Chino Moreno is a busy dude. Not only does he front the always busy and internationally huge rock band Deftones, last year he released an EP with his Crosses project (featuring Shaun Lopez of Far and Chuck Doom) and joined a newly formed band called Palms with three members of now-defunct post-rock group Isis (drummer Aaron Harris, guitarist/keyboardist Clifford Meyer and bassist Jeff Caxide). On April 1, 2013 Harris posted on his blog (Aaronharris-audio.com) that the debut Palms record had been completed and handed over to the their label, Ipecac Recordings, for a June 25, 2013 release date. “I couldn’t be happier with both the experience of creating this album and how it turned out.” In early March, Harris met up with Deftones on tour so that he and Moreno could wrap up vocals for the record. “We turned hotel rooms and backstage areas into temporary recording studios,” Harris wrote.
As of press time, Submerge was able to find one song online after searching around a bit. We think it’s called “Tropics,” and it’s way more mellow than one might expect when thinking about Isis meets Deftones. We look forward to hearing the whole record and hopefully a Sacramento tour date (hint, hint, Ace of Spades).
Far’s Shaun Lopez and Deftones’ Chino Moreno let their creativity loose with Crosses
Shaun Lopez (guitarist for Far) and Chino Moreno (vocalist for Deftones) have left an indelible mark on the Sacramento music scene–as well as rock music beyond the River City. Sometime last year, the two (along with bass player and songwriter Chuck Doom) began meeting–more or less in secret–on a new project that would leave a new kind of mark, âœâœâœ, aka Crosses.
Lopez and Moreno worked closely together before, though according to the Deftones vocalist (who also provides vocals for Crosses), it wasn’t the most positive experience. Moreno says that the vocals for Deftones’ Saturday Night Wrist, released in 2006, were recorded at Lopez’s studio.
“We worked pretty close then–a little too close,” Moreno says. “It was a gnarly time. There was probably one point when we were doing that that I said in my mind, ‘I will never work with Shaun again.’”
Lopez adds with a laugh, “I said the same thing.”
One thing positive that did come from the experience was that the two remained friends, despite the difficulty. Moreno recalls that it was a rough time for him personally and that he felt a lot of pressure surrounding Saturday Night Wrist. This time around, however, things were different. Crosses didn’t bear the same level of expectations as did that Deftones album. In fact, for the most part, no one even knew that Moreno was working on new music.
“The music is pretty powerful,” Moreno says. “I hate to sound corny, but when we get together to make some stuff, it straight up sounds good. I think we just enjoy that.”
Crosses got off the ground with just Lopez and Doom at the helm. Lopez says that he’d met Doom two or three years ago through a mutual friend. Doom was looking for a space to lay down tracks for another project he was working on, but as he and Lopez began getting to know each other better, they began writing together.
“He started bringing in some other ideas that were different than what he was doing already,” Lopez says of Doom. “I thought that it was really cool, maybe I can throw some stuff on top of this. Maybe we could do some co-writing. That was sort of the birth of Crosses.”
Beyond that, Moreno calls the enigmatically named Doom a “very interesting guy.” Moreno says that Doom has a penchant for “really old gear” and still employs floppy disks as part of his recording arsenal.
“I think that’s inspiring to me, because it’s not like he’s got an iPad in some room and he’s making shit that sounds like everyone else,” Moreno says. He goes on to praise Doom’s tireless, and perhaps eccentric, work ethic.
“I’ll get an e-mail at 7:30 in the morning sometimes, and it’ll be a 30-second clip of four chords with this weird loop around it… It’s kind of cool to see how [Crosses songs have] evolved from something as little and abstract as that.”
Moreno was the final piece of the Crosses puzzle. Originally, Lopez had planned on having a revolving door of different vocalists to sing over the music he and Doom were creating, but once he heard Moreno sing over a track, it seemed like he needn’t look any further.
“Once we heard what he could do over it, and it just really made sense,” Lopez says. “It all just sounded like something we could hear Chino’s voice on. He basically told us, ‘I don’t want anyone else singing on these songs.’ It was nice that it worked out that way, that it was really natural and really organic, and nobody was forcing anybody to do anything. He was like, ‘I really like this. I want to sing over these songs.’ He heard it, and then we started writing more songs, and he said, ‘I want to sing on all of these.’ So we were like, let’s do it.”
“I’m just that good,” Moreno quips.
It must have been the right formula, because the partnership became pretty prolific. Moreno reports that the trio produced over 20 songs in about six months. The group released its first album, a five-song EP titled EP âœ in August 2011. The album was released for free download through the Internet (it can be downloaded at Crossesmusic.com). Another EP, EP âœâœ, will be released in the same manner on Jan. 24, 2012. The goal is to release a third EP thereafter, and Moreno hopes that they will then compile them all into a full-length album along with five new songs. Both he and Lopez are reveling in the fact that they’re making this music on their own, with little outside pressures or expectations.
“To me, that’s one of the lamest parts of being a part of a big label, at least from my experience,” Moreno says. “Every time you’re making a record, you have someone’s opinion who’s outside of making the record, it’s always a damper.”
“And not so much the label, but anticipation from outside the project…right away there are a million opinions of what it’s going to sound like, what it should sound like. We went into this without any of that. It was cool to do it for fun as it went along. Now that it’s done, I guess people will have their opinion now, but it’s done. It is what it is.”
What it is may not be what Moreno’s fans expect or even want to hear from the lead singer of Deftones. EP âœ is a dark and brooding, ambient yet heavy release, perfect for turning up loud in your headphones and losing yourself in. “This Is a Trick” opens the album with creepy organ sounds washing over a glitchy digital beat that gives way to a chorus in which Moreno’s voice fluctuates between an almost pleading tone to a more metallic yell. From there, the EP traverses down more of a trippy, atmospheric road. Lyrically, the album seems to hold common themes of fantasy versus reality. Moreno says that these are ideas that are actually apparent in his other projects.
“I have a hard time deciding that I’m going to make a song about this topic and just doing it,” he explains. “To me, that takes away all the fun. It puts up walls all around you… I think that’s where the escapism comes through in the lyrics, with all my projects. It’s not like I write differently for this project or that project. When I sit down to write, it comes out however it comes out. A lot of times, it’s a sort of fantasy/escapism, things that are so detached from everyday life or emotions or feelings. I think those things come through anyway.”
Similarly, Lopez and Moreno have a take it as it comes approach toward Crosses. The band will be playing a series of live shows starting Jan. 31, 2012 something they hadn’t really planned to do with the project at its inception. Crosses will play a string of four dates in California, and then two dates in South America (Santiago, Chile for Lollapalooza Chile and Quilmes Rock 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina) in late March/early April.
As for the upcoming EP, Moreno gave few details. He says that he doesn’t feel comfortable describing what it will sound like, but mentions that it was recorded at the same time as EP âœ, so it will have a consistent feel, though it will probably be more up-tempo.
“I don’t want to give anyone any pretense of anything,” Moreno cautions.
Those with adventurous ears may find Crosses very rewarding. If nothing else, it’s a shining example of what a group of talented songwriters can do when they’re free to create as they will.
“I think that’s a liberating thing, especially for Chino, that we write, we record, we mix the record, and we basically turn it in and it’s out,” Lopez says. “There still aren’t a lot of people who know about it, which is cool. There are more people learning about it every day, which is kind of what we wanted.”
Crosses will play Ace of Spades in Sacramento on Feb. 3, 2012. Also performing will be Secret Empire, Dawn Golden and Rosy Cross. Doors for the all-ages show will open at 7 p.m., and tickets can be purchased through Aceofspadessac.com
A couple of Sacramento legends are teaming up for a side-project of sorts. Deftones’ Chino Moreno has started a new side project he’s calling Crosses, which also features Far guitarist Shaun Lopez. Moreno’s last project away from the Deftones came by way of 2005’s self-titled Team Sleep album. Moreno told Noisecreep.com that the new material is “really minimal and soothing and it’s sort of like the stuff I like listening to when I’m not screaming my head off.” Of Lopez, Moreno said, “Shaun has been a good friend of mine since we were kids. He’s my neighbor and we’ve done stuff together before. But just recently, during these little breaks that we’ve had, we’ve been recording this real minimal project where it’s just me and him and another buddy of mine, Scott Chuck, and we’re just writing these little pieces of music, whether it starts with piano or some down tempo beats.” Crosses has 16 tracks that are near completion and though no tour or album release is set, he suggested they may release a series of EPs.
Veteran Sacramento Rock Band Breva Comes Full Circle
The music business, even on a local level, is tough to break into. It’s cliquish and nepotistic, and like any other field, it’s all who you know. For the patient and persistent, however, the rewards are there. Local hard rock/alternative band Breva, from Folsom, is just now ready to reap those rewards, with the help of some local rock heavy-hitters.
According to drummer John Dutra, Breva has “been a band for six years, but we’ve been playing together for eight or so.” They put out two self released albums–their eponymous, self-recorded full-length album in 2005 and The Great Communicator, a five-song EP in 2007–and in early 2011, they will put forth The American Landscape, a more proper debut full-length. This time around, Breva worked with Simon Says/Rock Inc.’s Zac Diebels, who served as producer, and Far’s Shaun Lopez, who mixed the LP. Dutra says working with these two stalwarts of Sacramento’s rock scene felt like Breva had finally come “full circle.”
“To come and meet that circle, that we’re working with these dudes now, that makes us feel like we’re really doing something good and trying to kick down some doors in the Sacramento scene, which we really haven’t tried to do before,” he says.
Originally, Breva was set to work with only Diebels on The American Landscape, but at their producer’s suggestion, they brought Lopez on to mix the album.
“Zac and Shaun go way back, and they’re good buddies,” Dutra says. “That was kind of [Zac’s] call. It was his suggestion. He said it might be best to get another name on it, give a little more power to it and get fresh set of ears on it to mix. We were totally stoked about that.”
The result is an album on which Dutra says Breva “is coming into our own.” Not only did they get to work with more established Sacramento musicians, but the band also took more of a collaborative and varied approach to its songwriting.
“The 20 songs [we wrote] that have been hacked away to 10 on the album have been single songs that have been brought in by one person, things that have been jammed out in the room and things that have been taken a piece from this song here with a piece of this song here,” Dutra explains.
On their last release, Dutra says the songs were generally written by just one person and brought to the rest of the band.
“This one is much more diverse,” he continues. “There are songs that Phong [Ho, guitarist] wrote entirely on his own, and we didn’t even touch them. We just practiced them and recorded them. There are songs that we have that are four years old that we’ve tacked new parts on to and took out old parts and extended parts and twisted parts around. The main point is we’re all super involved in every aspect of it.”
Dutra contributed by stepping out from behind his drum kit and writing a few songs on guitar. He says that he knows enough guitar “to get ideas across,” then leaves it up to Ho to embellish upon those ideas and make them better. Dutra says his proficiency on the guitar also informs his work on the drums.
“I think of myself more playing the drums like a guitar player or a bass player,” he says. “I’m not really a drummer kind of guy where I’m up there shredding and trying to do drum solos and four bar drum fills. I just try to play the song.”
One song that Dutra had a big hand in on The American Landscape was tentatively titled “The Mars Volta.” The title of the song has since been changed to “Paper Is Poverty.” Dutra says he’s got a hit-or-miss relationship with the music of The Mars Volta, but the song is certainly inspired by the work of the group.
“That was one of the last songs we had written out of the batch of 18 or 20, and I had come into the studio one day, and I just did this drumbeat,” he says. “I said to the guys to play something to it, because it was kind of a cool little beat that feels like it’s in a weird time signature, but it’s in 4/4.
“We started jamming to it, and it was tentatively called ‘The Mars Volta,’ because I just stole the drumbeat from that dude,” he admits with a laugh. “I mean, like, lick for lick.”
Imitation is the biggest form of flattery, after all, but Breva’s latest effort probably won’t remind you of the aforementioned prog rockers. The American Landscape certainly contains elements of progressive rock music and perhaps splashes of psychedelia, but the band’s sound is imbued with the sort of energy found in the alternative rock of the early to mid-‘90s. Lyrically, the album is just as hard to define, but Dutra doesn’t mind it that way. From the album’s title and its cover (a political cartoon drawn by Rex Babin of the Sacramento Bee) it could be speculated that the lyrics would have a hard-line slant, but Dutra says that’s not necessarily the case.
“I don’t think all of [the songs] are political,” he says. “I would say that maybe two or three of them are politically driven, but maybe there’s more than that. I’m not too into the politics part, so I can hear a song–unless it’s like Rage Against the Machine or something, where they’re driving it down your throat–it’s not like that to me. I guess I perceive things differently, and I think that’s how Andy [Mills, vocalist] prefers it to be.”
Dutra says The American Landscape will be available in February, but could be pushed back to March. He says the band may release the album digitally at first and then try to shop it around to labels. In any case, Breva seems to have found its place in Sacramento’s rock ranks.
Breva’s The American Landscape will be available early 2011. In the meantime, see the band play Jan. 27 at The Press Club. Show starts at 8 p.m.
At Night We Live
“Don’t call it a comeback…” Oft-quoted, L.L. Cool J’s assertion that he’s “been here for years” is perfect for occasions such as this. In the mid- to late ‘90s, Far blurred the line between backwards-cap, Addidas-clad nÃ¼ metal and heart-on-sleeve emo rock, and managed to do so in the most graceful manner possible. Their emotionally potent, fist-pumping (not the Jersey Shore kind) brand of heavy music probably could have had a huge impact on the world outside of Sacramento–it should have. And though Far certainly carved a niche among music fans at large, their 1998 breakup truncated what could have been.
Of course, the members of Far never went anywhere. The band’s name has always been uttered with no small amount of reverence, and its members had no problem moving on to other successful projects: Guitarist Shaun Lopez went on to helm The Revolution Smile, bassist John Gutenberger played with Two Sheds and Jackpot and frontman Jonah Matranga became most notable after Far’s demise for his solo work under the name Onelinedrawing. He even got a good dose of radio airplay when he provided vocals for the Fort Minor (Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park’s side project) single “Where’d You Go.” At Night We Live, set for a May 25, 2010 release, will be Far’s first album in 12 years. Will it make good on the promise they showed over a decade ago, or is it too little too late?
At Night We Live makes a statement toward the former with its huge opening track, “Deafening.” Fittingly, the sound of a timer rattles a few clicks before erupting into a brief battery of powerful riffs. Gutenberger’s sinewy bass lines and drummer Chris Robyn work in perfect symbiosis, powering the verses before giving way to Lopez’s mammoth guitars on the choruses as Matranga wails, “It’s deafening,” as if he’s pointing out the obvious. Later, Gutenberger and Robyn shine again on “Dear Enemy,” a palpitating and circuitous rocker punctuated by a stuttering outro.
It’s not all punch, though, as Far shows that even after a long absence, they’re not afraid to mix it up. Atmospheric tracks “When I Could See” and the sprawling “The Ghost That Kept on Haunting” pull from a much more subtle sonic palette, allowing Matranga’s breathy vocals to take on a sort of dark croon. This creates just enough variety among a collection of songs that sticks to a pretty consistent tone and tempo.
If there were one complaint with At Night We Live, it would be that it’s a bit one note. Songs such as “Give Me a Reason” get lost in the shuffle and are easy to overlook. Also, the final track, “Pony,” the Ginuwine cover that sowed the seeds for Far’s reunion, serves as an anticlimactic conclusion for an album that starts off with such bombast–a clever novelty maybe, but a novelty nonetheless.
Otherwise, there should be more than enough positives here for those who have been waiting with crossed fingers in hopes that another Far album would come. Rest assured that it’s been worth waiting for. But whether or not the band’s shot at a share of the spotlight has come and gone remains to be seen.
Words by James Barone
Click for our interview with Far’s Jonah Matranga and Shaun Lopez [Dec. 2008]
Sacramento’s Far Comes Home
By Mark Lore | Photos by Jeff Gros
They say you always want to go out on top. If that’s the case, then Sacramento’s Far did everything right. In the mid-’90s Sacramento was on the radar as bands like Cake and Deftones were signing to majors (remember those days?), while post-hardcore was bubbling underneath the city’s surface.
Far soon followed. After a pair of indie releases (1992’s Listening Game and Quick in ’94), the band signed with Epic/Immortal and released Tin Cans With Strings to You in 1996, in the process amassing a dedicated following. Hell, you know the story. Far released its best record in 1998—Water & Solutions—an album that harnessed punk, post-hardcore and even pop (?!) into 41 flawless minutes”¦then called it quits.
“I’m happy we stopped after Water”¦,” says vocalist/guitarist Jonah Matranga. “It was a good balance of all of our personalities.”
Those personalities have fueled various projects over the years—Matranga with his own project, Onelinedrawing, and bands like New End Original and Gratitude. Guitarist Shaun Lopez fronted The Revolution Smile. Drummer Chris Robyn and bassist John Gutenberger went on to form the more pop-oriented Milwaukee, while Gutenberger later formed Two Sheds with his wife, Caitlin.
But it always comes back to Water & Solutions—an album that a decade’s-worth of bands would nefariously hold close to their pained little hearts. In fact, Far might be one of the few bands that actually gained popularity after it broke up.
While it was surprising to hear that in November Far, after a decade apart, was planning on playing a few shows in the U.K., it’s been no surprise that the band’s recent reformation has been met with such unadulterated glee. But the members of Far have kept it loose and stress-free—they re-emerged under the moniker Hot Little Pony, recorded a cover of Ginuwine’s 1996 hit “Pony” (yes, Ginuwine), and are now gearing up for their homecoming show at the Empire on Jan. 15.
Submerge caught up with Matranga and Lopez, who filled us in on the not-so-elaborate Hot Little Pony marketing scheme, what the future holds, and why they don’t want to be blamed for Fall Out Boy.
The music climate has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Shaun Lopez: It’s good for us, because we’re in a unique position in being able to go out on tour and be self-sufficient, and be able to make a little money on top of that. I feel for new bands starting up right now because it is tough out there. Record deals being offered to young new bands are not so great; they’re almost better off doing it on their own. For us it’s been OK. Luckily we’re in a position that we do have fans that are pretty dedicated—it’s something we’re very thankful for and very surprised.
Whose idea was it to start playing together again?
SL: It came close when we did the re-release of Water & Solutions [in 2004]. It never came to, and I think in all honesty it probably wasn’t the right time and it wasn’t for the right reasons. Chris [Robyn] and I had been talking about it off and on and then Jonah called me about a year ago and brought the idea of just showing up at a club and playing. I liked the idea of playing again, but I wanted to do it more professionally and go out on a tour.
Jonah Matranga: He always tries to be more professional than me; I’m always the guy that wants to go out and just bang it out. And he’s like, “No dude, gotta rehearse; make it good.” So we balance each other out that way.
There was this semi-elaborate scheme with the Hot Little Pony concept. Whose idea was that? And who decided to record a Ginuwine song?
JM: What looks complex from the outside is just us fucking around on the inside. We wanted to play a couple of shows, and I just really wanted to take the hype away from it because a) I don’t like it, and b) I wanted us to be as unstressed as possible. I think our friend Jeff jokingly thought of the name Hot Little Pony. And we just all laughed when he said it and thought, “Ah that would be really fucking funny.” “Pony” is a tune that we’d always play before shows back in the day. And it’s just a simple song, and so Shaun and Chris laid it down [in Los Angeles] and I came down and sang it. Shaun added his magic dust to it. I don’t know, it just came out; it was a fun, very quick thing.
Now you have your homecoming show in Sacramento. Is that going to be a gauge of whether this continues?
JM: I think it’s all a gauge. There’s nothing official on the books, but there’s a lot being talked about. I think we’re all just trying to take it as it comes. The first two Hot Little Pony shows were like, “OK, can we do this well?” Because it was really important to all of us to not go up there and suck. And then we did the L.A. shows and thought we pretty much ripped it. Then we thought, “OK, can we tour together? Can we not drive each other insane?” The whole “Pony” thing has definitely thrown it into a different gear. We’ve never had any sort of radio play like this so we’ll sort of look at that and see what that means, if anything.
Any shows beyond Sacramento?
JM: Just Sacto. We’re very excited about that. It’s a big enough show where I think it will be fun and exciting, but it still feels like home. We got some friends’ bands on there. I feel pretty sure that more shows will happen, but we have nothing on the books. And then we’re looking at trying to do a little recording together, see what happens with that. My particular take is just trying to do a couple of covers that suggest where we came from as a band. I’m very reticent to do original songs. I don’t want to do an original song just to have a new song, and have it not be as good as the old shit. Because all of our favorite old bands do that and it blows.
Water & Solutions has been touted as your masterpiece. Does that put more pressure on you to record?
SL: I realize that no matter what we do, people are always going to love that record. That’s going to be the record.
JM: Yeah, but some people, frankly, like Tin Cans“¦ more, which I don’t understand. That’s the thing with putting out records”¦I don’t get to control what other people think. But for me, there’s no pressure with people, there’s just pressure for me… I just want to know it kicks ass. We could put something out as good as Nevermind, and people will still be like, “Yeah, you know, I kinda like ‘Bury White.'” But I would just want to feel in myself that it came from an inspired place, and that I could go out with confidence and play it live and feel as strong as I do playing “Bury White” or “Mother Mary” or “Man Overboard.” Those songs, I just feel good playing them. And I don’t feel good playing them because I’m used to them; I feel good because they’re good, and they’re good 10 years later.
Far has influenced a style of music that is looked down on, although you sound nothing like those bands. Do you guys think about that?
JM: I’ve been asked that question a gazillion times in interviews, and my stock answer that sort of makes me laugh, that I totally believe is: I don’t blame Led Zeppelin for Whitesnake and I don’t want to be blamed for Fall Out Boy. We just came around trying to play rock ‘n’ roll that was less dressed up and more human, and mixing heavy shit and more anthemic shit we liked from big rock with this sort of humble, straight in-your-face element of punk. A lot of bands at the time were doing that. And as it happened, when that sort of caught on, there were a lot of bands that traded in their leopard jeans and whatever else the fuck for horn rims and tight pants. They took all the cheap parts and tried to make money off of it, and forgot the important part, which was the humanness of it.
You’ve all changed as people in the last 10 years. How is Far different today than it was in ’98?
JM: The funny thing is that we’ve all changed as people, but the personality balance still to me is working out relatively similarly. I think Shaun and I are better at recognizing that we’re different people, and talking it through, which rules.
SL: Yeah, the communication is much better. In the past a lot of the problem was that when shit would piss people off, they wouldn’t say anything.
JM: It feels good now to come in with a little more time to breathe. And I do think we’ve all, through our individual experiences, learned a little about how important it is to clear the air before shit gets crazy.
Being in a band is like being in a relationship “¦
JM: I liken it to a relationship where the sex is really good, but everything else is weird [laughs]. To me that’s the closest analogy I could come up with without sounding creepy.