Deftones Didn’t Want Maynard James Keenan to Sing on ‘White Pony.’ Here’s What Happened

Maynard James Keenan Wasn't Meant to Sing 'Passenger' on Deftones' White Pony.
Maynard James Kennan by Markus Felix (via Wikipedia)
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By the time that Deftones got around to creating their now iconic album, White Pony, Chino Moreno was thinking about approaching his songwriting in a much different way.

Even though the sounds of a song like “Change” isn’t all that different than something like “Be Quiet and Drive,” Chino had made mention of coming up with different stories and dialogue for the characters that he was writing about in these songs, oftentimes getting into hairy situations like killing someone in “Digital Bath.” We were in for the thrillride of a lifetime on “Passenger” though, and Chino was knocked back by the metal royalty that walked through the door.

When first working out the tune, Chino had said that Maynard James Keenan was originally brought in to help flesh out the song as more of a behind-the-scenes producer role, working out the arrangements for a few tracks before helping construct the skeleton of “Passenger.” Once the band started to play the track in the studio, Maynard found himself with a microphone in his hand, and would eventually end up guesting on the song.

Late bassist Chi Cheng had his own recollection of Maynard’s involvement:

“Everyone has their own account of what happened, but Maynard and Chino were friends, and during the Ozzfest, Maynard asked us to come out to L.A. and just fool around with him. And we weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to work with Maynard–he’s an amazing artist. I love the way Tool has done everything with their career. We feel more of a kinship with Tool than we do with what people call the “new metal.” Tool is indigenous to Tool. Nobody says, “Tool–oh, they’re part of new metal,” you just go, “Oh, Tool, they’re Tool.”

So, we were really honored to work with Maynard. We went down to L.A. and started fooling around with him. And Maynard’s got a totally different work ethic than us–we’re basically lazy drunks, and Maynard’s a very stringent, tough cat.

I think on the third day, we had already all the music written for “Passenger,” but nothing vocally, and Maynard one day just grabbed the mic, and that was it. But we didn’t want to have a guest star, we didn’t want to have that token guest, like, “Here’s our celebrity, we’re going to bring him in and he’s going to give our album credibility.” Even when we went in to record the album, Chino tried to do different things, but the thing that kept coming up was Maynard’s voice and his melodies. And so, I was like, “Hey man, just call Maynard and ask him to be on the song.” He came in, was out in two days, and that was it.”

Chino went on to give his own account of the musical collaboration to Launch.com in the early 2000’s:

“Having Maynard perform on the record wasn’t something that we planned on doing. We didn’t plan on having any guest on the record. But being a fan of Tool and A Perfect Circle, once Maynard was involved, it was just a magical thing for us. Honestly, when he first started working with us, he wasn’t supposed to sing with us. He was just working on the arrangements, riff structures, time signatures, and things like that. I don’t know if you’re a big fan of Tool’s music, but they’re really mathematical.

I’ve been to their rehearsal space, and there’s this big chart that just looks like calculus–the way they write songs, it’s just crazy. It was good to have someone else who has different ways of writing songs, ’cause everyone has a different way of doing it. He came in and we started working on this one song in particular, and he just grabbed the microphone and started singing along to it, and my jaw just dropped.

All of a sudden our band sounded like Tool; it was just crazy. Then, probably two months later, we went in to record the album, and I went in to record the vocals on it, and I just kept hearing his voice, this re-occurring melody with his voice coming over it. So I called him and asked him if he wanted to come down and sing on the record, and he had no problem with it.

Once he came in, I gave him sort of what I wanted the song to be about, and he wrote a couple of ideas down, and the next day he came in with all the lyrics written all out with blank spaces where my lyrics were supposed to be. He’s very professional like that. He wants everything set perfectly, which is the complete opposite to the way that I write, so it was cool.

And then I went in and did my vocals over it, and it just seemed that our voices blended together pretty good. Yeah, it came out pretty good, so we decided to put it on the record.”

This wouldn’t even be the final time that Maynard would cross paths with Deftones, showing up periodically during their tours to play his section of the song, with substitute singers including the likes of Hayley Williams from Paramore.

As much as Deftones might be one of the more eclectic bands to pioneer the nu metal genre (whether they liked it or not), pairing them up with metal’s most powerful voices is the kind of mix that made too much sense.