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Splinter Group: Chino Moreno (front) of the Deftones takes time out to work with Team Sleep.

The Sleeper Will Awake

Todd Wilkinson and friends--who just happen to be in the Deftones--assemble a more-restful Team Sleep

By Darren Keast

BEFORE HIS current tour, Todd Wilkinson had never played his guitar in front of more than a few friends. In his first full-fledged interview a few months ago, he confessed he was pretty sure he'd be paralyzed with fear if he ever did make it onto a stage. He wouldn't even confirm then that he was a musician per se.

"Yeah, I've never played a live show in my life," he says from his home in Sacramento. "All I've done is make melodies with my guitar on a four-track, and the next thing I know, I'm in a studio with [multiplatinum metal producer] Terry Date making a record."

So what is this--the major-label rock industry rolling the dice on a raw talent whose demo tape won some contest? The Make a Wish Foundation fulfilling a terminal cancer patient's big dream? The only reason Wilkinson, a soft-spoken group-home worker with a guitar-playing hobby, is getting any love at all from the recording industry is that his best friend since high school is Camillo "Chino" Moreno, lead singer of "nu-metal" torchbearers the Deftones and now one-third of Team Sleep. It also helps that Wilkinson's roommate is Deftones DJ Frank Delgado, who in turn is best friends with DJ Krook, the band's third member.

"There's no doubt about it--the attention we're getting has nothing to do with me and Krook," Wilkinson chuckles, but "it's an opportunity to have people hear our music, so I'm not going to feel guilty about it."

The idea for Team Sleep blossomed out of an acoustic reworking the Deftones did of "Be Quiet and Drive," a track from their gold record Around the Fur. Moreno enjoyed the respite from the full-frontal electric guitar onslaught mandatory for most Deftones' songs, and the gentler melodies allowed his delicate voice to fill the remaining space.

Also liking the chance to work by himself, Moreno started composing songs with portable electronic equipment in his hotel room during Deftones tours.

"He puts his rough ideas on a tape and sends them to Krook," Wilkinson explains. "I send my own tapes to Krook, with melodies and some basic guitar things, and then he puts down a beat and takes stuff from both tapes. In theory, Chino then gets the tape back and puts down vocals from the road, but so far he's been too busy."

Moreno describes Team Sleep's sound as "droney" and influenced by British trip-hop moodsters Massive Attack. So far, the only two tracks available are instrumentals from the Team Sleep website (www.teamsleep.com): "Kool Aid," a sparse number with real drum sounds, and the more processed and programmed-sounding "Ligeia."

"Krook uses his turntable on both," Wilkinson explains, "but you'd never know it, because there's no scratching." The effect is similar to his friend's DJing technique with the Deftones, which Delgado describes as spinning for atmosphere: "Like he was listening to what we had done for 'Ligeia,' and he goes, 'This needs something else.' So he walks over to his record collection--he has thousands of records, most of them really weird--and grabs one with crowd cheering on it, like from a bullfight or something. The rhythm of the crowd chanting fits right with the track."

The ambient feeling of both cuts is a definite divergence for Moreno, but given the Deftones' particularly rabid and well-informed fan base, Team Sleep is assured of moving a respectable number of copies of whatever they release. Wilkinson seems bemused by the rise of his friends' band from humble beginnings in Sacramento in the early '90s, playing in front of a few hundred people every weekend to magazine covers, Grammies and teenage fans who document his every move online.

"I even heard there were some pictures of Chino's kids on the Internet," Wilkinson says. "Someone tracked down photos of them somehow--that's some serious shit. I guess the Internet has brought out the little stalker in everyone."

He takes in stride the reversal of fortune his friends have experienced, going from working as cooks at Mexican restaurants and wearing hole-ridden Vans sneakers to world tours and hole-ridden Vans sneakers.

"It's a trip to me, because when we were in high school, there were always rich kids, and compared to them, we didn't have any money," Wilkinson recalls. "So we had kinda messed up clothes you know, but in a way, we were like, 'Fuck that--I'm better than everybody. Who cares about money?'

"It was kind of a conceited attitude, too, but we always felt like, 'I'll do whatever I want to do.' So to see them blow up, it's not like they got bigger--it was like everything else got smaller."

Team Sleep plays the Catalyst on Saturday (Dec. 22) at 9:30pm. Phallucy opens the 16-and-over show. Tickets are $15. (423.1338)

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From the December 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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