Unlike his past projects, Chino Moreno's Crosses (stylized as †††) is more rooted in electronica and New Wave than anything that might be described as "rock 'n' roll"—a potentially rough pill to swallow for fans of his main band, art-metal mainstays Deftones. Regardless, without much marketing or hype, the group's two introductory EPs gained enough momentum for the band to put out a self-titled full-length of dark pop last fall, uniting Deftones die-hards and goths alike. WW spoke to Moreno about his fascination with the occult, being a nu-metal survivor, moving to Bend and why he can't listen to Deftones' first album.

Willamette Week: I just found out yesterday that you recently moved to Oregon. What brought you up here?

Chino Moreno: Well, my wife's family—they're not from there, but they moved there a few years back, so we've been going there for holidays and things. I love it up there. I live in Bend, Ore., so it's a little out of the way, but it's nice. It's a beautiful city and just kind of quiet, you know? Slower pace. Since I spend as much time as I do on the road, it's very nice to go home and have this peaceful vibe. So far, so good.

I can't even imagine what it would be like to move from L.A. to Bend. 

Well when I lived in L.A., I lived in the valley, so it was pretty chill. I really didn't venture into Hollywood too much, even living there for the last 10 years. So for me it wasn't that big of a difference, but it was more of a mental difference knowing that there's always something to do at all times if you want to. Where I live now, there's not much. [Laughs.] If you want to do something, your options are limited. 

So tell me about how things are going with the release of the new ††† record and the tour.

Oh, it's been rad! We kind of did this without much expectation. We knew we were making music that we like and enjoy, but as far as how we were going to put it out or what we were going to do, we didn't have a major plan for it. We play it by ear, pretty much. We made a record's worth of material with more than a record's worth of material. And then we just sort of said, "Well, since no one really knows we're doing this project, let's just kind of put it out under the radar for free and kind of let people find it, as opposed to hyping it up and this and that, and just have this really DIY, organic vibe of putting it out. " So we broke it into two EPs and put out the first EP for free and sort of just let people discover it themselves. 

I’ve always found that sometimes it’s better, even with music that I like, to find things on my own as opposed to being forced to find things. I find that when you find things on your own, you have a certain appreciation for it. It’s a little more personal. So with that idea, we put out the first EP and people started finding it, and we sort of built a little foundation. And when we put out the second EP, we sort of all got busy with other projects, and we only did a handful of shows, so after that it laid pretty dormant for awhile. We still had the third EP—it was finished but we hadn’t put it out yet—and we were approached by a label who said, “You know, we really love these first two EPs, so we’d love to release those and a third one [as a full-length] if possible and really put some money behind marketing it.” And at that point I kind of felt like we did the organic roll-out of it all. And then once we finished the third EP and threw it all together as a record, I sort of had a new appreciation for it. You know, as a really great, cohesive piece of work and I kind of want people to hear it, as many as possible. At that point we got the machine behind us and here we are, out supporting it as a full record. 

Between the fans and the critics, what's the response been like?

Everything's been pretty cool! I mean, I have so many projects that I've been doing recently that to have the attention that we have on it is actually pretty cool. It's never expected. I never go into any project, you know, Deftones or anything, with expectations of what people will think of it. I know that if I like it, there's a good chance that the fans will dig it in some sort of way, but I was very pleased with the response from it. And the live shows as well. I mean, when we made this record, we sort of made it in the studio, not as a band, but just messing around in the studio and experimenting. So it wasn't like we were making it as a live band anyway.  I don't think we had that in mind at all. But it's transferred over live really well and it's even sort of morphing from the record. Now it's growing into something else, which is kind of neat. And every show is becoming more and more solid. Everyone's finding their little niche. 

I've always noticed a huge difference in how people view Deftones compared to all of the other bands you came up around and toured with in the '90s and early 2000s. Everyone else who got lumped into the "-metal" category has gotten a ton of shit. But Deftones never seemed like it did as much. Why do you think that is?

We've definitely had to deal with a lot of that kind of stuff. But also, early on, we tried to distance ourselves from not just the nu-metal scene, but really any scene. I've always felt like the music we made as four guys starting off, we didn't have this idea of what we were doing. We were all pretty young. I was 15 years old when Deftones started. I didn't know what I was doing whatsoever and there was something about not knowing what you're doing that sort created what I felt was our own thing. Not that it was something that was so simply classified, but as the years went by I felt like we weren't a part of anything. We were just creating something on our own. What it was, we didn't know. I still don't think we know. But we weren't a part of anything they were trying to put us in.

I always felt like our influences were very wide, and we're all such different people, still to this day. We don't all agree on what we're trying to make, so to be thrown into that genre really bummed us out. We wanted to stand out on our own as a band and as individual people, so we really made a conscious decision to distance ourselves from a lot of stuff. It's not that we felt like we were better than all of these other people or anything like that but we just wanted our own identity. So I think that helped. To this day I feel like we are one of the surviving bands who's able to go out there and play shows and not have it be, like, a retro thing. Like, "Oh I remember I used to like this stuff in the early '90s." Our stuff has gradually expanded. We never put up walls around our creativity or put ourselves in a box, so we were able to grow as musicians and learn different techniques. With every record, I think we try to expand on that as much as we can by being ourselves. I think that's helped us. It's been almost 20 years since our first record came out and we can still be out here rocking.

How did you decide to start singing in the first place? I read somewhere that when Deftones started, no one had really ever heard you sing before.

Well the only people who had heard me sing were Stephen [Carpenter] and Abe [Cunningham]. Abe would hear me sing because we were good buddies from like seventh grade on, and we’d hang out and skateboard a lot together. I was always singing, and I was really into the Smiths and Morrissey back then. That was my biggest inspiration. So I’d be out there with a broom in the backyard on the patio, acting like I was Morrissey and singing his songs. Other than that, I really didn’t think I could sing. What I really wanted to do was play drums, but the reality was that Abe was a far better drummer than me. [laughs] At that point, I was playing drums and Stephen was playing guitar and Dominic, our original bass player who I’ve known since first grade, was playing bass, and we were just trying to play music like that. And one day I brought Abe over to Stephen’s house and he heard Abe play the drums, and he was like, “All right dude, well you’re out of a job.” But I really wanted to still be in the band, so he was like, “Well you should just be the singer.” And I said, “OK!” Kind of what I said earlier about starting at such a young age and not knowing what we were doing—it was kind of cool because I feel like I got to figure things out on my own. Even though it was like ’88 or ’89 then, we really didn’t get out and start playing shows until the early ‘90s. We spent a few years in the garage, learning how to play. 

And it was different times. There was no Internet or this other stuff. So we didn’t have this urge to write a song and put it up online like, “Hey, we’re a band!” We really took time to figure out what we were doing. Even when we did go out and play our first shows and make our first demo tapes, all that stuff was a learning experience. Our first record, Adrenaline, I mean, that’s my least favorite record of ours. It’s so hard for me to listen to because it’s so amateur. We were literally figuring things out in the studio, writing the lyrics in the studio, not knowing what direction or what we were doing. There’s something neat about that in one way, but I guess it’s just coming of age and figuring things out and sometimes when you do that in a band or on record, it’s like you’re coming of age on something that’ll be there after we’re long gone, you know? So it’s a little embarrassing. So it is what it is. 

It seems like there's always been a dark quality to your music, from Deftones to Team Sleep to Palms to †††. But it seems like, with this one, with the imagery and the gothy quality and occult themes in it, there is a bit more of a spotlight on that darkness.  Is there a major reason for that with this project?

There was no preconceived idea of what this project was going to be other than the music that was presented from Shaun [Lopez] and Chuck [Doom], which had those qualities to it. And I naturally gravitate toward that stuff. It's pretty well documented that I grew up listening to a lot of that stuff. Like you said, I felt like there's always been those qualities in Deftones records and all of the other stuff that I've done. With this project, not really being a guitar-based project, it gave a lot more room for those things to come to the forefront. It's really fun for me. I don't really ever make music for any project with any ideas I want to tell people or views I want to share. It's nothing like that. It always comes from a creative place. 

I've been fascinated with religion ever since I was a kid. Going to church with my grandma and being scared at church because, well, it's scary. As a kid, there's a lot of imagery within religion that is dark, in all religions. So I've always been fascinated with that. And not that this project is all about that, but there's definitely been elements of that that to me, artistically fit the vibe of the music that was presented. 

It seems like mainstream culture right now, music culture especially, is really obsessed with the occult right now. Why do you think, as a culture, we're so into that right now?

I can't really speak for anyone else, but I do think it's ironic that a lot of that stuff is going on. I also feel like it's been going on since the '60s and '70s. It was probably more touched upon in the '60s and '70s than it is now. But maybe there's a resurgence of it right now. Things always go in waves or in cycles. As the youth sort of get into that stuff, it's always fascinating. Anything that's uncertain is always fascinating. Even religious people in general—not even music stuff, but religious people—a lot of people follow religions because they are unsure about things and they want to figure it out. 

I can only speak for myself, but I've been fascinated by this stuff for years and years. If you look back at old Zeppelin stuff, and Jimmy Page, or Aleister Crowley, or things like that, musicians have been fascinated with this stuff for years. I don't know how deep that stuff goes. I certainly don't follow any sort of religious sect but I'm definitely fascinated with it. And that goes down to the certain little things where if you believe in any one side of a story then it's always fun to hear the other side. So that's kind of where I sit with it. 

It seems like, even with the dark and gothy nature of things, there's always been this incendiary quality to your vocals. Tell me about your creative process.

Well I hate to disappoint, but it's probably not as deep as it might sound. [laughs] I don't really put too much thought into my lyrics. I really don't. I hear the music and then I react to it. And the music has this sort of dark, fantasy sort of vibe to it, and that's kind of all it is. It's all just stream of consciousness and escapism, really to a point where I'm not singing about things that I've read deep into or personal experiences from my life. It's really just painting a picture to the music that's presented to me. So I guess that could be deep in some day. But I mean I'm not a poet—I don't have, like, notebooks and shit filled with all these awesome thoughts. I used to when I was really young, but I don't write at all. I don't even really read that much, sadly. I wish I read more but I don't. So I listen to music all day, every day. That's my biggest passion. And most of the music I listen to or that I'm drawn to is instrumental music and when I hear that kind of stuff, it speaks volumes to me. It paints pictures and words and all kinds of things that aren't there. And because there isn't someone on there singing and telling me what I should be thinking or feeling while listening to the music, I get a raw picture of the music. So when I'm presented with the music of ††† or Palms or Deftones or whatever, there is my inspiration, pretty much—just the music itself. 

SEE IT: Crosses play Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE Cesar Chavez Blvd., with JMSN, on Tuesday, April 1. 9 pm. $18 advance, $20 day of show. All ages.