“I can’t shake it,” comes the iconic pained shriek of The Cure’s Robert Smith on ‘Girls Float Boys Cry’ – the knowingly titled downer highlight of ††† (Crosses)’ second album, ‘Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete.’. Now a cameo from the Gothfather would usually be put front and centre by most bands, but here it’s more like a spooky Easter egg – a surprise splash of black paint on the canvas.
“I had this idea, ‘What if I gave Robert call and asked him to have this little hidden vocal on the song’,” frontman Chino Moreno tells NME. “His unmistakable voice just pops out of nowhere.”
It’s far from his first encounter with Smith. His other band Deftones famously performed a merciless cover of The Cure’s ‘If Only Tonight We Could Sleep’ for their MTV Icon celebration back in 2004, before Smith later invited them to play his curated Meltdown in London in 2018 and he remixed ‘Teenager’ for the ‘Black Stallion’ companion record to the 20th anniversary of their seminal album ‘White Pony’ in 2021. Still, Moreno says “it was a trip to hear a word or a phrase that you’ve written then hear someone who’s voice you love and who inspired you throughout your music-loving life”.
With teenage Moreno “really drawn into sad, depressing music” and Crosses bandmate (and former guitarist with post-hardcore legends Far) Shaun Lopez in love with The Cure’s “dark but not obvious songs”, it’s a bucketlist duet. With their horror-noir aesthetic, sense of bittersweet romance, and records adorned with crucifixes, there’s a pretty sizeable meeting in the venn diagram, but the duo also aren’t too wild about being labelled as ‘goth’.
“Music has this great ability to be nostalgic on its own, and a lot of those influences we wear pretty openly,” says Moreno. “I don’t think we try to fit into that box, or any box for that matter. Lyrically, even in Deftones, I’ve always offset the jagged heaviness with the more romantic. To me, that’s where I cut my teeth as a listener. In Crosses, it’s a little more fluid because the musical bed offers that space a lot more openly.”
In 2011 the band, then a trio with bassist Chuck Doom, quietly slipped their debut ‘EP 1’ onto the internet – a nightmare blast of witchy electronica, turning Crosses into an overnight cult concern. They dropped another two EPs in the following years before collecting them on their 2014 self-titled debut album; a journey between dark wave, cyber-industrial and woozy dream pop. Beloved by many, a follow-up has been long overdue. Last year, they returned with the bold but atmospheric ‘Permanent.Radiant’ EP; a six track re-acquaintance with the band, made before ‘Goodnight’ really took shape.
From the pummelling nightmare rave of ‘Pleasure’ to the inverted electro pop of ‘Invisible Hand’, the aptly named ‘Light As A Feather’, the bouncing ‘Pulse Plagg’, cyberpunk ‘Ghost Ride’ and the post-rock kiss-off of the title track, ‘Goodnight’ makes for a coherent and mighty flex of a testament to what Moreno and Lopez are capable away from their highly celebrated day jobs.
Alongside Deftones’ heavy and emotional 2020 album ‘Ohms’, ‘Goodnight’ provides another distorted mirror to what Moreno’s been through in recent years, conquering demons and squaring up his past through therapy and a more level worldview. “There are lyrical themes that I didn’t realise during the writing,” he explains. “I can listen now and hear the journey. There are different parts where I can say, ‘This is from this stage of my life’. While my lyrics are never really too autobiographical and I try to paint an emotion rather than talk about it, I can hear it.”
For the aforementioned ‘Girls Float Boys Cry’, he asks “are we all human?” as he looks for his place in a crowded room. “That song deals with loneliness; being around people but feeling completely alone,” he admits. “It had remnants of the pandemic where a lot of those emotions really took hold.”
While characteristically not wanting to give too much away about the parts of his life he was mining, Moreno does declare that the record is largely him “just trying to figure out happiness, really.”
He continues: “I will attribute some of it to not just my personal life, but this stuff was written pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, and recently. COVID took a toll on me, and I know I’m not alone in that and a lot of people had it worse. But in my voice I can hear the loneliness and uncertainty for the future, as well as some really optimistic romanticism.”
The album sees Moreno trying get in tune with his feelings “in less typical ways”. On the serene sci-fi of ‘Runner’ for instance, he found himself removing himself entirely and “writing the lyrics as two people having a dialogue in a bizarre setting” – a first for the frontman. “I was exploring a way of conveying a story or a feeling without me talking about me.”
Lopez noted a change in how he was responding to Moreno’s lyrics when he “realised how they’re relatable but you can’t always pinpoint what he’s talking about” – apart from on new album track ‘Big Youth’, featuring El-P of Run The Jewels. “He told me about that was about keyboard warriors in the comments section trying to tell Chino what he should be doing,” he said. “But I love lyrics that aren’t black and white. It’s cooler when it’s not so clearly just about a dude who got his heart broken.”
As Moreno barks “you don’t know me” and “I don’t owe you a thing” to a faceless digital crowd of dickheads, El-P chirps in with “I have no time to comply with these fiends” as another surprise left-turn with his faultless, fluid streetwise flow. Moreno explains how the track suddenly seemed “3D” when they dropped in the rapper’s vocals and he returned with his own “articulate” words, while Lopez adds: “Hearing his cadence and seeing how everything fits these lyrics in is crazy, man. Mad skills.”
“The reason we asked is because we wanted him – not trying to fit into a box but to feel creatively free,” says Moreno, revealing how much they’d been bingeing on 2020’s seminal polemic ‘Run The Jewels 4’. “It’s off-brand for Crosses. Shaun and I both love the unexpected. The idea that someone would be listening to it and his voice just pops up without them knowing and they’re like, ‘What?!’ I love things like that.”
Lopez chimes in: “We would never want to have somebody feature on the record just because they’re a big name – it’s about us doing something that’s not so obvious.”
“Well,” laughs Moreno, “Jay-Z asked us if he could do it but we told him no!” Cheeky Hova.
Other guests on ‘Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete.’ come from co-producer pals Nate Donmoyer, Dexter Tortoriello, Dawn Golden, Away, Jono Evans and Daniel Alm – the latter came about as a fan simply messaging the band to get involved in a previous remix before becoming a fully-fledged co-writer and collaborator. “That’s really cool to me,” admits Lopez. Such is the impact of Crosses’ work that fans fall in love and become a part of the project.
Next year marks 10 years of Crosses’ self-titled debut. It’s a legacy landmark that they’re all too aware of, mainly as a mark of self worth. “We always look at it as something to live up to, and hopefully surpass the creativity on that thing,” says Moreno. Lopez puts it a little more curtly: “It’s important to check yourself. Sometimes artists start to get high on their own farts, and that’s why some put out a disappointing album.”
The band are hoping to mark the anniversary somehow (“We know that everyone wants a vinyl pressing as the ones that are out there selling for ridiculous amounts of money,” offers Lopez) and they’re currently putting together plans for what the live show will look like – hopefully hitting the road for a world tour next year, having seldom played in the past. It’s an exciting prospect, especially for a band only now realising what they’re truly capable of.
Speaking to NME last year, Moreno compared Crosses’ mentality ahead of this record to that of Deftones when they made their expansive masterpiece ‘White Pony’. “That was us saying, ‘We can do anything now’,” he said at the time. Have they realised their freedom?
“I definitely think so,” he tells us today. “Obviously I’m ridiculous for making quotes like that as I’m just basically setting myself up for people to throw comparisons in there so it’s not the smartest move, but the moment we decided to make a full-length LP the floodgates just opened.”
Moreno adds: “After the last EP, it wasn’t really required that we go in and make another record, so that feeling of being ahead of yourself and not meeting expectations means that you’re in it and not caring about anything other than exploring new territory.
“If there was a comparison to ‘White Pony’, that’s what I meant – we didn’t care and were going where the music was taking us. I feel like we accomplished that.”
Crosses release ‘Goodnight, God Bless, I Love U, Delete.’ on Friday October 13.