynyrd and shit and Chi was like, ‘Well, whatever’ but Chino was NOT down but he did it anyways, but he only did a couple passes and vocals so, yeah. I mean it came out pretty damn cool, but yeah.
A: [laughs] Awesome. Will we hear any covers tonight?
AC: Probably not. I wish. We’re just going to play our hit, ‘Change (In the House of Fliess)’ over and over again. Twelve times. Just the hits man. I mean hit. [laughs]
A: Should fans expect another B-Sides and Rarities album in the future?
AC: Definitely, definitely. I mean we’ll have to come up with some more stuff. We kind of used up a lot of what we had for that but there are still some other little nuggets hanging out somewhere but that thing actually came together out of necessity too. We were going through an absolutely horrendous time. I mean, we trying to finish a record. We were actually having a blast with each other but there was some heavy drug use and shit going on during the making of Saturday Night Wrist and it fucked a lot of shit up too. And y’know, Chino was going to leave, so when while he went to do Team Sleep in the middle of making that fucking record we kind of had to do something so I – I’m actually sort of the curator of our “museum.” I have everything we’ve ever made. I have one each sticker when we used to make our own stickers. Our shirts. I have everything, y’know. I went around town and compiled everything. I went to these old studios like Joe’s place and transferred that stuff to a hard drives and some of these tapes were still on tape and were about to die so we transferred them to a digital file. We found these old pictures and people submitted stuff. So it was like, about time, y’know but it actually turned out really cool. All the quotes and everything – it just turned out to be a really neat thing. It was meant to buy time but its great. I’m proud of that thing – but we need to compile more [laughs].
Note: Deftones will be releasing a limited pressing of 5000 copies of an album called Covers on record store day this year.
A: Right on man, well, I look forward more. So, let’s talk about the future. After this tour you guys are going over to Europe and hooking up with Coheed & Cambria. How did that tour work out and can U.S. fans expect to see that tour on U.S. soil?
AC: Yeah, they’re going to come out with us for a few of those dates. I don’t know if we’re going to do that tour though. I don’t see why not. It just depends on what those guys are doing too, y’know, but this kind of just work out cool since they’re going to be there and we’re going to be there too so it was just kind of one of those things like, ‘Hey, want to come with us?’ and they said ‘Yeah’. But yeah, those dudes are rad and you never know, man.
A: That would definitely be a show to see. Alright man, how about we talk about the state of music. There are a lot of bands right now that are switching up members all the time. In this state of musical chaos, what advice do you have for these guys since you guys have kept rolling for over twenty years?
AC: Tons of member changes, man. I noticed that. I mean, there’s ton. Y’know, we started out as friends. We’re buddies, man. I mean, we certainly don’t know everything but we learned a lot along the way and what a great way to start something out as friends, y’know? We were just buddies and we’re just trying to write music and it pretty much comes down to this: Enjoy who you’re doing it with and I guess that’s about it [laughs], honestly.
A: One final question: If you could fight anybody, who would you fight?
AC: Fight? [laughs] I’m a lover, man.
A: But if you had to fight someone?
AC: I’m a lover but I’d probably shoot them, y’know. It’d be a waste of time fighting and stuff [laughs]. That’s fucked up! Definitely a good question though. Um [pauses]. I’d shoot them in the face. Fight over. I’d be done and moving on with my day.
Special thanks to Abe Cunningham for taking the time out of his schedule to hang out and chat with me – even if I did keep him from his dinner. He’s definitely an awesome guy as well as all the dudes hanging out backstage. We even got to see Brann Dailor’s (Drummer for Mastodon) La La Teletubby costume he bought in British Columbia. Rumor has it that he’s worn it one stage a few times. That’s metal.