Interview Date: 10/20/2009
Run Date: 12/11/2009
Chester Bennington of Linkin Park fame has had the kind of commercial success most rock musicians would give their firstborns for. Never a critically acclaimed act, the band has still managed to sell truckloads of albums in a day and age where going gold is looked at as some kind of commercial feat. With Linkin Park’s hectic studio and touring schedule, it’s some kind of miracle that Bennington found the time to write and record an album with his new labor of love, Dead by Sunrise.
Comprised of former and current members of the bands Orgy and Julien-K, Dead by Sunrise recently released Out of Ashes, their debut album for the folks at Warner Bros. There are few singers in modern rock that can sell a chorus as well as Bennington and the songs on Out of Ashes deliver plenty of those kinds of moments. Words like “anthemic” will pop into your head when you hear stunners like “Crawl Back In” and “End of the World,” and the album’s stylistic variety might take some as a surprise. A fan of ‘80s synth-pop and new wave, Bennington and his cohorts fly the “120 Minutes” flag on “Let Down.”
Bullz-Eye caught up with Bennington and he was candid about the path that led him to creating Out of Ashes.
Bullz-Eye: Hey Chester, this is Carlos from Bullz-Eye.
Chester Bennington: How are you, Carlos? Thanks for doing this.
BE: It’s my pleasure. I’m enjoying the album.
CB: Thank you! I’m just happy to finally have it out there for everyone to check out, since I have been talking about it for years now. (Laughs)
BE: The idea of Dead by Sunrise initially came to you four years ago when you were writing the most recent Linkin Park album. You felt that the stuff you were coming up with didn’t fit with the band’s sound, so you created a new outlet for it.
CB: Absolutely! After we finished all of the promotional work and touring for Meteora, we weren’t sure what was going to happen next. I then got the idea to do a solo album where I played everything outside of the drums. Then I got Amir (Derakh) and Ryan (Shuck) to come in and play some stuff, too. One day we’re in the studio and they took the guitar tracks I had for the song “Let Down” and started messing around with it. The next thing you know they are playing me what they did with it, and I’m completely floored! They had found this chord progression that took the song to a different place than I had imagined, but it was what I was looking for. I thought it was crazy, but I knew at that point that this project became a collaborative thing between the three of us. I like to think of Dead by Sunrise as a collective more than my own thing.
BE: So Amir and Ryan really helped steer the material on Out of Ashes.
CB: They were incredibly important for Dead by Sunrise and this album, because they got what I was trying to get across the entire time. Anytime I would show them a new song idea, they would instantly get it. They saw the house already built, and we worked really well together in that sense.
BE: Was there ever pressure from the guys in Linkin Park to hand some of the material over?
CB: (Laughs) That’s a good question. When I’m working on a song, I normally play it for the Linkin guys on an acoustic guitar. Mike Shinoda is the complete opposite. He’s a Pro-Tools wizard, so when he shows us his new material, they are already complete in their presentation. That’s been a challenge for me because it’s tough for me to always convey what I’m trying to do with my songs. I’m no Paul McCartney, so my song ideas come off a bit on the singer/songwriter side of things. It was probably difficult for the Linkin Park guys to see where these songs could go. But at one point I do remember Rob Bourdon (Linkin Park drummer) saying, “Hey, if the solo stuff doesn’t happen, we’d be totally happy to try these songs with Linkin Park!” So that was great to hear.
BE: Following Linkin Park’s songwriting throughout the years, one would think you were the poppier, synth-pop guy in the band. Based on that, I think a lot of people expected Dead by Sunrise to be a little bit more on the Depeche Mode side of things. There are moments like “Let Down,” but the album certainly has some heavy stuff on it.
CR: I wrote a lot of the synth-poppy and Goth-y kind of moments on the album. You can hear the Cure and Depeche Mode in some of the songs. There are a lot of poppy vocal melodies throughout the songs, too. Some people have picked up on the ethereal quality of the melodies too, which is great. But yeah, we also do more of the straight-up rock stuff like “Crawl Back In” and “My Sunrise” on the record.
BE: “Condemned” even has a punky new wave vibe to it in parts.
CB: It totally does! That main riff has that kind of thing going in. So yeah, we got to throw in a lot of the stuff we grew up on into these songs.
BE: Out of Ashes includes some brutal lyrical moments. From the outside it all sounds very “Hollywood,” but how dark did it really get for you?
CB: I go through periods of absolute self-destruction. I don’t know when to stop when I’m in that mode. I’ll go through a gallon of Jack Daniels and down some antidepressants in one night and keep on going. I just hated my life at one point. I loved my band, career and friends, but when I got home from tour, I couldn’t deal with stuff. I would just begin drinking.
BE: I’m sure going through a divorce didn’t help matters.
CB: It’s a strange thing, because my divorce was one of the worst and best things to ever happen to me in my life. Everything I had worked so hard for was gone after we were through. Everything! I was wiped out and it was tough on my ego to let go of all of that. I went from living in a huge house to a tiny apartment in Santa Monica. I was so drained and bitter during that time. But I eventually learned from it and moved on. I then fell in love again and I got help facing my demons. Looking back at my first marriage, I don’t know how or why we stayed together as long as we did. When I met Talinda (Bentley, his current wife), I knew she was the one pretty instantly. She moved into my place after a week and a half or something like that. (Laughs) But I’ve gone through several periods in my life of complete drug and alcohol insanity. I’m lucky to be alive after all the times I’ve done that shit, man.
BE: I’ve seen you with Linkin Park a few times throughout the years, and I didn’t notice any vocal issues. You must have hidden it well from the public.
CB: I think I did, because it seemed to surprise a lot of people when I did come out about it. I’ve never really let that stuff get in the way of my performances. On top of that, I was doing a cover band playing David Bowie and Elvis stuff, too. One night I lost my keys and tried to enter my dad’s house through the window but I fell through it instead. It was a bloody mess! (Laughs) So I had to get all stitched up and got some pain meds, too. It didn’t stop me from drinking. I had an anxiety attack a couple of days later, but I tried to never let it get in the way of playing.
BE: It looks like our time is done here but I really appreciate your time. I think Out of Ashes will make the Linkin Park fans really happy, but its diversity should reel in new listeners.
CB: Thanks so much man! Yeah, the feedback has been great from the Linkin Park fans and we’re getting amazing feedback from other listeners too. I think the album has something to offer for a lot of different types of people. I went through a lot of bad stuff, and it’s in [the album], but there are some positive songs, too. I’m just glad I survived it all.