‘I could float here forever’ – a tribute to ‘white pony’ on its 20th anniversary

‘I could float here forever’ – a tribute to ‘white pony’ on its 20th anniversary

By Liam Knowles

Jun 20, 2020 14:10

Cast your mind back two decades to the year 2000. All the worry about the Y2K bug had turned out to be for nothing, Big Brother soiled our television screens for the first time, the Playstation 2 came out, and - perhaps most importantly – nu metal was approaching its peak.

This was the year that would give us ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavoured Water’ by Limp Bizkit, ‘Hybrid Theory’ by Linkin Park, ‘The Sickness’ by Disturbed, ‘Infest’ by Papa Roach and countless other albums that were considered seminal at the time. Despite the fact that it brought alternative music into the mainstream zeitgeist for the first time in a long time, most of us can agree that nu-metal, with it’s conflicting combination of surface-level angst and forced swagger, hasn’t aged particularly well, and many of the surviving acts from that era can only dream of ever enjoying that previously held status again.

The most obvious exception to that rule is Deftones, and their extraordinary longevity can be traced back to 2000’s ‘White Pony’. While their 1995 debut ‘Adrenaline’ and its 1997 follow-up ‘Around The Fur’ are both great albums that stood out from their peers at the time – and still hold up now – ‘White Pony’ was the true turning point that allowed Deftones to unshackle themselves from the ailing genre that they had been unfairly lumped in with. 

Vocalist Chino Moreno felt that the self-deprecating lyrics a lot of their peers were peddling had become stale and uninteresting, so he made a conscious decision to write songs that weren’t personal to him, choosing instead to create characters to guide the listener through the songs, or scenarios for the listener to envelop themselves in. This think-outside-the-box approach to songwriting, combined with the band’s diverse set of influences, gave them the edge they needed to make an era-defining record.

Songs like opener ‘Feiticeira’ and ‘Rx Queen’ owe more to bands like The Cure and My Bloody Valentine than anything you would consider to be metal. The rich textures created by guitarist Steph Carpenter and bassist Chi Cheng (RIP) evoke shoegaze and art-rock while still retaining the opulent sonic heaviness that has become their signature sound. Chino Moreno’s vocal delivery is much more subdued and haunting than the previous records, making his heavier moments even more impactful. The hip-hop elements from the band’s early material are still there, but they’re used much more subtly to accentuate the songs rather than dominate them, such as Abe Cunningham’s striking trip-hop drum pattern on ‘Digital Bath’ and the gentle, ambient beats lurking in the background of the Radiohead-esque ‘Teenager’, provided by DJ / electronics maestro Frank Delgado.

As good as the band are as a unit, and they are one of the best to ever do it, two of the real standout moments on ‘White Pony’ are generated by guest appearances. On ‘Knife Prty’, the relatively unknown Rodleen Getsick delivers a wordless performance that is equal parts carnal and harrowing. Her otherworldly wail breaks and bends before becoming a glass-shattering shriek as Chino’s chilling refrain of “I could float here forever” washes in and blends with her. It is a remarkable moment on an already remarkable record, and an impossible thing to hear without your hair standing on end. The more high-profile guest appearance comes from Tool / A Perfect Circle vocalist Maynard James Keenan, who brings a breathtaking darkness to the track ‘Passenger’. Chino and Maynard are two of modern metal’s most influential vocalists so to hear them trading lines is like a wet dream for many, although when Deftones were recently asked if they would have him on a record again, the band said that they wouldn’t, with Chino stating “It’s like making a movie. The sequel is never as good as the original”.

‘White Pony’ is an album with huge crossover appeal; it brought out the soft side in a lot of metal fans and the heavy side in a lot of non-metal fans due to its eclectic mix of influences. There’s an enticing sense of delicate fragility to this album, even in the heavy sections, that was unlike anything most metal fans had been exposed to at the time; a huge sound, yes, but one that felt like it could crumble under its own weight at any moment. That’s not to say that the band had “gone soft” – the hammering riffage of ‘Korea’ and the blistering rage of ‘Elite’, a song which would see the band win the 2001 Grammy award for Best Metal Performance, are proof that Deftones were still very much operating in the world of metal – but at the same time, they were showing a different side of what metal was capable of being. That is, a more fluid, open, emotional beast drawing from a much broader palette than the regimented riffing that had dominated heavy music throughout the 90s. ‘White Pony’ showed an entire generation of metalheads that it’s ok for heavy music to make them feel something other than angry or frustrated, and the breadth of emotions it conveys continues to resonate with people to this day. 

‘White Pony’ is truly an album where every member of the band was utilised to their full potential, on every single moment of every single song. We’ll see more of the band’s rich arsenal of skills and styles later this year, as they are releasing a ‘White Pony’ remixes album, brilliantly titled ‘Black Stallion’, alongside a reissue of the album itself in its original format (without ‘Back To School’). Not much else is known about the remix album right now, other than the fact that it counts pivotal hip-hop producer DJ Shadow among its contributors. It’s exciting to see that 30+ years into their career, Deftones are still trying to find new ways to innovate and expand, even when it comes to celebrating their older material.

The impact of ‘White Pony’ can still be seen across the landscape of alternative music twenty years after its release. To showcase this, we reached out to a diverse cross-section of UK bands to get their take on this landmark record and what it means to them.


Ed Gibbs, Devil Sold His Soul: “‘White Pony’ was one of those records that completely changed my perception of what a metal album could be. Although Deftones were never really a nu metal band, this elevated them out of the masses and really showed the breadth of what they had to offer. It showed me that you can do whatever you want with music and that all rules are there to be broken.”

Dan Dolby, Mastiff: “I remember hearing ‘White Pony’ for the first time and being absolutely blown away. I’d been a Deftones fan since ‘Adrenaline’ but this was some next level shit. ‘Digital Bath’ was a revelation. I bought the CD at HMV in Peterborough on the day of its release, along with Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works’ albums, my tastes were expanding somewhat, and when I first listened it was just that perfect balance between metal angst and ambient beats.”

Chris French, Agvirre: “I was first gripped by the cool of ‘Back To School’, but fell in love with the glorious rendition of ‘Pink Maggit’ that closes ‘White Pony’; my gateway into post-metal before I even knew it existed. The album is filled with so many spectacular moments: the sexual energy of ‘Digital Bath’, the dream duet on ‘Passenger’, the violence of ‘Knife Prty’, the trip-hop fragility of ‘Teenager’ and THAT drum fill on ‘Change’…’White Pony’ is the gift that keeps on giving and will likely stay by my side for the rest of my days.”

Andy Gillan, Palm Reader: “Nothing has changed the way I listen to music as much as ‘White Pony’. Every aspect of it from the songwriting through to production is just phenomenal and it impacted my playing as a guitarist no end. I adore this album. Always have, always will.”

Bobby Pook, Blanket: “I wasn’t massively into a lot of the nu metal bands that were coming out at that time but when I heard Deftones it just clicked. I wouldn’t even put them in that genre really. The production was airy and everything just sounded sort of heavy but sexy, you know? The grooves the drummer plays give the tracks a sort of hip-hop vibe in terms of the bounce it gives them, the vocals were always raw and distorted and I loved that about it. Here we are 20 years later and ‘White Pony’ is still in my top five influences.”

Steffan Benham, Hidden Mothers: “‘White Pony’ for me to this day is the only album where I can’t just listen to a singular track. It’s the entire album or nothing! I feel that’s what Deftones set out to achieve when writing it. As a 15/16 year old deep into Swedish death metal and thrash, this new emotive style was truly an opening for how eclectic my taste would later become.”

Andy Curtis-Brignell, Caina “I think a big part of why White Pony resonated so strongly with my generation, the kids who were say 14-18 when it came out, is because it presents adolescence as this seductive, occult Eleusian mystery play. Layering melody on melody until it becomes musically punishing and spiritually exhausting over these fragile, abstract lyrics about painful love, schoolyard warfare, self harm. It’s high drama, it’s literature, and it slaps.”

Mel Pereira, Brasher: “I actually remember buying ‘White Pony’. It was part of a HMV 2 for £10 offer and I needed another CD to make up the deal. I’d heard of Deftones but never listened so thought it would only be a small price to pay if I didn’t like it. Put it this way; I’ve completely forgotten what the other CD was I bought that day. ‘White Pony’ taught my more about guitar than most bands before, introducing me to drop tunings that I could understand and navigate, but also taught me a lot about playing the drums (‘Digital Bath’!? Fuck me!) so I was hooked for both those reasons.”

Pedram Valiani, Frontierer / Sectioned: “I started my love of Deftones with ‘Saturday Night Wrist’ and worked my way back in the discography, discovering White Pony later. I think the bands relationship with producer Terry Date helped the band evolve significantly to achieve the breakthrough they had on ‘White Pony’. There is an exponential shift in what the band achieved on ‘Adrenaline’ up to ‘White Pony ‘and I think the success of tracks such as ‘My Own Summer’ and ‘Be Quiet and Drive’ on ‘Around The Fur’ acted as a bridge to the seismic shift on ‘White Pony’. At that point I think the formula for writing “accessible” songs that’s are still “bangers” had been refined.”

Gary Marsden, Earth Moves / We Never Learned To Live: “Discovering ‘White Pony’ was truly a turning point for me in terms of my music tastes, I’d never heard anything like it at the time. As a drummer Abe’s playing immediately spoke to me, that fill taking you into ‘Feiticeira’…straight away, he’s got you by the jaffas. The man’s just an abominable groove machine and the drum production on this album is definitely among my favourites.”

Laurent Barnard, Gallows / Gold Key: “The first two Deftones records really shaped a lot of what I listened to but ‘White Pony’ took it to a new level. It was the same Deftones but then they were mixing in elements of The Cure, Mogwai, Massive Attack. For me this was when they shed their “Nu-Metal” skin and became the band they’re recognised for being today.”