Four years ago, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington “never would have imagined” the band’s mega-success today. As they prepare their new CD, he explains how these virtual unknowns became multiplatinum stars.
One Step Closer to the Top
It’s a crisp blue-sky day in Los Angeles, and Linkin Park’s rapper, Mike Shinoda, is standing outside The Lounge, a hipster club a blink outside ritzy Beverly Hills, surrounded by a handful of the deejays and emcees that appeared on the band’s remix project, Reanimation.
Laughing and goofing with the crowd, Shinoda is oblivious to the fact that Evidence, emcee and producer of the hip-hop outfit Dilated Peoples, has stopped a fiftyish female jogger. “Do you know who Linkin Park are?” Evidence asks the confused woman. She shakes her head. He asks if she has kids , and she nods. “Shake this man’s hand,” he says, leading her to Shinoda. ’Tell your kids you met Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park.” She smiles kindly, looks around, and goes back on her way, clearly not sure what just happened.
This scene could have been played out hundreds of times over the past three years as the Linkin Park sextet went from virtual unknowns to multiplatinum stars with a combination of hard work, incendiary live shows, and an infectious-as-hell collection of songs. Hybrid Theory, the Los Angeles-based band’s 2000 debut, has spawned the radio hits “Crawling,” “One Step Closer,” and “In the End,” while selling somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 million copies around the world.
An hour or so after Shinoda’s impromptu introduction to the unassuming jogger, his vocal sparring partner, singer Chester Bennington, is tucked away in a corner booth at The Lounge. He looks slightly bemused when asked if he ever pictured Linkin Park’s wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am success when the band gelled four years ago. “No way,” he says. “I never would have imagined this would be happening. My goal was to be in a band that I enjoyed again. … Getting to this point was nothing we ever planned on.”
Indeed, the fate of the band then known as Xero looked dim five years ago. Shinoda, guitarist Brad Delson, deejay Joseph Hahn, drummer Rob Bourdon, and bassist Dave Ferrel (aka Phoenix) had been busy writing and playing at L.A. clubs, but nary a record label was paying attention. Meanwhile, in Phoenix, Bennington was unhappily playing with a band called Grey Daze, and the singer was about to give up. “I had lost my love for playing with other people because I didn’t like anybody I was playing with,” Bennington recalls. “And the people I did like when I was playing, the final outcome put a bad taste in my mouth.” It seemed to him that the only way to discover something new was to leave. “I had basically exhausted the local scene there.”
Then he received an out-of-the-blue, sounds-too-good-to-be-true call at work from one of his old music-business friends, Scott Harrington. “I don’t even know how he got the number,” Bennington recalls. “I think he probably called my wife and got the number. He said to me, ’There’s this band; they’re looking for a singer. They’ve got a lot of potential and they’re good. They’ve got some interesting people looking at them.’ “ Harrington stressed that this would be an extremely good opportunity, so when Bennington got a Xero tape from Jeff Blue, vice president of A&R at Zomba Music, where the band had a publishing deal, he scooted into a studio to record some vocal parts. “I called [Blue] on Sunday and said, ’I can either mail it out to you or I can be in L.A.,’ “ Bennington says. “I just felt that it was going to be something that I would have a lot of fun doing and I could contribute to. I felt the music was extremely powerful, and something inside told me that this was worth taking the risk.”
So is this basically one of those “quit your job, move to L.A., join a band, and sell millions of CDs” stories? Bennington laughs at the question: “For me, starting something new with new people in a fresh place was worth the chance, it was worth the risk. If it worked out, awesome, and if it didn’t, then make it work out.”
The band, which was by then known as Hybrid Theory (they changed the name to Linkin Park after a potential legal conflict surfaced) spent a year putting songs together and playing showcase performances for record labels. As it turns out, Bennington’s sacrifice and push was the final piece to completing the band’s puzzle. “I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds,” he says. “I put a lot of my personal stuff on the line to join the band and brought a lot of focus to the band. Hopefully it acted as an inspiration to say, ’Hey, this is worth taking the risk. Let’s do this.’ I think that helped the songwriting on everybody’s points, because we had a lot more time to spend on the songs and the music. It really helped [us] push ourselves to write better songs and be more dedicated to the band.”
Other than for the album’s musical blend, Hybrid Theory stuck out almost immediately upon its release for its lack of profanity. “I’m probably one of the most vulgar people if you meet me in a casual setting,” the singer admits with a laugh, “and it’s not like we’re a bunch of goody-two-shoe guys. Trust me, we’re still a rock-’n’-roll band. But the thing is, we never even consciously did that. When it came time to write the songs, Mike and I sat down and wrote the lyrics, and we wanted them to be honest and we wanted them to have a lot of power and depth. We never sat down and thought of ourselves as a band that should say ’fuck’ every two minutes. We don’t think of music that way.
“To me, we come to songwriting music first, and the lyrics have to have a meaning, they have to have a story, and they have to make sense to us,” Bennington says. “So, luckily, [not swearing] saved us ten cents on every copy for a parental-advisory sticker. Really, that’s the only benefit we got out of it. Nobody seems to really focus on that. Our fans, anyway, focus on how they can relate to everything. It’s cool because their parents aren’t bitching at them for it, and I guess that’s another plus. We never sat down and said, ’We can’t cuss on this record.’ “
If you think the best company for misery is music, then Linkin Park might be able to turn it into something positive. They are, after all, the band with a legacy for liking their fans.
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