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DeftonesDeftones play the Big Day Out this Sunday, February 2, at Arena Joondalup. WAYNE MARSHALL speaks to drummer, Abe Cunningham.

Back in November, with only eight weeks until Australia’s premier summer festival, the Big Day Out, Deftones had no firm plans for the New Year. Then…

“A band called Blur cancelled and someone came calling,” recounts Abe Cunningham, drummer of the alternative metal veterans. Speaking from his home in Sacramento, California, Cunningham is clearly rapt about the 11th hour deal that saw his band included in a three-for-one replacement for Blur (the other two being Swedish rockers The Hives and the Liam Gallagher-fronted Beady Eye).

“We were back at home base and supposed to be off,” says Cunningham, having recently wound up a world tour for Deftones’ resurgent seventh album Koi No Yokan, which saw the band hit Australia last May.

“It’s pretty wild. Usually there’s a few years between trips and so this is wonderful. Australia is one of our favourite places to travel to and we’re more than stoked.”

2013 marked the 25th anniversary of Deftones, whose original and distinctive take on metal, according to Cunningham, “has always been a battle of beauty versus aggression.” As with any band that’s endured that long, you’d expect them to have encountered a few tough times over the journey and Deftones have had more than their fair share in recent years.

In 2008, bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a serious car accident that left him in a coma. In April of last year, having recovered enough to leave hospital, Cheng tragically passed away due to sudden heart failure. Throw in inner-band rifts, drug abuse and all the myriad trappings of the rock’n’roll lifestyle, and for a few years it looked inevitable that the quintet would self-implode.

But they made it through. When asked if the band’s survival can be attributed to the fact that three of its core members have been friends since they were teenagers (Cunningham, singer Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter grew up together in Sacramento), Cunningham answers, “Yeah definitely. There’s certainly been times when things were not so peachy. But I really do believe we’re based on a friendship. We’ve experienced a lot over the years. We’ve seen the world over and over. And every day is a chance to do something new and exciting. And what better way to do it than with friends.”

Perhaps the longevity of Deftones also has something to do with the freedom they allow each other to pursue other projects. Moreno, in particular, has been prolific of late, with his excellent Palms collaboration with three ex-members of ISIS, as well as his ongoing Crosses project.

“Chino is just a busy, busy boy,” laughs Cunningham. “He’s always making music. At first it can be a bit like, ‘what, you’re not getting that from us, so you’re going somewhere else to get it?’ Kind of like cheating. But now I look at it this way: whatever experience any of us have from playing with different people, we bring that back to our mix and I can only think that it strengthens it.”

As for what’s next for Deftones, Cunningham is quick to quell rumours that the band is set to release the shelved Eros album of 2008. “It’s definitely been talked a lot about in the press. People have a serious interest in that album for a lot of reasons. It’s a very heavy record. And quite frankly, the record’s not done. People think that we’re just sitting on it, but we’re not, it needs to be finished. It’s a heavy, heavy record for the fact that it’s the last thing we did with Chi. We’ll give it a look when we can, but it’s not that easy, man.”

For the moment at least, Cunningham and his bandmates are content to focus on the good fortune that’s enabled them to be jetting off for another Australian summer as part of the travelling circus that is the Big Day Out.

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