Monday, November 23, 2009

Chester Bennington (Linkin Park/Dead By Sunrise) interview (unpublished)

A FIRE WITHIN 
 
'Nu Metal' linchpins Linkin Park could've easily outstayed their welcome in terms of fickle music tastes. Yet the Californian rock/rap group somehow by-passed their peers and remained a force stronger than a rapidly weakening trend. Their last album, 2007's Minutes To Midnight was their most successful by far, yet an immediate follow-up was marred by singer Chester Bennington's declining health due to addiction and personal problems. A stop-gap between Linkin Park albums was an important choice for Bennington who, close to a mental melt-down called for a halt to his band's activities to give himself time to heal. It was in this time he began work on his most personal set of songs yet. The resulting album, Out Of Ashes released under the name Dead By Sunrise, is the final piece in Bennington's recovery. The album's personal subject matter, however didn't necessarily mean all was clear and direct when it came to seeing the project through; “I never know what a record's gonna sound like when it's done.” He begins, “Sometimes I fantasise about how I want a record to be and I'll hear an amazing album by another band and think wouldn't it be great to just make a really kick ass heavy album where every song is a teeth gnasher, and then I go to write something and it turns into a ballad. You know what I mean? ” He laughs. Listening to Chester describe the creative process, it's clear he doesn't think of it as a task. “I don't tell the music what to do the music tells me what to do.” He explains, “I tune into the cosmic fuckin' radio - the one all musicians listen to - and start pulling shit out of the air. It's definitely fun not knowing what your ideas are going to turn into, that's for sure.”

With Dead By Sunrise, Chester worked to his aforementioned style, but the difference was he needed to have enough material to convince his soon-to-be new band mates to step away from their own projects and help him see his vision through. “I just wrote a whole bunch of stuff before I really knew what I was going to do with it.” Bennington says of Dead By Sunrise's conception. “All I knew was I didn't think it was Linkin Park material; it was a lot more personal than anything we'd done before.” Joining him in the studio when it came time to record were Ryan Shuck and Amir Davidson (both formerly of '90s electro-goth band Orgy), who are now recording as Julien-K. Chester discusses their natural progress from old friends to new band members; “I've been very good friends with those guys for a little over ten years, and so obviously if your friends with people who are also 'architects' it's only a matter of time before you just go, maybe we should try and build something together.” He reflects.

“The idea that we would make an album together was more a fantasy than a reality for a long time, because those guys had Orgy and Julien-K and I was doing Linkin Park, so it was never very clear when or even if we could do something. This year though the time was right - those guys had an opening, and the new Linkin Park album is a little way off still, so it all just fell into place”. Chester knew when he was writing the songs that became Out Of Ashes, it would never be a Linkin Park album. “I think these songs were outside the spectrum of Linkin Park lyrically and stylistically.” He discloses, “There's a more random element in these songs in that they're kind of all over the place… They are much less easily defined as Linkin Park is.” He continues. “If you listen to Condemned, Crawl Back In, In The Darkness and My Suffering you'll hear they're all pretty diverse.” If Linkin Park was a touch too impersonal for Chester, then Dead By Sunrise has allowed him to share his inner most thoughts. Is there a line though which he won't cross regarding subject matter? “I don't know if there's stuff I wouldn't talk about, (in the songs) but I think there's some stuff that just doesn't 'sing well' you know. My music is a gate to humanity and an expression of life, so in those terms I don't think about what I can or cannot sing about, but in terms of what fits in our songs lyrically I have to be aware of what works.” He explains thoughtfully; “You know, I've never gone oh I'm sad today I think I'm gonna write a song about it. I kind of just wait for a melody or a lyric to come to me… Like a spider in a web patiently waiting for the fly to land.” He laughs “I've spent so much of my life involved in music, it just happens naturally now. Most of the time, the ideas aren't necessarily worth chasing too much and putting into songs, but then once in a while one comes along that's really interesting to me and I grab hold of it.”

A stand-out track on Out Of Ashes, Let Down comes close to Stone Temple Pilots musical territory, I'm curious if Chester feels a kinship with (STP singer) Scott Weiland as somebody who has also publicly battled addictions? “Well number one, I'm a huge Stone Temple Pilots fan - I think our voices are complimentary to each other, and secondly, I feel more that if there's any kind of kinship it's that I really appreciate what he does vocally and musically, but that is where it ends, because I have to separate myself personally from what I love in his music as much as possible so as not to unconsciously mimic his style.” Bennington, much like Weiland has been close to breaking point at the hands of his drug and alcohol addiction. Chester was reputed to be house-bound, virtually broke and suffering panic attacks due to his destructive lifestyle. “Well yeah there was a period where I couldn't leave my house, but not because of agoraphobia or anything but because I was alcoholic and I tended to run into problems when I go out drinking.” He continues, “I was having shakes and really bad and panic attacks mainly from the withdrawal from alcohol which it made it very difficult to lead a normal life.” His ongoing recovery from this period largely informed the songs which became the Dead By Sunrise album; “You draw on things whether positive or negative, but I tend to run with a lot of the doom and gloom stuff.” He confesses, “Life is so diverse and tends to throws so many curve balls at you whether it's 'oh shit I just fell in love', or 'oh crap I just lost my sanity', and it's those extremes that make me want to write. For some reason a lot of artists feel as though there best stuff comes from their hardest times and there's truth to that because there's something intriguing about life's difficulties. There's a certain poetry about unhappiness just as there is about falling in love and I think people like to feel that they're connected to those things through music.” Chester explains further; “Look at the rise of punk music in the UK during the '70s and how it was all connected to the economic strains that people were under at the time. It was the bands that spoke out loudest and with the greatest accuracy of what the country was collectively feeling. It wasn't all depressing music, but it was angry and the message was clear.”

With much of the new album's content dealing with personal expression - does the singer feel like a more contented person? “Not contented in the 'I can take it easy now' sense, because the more I work, the more productive I feel like being. Now because I feel good about the album, I have a rejuvenated desire to go on to the next thing and keep pushing myself.” The 'next thing' to which Chester refers is a new Linkin Park set, due mid-next year. I ask how the new songs are shaping up; “It's hard to explain what they sound like, but from my point of view I really feel like we're making our best stuff. We went through a process of rediscovering who we were as a band after Minutes To Midnight, and I feel like we've tapped into that while making the new album. It's been really fun working again together after our break also.” The expectations for Linkin Park's next album will surely be pretty high considering who's producing the work - the slightly scary Rick Rubin. So what is the man really like to work with?; “It's Rick man, he's probably the most knowledgeable person I've ever met in terms of what he likes in music as well as what's already been done. If we try and just do stuff we've tried before, it ain't gonna wash with him. He'll tell us straight out he doesn't like it or that we're just repeating ourselves.” Chester mimics Rick Rubin; “Yeah guys that was great when you did it ten years ago, but let's not do that again, okay!” He laughs, “His honesty is really important to us because he knows our music. He says things like, oh that what have been a great track to put on Hybrid Theory (2000) but it's not gonna work now. We're ready to do something completely new.”

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1 comment:

  1. Hmm... The part about Chester being an alcoholic surprises me. And I didnt know he was a Stone Temple Pilots fan!

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