The DeftonesEXPAND
The Deftones
Frank Maddocks

Deftones' Abe Cunningham on Chris Cornell's Death and Playing Through Grief

The untimely death of Soundgarden and Audioslave vocalist Chris Cornell shocked fans and the music community. Cornell was found dead of an apparent suicide inside his MGM Grand Hotel room in Detroit this past May 18, just hours after performing his final show. He was 52.

The news was particularly sad to Deftones drummer and cofounder Abe Cunningham. He grew up listening to Soundgarden, and in 1988, he and Chino Moreno, Stephen Carpenter, and Dominic Garcia formed the Deftones. The two bands would become familiar with each another during recording sessions in Seattle, where Cunningham met Cornell.

Fresh off a tour in Europe a year after their eighth studio album, Gore, the Deftones are scheduled to play Bayfront Park Amphitheater in Miami Friday, June 23. New Times spoke with Cunningham the morning he learned of Cornell's death.

For Cunningham, the news was a gut-wrenching reminder of the fragility of life and that, despite Cornell's status as a rock icon with a loving family, things aren't always as they appear. Having beaten substance abuse and outliving many of his grunge contemporaries who died in their prime, such as Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains' Layne Staley, and Mother Love Bone's Andrew Wood, Cornell was considered impervious to befalling the same fate. He admitted he battled depression in a 2007 interview with the Rock N Roll Experience.

But the stigma of mental-health issues is real, Cunningham says, and it's still a taboo subject in the entertainment industry.

"It's kind of hard to even fathom," Cunningham says. "The dude was always the picture of health. He was always in great shape. But that doesn't mean anything to the things in your head."

Cornell's death was the second blow Cunningham had recently suffered; he lost friend and Deftones bassist Chi Cheng in April 2013. Cheng's music career ended in 2008 after he was involved in a car crash in Santa Clara, California, that left him in a semicomatose state for several years. He sustained a traumatic brain injury in the crash. Cunningham says he watched his bandmate deteriorate for five years until his death.

When Cheng died, Cunningham says, he felt a sense of relief. The band moved on, of course, and replaced Cheng with Sergio Vega, a longtime friend of the band who had previously filled in for Cheng.

Through the grief, music has been a lifeline. Continuing to perform and record, Cunningham says, is a testament to the brotherhood as a group, using Cheng's spirit to propel the band forward and celebrate his life.

That celebration comes to Miami this week. Cunningham says it's time to have a little fun and kick off the summer in the Magic City, a traditional stop for the band this time of year.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about [Cheng], his smile, his laugh, and his sense of humor," Cunningham says. "As much as we fought, we were brothers. It's way beyond that. I don't think you get over things, but you just got to keep on going on. You try to take the energy and move forward with it."

The Deftones
With Rise Against, Thrice, and Three Trapped Tigers. 7 p.m. Friday, June 23, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $31.70 to $65.25 via livenation.com.

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