Mexican-American Chino Moreno of the Deftones says he has varied musical influences and would like to collaborate with Calle 13 one day. (Getty Images)

“Latinos are rockers too,” says Deftones lead singer

For the Deftones there was nothing weird about being Latino and making rock music, but others didn’t always see it that way.

“When Deftones first started a lot of people were like isn’t that weird that you guys are mostly a Mexican band playing Heavy Metal?” says Camilo Wong Moreno lead singer of Grammy award winning band Deftones. “I never thought of it as a weird thing until people started mentioning it especially like overseas.  People were like this is very odd, I was like no, Latinos are rockers too.”

Chino, as he is affectionately known to friends, family and fans, is Mexican on his paternal side and Chinese-Spanish on his maternal side.  His nickname comes from “Chinito” given to him as a kid by his uncles because he looked more Asian than he did Latino.  Yet while the singer never considered himself anything but Latino, he’s sad to say he doesn’t speak Spanish anymore. “Yeah I grew up in a diverse household but I always identified with being Mexican.  Sadly the only Spanish I know till today is what I learned from my grandmother. When I was younger I spoke Spanish but now I’m embarrassed to say I don’t, but I understand it.”

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The band which hails from California and is comprised of mostly Latino members has come a long way from their parents’ garage. Formed back in 1988 when they were mere teenagers, Deftones have been cast into a category of their own, as their sound is aggressive while melodic.  They gained some success with their first two albums – Adrenaline and Around the Fur – mostly by word of mouth and extensive touring. Yet it wasn’t until 2000’s White Pony debuted at number three on the Billboard chart that they launched into stardom.

Chino considered one of the best rock vocalists today talked about the Deftones unique hardcore, vibrant sound.  “You listen to different stuff for different emotions and things like that, so I always said if we’re going to make a band why would we put up all these walls around us,”  he says. He credits his older sister who was heavy into British music like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Depeche Mode – whom he is a huge fan of – and childhood friend/bandmate Stephen, who was into metal, with turning him onto rock.

“I was the weird kid in the neighborhood who listened to like new wave, metal, Michael Jackson, Prince all while skateboarding,” he says, laughing. It’s this open-mindedness that has led Chino to collaborate on many side projects, and though he admits he doesn’t listen to Spanish music, he is a fan of Grammy-winning Calle 13 and is interested in collaborating with them. “I’d never heard them before until we toured with them in Latin America; they just blew me away, such nice guys too.”

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Perhaps what’s most surprising about Chino is that he calls himself a hopeless romantic at heart. “I can’t help it, it’s the Mexican in me,” he says, enjoying himself. As is evident in the title of their latest album Koi No Yokan — a Japanese term for the idea that a relationship will evolve into love after the first meeting. “I don’t see things so black and white, because I love heavy riffs and aggressive stuff doesn’t mean I don’t see the beauty in things,” he adds. “I think that adds a lot of dynamic to what we do and I see it as a test for me to see how far we can take it.”

Sadly their latest success has been marred by the passing of founding member Chi Cheng, who after being in a coma for the past five years, passed away on April 13, 2013. This has left Deftones fans, the music community, and the band devastated.

The following message was posted on the band’s website.

“There are so many things I can say, and yet at this moment, none of it matters or compares to the loss everyone feels. There will be a hole in our lives where Chi once was. But that will be filled everyday with all of our love and memories we all have in our heart. He will always be here because of love. It’s time we all give our love and best, and do our best to love. Especially ourselves, Chi would want that for everyone. All our healing will begin with love. I love you, Chi.” Stephen, for Deftones

The band is currently on tour overseas and back in the states in early June.

Latinos are rockers too, says Deftones lead singer eneida2 people NBC Latino News

Eneida I. DelValle has worked in all areas of media from radio, television and print, traveling across the United States and Puerto Rico covering both the Latino and non-Latino communities.  She previously worked at PBS owned Spanish Language station V-me and Peacock Productions a division of NBC News.  A self-professed news junkie, book-worm, art and music lover, you can frequently find her at a rock or salsa concert and photographing the streets of New York.

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