How Deftones Almost Changed Their Name, According to a Former Record Exec
Conner was the first A&R executive to try and sign the Deftones to a record deal back in the early '90s, as he recalls in a new post. But he had one request if the band were to sign with Roadrunner — he wanted them to lose the name Deftones.
Of course, we all know that didn't happen, and Deftones ended up first signing with Maverick Records instead. But it's undoubtedly an illuminating look into Deftones' early career.
Deftones Could Have a Different Name
Laying it all out on Facebook last week, Conner says he was "blown away" by a Deftones demo recording in 1993, and he subsequently asked the Sacramento-based band to come out to New York to meet. Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter and the group's manager at the time, Dave Park, went out to meet him.
After they hit it off, "I made them an offer," Conner recalls. "But there was one big condition to the deal: I insisted that the band change their name because I, and others at the label, felt the name Deftones was weighed down with issues."
But why would Conner want the Deftones to change their name?
He explains, "As absurd as that sounds now, let me set the table on where the culture was back then. In 1993, after seeing 'def' added to the dictionary, Rick Rubin, the arbiter of all things hip, decided the word had lost its cool factor, and made the bold move of changing the name of his highly successful record label from Def American Recordings to simply American Recordings. The mainstreaming of the word went against the anti-establishment image that he was trying to project for the label. In typical Rubin style, he was going to make the name change an event, and a highly publicized mock funeral was held at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles on August 27, 1993, to bury the word 'def.'"
Conner continues, "More importantly, at the same time, there was a full-blown ska movement happening in America with bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Sublime, No Doubt, Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, Rancid, Less Than Jake, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. To me, the 'tones' part of the band's name made them sound like a ska band."
Indeed, "def" was "no longer cool," Conner says, "and 'tones' lumped the band in with the ska movement. The name simply had to go. Surprisingly, I got no real pushback from the band. I don't know if it was because they agreed with me, or they were simply hungry for a deal and would do whatever it took to get signed. … During the contract negotiations, they would regularly run new names past me, even suggesting at one point that maybe they should call themselves 'Engine No. 9,'" after the early Deftones song.
There was still an issue, though. Roadrunner's president wanted Deftones to sign what is now called a 360 deal — to include not just recording rights, but also a hand in their publishing and merchandise. However, Deftones "refused to sign away their publishing and merchandising," Conner remembers, "and sadly the deal was dead in the water. Six months later they signed to Maverick Records … and the rest is history."
In conclusion, the former exec says he "didn't cross paths with Carpenter again until late 1997. … By that time, they were one of the biggest metal bands on the planet. The first thing I said to him was, 'Man, I really blew it with the name change idea, huh?' He laughed and said, Don't feel so bad, dude. When we met with Maverick the first thing they said was, 'You have to change your name!' In the end, we couldn't agree [on] what the new name should be, and the label got tired of waiting, so we just went with Deftones.'"
Read Conner's full post below.
Monte Conner Remembers Trying to Get Deftones to Change Their Band Name
Deftones, "Engine No. 9" (1995)
Rock Music Myths + Urban Legends That Were Debunked
Gallery Credit: Philip Trapp