Abe Cunningham anchors Deftones with a fiery and funky drumming style all his own. On classics like "Change (In the House of Flies)," "Minerva" and "Be Quiet and Drive," Cunningham blasts through syncopated rhythms that seamlessly oscillate from jazz to metal to soul. As a founding member of Deftones, his playing remains integral to the band's enigmatic sound. With Cunningham behind the kit, Deftones have sold in excess of 6 million records worldwide, garnered a Grammy for "Best Metal Performance" in 2001 and seen fervent critical acclaim for all six of their full-length releases. On their latest album, Diamond Eyes, the drummer truly shines.
Drums have been a part of Abe's life for as long as he can remember. "I used to crawl around at my dad's gigs when I was a baby and knock over cymbal stands," laughs Cunningham. "That's when I got my first taste of the stage, but I started playing when I was seven. I'd tinker around, and I was fascinated by the mechanics of the drum set itself. Once I figured it out how to set up a kit, I was hooked for life!"
At 15, Cunningham formed Deftones with vocalist Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter in their hometown of Sacramento. They were signed to Maverick Records when he was 21, and the band instantly made a dent in the collective rock consciousness sharing stages with everyone from Pantera and Black Sabbath to Quicksand and Tool. Cunningham's percussive stomp served as Deftones' rhythmic backbone, and it help solidify them as a unique and important heavy alternative outfit. Cunningham cultivated a personal sound that was equally informed by soul and classic rock. Forgoing formal lessons, he jammed along to records, picking up a feel for the instrument organically. He goes on, "The first thing I remember really understanding was The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour. However, my parents listened to tons of old soul. There's a huge early soul influence on my playing."
That soul is evident in the distinct bounce of new cuts like "Diamond Eyes" and "Beauty School" as well as classic Deftones gems like "Around the Fur" and "Knife Party." Cunningham draws from masters such as Mitch Mitchell, Ginger Baker, Stewart Copeland, John Bonham and Keith Moon and modern percussive maestros like Tim Alexander, Lars Ulrich, Dave Lombardo and Mike Bordin. "I loved Metallica and Slayer too," exclaims the drummer. "When I was growing up, The Bay Area had such amazing waves of music coming out of it. Bands like Primus and Faith No More were huge for us too. That's the thing about Deftones; we've always been open to everything."
That openness is apparent more than ever on Diamond Eyes. For Cunningham, it's a special record. "Diamond Eyes turned out truly amazing. I'm very happy to be alive and doing what I do with my bandmates. Playing drums is more fun than ever. This was our first band. We've been doing this for 22 years, and it still feels like home."
Zildjian was always his dream cymbal company too. "Zildjian's the only serious choice," enthuses Cunningham. "They started it all, and it's the greatest place to be. I always dreamed of being affiliated with Zildjian. It's a very special thing. Each cymbal has its own tonality and is its own instrument."