The Cover Story

††† (Crosses): “There were two options: either we don’t do this band at all, or we try it with just us two. We chose the latter”

This month, ††† (Crosses) – the musical brainchild of Deftones icon Chino Moreno and Far prodigy Shaun Lopez – return with PERMANENT.RADIANT, a six-track collection that’s going to blow people away. But, as Kerrang! finds out, it’s taken a lifetime of friendship and challenges to get to this point…

††† (Crosses): “There were two options: either we don’t do this band at all, or we try it with just us two. We chose the latter”
George Garner
Jonathan Weiner

Did you ever hear the legend of DJ Mantis? Don’t worry if not, Chino Moreno can fill you in. When Kerrang! catches up with him, he’s in the middle of a “little morning frolic” on the quiet residential streets of Bend, Oregon. Physically, he’s moving forward through the snow-blushed pavements, but his mind is otherwise traipsing down memory lane. Picture this: it’s around the turn of the millennium and Chino – iconic frontman of Deftones – is riding in the car of his friend and fellow rock luminary Shaun Lopez of Far. Mid-ride, a CD is produced bearing the name ‘DJ Mantis’.

“What the hell is this?” asks Chino, nonplussed.

“Just listen to it,” urges Shaun.

He presses play; the car fills with DJ Shadow-esque beats.

“This is fucking rad!” enthuses Chino, moments before he finds out that DJ Mantis actually goes by a more familiar alias: Shaun Lopez, albeit Shaun Lopez armed with an AKAI MPC drum machine.

“Yo, we should make a project!” exclaims Chino.

“Actually, I don’t think I even said project,” clarifies Chino, back in the present. “I said we should make a band together, aside from Far and Deftones.”

That simple gesture lit a long fuse that finally exploded in the form of Crosses – or the altogether harder to enunciate ††† – in 2011. Comprised of Chino, Shaun (née DJ Mantis) and Chuck Doom, they released two excellent EPs that formed the spine of a magnificent 2014 debut. Some of the most gorgeous, eerie and captivating music of the 2010s was created. And then Crosses disappeared just as mysteriously as they emerged. †ypical.

That’s why it was such a big deal when, earlier this year, Chino and Shaun returned with new songs and a plan to drip-feed tracks in the build-up to another full album. All of which brings us neatly to PERMANENT.RADIANT: not just their latest six-track collection, but rather six of the best songs of 2022.

Excitement is running high right now, and so are other emotions. The usual pre-release anxiety aside, Chino’s sleeping fine. The same can’t be said for Shaun. Greeting K! from his home studio in LA, he appears as a solitary figure wreathed in purple neon light and seemingly entombed in a room that has wires for wallpaper. His morning meditation was peaceful, but the dreams he had last night were anything but. Frankly, he’s wondering if he ate something dodgy.

“I rarely dream about famous people, but I had this dream that I was giving Dave Gahan a ride to the airport,” he grins. “It was so random! I was trying to play him Protection by Crosses, but I couldn’t find it on my phone.”

As if failing to impress Depeche Mode royalty wasn’t stomach-churning enough, the same 40 winks conjured yet another eye-twitching scenario.

“I was in the studio that I first learned to produce music in, up in Sacramento – and it was flooding!” he continues. “So there’s another stress dream.”

Mind terrors such as these actually make sense when you factor in Shaun’s journey in recent years. From the towering chorus of Vivien to Sensation’s quaking riff, listen to PERMANENT.RADIANT and you’ll be struck by the confidence of it. Yet all of this comes from an extremely vulnerable headspace. When Crosses returned, they did so not as the holy trinity of Chino, Shaun and Chuck but rather a deconsecrated duo, or what the Deftones star calls “two dudes in a room”. And questions hovered over the two dudes.

“In the back of my mind, and probably in the back of Chino’s, it was like, ‘We took one main writer out,’” explains Shaun. “I wasn’t feeling very confident. If you’re making a fucking soup and you don’t have no pepper, it’s gonna be a different thing, right? It might not be as good.”

The truth, however, is that Shaun’s confidence had been sapped long before that point.

“To be honest, and without being dramatic or bad mouthing people, as it went on, me and Chuck just…” he hesitates. “He was going this way, I was going that way, and Chino was caught in the middle. I think Chuck wanted to do his solo thing and involve Chino, which kind of meant he wanted to do Crosses without me. Which is just fucking comedy. If I’m gonna get on my Liam Gallagher vibe for a minute (laughs) it’s like, ‘Come on, bro, are you kidding me?’ Anytime I would get together with Chuck to make some new tunes, something had seriously changed in the vibe. A close friend of mine was even like, ‘Why aren’t you doing Crosses? I just figured you and Chino were beefing?’ I’m like, ‘No, dude.’ It was a bummer because the whole reason this stopped for that many years is because of one person and that one person isn’t in Crosses now.”

All of this took a toll on Chino, too.

“It was a really tough thing,” he says. “It wasn’t a decision we made, like, ‘We want to do this without Chuck.’ He just really wasn’t present, he had other projects he was taking more interest in. There were two options: either we don’t do it at all, or we try it with just us two. We chose the latter. Mine and Chuck’s friendship has suffered because of that, sadly, because I love that dude. I appreciate him as a musician, and as a friend. Hopefully, we work that out at some point. Shaun and his relationship had been fractured for quite some time before all this. My job wasn’t just to be creative anymore. For lack of a better word, I was ‘refereeing’ the writing project. That wasn’t fun at all. I could have fun making music with Chuck, I could have fun making music with Shaun, but making music together became like pulling teeth. That’s not the reason we started doing this. That’s probably as deep as I’ll go into that. It’s pretty self-explanatory.”

“I’m just happy we’re doing it now,” says Shaun. “It means so much, especially when we came back together against that unknown of, ‘Can we do this?’”

What follows is the story not only of a band that could do this, but were seemingly destined to.

Location: Matt Erich’s Musical Enterprise, Sacramento. Timeline: early-mid ’90s. Cost: $5 per hour. The price was as right for Deftones as it was Far. But even before they found themselves sharing that small garage rehearsal space, they had long been orbiting each other.

“We were just children,” smiles Shaun of when he first became aware of Chino Moreno. “It was basically when Deftones were a ‘local’ band. It was weird because I was into metal, but I also loved Duran Duran, and when I heard Chino I was like, ‘Oh, there’s some New Wave in his singing.’ Even though he didn’t look like that, because he had long hair.”

Just as he detected this trait, so too did Chino register it in Shaun.

“I got the Far cassette demo at a Sacramento show – it was awesome,” Chino reflects. “I noticed a lot of very similar influences to mine: Bad Brains, The Beat, a little bit of, dare I say, hip-hop. But, especially back then, just to meet another Mexican kid from the hood that was very similar to me was awesome. It was like, ‘Wow, here’s another kid that looks like me, likes the same music I do and he skateboards.’ We just were drawn to each other.”

They played shows together. They hung out. By the time Deftones and Far were both regularly using the Matt Erich’s Musical Enterprise space, they were doing something else, too.

“I don’t want to say it was a rivalry, but we pushed each other a lot with our bands because we rehearsed at the same place,” says Chino. “It was like the Run-DMC and Aerosmith Walk This Way video – we could hear the other band through the wall and shit (laughs). I heard Far playing and would be like, ‘Fuck, did you hear that riff?’ We would totally push each other musically like that.”

“To meet another Mexican kid from the hood that was very similar to me was awesome… We just were drawn to each other”

Chino Moreno

Nowadays they get to do it in the same band. Take Day One, for example, a standout song on PERMANENT.RADIANT. Shaun was bingeing on Latin music – Rosalía is mentioned – when he first created the slinky passage.

“I almost didn’t send it to Chino because I thought he’d be like, ‘Come on, man, this is corny!”

This is the first of a smorgasbord of Chino impersonations Shaun affectionately delivers during our interview. The Far man’s voice, a Californian accent riveted with upward inflections, suddenly disintegrates into a cooled Chinoian hush as he recites the feedback he received in the studio. If he ever needs a new side hustle, impersonating Chino could be a lucrative move for him.

‘Man, this is like some ’80s B-Boy shit, we could have people poppin’ and lockin’ to this!’ is Shaun’s recreation of Chino’s reaction to Holier.

‘Oh, man, it’s hot!’ was Chino’s reception to Cadavre Exquis.

And then there was his ‘Yo, what’s this dark Hawaiian shit?!’ response to Day One.

Contrary to Shaun’s fears, and despite it being such a different sound for Crosses, Chino adored Day One. So much so he actually wanted it to be a single much more than PERMANENT.RADIANT’s lead track Vivien.

“People know Crosses is, across the board, a little moody throughout our songs, but Day One is a bit more optimistic than most of the music I make… Period,” Chino laughs.

Shaun and Chino are clearly kindred spirits. Ask what they do when they’re not making music together? Shaun insists they’re just “playing each other songs and putting each other onto new shit”. They share a love of pop, black metal and ’80s New Wave among other genres, though Shaun struggles to match Chino’s love of jazz. “And that’s fine,” says Shaun. “I don’t want us to be the same person.”

If they were, their new EP wouldn’t have its title. PERMANENT.RADIANT is lifted from the brilliant chorus of Holier, which Chino explains was inspired by his love of INXS and Michael Hutchence’s unique cadences. Those words did not stand out to him, but they did to Shaun.

“Chino’s hardly ever the one to be like, ‘I got the title – here it is,’” jokes Shaun, after assuming yet another Chinoian voice. “We’ve never titled any EP or album – it was this weird pressure that we put on ourselves. But with PERMANENT.RADIANT, it just felt right.”

Shaun is a restless creative foil to Chino. That’s how the lyrics to PERMANENT.RADIANT’s closing track Procession came about. It started out as a passage of their comeback song Initiation that was eventually excised. A few days later, Shaun started humming something to himself in the shower.

“I was like, ‘What the fuck is that?’” he recalls. “It was in my head for days.”

Soon enough he twigged it was that clipped Initiation section stirring in his subconscious, begging to become a song. What it needed was words. But here’s the thing about Chino…

“I’m not the person with a ton of notebooks sitting around with writings, poetry and lyrics in,” the singer explains. Instead he uses a technique he calls “mushmouth”. He hears a song and starts tracing a melody to it – sometimes words are part of it, often they need filling out later. Chino had already mushmouthed Procession, but the words were missing. That’s when Shaun intervened.

“It’s no mystery that our boy’s notorious for taking some time to write lyrics or finish vocals,” laughs Shaun. “So, one night I was listening to that [mushmouth] when I had smoked some weed. I don’t do that very often, it makes me very unproductive, but I started writing down what I thought Chino was saying. The next day I texted him, like, ‘Hey, man, I got a little high last night and wrote some lyrics – you can tell me they’re trash, but if it makes you write something better, all good!’ And he hit me back.”

They weren’t trash.

“‘Damn – you gotta get high more often!’” parrots Shaun of Chino’s reaction. “My words were on the chorus – he might have changed one line or something. Then he wrote the verses.”

You might think Chino – as revered as lyricists come – had an issue with someone encroaching on his turf, but nothing could be further from the truth. Think about it: he’s one of a very small fraternity of frontmen of his stature not to have a solo album. The whole notion is anathema to him.

“I have no interest in that,” Chino insists. “I don’t.”

He proceeds to paint a heroically honest portrait of what happens when he creates alone. He’ll go into a studio, pick up a guitar, keyboard or drums, start tinkering… And within two minutes he’ll already miss having someone to work with. Slowly but surely, he starts listening to a record instead.

“It’s not that fun to make music for myself,” he continues. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think I’m that interesting as to where I have a million things I need to share with the world. I don’t. The best way to make music is to push ideas across the table and, next thing you know, you’re staring at a song.”

But while Chino knows how some of Procession’s lyrics came about, not all of Crosses’ new songs are so easy to decipher. Make no mistake, Chino is a man eager to interpret himself just as much as any of his fans…

Chino is halfway through an answer when he abruptly aborts it mid-sentence. “I hate explaining my lyrics,” he blurts out. “They sound so fucking corny when I do…”

He lets out a deep laugh. He’s in the middle of talking about Sensation – another shining example of his ability to seemingly pluck beautiful lyrics directly from some vivid astral plane. Shaun doesn’t press Chino about their meanings, even if he has a hunch as to their meaning. Ask him about the name of Cadavre Exquis, for example, and he’ll defer you back to Mr. Moreno.

“It sounds like a gory title, but it’s not,” Chino teases. We’ll leave you, dear reader, to disappear down that particular Google rabbit hole at your own leisure. The truth is that Chino is often trying to decipher his own meanings, unravelling their mysteries not during recording but in the reflection afforded weeks and months afterwards.

“This is very cliche, and I feel like I’ve said this a million times with a lot of records that I’ve made,” Chino offers as a caveat. “I don’t want to say it’s about dark times, but I will say it’s sort of grey. There was a pandemic – a lot of being home, uncertain, lonely, sad and not knowing what the future held. There’s a lot of sad stuff in there. There’s always a little heartbreak, and not that I was going through a particular heartbreak, it was just the uncertainty of where my life and the world was at. Listening back now, a lot of those themes are recurring within the songs.”

“We’ve never titled any EP or album – it was this weird pressure that we put on ourselves…”

Shaun Lopez

It’s strange to hear Chino mention heartbreak, when many songs on PERMANENT.RADIANT often sound, well, quite romantic…

“It’s that too,” he agrees. “I think it’s a longing for romance. When I find myself at a place of hopelessness, instead of getting into my deepest Morrissey sort of ‘Everything's doomed!’ [headspace] I think of what makes me feel good. I’m in love with the idea of love, romance and warmth… I know that sounds corny as shit. But sometimes it’s a dark depiction, too. It’s not all rainbow-y.”

In the gigantic Chino songbook, the refrain ‘love will be expelled’ is one of his all-time great lines. But is love being cast out here, or is it emanating from two people meeting each other. Put another way: is Sensation a hopeful song, Chino?

“It’s definitely hopeful,” he says. “It’s basically a visual of stepping out of grey surroundings and looking toward a blurred horizon. You don’t really know what’s there, but you’re headed somewhere beautiful…”

Which brings us back to Chino’s aforementioned aborted answer.

“When I write lyrics, I try to be cryptic so you get the gist of what I’m saying, but I’m saying it in a way where it’s not as hokey as the way I just explained it (laughs).”

Despite Chino’s concerns, there’s nothing hokey about Sensation or any of Crosses’ songs. If anything the optimism of these new songs come from a very real place. Back in April 2020, during our cover feature on the making of Deftones’ Ohms, Chino revealed he was trying therapy for the first time. And why.

“I had times where out of nowhere I’d be mad,” he explained. “As you can tell from some of the songs that I’ve written over my time, my emotions have always kind of been all over the place. A lot of times I’m not able to hold my composure and I’ll be a dick to my closest friends or family sometimes. And I’m not mad at them, I’m probably mad at myself.”

So has he kept up with therapy?

“I have,” he says. “And my life has gotten so much better. I’m probably happier today than I’ve been in years. I’m sober now and on this whole new lease of life. I know it sounds very typical of someone my age, creeping up on my 50s, to say, ‘I have a new lease of life.’ (Laughs) Yeah, I’m a cliche. I’ve had this sort of rebirth and I’m fucking happy.”

Shaun, too, is counting his blessings. When Crosses flatlined, it cut him deep.

“It did feel like a hole in my life,” he reveals. “Especially when I’m so involved in the music, artwork, videos and everything, it took up so much of my time. For it to just be gone was weird.”

Putting an end to that painful absence was not without risk. Lest we forget, Crosses were already one member down.

“There was a time when we were making this where we had to have a conversation, like, ‘Do we really want to do this, because our friendship is more important than music,’” says Chino. “When something starts off it’s fun, and then it becomes serious. And it becomes a business. It could test that friendship sometimes. As much as we do see eye to eye, there’s some stuff we don’t. Shaun will send me back into the vocal booth and say, ‘Dude, no, you’ve got to try something else.’”

And do you like that?

“I do!” Chino says. “I mean, in the moment I’m like, ‘Fuck you, that’s dope!’ But I generally do. That’s how you push each other to be better. And I do the same to him – he’ll send me something and I’ll be like, ‘Hmm, it’s alright, but let’s try something else.’ We’re grown up enough to not let that turn into, ‘How dare you say that to me?’”

The results speak for themselves.

“It’s probably the first musical thing I’ve ever done – knock on wood – where I haven’t looked back at anything and been like, ‘I don’t know about that one,’” Shaun beams. “And for what it’s worth, I’m pretty proud of everything that we’ve done.”

Recently, Shaun took a drive. This time he wasn’t blasting DJ Mantis. It was the mastered version of PERMANENT.RADIANT.

“I hadn’t heard it since I was done with production and was like, ‘I don’t fucking care if anyone likes this, I fucking love it!’” he smiles. “And that’s not me being arrogant. I’m all in on this. I love it. If other people love it? That’s cool. If they don’t, that’s fine. I was super-happy, super-proud, and super-thankful. I never take this shit for granted, so to still be doing music that’s hitting me here…”

Shaun smacks himself over his heart.

“To me, if you don’t feel like that, fucking don’t do it anymore, man. I never want to do this unless I’m putting all of myself into it.”

PERMANENT.RADIANT is, of course, just a precursor to a full album. K! asks Shaun about the big board behind him in his studio, the one mapping the progress of all Crosses’ tracks. How many do they have now?

Shaun swivels around in his chair to inspect it.

“I mean, there’s so many…” he says, incredulously.

The problem is every time Crosses get together to finish an old idea, they come up with a dozen new ones instead.

“The six songs people are hearing are just scratching the surface of the vast collection we’re sitting on,” says Chino, eagerly. “It’s like, ‘Which way do we go next?’”

And just like that, the legend of DJ Mantis lives on.

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