Deftones almost changed their name to sign with Roadrunner Records in the early 90s

Author Flavia Andrade - 8.1.2024

A social media post shared by former Roadrunner Records executive Monte Conner this past weekend reveals that he courted Deftones in the early 90s, with his eye on their debut album “Adrenaline“.

As Conner recounts, a forced name change was written into the band’s contract and was something the band were willing to do. At one point, they even considered naming themselves after the “Adrenaline” track, “Engine No. 9“.

Whereas initial meetings between the label and the band were apparently promising, Conner states that a deal was passed down by the owner of Roadrunner Records, which would force the band to sign away stakes in their merchandising and publishing, besides their music. This harsher deal was ultimately rejected by the band.

Deftones eventually signed with Maverick Records, headed up in part by pop star Madonna.

Conner shared:

Have you ever wondered what is pictured on the first Deftones album “Adrenaline“? I have often wondered as well but it was not until I sat down to write this post that I discovered what it is. It’s a nasal aspirator, also commonly called a “bulb syringe.” Since infants can’t blow their own noses, these snot-sucking devices gently remove baby boogers and mucus from their nasal passageways. That’s why they usually come in pink or blue. These syringes can also be used to clean an infant’s ears, and they make larger ones for adult ears as well. Check out the pink one shown here. The focus on the pic is very soft, just like on the Deftones cover. How is that for a cool match?

But surely there must be more to the post than this? There is. Now get ready for the real reveal. The story of how I almost signed the Deftones and asked them to change their name as a condition of the deal! Yes, you read that right, both those things really happened!

In the summer of 1993, I was sent a Deftones demo by their manager Dave Park. He was based in Sacramento, where the band was from. I was instantly blown away; their music was like nothing I had ever heard before. While these days the band are commonly grouped with Korn as the founders of Nu Metal, I never viewed their sound as similar to Korn, or any of the other bands that very quickly put Nu Metal on the map as a genre. The Deftones had their own unique sound right from the start.

I asked Dave to fly to New York with the band’s singer Chino Moreno so I could woo them and have them meet the Roadrunner staff. At the last minute, Chino got sick and was not able to come so guitarist Stephen Carpenter came in his place. The dog and pony show (we call it in music biz speak) was a big success and the pair left NYC being suitably impressed with the Roadrunner team.

As soon as they returned home, I made them an offer. 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. 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.”

More importantly, at the same exact time, there was a full-blown ska movement happening in America with bands like The Mighty Mighty BosstonesSublimeNo DoubtGoldfingerReel Big FishRancidLess Than Jake, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. To me, the “tones” part of the band’s name made them sound like a ska band.

So “def” and was no longer cool, 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. Not only was I the first A&R guy to offer them a deal, but I was the ONLY A&R guy to offer them a deal! When you are the only label chasing a band, and there is no competition, it gives you a lot of leverage. Regardless of what the reason was, they went along with my demand. 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,” named after the best track on the demo.

But before we could even come to any resolution on a new name, the deal hit a massive roadblock. In typical fashion, Roadrunner’s owner insisted not only on signing the Deftones to a record deal but also to publishing and merchandising deal – something highly frowned upon at that time, though about ten years later such dreaded deals would become more commonplace, mostly as a response to the significant decline in album sales, and would also include touring. At that time, a new name was coined for this type of deal: the “360” deal. That term referred to the fact that the label would participate in all the band’s revenue streams.

The band refused to sign away their publishing and merchandising, and sadly the deal was dead in the water. Six months later they signed to Maverick Records, releasing “Adrenaline” in 1995, and the rest is history… Seemingly overnight the album took off, the band blew up, and every metal fan across the globe was wearing a Deftones t-shirt. I sure felt silly.

I didn’t cross paths with Stephen Carpenter again until late 1997, after the Deftones had released their even better second album “Around The Fur.” 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 what the new name should be, and the label got tired of waiting, so we just went with Deftones.”

And just like that I was completely redeemed! Maybe that’s why I love telling the story to this day. I get vindicated and the story has a happy ending, except of course that I didn’t get to actually sign the band. I lost so many bands over the years due to the harsh Roadrunner deal terms I was forced to follow.

I learned two valuable lessons from that whole experience. Firstly, you can’t look at a band’s name in a vacuum. The band’s music MAKES the name! Secondly, it is important not to fall victim to myopia. Not all things that seem important in our often-insulated music industry world matter to the fans out in the real world.

Was this the first time I ever asked a band to change their name? Nope. In a similar situation I asked both Xecutioner and Amon to change their names. Today, you know those bands as Obituary and Deicide.

Conner had become the head of A&R for the North American branch of Roadrunner Records in the late 80s, but he was still subject to higher powers. He would eventually ascend to the position of senior vice president of A&R at the label, and left amid a much-publicized label buyout from Warner Music Group, which changed the complexion of the label. Conner has recently been overseeing Nuclear Blast Entertainment.