DENALI [I]The Instinct[/I] Review

Since Richmond band Denali played Fridays at Five in August, they have set out on two whirlwind tours of the United States, the most recent of which involved sharing the stage with hardcore band Poison the Well, and metal favorite the Deftones. They have announced the loss of two founding members of the band, and released their second album, The Instinct. I talked with guitarist Cam DiNunzio over the phone about his band’s tumultuous autumn.

What can you tell me about touring with the Deftones? How did that come about?

Cam DiNunzio: When the Deftones were setting up this U.S. tour and they were deciding on bands, their label kind of gave them a list of bands that were selling lots of records and drawing lots of people, and stuff like that, and they kind of looked over it and said that they didn’t really like many of these bands. So they just decided to take out bands that they liked listening to. Somebody had given Chino a copy of our album, and I guess he really liked it.

How have the audience responses been – obviously the Deftones have a somewhat different fan base than Denali – have they been receptive?

C: It’s been interesting – for the most part the crowds have been great, they clap and they cheer and do all the things that crowds are supposed to do. I feel like in those size venues, people clap and cheer whenever the lights go out, but most people have been giving us the benefit of the doubt, which has been really cool. We’ve gotten some really amazing emails though from people who are Deftones fans that say that we’ve really made a fan of them.

How does this compare to the other tours that you have done?

C: There are very few similarities whatsoever to anything else that we’ve done – it’s like the most fun camp you’ve ever been too – kind of like rock and roll camp. To go back to the camp analogy, the road crew is kind of like the camp counselors. They’re really cool to hang out with, but sometimes they just kind of put you in line: “Hey, don’t do that,” or “Hey get the f— out of the way.” They have their own PA system that they bring to every show, so we’re dealing with the same people and the same systems every night. We don’t have to do anything except load our own gear. This tour is almost like your birthday every day; you get almost everything you want. I can definitely see how people can get spoiled on this and get reluctant to going back to playing clubs or whatever – being in a major label band and coming down from whatever you peak is has to be the hardest thing in the world.

Will it be hard for you to go back to the club level after this tour is finished?

C: That’s a really good question. It’ll take a little bit of getting used to, but we haven’t been doing this long enough to forget what its like to be playing in clubs. We don’t really have delusions of grandeur, and we’ve been doing off night shows in clubs and stuff, to keep us on some base with reality. But it also is nice to reconnect with our fans again. It’s weird though, you don’t really have to do anything on this size tour – the fans kind of get you when you go on stage, and nobody can get to you unless you put them on the list, so there are no incidental meetings with fans and stuff, which we really like.

In listening to the new record, The Instinct, it has much more upbeat tempos and a lot more of guitar work – how did this come about?

C: Well, I know that when Maura was starting to write songs for the new record, she wanted to write a more rocking record. As we toured more on the first record, we realized that there was a lot more energy in the songs that we had written. We just kind of went into the studio and recorded our first record without touring on it. Once we got on the road, we realized we were more of a rock band, and we wanted to capitalize on that. We just kind of followed the music and where it led us. As far as the guitar work, I just did what I thought the song called for – if that meant more cowbell then I gave it more cowbell. It’s funny, because I’ve received more than one comment about there being guitar solos on this record. I never intended it to be that noticeable. I think one thing that I’ve learned at least as far as production is concerned is that there always needs to be something for the untrained ear to focus in on. I think when we were doing preproduction, which I was recording, I always wanted something to be in the front, and if nothing was going on, I just added another guitar part to make things interesting. And I think that perhaps why there is some more prominent guitar work in the front.

How did you bring Peter Katis (producer of albums such as Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights) in to work on the album, and what did he contribute?

C: He just does an awesome job. It was weird, because he was kind of a last minute decision because all of our other options ran out. It ended up being the perfect option – I wish we had thought of him sooner. We wanted the record to sound more like the last one, but we also wanted it to kind of be right in the front of the speakers. The last record has a great ambiance to it, but it doesn’t suit the way that we are live. Peter did a great job of putting the record right in front of your face – the quiet stuff is quiet because it is slow close, not because it is distant or just low volume. It’s a great headphones album.

Any more word on the “Hold Your Breath” music video?

C: The video gets pitched to MTV2 today, so I’m kind of nervous. It was finished I guess a few weeks ago. We get to see it for the first time this afternoon, so I’m excited to see it, but I’m totally nervous. I think it will be cool. The people who made it have an amazing eye – it’s their first video, so even if it comes up short in the editing aspects, it still has this beautiful visual concept. It’s kind of by default that we’re in it, because we didn’t have the money to really hire actors, so we did it all ourselves. There is footage of us playing and stuff like that. We made it in this bird sanctuary in the Long Island Sound, and it was just the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. So even if it doesn’t work out, it was an awesome experience.

Have your impressions of the album changed as time has gone by?

C: I think that I’ve listened to it less as time has gone on, so I still have a favorable impression of it. I still think of it as I did when I first got done with. Maybe I’m blissfully ignoring it, but I have this weird kick whenever I know that the album is going out to somebody – like a programming director or a radio station or something – I listen to the record again, and I listen to it in a quasi-objective manner. It kind of helps me to listen to it again without getting sick of it – I try and kind of imagine it in their shoes, thinking, “Okay, what would I think of it if I was hearing it for the first time?” And it depends on the mood I’m in – sometimes I’m really into it, and sometimes I’m disappointed. Take Tom Petty, who apparently doesn’t listen to any of the stuff that he’s recorded once it’s done. I mean, he obviously plays it every night on tour, but he never listens to the album. For me, I don’t know how I feel about creating something and then just walking away from it forever. I think that I need the reflection in order to move forward as an artist.

What can you tell me about the future of the band, what with Keeley Davis (synthesizers and bass) and Jonathan Fuller (drums) leaving to return to their other band, Engine Down?

C: We have no plans to change any course, we’re just going to keep playing and doing everything that we can. There was actually no way for both bands to continue sharing members with the schedules that we keep now. I think we’re pretty much set about the replacements – both guys are from Chicago, and I’m excited to be playing with them. We’re already looking towards next year – we don’t really have any plans to stop, and everything will kind of continue as it is. It will be sad, and it will definitely be an adjustment period, but everybody is much less stressed and getting to do what they want to do. I’m excited about it and looking forward to the future.

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