ENTER THE WHITE PONY
By ELI JACE >
June 2000, daytime — driving somewhere in America:
*click* —CUT MY LIFE INTO PIECES– *click* —ALL THE OTHER SLIM SHADYS ARE JUST– *click* –IT’S GONNA BE MAY– *click*
These are the sounds of driving with an indecisive finger on the radio dial in the first summer of the new century.
Twenty years isn’t that long, but looking back, it’s a gorge. Still pre-9/11, -MySpace, -Facebook, -streaming anything, -iPhone, etc. Cracked jewel cases were everywhere. Napster was one year in and MTV still had significant cultural and financial pull. This was the summer of sophomore releases from Britney Spears and Eminem–Oops!… I Did It Again and The Marshall Mathers LP respectively. Everything was pop.
The music of the mainstream was as bad as it had ever been (but not as bad as it would become.)
There’s only a tiny chunk of music from this mini-era that holds up today. Then, American audiences were largely only offered two opposite ends of a colorless spectrum. There was Papa Roach, Creed, Kid Rock, and Korn over here. Spears, *NSYNC, Christina Aguilera and Sisqo over there.
Rock music at that point had since slithered from the entrails of grunge into this shitty beer metal pumped up with generic aggression and ripped off Nirvana riffs. Those cretins from Puddle of Mudd and Nickleback made a fortune. (dirty money) Forming its own branch off that was rap metal, an unfortunate experiment for all involved. At the same time it was also the apex of white girl pop. The legends of Spears, Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Backstreet Boys were barely dug in. Suddenly every music video had a choreographed dance routine for every verse and chorus. It was all a lot of flash and bang to cover up the low grade of songwriting being done.
Deftones, from Sacramento, California, brought a new mood to the charts.
The five-piece band released, White Pony, their third album, that summer. It would end up an important milestone, bringing them to their highest peak to date professionally. The first single, “Change (In the House of Flies),” was released May 20, 2000, on time for summer heartbreak. Opening with a single, distracted guitar strum, the song entered the radio with new emotion, a full deep breath. Starting the week, the top 5 songs, according to the Billboard Hot 100, were: 1. “Maria Maria” by Santana; 2. “Breathe” by Faith Hill; 3. “Thong Song” by Sisqo; 4. “He Wasn’t Man Enough” by Toni Braxton; 5. “I Try” by Macy Gray. They snuck in when no one was watching.
“Change” begins slowly with singer Chino Moreno in whispers and builds into a big aching chorus. The lyrics are delicately haunted, daring and sexual. “I look at the cross / and I look away / give you the gun / blow me away,” Moreno breathes out before guitarist Stephen Carpenter scratches out the silence with metallic shriek.
At this period in music marketing, the music video was still the most impactful way to reach the biggest audience.
The song was one thing, but the video could breathe new perspective and insight to create a single piece of work (if done right). Total Request Live, then, was a game changer. The popular afternoon top-10 music video countdown show was just another spotlight for the major popstars, but every now and then, lesser-known artists would creep in the list and gain some traction.
The clip for “Change,” directed by Liz Friedlander, was the perfect visual match to the song’s disenchanted feeling. The band performs the song in the corners of a party house, long past the first shots were poured and lines were drawn. Beautiful models curl along the furniture, passed out. Everything is lit by lamplight and some of the revelers hide behind masks of jungle animals. The macabre scene was just as enticing as the song’s slow ragged hooks.
I was instantly obsessed.
My friend Josh R. knew this and for my birthday got me a copy of White Pony on compact disc a week or so after its release. The silver square with the white cutout pony in the corner was like a missing piece in the tableau of my music history.
“Change” definitely made it to TRL a few times and, though I can’t outrightly prove it, I’m pretty certain it grabbed the #1 video for a day. TRL’s top 10 videos for June 2000, according to user “adoug15” on rateyourmusic.com, were: 10. “Thong Song” by Sisqo; 9. “I Think I’m In Love With You” by Jessica Simpson; 8. “Somebody Someone” by Korn; 7. “Last Resort” by Papa Roach; 6. “American Bad Ass” by Kid Rock; 5. “Oops!…I Did It Again” by Britney Spears; 4. “If Only” by Hanson; 3. “The Real Slim Shady” by Eminem; 2. “The One” by Backstreet Boys; 1. “It’s Gonna Be Me” by *NSYNC. Wow, what an era, honk honk.
This was the group’s third time working with metal producer Terry Date. After Deftones’ previous two albums, Adrenaline (1996) and Around the Fur (1997), White Pony would set them apart from other metal acts. Unlike some of their peers, they would not be pigeonholed into some formative pattern of aggression. They could expand.
Chino’s heart had always been open on songs like “Mascara,” “One Weak,” “MX” and “Fireal.”
But on White Pony he lets that thing bleed out from the carseat to the living room to the bathroom and back. On “Digital Bath,” Feiticiera,” “Passenger,” Moreno paints vivid violent imagery of drunk lust and conniving romance.
Stephen Carpenter, the group’s purveyor of grind, often namechecks the Swedish metal band Meshuggah and LA’s Fear Factory as major influences. On White Pony he would find equal footing with his Cure-loving singer enough to wax heavy in all the right spots. Carpenter detunes and plays chugging riffs like Picasso’s Cubist period, thick, slathered with sudden turns. He plays a 7-string and gets this thrashing higher-pitched alarm call on “Korea” and “Feiticeira.” And of course there’s “Elite,” the three-minute stabbing, which would win the Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2001. [Nominees were: Iron Maiden (“The Wicker Man”), Marilyn Manson (“Astonishing Panorama of the Endtimes”), Pantera (“Revolution Is My Name”), Slipknot (“Wait and Bleed”)].
All of drummer Abe Cunningham’s punk energy on the first two albums, finds restraint.
His quick offbeat bursts ricochet directly off Carpenter’s riffs. His snare hits like a taser, and when a song falls into cooler atmosphere, he adds that extra fill, playing unpredictably and to the mood. The three-song suite of “RX Queen” / “Street Carp” / “Teenager” is where the sonic experimentation really sets in. Bassist Chi Cheng lays down a stealthy bassline on “RX Queen.” DJ Frank Delgado fills in the empty spaces with textured atmospherics. “Teenager” is pushed by a dusty drum beat you might hear from Pete Rock, and Moreno’s full falsetto. It’s definitely the emotional center of the album, and a place metal doesn’t often venture.
The beauty of White Pony is every element of the Deftones sound speaks without talking too much or over. The wide range of influences from each member creates a glowing mix of punk, thrash and doom metal, shoegaze, trip-hop and new wave.
As the nu-metal era died off those bands would have to evolve their sound or risk entrapment in a niche music category.
White Pony would kick into gear the cult following Deftones have enjoyed since, and help influence a number of bands, if not full genres. Taproot, Relative Ash, Trapt and Thirty Seconds to Mars all did their best Deftones tribute act. Emo, and then screamo, would owe a debt to Deftones. My Chemical Romance, Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, Muse and others would bite off their style. With White Pony the band proved they could break the metal label and all of its usual trappings to create their own offshoot.
Deftones’ most recent album, Gore, was their eighth. It was released in 2016. Deftones have been mixing their ninth, again, with Terry Date. It’s his return working with the band since their self-titled follow-up to White Pony in 2004. Originally set for a summertime release to coincide with a headlining tour with Gojira and Poppy, the new album has been put on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak. The tour is being rescheduled for 2021 and there have been vague rumors of a new post-summer release date.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of White Pony, the band will be broadcasting live from their YouTube channel Saturday, June 20, 8PM Pacific Standard Time.