The return of ††† (Crosses): “We’re not scared to do things that are out of our zone”

Fresh from the release of their excellent new singles Initiation and Protection, Chino Moreno and Shaun Lopez lift the lid on the return of ††† (Crosses) – from how they got here, to where they’re going next…

The return of ††† (Crosses): “We’re not scared to do things that are out of our zone”
George Garner
Clemente Ruiz

Let’s (re)state an incontrovertible truth for anyone who wasn't paying close attention first time around. Between 2011 and 2014, Crosses – the brainchild of legendary Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno and Far luminary Shaun Lopez – were responsible for some of the most interesting and experimental music around.

What started out as the innocent by-product of two friends hanging out and exchanging musical ideas blossomed into two spectacular EPs that veered from the atmospheric post-rock of †hholyghs† to the gorgeous dream-pop of Prurien†. When they finally collated (and added to) these miniature endeavours for their self-titled 2014 debut the result was – to embrace Crosses own highly specific typographical proclivities – a †ransceden† experience.

Be it on record or onstage, they established themselves not as another disposable side-project, but rather a band capable of casting their own shadow away from Chino and Shaun’s other groups. They seemed primed for big things until – and to once again embrace Crosses own highly specific typographical proclivities – i† all just† seemed †to grind †o a hal†.

Four glorious years of music begat years of silence.

That’s why it’s so exciting to see the pair back together today – albeit united over Zoom in separate locations – to talk about their future as Crosses. There’s Chino, relaxing beneath a sunny Californian sky, every gap between his answers punctuated by an array of extremely loud chirping birds (“I think they might have taken him,” quips Shaun when his internet connection temporarily cuts off). And there’s Shaun in his studio, looking, it must be said, very much at home cocooned in a room decorated exclusively in keyboards, guitars, wires and expensive-ass recording equipment.

The first signs of Crosses’ hiatus coming to an end came via the arrival of some unexpected covers: there was Cause And Effect’s The Beginning Of The End in 2020, which was in turn followed by a version of Q Lazzarus’ Goodbye Horses in late 2021.

And the good news is that these stirrings were but a mere precursor to two brilliant, all-new songs, Initiation and Protection, released last week. The former a dream-pop excursion through with eerie sonics – or as Shaun explains, “Just some different samples that I've collected over the years” – and an explosive chorus. The latter, meanwhile, is a bubbling Depeche Mode-like gem. Crosses’ hiatus is officially over, but who sent the first email to get things back up and running again?

“That's a good question,” says Chino, almost like he’s still figuring it out how it all unfurled without too much thought. “After the first release, I was living in Bend, Oregon for a while, and Shaun and his wife came up to visit. He had brought a couple of keyboards and some effects pedals and we were sitting in my studio and we just started messing with stuff.”

You don’t need a PHD in Chino Moreno Studio Practice Studies to figure out what happened next…

“He was only there for three or four days, and by the time he went home we had two or three neat ideas that we had made from out of nowhere,” he continues. “And, at that point, we kind of figured, ‘Maybe we'll work on another Crosses record,’ but we still didn't really have a definite idea of what we wanted to do, or when and how we were going to do it. We just took it back to the original days of it being something for fun to do in our free time.”

They had remained good friends over the years, but the absence of this unique musical partnership had been felt.

“I've missed Crosses quite a bit,” explains Shaun. “Sometimes somebody would bring up something [about the band] or I'd see a post or even [footage of] us playing live and I’d just be like, ‘Damn, man, I miss it.’ It's just really inspiring when both of us get in the room. Let's say it's been like three months or something? We'll just immediately start making music and it's always like, ‘Man, wait, we have these other songs we’ve got to finish!’ but then we're going, ‘But this new one’s really, really good – let's mess around with this.’”

For a while now they’ve been tucked away in a studio surprising each other with ideas both musical and visual in nature. Quite uniquely for a band, Crosses have cast Thais Molon as a recurring protagonist in their music videos, including the new visuals for Initiation and Protection. She seems to be something of a muse for Crosses?

“I kind of think so,” says Chino. “The more the art and the videos come out, I think people will catch on that, ‘Wow, this is the same girl.’ She can transform [appearance] and has all these different vibes – she’s just super cool to work with.”

Interestingly, much of the new Crosses music we’ll be hearing has also been created with films playing in the background.

“Man, so much stuff,” enthuses Shaun of their curated film list. “Anything from Holy Mountain to Fantastic Planet and Fantasia, stuff that's just visually pleasing, but doesn't really take away your attention too much because we're obviously there to make music!”

And that’s what we’re here to talk about. The current state of Deftones (including Sergio Vega’s recent exit) is not on the agenda today. It’s time to find out about what Chino and Shaun have to say about the resurrection of Crosses…

You've come back with two amazing, yet quite distinctly different songs. What do they say together about Crosses in 2022 that one song can’t do on its own?
Chino Moreno:
“Honestly, picking even three or four songs that represent this body of work would be really hard to do. Not only is there a broad range of sounds, stylistically, it’s also about us trying to let it all come out in a way so there’s this bird's-eye view of everything. That's one of the most exciting parts about it. We're not sitting around going, ‘Man, we’ve got to write some music together.’ That stuff is pretty much there, it's just about finishing them and deciding when and how to put them out. We have lots of music finished.”

So how many songs do you reckon you've got in the can already?
Shaun Lopez:
“That's a dangerous question right there (laughs). I'm always working. I have a bunch of stuff that I have to finish on my end for newer Crosses songs, and just wrapping up production. When we get together, we always start playing each other music, like, ‘Oh, what's that?’ And then all of a sudden, we just start making songs…”

So are we talking untold numbers of hard drives of future Crosses bangers here?
“We have a master list – a big progress board that we have in the studio. There’s a lot of stuff. The problem, which isn't really a problem, is that every time we get together we start making new stuff, so it just keeps on growing. And some of the newer ideas are our favourites because they're just really fresh. I also feel like we're sitting on some stuff that's really, really good, too, and sometimes I forget about it. I'm like, ‘Man, I forgot we had that we finished a year ago!’”

Initiation was revealed to the world with a press release describing it as “a soundtrack for uncertain times” – is it in dialogue with anything particular?
“It's definitely a reflection of our surroundings. That just happens naturally, though, when you're making music, whatever frame of mind you're in seeps into the music.”

So what was your frame of mind this time around?
“During that time, a lot of it was just us being locked away. For a while, Shaun and I were the only ones around each other. During the pandemic, he came to my house and stayed for a week or two, and we just locked ourselves away – it was the same when I would go to his house. We weren't really going anywhere, or doing anything, we were just working and hanging out. I'm not saying it was a terrible thing, but it was definitely different. We weren't out in studios or running around going to bars or being influenced by anything outside of us being together and putting our goggles on and turning knobs and burying ourselves in being creative.”

Shaun, what does Chino bring out in you as a player?
“Chino challenges me, and I love to be challenged. That’s one of my favourite things about it: figuring out how we make it sound like Crosses, but also have some growth with the music and everything.”

And what about you, Chino?
“When we get in the room, there doesn't have to be much talking. We never really talk like, ‘Hey, we should make a song like this!’ or, ‘We should go for this vibe.’ Literally, one of us will pick up something or go in front of a keyboard, piano, guitar or a bass and start noodling, or Shaun will start going through sample banks, and right away I’ll be like, ‘What was that!?’ Then we start building it like building blocks. I like the way we communicate through construction, as opposed to an idea of what we're trying to do. I love that.”
“Sometimes I’ll make a beat or a 30-second loop or something and be like, ‘Oh man, Chino’s going to love this!’ And then I'll send it, and he’ll be like, ‘(Sounding underwhelmed) Yeah, it's good.’ And then there's some ideas on this collection of songs where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I'm gonna send him this, he's gonna think it's corny, or too pop.’ And actually a lot of those are the ones where he'll send an idea back over the top of it. I'll be like, ‘Whoa, I can't believe you like that!’ It’s a trip. I've always said that I don't think people realise what Chino's capable of. A lot of times stuff's gonna come out and people will be like, ‘Man, I didn't know he could sing on a song like this!’ Some of it is a little bit pop but not in a corny or cheesy way. I think especially in the rock/loud music community, people think of pop as a bad word. But Duran Duran was pop back in the day, Michael Jackson was pop, Prince was pop. We’re not scared to do things that are out of our zone. He challenges me. I like to challenge him as well.”

As far as your vocals, Chino, what is the big thrill for you in terms of singing over this type of music?
“It's just been able to sort of use my voice in different ways. Singing over loud guitars is fun but this allows more dynamics to try different things. One thing I don't do much working with Deftones is harmonies and stuff like that, and Shaun’s good about working out harmonies with me. I'll sing something and he has his little Casio keyboard in front of him and he's going, ‘No, this note!’ For me it's fun, and something I've never really dove too deep into. I mean, I’ve done some stuff like that but there's a lot more room to experiment with this kind of stuff. For some reason, I think with Deftones I store away in my mind, like, ‘Well, I'm not going to be able to do all these harmonies live so I'm not going to just put a bunch of them on the record.’ With this, I feel a little more liberated to try and layer my vocal a little more and not stress about, ‘Oh if I can't do this live then why do it?’ Even though we do have a live version of the band…”

So you can finally get to record whatever crazy stuff you want?
“I'm not saying I'm going to make, like, these seven-part Queen harmonies (laughs), but I don't worry so much about it. It's fun and liberating to try.”

Part of the beauty of Crosses’ chameleonic music is that a lot of the time the listener doesn’t even have a clue what instrument is even being played at any given time…
“The way we make songs is so crazy that when it comes time to playing them live sometimes even I’m like, ‘Shit, what was I playing [on this track] again!?’ There's a lot of times it's literally just picking up an instrument or guitar, plugging in and getting a sound – it might be in a weird tuning for all we know! And then we just lay something down or Chino will go and start messing with a synth. When it came time to playing the last album live, it was like, ‘Damn, how do I do this (laughs)?!’”

On the live front, then, and we’ll word this delicately, what the fuck do we have to bribe you with to get you to start playing regular shows outside of America?
“I'd love to. We got very close to going to the UK on the last album cycle and it was right towards the end of the cycle, and it just didn't work out for us and by that point, the band took a hiatus. So this time we most definitely are gonna tour outside the States. That’s our plan.”

So to confirm, you’re back now – Crosses aren’t going to disappear on us again?
“We do it when it's fun, and it's fun right now. We're gonna keep putting out songs throughout this year.”
“We’re not going to make it be such a, ‘We’ve got to do this now!’ thing, like it's got to be all-in, all at once. The idea is to prolong this. We’re just not rushing and putting an album out – we’re sifting through it over time. At some point, once it all starts to take shape and there is enough there for a proper full-length release, we may release it with extra songs – kind of like what we did on our first record where we released five songs at a time and then put it all together at the end as a record. Honestly, too, attention spans are so short these days. You put out a record and the next week [people are] like, ‘Okay, what's next?’ This gives us a way to release it over time and have fun with it, instead of putting all our eggs in the basket at once.”

Initiation and Protection are out now.

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