Deftones’ trajectory in the music industry nearly took a divergent turn when the band reportedly contemplated altering their iconic name to secure a contract with Roadrunner Records. The intriguing revelation comes from Monte Conner, who, during his tenure at Roadrunner, disclosed that the label presented the band with a contract, contingent on the willingness to undergo a name change.
Adding a layer of complexity, Conner claims that the label owner, at that time, insisted on the band relinquishing their rights to merchandising and publishing as part of the deal.
The backstory behind the potential name change finds its roots in the evolving perception of the term “def.” In 1993, following the addition of “def” to the dictionary, renowned producer Rick Rubin, known for his avant-garde decisions, deemed the word no longer hip. Rubin, then overseeing Def American Recordings, orchestrated a dramatic name change to American Recordings, culminating in a widely publicized mock funeral at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. This shift in perception extended beyond record labels, as the mainstreaming of “def” clashed with the anti-establishment image Rubin sought to project.
Concurrently, a flourishing ska movement was underway in the American music scene, featuring bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Sublime, No Doubt, and others. Conner, associating the “tones” in Deftones with ska, felt compelled to advocate for a name change.
Surprisingly, the band, possibly driven by eagerness for a record deal, displayed minimal resistance to Conner’s proposition. As the sole A&R representative pursuing the band, Conner enjoyed a position of significant leverage during contract negotiations.
In a whimsical turn of events, the band floated alternative names, even suggesting “Engine No. 9” at one point, inspired by a track on their demo. Despite the negotiation dance and the potential allure of a new moniker, Deftones ultimately stood firm, resisting the pressure to conform. While they retained their name, Conner notes that this wasn’t the first instance of him urging a name change; he had previously made similar requests to bands like Xecutioner and Amon, who later emerged as Obituary and Deicide, respectively.
In the annals of music history, Deftones’ steadfastness in retaining their name adds another layer to their narrative, showcasing the delicate dance between artistic identity and industry dynamics.