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Chester Bennington talks Linkin Park's The Hunting Party

Tuesday 29 Apr 2014 6:59a.m.

Chester talks new Linkin Park

Whenever Linkin Park releases a new album, I put it on repeat for about two weeks. I overdose on it.

It's like candy to my ears. After the two weeks is up I usually move onto something else, occasionally revisiting, but never obsessing again.

The only album to exceed this wee pattern was 2010's A Thousand Suns, one of my favourite rock records in recent years.

I first heard the band back in 2000 when Hybrid Theory was released. I recall a review I still associate with the band to this day that said: "Linkin Park have rosy pop pink painted on their Nine Inch Nails".

The review was right, because as hard or loud or angry as the band gets, they have pop sensibilities that drill into your brain.

Pop. That's why I thrash each record for a fortnight. This isn't a negative thing - I'm into it.

Point being, next month I get to do some more thrashing, because Linkin Park's sixth studio album is due out on June 17.

It's called The Hunting Party, and early press is using words like "louder", "heavier" and "guitar solos".

Apparently it will be the group's least poppy album to date - and as a fan of rock and industrial music, I'm excited to hear that.

I've interviewed frontman Chester Bennington a few times now - usually backstage when they play in New Zealand.

He's always humble, friendly and up for a laugh. I also like that he's happy to swear a lot. Not in a showing-off kind of way, but in the "you and me are the same, and we can swear in front of each other" type of situation.

Anyway, on Friday I got to have a chat on the phone with Bennington. We talked his band, his influences and about what we can expect from The Hunting Party.

It took a while to connect the call, as his phone kept dropping out, but below is our eventual chat.

Sorry about this!
Oh, no. It's my phone. My phone is a piece of shit!

What are you on, what model phone are you using?
It's a current iPhone.

Bugger. Go back to the 4!
I feel probably like some Linkin Park fans have, since Hybrid Theory! You know, 'I will keep buying the iPhone, because I loved the first one so much, and I hope they make another phone that's so great!' And so they [Apple] have failed to do so, but I think we have definitely answered the call with this album [The Hunting Party].

Well, I get excited when you talk about using a lot of guitars on this record; because it's something I love. Was that an obvious decision to make, or did it just happen organically?
You know, it was actually very interesting how it happened. We were working on a bunch of songs, for a long time, and we had all been writing demos for about six months, before we started working on songs specifically for the record. We always write. So, Mike [Shinoda] had been working on quite possibly - most definitely - the most together batch of songs. Mike typically is the creative general of the band anyway. So we were writing stuff that was really in line with a lot of the stuff that's going on right now. We're listening to a lot of alternative, indie rock right now, and we like a lot of it. And we like writing poppy music too, you know. We like to add a little darkness to it, but we've been known to write poppy songs. And we were heading in a direction that was more like that. And at some point Mike was listening to it, and some other bands, and realised he was kind of writing songs that harkened to the stuff he was listening to, and came to the realisation like, "This is not what I want to do." There is so much of this right now, all we are going to be doing is just adding more noise to the noise. And that sucks. And so we threw out all of those songs, and I think he played it to me first, and he said, "I am going to play this for the guys, but this is kind of where I want to go: Let me know if it's too crazy." So that was when he played me the beginnings of what turned into 'Guilty All The Same'. And I was like "Ah, f**k yeah let's do that, all day, every day, on every single song!"

That's interesting, because I had a surreal conversation with Rob Zombie a couple of months ago, and he was basically lamenting that rock is dying, and I am not sure I agree with him.
Honestly, here's what inspired us to make this record, you know. I turn on the f**king radio, and all I hear is safety rock. It's not a dig to any of these bands, there's a lot of bands I love, I love Arcade Fire; I think they're a great band. I love Naked & Famous; I think they're a great band. There are so many great bands, there's SO many, and it's hard to choose. And when I listen to the radio that is all I get, and now I all I am getting is regurgitated versions of those bands.

You want to go harder?
I don't want 17 versions of Phoenix! I don't want 17 versions of Arcade Fire. I want Arcade Fire, and another cool band [laughter]. And sometimes I want to listen to stuff that's heavy. And I go listen to stuff that's heavy that's modern, I turn it off, and I go back and listen to stuff I listened to growing up. And I am like, "Why is this the case? Why isn't there anything in the hard rock world that's f**king awesome?"

Ok then, what would you rate then as a couple of hard rock records you have loved forever?
Ah, the Land of Rape and Honey my Ministry, that was a hard-core record that I loved, and I would say Around the Fur by Deftones, a great hard record. Bad Brains, the one with 'Secret 77' on it.

What's your favourite Nine Inch Nails' album do you reckon?
My favourite Nine Inch Nails record is probably The Downward Spiral, although their first album is amazing. And I love Skinny Puppy, Metallica. I listen to Subhumans and Circle Jerks and Ministry and Misfits. The Descendants. These are all the bands I grew up listening to. And then on the rock side, once I started in the '90s, it was a f**king great time for rock, as it was all my favourite types of music that were coming together. Like Metallica meets punk music, thrash meets soul! And you get bands like Nirvana that came out of Seattle that I love. And Alice in Chains, obviously. And out of LA you've got The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, and that's kind of what I grew up listening to. And Stone Temple Pilots! These are bands that made me want to make music.

You must find yourself in a surreal position then, I mean c'mon, you've fronted Stone Temple Pilots now, you've had Chris Cornell open for you. You must pinch yourself at times.
It's definitely pretty cool! I have had, ah, not only one experience that was just like, "Holy shit!" This is my life, this is crazy! I have those moments all the time, because I get to play music with people that I love.

It's a good position to be in.
It's a really cool thing. Guns N' Roses fans dream of the day Steve Adler comes up and is playing drums with Slash and Dust, and does Guns N' Roses stuff, and I was the guy that was there and singing with them when they did. F**k that's cool! And so I've made a lot of really great friends, I've met a lot of my heroes that have become friends of mine that are all great guys. And we all share the same thing: We just like playing music. And we don't take it any more seriously than that.

That's right - you have to remember it's just music, you know?
I am stoked that the music I make with Linkin Park effects people's lives in a positive way. That is something that is really, really cool. And I love that about our music. But I make music because it's fun, you know? And I get to do that for a living, and the people that I respect and the people I make music with across the board throughout the years all share that one thing in common. And the ones who are the most successful are the ones that treat it the same way we did when we were teenagers. Some of the most fun gigs I've played in my professional career have been the Camp Freddy shows, where I've been playing with Dave Navarro [Jane's Addiction] and Chris Cheney [The Living End] and Billy Morrison [Camp Freddy, The Cult] and we're doing all these covers of songs and doing it for free at the Roxy. It's like… f**king cool!

It's a charmed life. Look, change of tack. I know you can't say too much till the albums out, but is there something about this new album you're particularly excited about. I know Daron from System is on there.
Well we've been talking about it pretty heavily and everything about the record is out there. We've collaborated with people for the first time, which was inspiring. We worked with Page Hamilton from Helmet, we worked with Rakeem, we worked with Damon from System [of a Down]. We produced it ourselves, so Mike [Shinoda] and Brad [Delson] produced this record. We really felt like if we need to be inspired and move in another direction. I think when we got Page in, Mike had written this chorus and sang it, and his voice had this tone, and it was unlike anything I'd heard from him before. And I was like, "Dude this is crazy, this sounds like a Helmet song! It's cool!" And we were like, "Dude, why don't we see if we can get like Page in here?" You know? And if that's why the song says it's feeling like it should be, then why don't we just go straight to the source.

Totally: 'Let's just get him in!'
And it turned out f**king awesome! And you know, we went and had a jam session with Tom Morello [Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave] and we had a lot of fun doing that. So things might come out of that, so it's fun to get in and play with those guys. And Daron came in, dude is a f**king badass!

He's fun, right? He's good.
He's great. And he's a very chill guy. And you know, we let him come into the Linkin Park world, which is very f**king chill [laughter]. I mean it's like, "Hey, what do you wanna do? I don't know, what do you want to do…" Dude, it's like, too welcoming because it's like that 'what do you want for dinner' question, and everyone is like, "I'm cool, whatever" and nobody's actually saying anything!

Tom is everywhere. He was here in New Zealand with Springsteen the other month.
You know, we invited him in with no expectations. We didn't have expectations for any of this. And if it works, and we like each other and it's fun, then our expectations become important. But let's just have fun first, you know? And we brought him in and played some of our stuff and said, "If there's anything here that you like and that you might want to mess around with, or maybe you hear something different and whatever, then we can stop and work on that. And if there's something you've written that you would like to hear us work on, then we're down with that". So we played him a whole bunch of songs and the stuff that we played him he was like, "Dude, I'll do whatever you guys want on these songs [but] I don't know if I can add anything to this stuff!" So that was cool. "Awesome, great, thank-you! So… do you have something?" And he busted out 'Rebellion', and had the riff and had a chorus. And it was like, "So yeah - let's just do that!" And we did it. And we recorded the track in a couple of days, we had worked out the parts, and Daron played the guitars and the bass, and left really the arrangements and the lyrics and stuff up to me and Mike. We wrote this f**king killer song. And it's one of my favourite songs on the record.

It will be good to hear it all. And gosh, while this is happening, you're going out to play [debut album] Hybrid Theory in full soon. That must be a surreal experience to go into!
[laughter] It will.

Like rewinding in time. But fun to play I imagine.
Yeah it will be really fun. There are only like three or four songs that we haven't played really, since the very first tour. So it will be fun. I think it will be the most exciting part of the day for me: I don’t know if we're going to kick right into it… I haven't seen the setlist yet… whether it will be Hybrid Theory right off the bat, or we'll play a set first and then come out and play Hybrid Theory. But I am excited that once people hear 'Papercut' start…

They'll go crazy.
It's going to be fun.

Hey, did you catch Coachella this year? Were you at either of the weekends?
No, I was working on Linkin Park stuff.

Gotta be done.
[laughter] Yeah. Coachella is a cool place to go, if you're a fan of music. But at the same time it's become somewhat like the hippie movement. Like early on it was awesome. Like, "Yeah dude, let's go see the bands," and it's all about the music. You get to see a bunch of bands you wouldn’t normally get to see, because they're not very big but they're great. And even the headliners aren't really the biggest bands in the world, but they're cool. And now everyone goes there to get f**ked up and have sex. And, uh, Ringo Starr said that about the hippie movement, someone asked him about how he felt about people calling you hippies, and he was like, "In the beginning, it was fine, because I was a hippie. I am a hippie. I understand all the things a hippie stands for." Then he was like, "But now, there are no hippies out there, just people who just want to get f**ked up and have sex. And it's just gross." [laughter]

Yeah, I was just curious because we had some Kiwis over there this year. Naked and Famous, Lorde… and I watched the streams with anticipation.
But… being that I do partake in the rock n' roll lifestyle myself, and I am not judging, and I do think that's it's fantastic there's a place where people go get straight out debaucherous and have fun and listen to great bands. [But] it doesn't mean I'll be going.

Fair call. I mean, I'd rather you finish your own work. Look, I just wanted to say I admire what you guys do, in that you've got the band - but you have stepped over into the film world, with various band members, whether it's Mike [Shinoda] scoring The Raid, or you're all working on the Transformers stuff. You've got this whole visual aesthetic. Was that a surprise how all that has come along with the music you make?
No. You know, Mike and Joe [Hahn] are both graduates of a very prestigious art school out here in LA. You know, these guys are very good at what they do. And they have great vision and they also have the skill and know-how to execute what they need to do. And the people that know how to help execute it. So it doesn't surprise me. That is something that's been very important to us the whole time and we want the band to be unmistakable in every way. And when you hear our music we want the very first note you hear, for you to go, '"That's a Linkin Park song." And when you look at something, when you see it, the first thing you should think is, "This is Linkin Park." And so we very intentionally have tried to create a visual aesthetic that fits who we are and what we think our music represents, sonically, in a visual way.

How long do you think you are going to be doing this for? I was thinking about this. I saw Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails as they played a tour across New Zealand recently, and you know, those guys are getting older, but still sounding just as good as they ever did. Do you have a timeline for your band in mind, or just do it as long as it feels natural?
I am going to do it for as long as my voice will let me.

It's holding up well!
The interesting thing is, I've met so many young bands just in the last year alone, that have said they have been inspired by my band. And it's really cool. It's very neat to hear the new wave of young musicians kind of talking about us that way, because I still kind of think of us as 'the new guys' [laughter] to a certain degree. But honestly, you know, most bands, they want to take care of themselves. For the most part. Like - we want to play music. And there are some people out there who are into the other things, and that's fine too, most of the musicians I know put their live show and their art and their craft first. So it's not uncommon. And I think that you will see a lot of bands last a long time. The anomaly of the Rolling Stones will die with them. Literally. Because most of the band's generation, were dying left and right. And they weren't living the lifestyle that was conducive of a long life. And nowadays, most the guys I know workout and eat right, and go out and party and…

Be smart about it. They'll go to the gym the next day.
Yeah, and then they get up and hit the gym, and they won't talk all day because they need to rest their voice. It's like, these are serious people. And it's cool to find a balance, a good balance, with performers now. They are having fun, they're working hard, they're getting better at what they do. That's what you want to do. It makes you better than everybody else. So it's cool to be in an environment where that happens more often than not.

Hey, as far as getting down to New Zealand with this record, do you see that happening in the next year or so? Or are you doing America and thinking about the rest of the world later?
Well I don't know when the end of this tour is going to be so - I know we really want to tour a lot more than we did on the last record. You know, we told our fans, well I should say I told our fans we were going to put a record out every 18 months [laughter]. And that was six years ago. And we put a record out every two years since I said that. And I commend my bandmates for not just kind of laughing at me saying, "Yeah that's really cool thanks for saying that, but it's never going to happen!"

Like, "F**k you!"
But actually, when you do it, the process has been great. We've made three great records. And I think that our abilities and our confidence are growing. So I would like to see us tour a bit more, and I think the other guys would to. So I wouldn't be surprised if we're still touring 18 months after [the record comes out]. We want to hit South America and South Africa again, and Australia and New Zealand and Asia. The world is a pretty big place. It takes time to tour. So we'll see you guys soon!

What were your three great records? What do you count them as?
Well, the three records I am referring to that we've released in the last six years. You know, I think A Thousand Suns...

I love A Thousand Suns, man!
Dude, it's one of those things I feel I can't really say how I truly feel about it, because it's a record that I made. But, if I was outside of the band and just a fan of music, I would say that is one of my favourite records of the last 10 years. And then I really do think Living Things was another solid batch of great songs. I mean, there were some great songs on that record. It felt like it was almost necessary to do that album, to be comfortable to go this deep into this record so heavy. And this record that no one has heard yet, I think it's just a statement, man. It's just as statement. And as I said, I still kind of think of us as 'the new guys', like we're just getting started. So I wouldn't be surprised if we keep touring and keep making records, and keep touring and making records, until…

You're dead.
We run out of oil! [laughter]

Yeah: Dead or out of oil. Who knows what's going to come first.
Then we'll have to move to a new planet and suck off of its resources!

Well they've found another planet 500 million lights years away that's habitable, apparently. So there you go. That might be the place.
Dude, I didn't notice it was so close!

Only 500 million light years. We just need to figure out the journey and we'll be sweet.
It will only take longer than the entire history of our human existence to get there! In deep space travel! Pretty realistic.

We're going to have to figure out a few things to make it work. But hey - who knows what we're capable of.
Well here's something that's going to disappoint lots of people. Intergalactic space travel is not possible, so just stop f**kin' thinking about it! It's more fun to make it up and write books about it, than actually invest in doing it.

Stop dosing us with reality, Chester.
Yeah. I mean it's called physics! [laughter]

Any parting words to the people of New Zealand, sir?
Well, one: I just want to say thank you guys for supporting the band and we can't wait to get back out there, because we wanna play this new record for people so bad. Hopefully we will see all of you guys soon. And keep pumping out the good music from New Zealand, too. The world needs more New Zealand artists. So I don't know what you guys are doing over there, but it's working, so keep it up.

...

Linkin Park's The Hunting Party is scheduled for release on June 17.

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