††† (Crosses): “I love to think, ‘What hasn’t been done?'”

Chino Moreno and Shaun Lopez are celebrating years of friendship with an expansive new ††† (CROSSES) album. Check out our latest Upset cover story.

Words: Alexander Bradley.
Photos: Brian Ziff.

You’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. And the sentiment is the same for a lot of music. Chino Moreno knows that. He knows that maybe better than anyone. He spent his entire career making opposing charges collide to make music. That’s how you make Deftones. You pit the singer’s passion for 80s new wave against the rest of the band’s love for heavy metal, and out comes the singular sound of Deftones.

Sometimes, though, the forces are pulling in opposite directions, and something has got to give. That’s why we’ve waited almost a decade for Crosses (or, if you prefer, the more symbolic ††† – Ed) to follow up their debut album.

In the beginning, it was Shaun Lopez (guitarist for post-hardcore band Far), Chuck Doom (bass extraordinaire) and Chino. Crosses was initially a project that could exist outside of the music industry and its conventions. It was “unsolicited”, as Chino describes. Their name is a logo and, therefore, a challenge for management, marketing and any form of print media, ahem. They dropped songs and EPs for free here and there and existed in the underground margins of the internet. They played small shows across the US from 2012 through to 2014. A couple of major festivals too but never made it to the UK. Then, they disappeared as quickly as they arrived.

“I like the dichotomy of being happy and dancing and listening to sad, romantic music as well”

Chino Moreno

A short while later, Chino went on tour while Shaun and Chuck went back into the studio, intent on moving Crosses forward. But, in the studio, things began to go awry. Shaun diplomatically calls it “internal combustion”. The truth is, it well and truly was “creative differences”. Chuck wanted more of a “live” feel, more instrumentation, to their music. Shaun wanted a more electronic vibe. Chino was in the middle. The conflict went against everything Crosses had originally been about.

“This has always been a project where we create and have fun, and there is not too much thought or stress behind it being something we have to do. It’s more or less a labour of love,’ Chino gushes. But when they couldn’t agree, that love soon started to fade. “So at that point,” he continues, “everything kind of died down, and we started working on other stuff.”

Years passed.

Shaun and Chino go back. Not just as a measure of time but as a measure of a journey together. “We were probably in our late teens when we met. We’ve always had a relationship outside of music and within music. We have had our ups and downs while working on a lot of records, mainly the crazy cycle of the ‘Saturday Night Wrist’ album, which Shaun produced with us after going through four or five producers. That was a crazy time,” Chino remembers. And for anyone who made it through that tumultuous journey, with its many producers and Chino trying to balance a divorce and drug addiction too, that is a bond for life.

So it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Shaun to travel up to Oregon to see Chino, to hang out. But, very quickly, they fell back into the routine. They started making music again. Crosses 2.0 was born. They pressed on without Chuck. “I felt kind of bad for him,” Chino adds, considering the lack of room for Chuck’s considerable talents in the second iteration of the project.

Before they really knuckled down, they set some ground rules with one another. Almost as a way of self-preservation of their friendship and to not allow the same deterioration to happen again. Chino explains, “After we started making some music, we started talking about the logistics of the band. Shaun and I sat down and had a really deep conversation about how we deal with one another.”

“Like leaving people on read,” which Chino has been known for, “or responding to emails, all these little things because they’re important. It kind of went deeper into our friendship. We even went back to the ‘Saturday Night Wrist’ album. We went through a time when we didn’t speak to one another. That ‘Saturday Night Wrist’ record was taxing on us both and on our friendship as well.”

“It was kind of like, ‘This is fun, this is awesome, but to avoid it ever going to a point where this isn’t fun or affecting our friendship, what is it that drives you crazy about me?’ And we talked about that kind of stuff. I feel like it was a very grown-up, healthy way to enter back into this project. And since then, when something comes up right away, we talk about it, and then it can dissipate, and it’s dealt with.”

That was 2019. By Christmas Day in 2020, they returned with the single ‘The Beginning Of The End’. In the years following, they covered George Michael and Q Lazzarus, released a few singles before the six-track EP ‘PERMANENT. RADIANT’ last December.

“We wanted to go back to the idea of putting out little singles or little EPs or whatever. Before we knew it, we had a lot of material,” Chino says. In the four years to this point, they’ve had a “trove” or 30-something ideas which they pick and choose from, all listed on a whiteboard. The ones that made the EP were the next six ready to go. The next batch to be completed presented themselves as a full album.

“I love making records,” Chino smiles. “That was the era I came up in. Pre-single-driven music and it was more about albums. I grew up listening to albums. It’s just a different thing, man. It’s so much more encompassing – putting together a full, realised piece of art. So, once we went in with that mindset, it all happened pretty quick.”

So ‘Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete’ is the 15-track second record from Crosses. It marks a fruitful four-year period in which the band will have released almost 30 tracks. It takes ideas from across the four years. ‘Runner’, in fact, started life from that very first trip to Oregon that brought the two friends back together. Pieced together over just three or four months, the album is an accumulation of the conveyor built of ideas the duo have had over that time. 

“It’s been very organic. We’ve done it at our own pace and just enjoyed the process. It hasn’t been a thing that we have to do or need to do, but we are enjoying doing,” Chino adds.

The album’s title comes from automatically saying “Goodnight, God Bless, I love you” to his parents and siblings growing up. The phrase just locked deep into his lexicon. He then added “Delete” to bring it into the future. “It’s just something you just typed out, and then it’s just the end. Close your laptop or whatever,” he explains.

Written and recorded across four years makes this album unlike many others. It isn’t a snapshot of a time in the studio; it is much broader than that. It is more of a map of their own journey. And, lyrically, for Chino, that journey and change in his mindset is evident.

“There are some reoccurring lyrics and things in the music that have been pointed out to me, and usually I’d be like ‘I’ve got to change that because I repeated it’. But actually, I repeated it because I’m answering that question that has been asked on something that was a few years old. So it’s actually really cool to have such a cohesive album that has such a broad timestamp on it.”

While lyrically able to chart a course, musically, Crosses have managed to create a sound that exists outside of space and time. From the first acidic pulse of ‘Pleasure’ to the last chimes of the title track, this album doesn’t feel anchored to a genre or a time. The pair of them don’t “strive” for much when it comes to making the sound of Crosses, but something that is timeless is always the goal. They lean into their influences but never in an obvious way. For example, Chino loves trap music, but “I definitely don’t want to have high-hats in our music,” he states.

For Shaun, surrounded by gadgetry and musical whatsits in his studio, his approach is a trial and error melting pot of styles. He explains, “You may have some drums that are 80s, but then you mix them with something with way more low end – some hard 808s or something – and then putting some lap-steel guitar on top of that. Just things that don’t maybe make sense in your head but sound cool when you put them down.”

Looking at this album’s lead single, ‘Invisible Hand’, that’s where his Dr. Frankenstein creation hit the perfect note. “We have those verses that are so bombastic,” he says. “There are these loud bass hits, but the drums are actually really small sounding – it sounds like somebody just hitting the lunchroom table. To me, that excites me because I haven’t heard that, and I love to think of stuff like, ‘What hasn’t been done?’ The obvious thing would have been to put really loud drums on it, but, to me, it would take away from what it is.”

The album is full of those moments which blow the doors wide open on what Crosses are capable of. At the same time, this album really separates itself from their debut.

According to Chino, they consciously decided to take out some of the “rock element” of their sound and, instead, tried to think outside of the box when it comes to making an impact.

“We both come from being in rock bands, so it’s so typical for us that ‘this part’s heavy’, so big drums, loud guitars, and that’s how we show this dynamic. I think we were experimenting with different ways of having these dynamics without having a traditional rock instrumentation. Experimenting with that was definitely different. On the last album, there was a lot more live band stuff – I mean, there were live drums on almost every song on the last album, whereas this one, there’s none, actually.” The aim was to not be just another hybrid electronic band that has been done a million times before.

Plus, “the goth vibe”, as Chino refers, has taken a backseat from its place at the heart of their first album. “I was definitely upset when the first record came out, and it was thrown into a genre of witch-house or whatever, which, obviously, I don’t think it was witch-house whatsoever but lazy journalism or the fact we had a logo for our name, people just ran with that. I felt like there was a great instrumentation in the music, and it just got lumped in with all this laptop trap music kinda stuff.”

“Going into this, we wanted it to be broader. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to get lumped with just one thing. We talk a lot about how we like old synthesisers and are inspired by 80s music, but, at the same time, we don’t want to make a retro record either.”

It’s been a career-long pursuit of the singer of people trying to slap him with labels. He has tried to avoid the nu-metal label for 30 years, but in this new Crosses record, he seems to have managed to make something that is virtually impossible to succinctly distinguish.

It all comes back to dichotomy. Sometimes, those opposites attract. Sometimes, they become something bigger than the sum of their parts. Chino grew up on a diet of “very sad, romantic, music”, in his words. But he also liked KC and the Sunshine Band and “goofy shit” he adds.

“I like the dichotomy of being happy and dancing and listening to sad, romantic music as well. And I feel like in whatever band I am doing, I’m always balancing those things,” he reasons.

“If you told a fifteen-year-old kid that I’d be working with Robert Smith and he’d be singing on a song that we wrote, I wouldn’t have believed you, for sure”

Chino Moreno

That’s why throwing Run the Jewels’ El-P and The Cure’s Robert Smith on tracks is justifiable for a Crosses album. El-P’s stellar addition to the confrontational ‘Big Youth’ is a real standout moment that defines two separate sides of the record. But, in the same way as reuniting with Shaun to rekindle this band, enlisting El-P was part of a redemption arc for Chino.

“I’ve always wanted to redeem myself,” he admits and laughs to himself. “I did this song with El-P once… It was dark times. It was probably during the ‘Saturday Night Wrist’ era. I literally barely remember recording the song. It wasn’t my finest hour. And I always thought, ‘If I ever get the chance, I’d like to work with him again. I’d like to redeem myself and do something where I’m actually there’.”

On the flip side, as if for balance, getting Robert Smith was “definitely beyond bucket list” for the singer.

“I sent him an email, and I didn’t let Shaun know because it was kind of a long shot that he would even be interested in doing it,” he reveals. After a few weeks of silence, the vocals appeared out of the blue and are now enshrined in Crosses history.

“I know it sounds like a cliche, but if you told a fifteen-year-old kid that I’d be working with him and he’d be singing on a song that we wrote, I wouldn’t have believed you, for sure,” he beams.

And while that song, ‘Girls Float Boys Cry’ marks a career-high for the singer, it was written “in one of the darkest days”, he concedes. “I was sad and lonely, and I literally say that in the song.”

The more you peel back the layers of ‘Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete’, the easier it is to get lost in this cosmic, romantic, balance of opposing forces. Neatly put, Chino explains, “The fact this record was done over such a long period of time means we were able to capture some of the lowest of the lows and the more invigorating, optimistic, sort of vibe as well.” 

Beyond just the four years of music, the scales that were tipped in ‘Saturday Night Wrist’ have had a chance to rebalance. Friendships rekindled. Wrongs have been righted. A staunch defiance to any journalist who labels Crosses as “witch-house”. The list goes on. 

And this is still in the beginning for Crosses. Their whiteboard of ideas is still bearing fruit.

“There are still songs that we have that are halfway done, and I wouldn’t be against dropping a single next year sometime. Or a couple of singles,” Shaun teases. “To me, the beauty is that everything is in-house. It feels liberating. We are not waiting on anyone. We are just waiting on us.” ■