There comes a time when you heed a certain call. In Sergio Vega’s case, it was to join the Deftones after their original bassist Chi Cheng was involved in a tragic car accident. (He’s now in a semi-conscious state and under medical supervision.)
Of course, coming into a band that has had years of bonding isn’t the easiest thing – so it helps that they have been friends for some time.
Hi Sergio, how’s the Big Day Out tour going so far? It’s a lot of fun. A lot of bands, and a great crowd to play to. Just enjoying ourselves really. It’s our first time to a lot of Asia outside of Japan, so we’re very very excited. The Big Day out thing is just fun. It’s my personally my first time, but I had a lot of anticipation for it, because everyone in the band had such good things to say about it. Even Stephen who doesn’t like flying was excited. And I’m like, “Wow, if you’re excited then it must be something good!” It’s just been a good time. Nothing crazy, but just great fun. It feels really good, it’s nice to have that chance to see people you wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to meet, or play with because it would make “no sense”.
Who are your “must-see” picks for Big Day Out? Ooh, Crystal Castles, LCD Soundsystem, Primal Scream, Tool… You name it. Yeah, usually at festivals we get to play for 50 minutes which is a short time. Our own show is two hours, right? And once that 50 minutes is over, it’s like, “now what?” But here, “it’s like oh wow, there’s all these cool bands!”
We’ve seen your live shows online, but what’s key to your gigs, do you think?
It boils down to just the energy, we really enjoy playing and enjoy each other’s company and we enjoy looking out and connecting with people. That’s important. It’s respect or reverence for the occasion, because everybody who comes has taken time out of their lives to listen to what we do. They take that further step in buying that ticket too. It means a lot to us. It really does. I don’t think there’s any time where we’re like, “oh man, we gotta do this again.” There have been times when we’re physically tired, but the payoff is the show itself. We get to connect with people. That’s the most important. Like when I see a band and they’re not interested, it bums me out. I mean, everything is so precious and every moment means so much, so to act like that that is an insult. Everybody in the band feels like that. And people can expect our full presence and energy and excitement.
Have you had any incidents on tour so far? Chino and myself we move around a lot, we’ve fallen down, tripped over each other, but that’s not embarrassing. It’s just part of the thing, you know? Alright, I’ve fallen – I’ll get back up. We’re not showmen, as such. We’re just running around. If we fall, if we spit, if we trip, that’s just part of it.
You’re more or less fairly permanent now in the band, right? Unlike the first time, when you were a temporary replacement for Chi? Basically what happened was… We’re old friends. We met on the first Warped Tour. I used to be in a band called Quicksand, and we had a lot in common because of the things we liked and the music. And I had filled in for Chi in 1999 for a short tour. And that cemented our friendship. After Chi’s tragedy, I went to California to meet the band and we jammed for a couple of days. And after that, we had two songs! For myself, I was like, Hey look, we’re friends, and I may not really understand what your needs are or what you want from me, but they were like, “we dig you, so just play”. And then the producer furthered that sentiment. He said, “we’re all in this together, don’t think about what your purpose is, we’re all very fortunate to make music together, we’re here as a unit. He was like, this is an opportunity. Yes, it comes out of a bad place, but let’s just use this opportunity and so few are fortunate to do this. And everybody just came in and we wrote. It was a very collaborative experience. It was so democratic and the producer made everyone feel very important. And as a band, everyone is very open and collaborative, there’s no pecking order. It was a very good time and it happened very fast. Because everyone was putting their best foot forward. Someone had an idea and the next thing you know, it’s a song. And Nick would be recording every idea and saying things like, “two days ago you had this great idea and you haven’t messed with that yet”. No stone left unturned literally. There isn’t anything that we did that isn’t on the record in some form or other. Nick had to stop us, he said, “it’s all very cool but we don’t have time.”
So there hasn’t actually been any pressure being in Deftones? Internally there was no pressure because we have a long history and they’re very nice and open. Another example of their character was that they always brought up Chi in a good way. It’s never Sergio vs Chi, it’s Sergio and Chi. It’s like this is a family. It wasn’t like, “Man I have to look at your face, and it reminds me of Chi.”
But you know, that happens when you’re in a band sometimes… Well, that does happen to other people and it took me a while to realise that, because people kept asking me that question and I’d be like, “Why are you asking that? Oh… I get it.” With the fans, fortunately I was already in Quicksand. It’s not like super huge, but we had a nice following and we were still very active and part of the hardcore scene. So there was immediately upon me joining the Deftones, there were the section of Deftones fans who didn’t know about me, then there were those who knew about me, and there were Quicksand fans who weren’t Deftones fans letting setting those Deftones straight. You could see it on the YouTube comments, like “Who the hell is that?” and then someone would be, “Hey he was from Quicksand man, you should check him out”. So now they know it’s not just some guy taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune.
I ask that because being a replacement isn’t always easy. Ringo had it tough when he first joined The Beatles and they weren’t even big then! And of course, Rob Trujillo too, when he joined Metallica… I guess the only difference was that I formed Quicksand and I’m the composer and I had a solo record, and my clique who know me know me from a specific place, I’m not someone who just plays for everybody.
What’s up in the pipeline for Deftones then? Any new music? What we’re going to do – what we’d like to do is a headlining tour of the United States. We haven’t done that yet. We did a tour with Alice In Chains, which was a support slot. That tour was amazing and part of the benefit was that we got to do a major tour without having to headline it. We’ve yet to do our own thing. And we’re going to do Central and South America, then in the summer we’re going to head to Europe. But what we’ve been noticing is that in the soundchecks and stuff, we’re starting to noodle around with new music. And Stefan and I have our studios with us and we set them up in the rooms, and we start banging things out. And then Abe and I have talked about getting together. We know if we can get it together, we can have a record out, well, in a timely manner.
The way it works for us is that all the stuff we do in our own time just help sets markers for an aesthetic. But when it comes to the actual composition, I don’t think too many of these things we do individually is taken in its whole. It’s such a collaborative affair is that we make it sound like US.
What’s the best thing about being in the Deftones right now? The best thing is the company. Just knowing that the days are so fulfilled. I just feel like this is a great use of time. This feels good. Whatever happens, if people like me or hate me or whatever, this is just a great way to spend time and it’s awesome. The worst thing that happens to me is that sometimes I get a little anxious about how things are going. I mean, they’ve been friends a long time, and I get concerned that I’m reading things right, that everybody’s okay with me and what I do.
Here’s a selfish question. You used to use a Rickenbacker bass when in Quicksand, now you’re using a Fender… Jaguar. Yeah, that’s my bass now.
So I was thinking, if you’re not using that old Rickenbacker, could I have it? (Laughs) I bought that bass when I was 18, I worked as a telemarketer in my first job, to save money to buy that Rickenbacker. I’ve yet to use it with the Deftones. I wanted to, but I fell in love the Fender Jaguar bass. Mainly because of My Bloody Valentine – that’s my biggest influence, they’re my heroes. I use a lot of effects – which isn’t often used on bass – and when I had the opportunity to use that instrument they were using I was like wow. Being that the Deftones use multiple tunings, I have to have a few. I personally go between four different tunings. And what’s great about the Diamond Eyes record is that no one is in the same tuning. Sometimes Chino and I are in the same tuning but like that song Beauty School, no one is in the same tuning. Chino is in drop D, I’m in C sharp, Stefan is using his eight string. None of the tunings line up.
So, no chance of me having the Ricky, then? If it wasn’t the first bass – if it was the second bass that I bought I’d say you could have it. (Laughs)
The Deftones perform on Wednesday at Fort Canning Park. Tickets at $98 ($110 on show day) from Sistic.