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Chester Bennington on Joining Stone Temple Pilots: "We Definitely Need to Prove Ourselves"

The new and improved Stone Temple Pilots.
The new and improved Stone Temple Pilots.
Courtesy of 13Star

When the members of Stone Temple Pilots invited Chester Bennington to become the band's new frontman, the Linkin Park vocalist didn't take long to decide. We're talking like maybe a few moments at most. "Almost the second after I was asked, my immediate answer was, 'Yeah, I'd fucking love to,'" he says. Then, reality began to set in.

Bennington -- a Phoenix native who divides his time between the Valley and L.A.-- told Up on the Sun during a recent phone interview that after the excitement of becoming the vocalist for one of his favorite bands, which axed its longtime singer Scott Weiland earlier this year, transformed into a realization that it wasn't "something to be taken lightly." According to the 37-year-old, he started thinking to himself, "It's a big fucking deal."

Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington are scheduled to perform tonight at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

It's a sentiment that was shared by many in STP's fanbase, in either a positive or negative respect. Some fans were down with the Linkin Park singer taking over for Weiland. Others haven't been as receptive, either toward the grunge iconoclasts changing up their frontman or becoming known as Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington. The backlash and negative reactions have ranged from some fans stating that "STP is not STP without Scott" to calling the singer a "talentless hack." (Some rock wags have even dubbed the act "Chester Temple Pilots.")

Undaunted by such dissing, Bennington says he's out to win these naysayers over, including those who might happen to be in the crowd tonight at Marquee Theatre. When both the band and Bennington hit the stage this evening in Tempe for a performance for his hometown, the set list will largely consist of STP favorites -- such as "Big Bang Baby," "Dead and Bloated," "Sex Type Thing," "Wicked Garden," and "Interstate Love Song" -- as well as a couple of songs Bennington helped pen off the band's new EP, High Rise.

During our conversation, he discussed the new material they've been working, as well as why his vocals are different from Weiland's and how he's working to deliver STP's classics in the much the same fashion. Bennington, who is still very much active with Linkin Park, also admitted that while he ultimately can't replace his predecessor and that some STP fans won't ever accept him, he's doing his damndest to change their minds.

What was it like when you first started performing with STP? We played a handful of shows at first; most of them were charity shows where we play a couple songs. And we did a couple radio shows together where we played for a half and hours. Those went over great, as nervous as I was [laughs].

Were you nervous about stepping into the frontman role with a band that already has a significant and lengthy history with another singer? There's a couple reasons. One, I'm a huge fan of STP and I want to make sure I do the best job at giving people what they want when they hear it. And then, of course, there's the fact that I'm not Scott [Weiland]. It could go one of two ways: It could go really, really well or it could suck [laughs]. And luckily for us, those shows were great and the crowds loved it. I think its just going to get better and better as we play more and more together and my goal is for these songs to become second nature for me.

Do you add your own spin to STP's songs and consciously try to be different from Weiland. We imagine it's obviously a challenge. I want to deliver the songs in a way sonically in a way that sounds like they're supposed to be sang. In some instances, just because of the nature of certain parts of some songs are sang, its kind of hard not to do it that way a bit. But moving forward with the music that STP makes, that's really the place that I can make my mark.

Obviously, my voice sounds different than Scott's. He sings in a much lower register than most people are used to hearing me sing, so I've been working on that and developing my lower range for some songs. At the same time, these are STP songs, man, I want them to sound the way they sound on the records.

That's what I do when I play with Camp Freddy -- I do a lot of covers all the time. When I sing Zeppelin, I sing it the way I think Zeppelin would kind of do it. When I sing Motorhead songs, I sing it hard. And so, in a lot of ways there's going to be some areas where the songs have Scott all over them and that's the way it's going to stay. But moving, it's very important that I don't sing the songs like Scott would sing them. I sing the songs the way I would sing them.

We don't mean this as a slight in any way, but does it ever feel like karaoke in a sense? Are you wary of people making that sort of accusation? Well, that's a very good point. And to some people, it may have seemed that way, you know, and that's fine. But what we have to do as a band is we have to go out and we have to prove ourselves. To go into this thing thinking that STP fans are going to be behind us 100 percent is ridiculous. We have to go out and earn it. And the only way we can do that is by going out and playing and playing the songs that people know.

But we also need to make new music and we need to get that music out there as soon as possible. And the fact that we are independent and doing everything on our own has really worked out great for what we're doing. We can release songs as we write them, we can release songs in games, we can release songs as part of movie soundtracks -- we don't need an album. If we really wanted to, we could release one song at a time as soon as they're done. We really have a lot of freedom in ways that we can deliver music to the fans and we have to let the music and the shows do the talking.

 

Dean DeLeo (left) and Chester Bennington during a recent STP concert.
Dean DeLeo (left) and Chester Bennington during a recent STP concert.
facebook.com/stpband

Last month, Scott Weiland told Billboard that he has no ill will toward to you. That's cool.

What's your reaction? Have you spoken with him at all? Uh, no, I haven't talked to him. I really appreciate that, though, because I have the utmost respect for Scott. He's one of the best frontmen of all time. He's definitely given me someone I can look to and go, that's how I want to perform . . . I want to put on a show like that. To be that passionate about that. So, in that respect, I have nothing but respect for Scott.

I appreciate, too, that he sees that this is not something personal, from my point of view. It's something that I take very seriously and I want him to be successful in his life. But at the same time, as a musician and as a fan of the band, I want the band to continue. So if I can be a part of making that happen, then that's great.

But I can tell you very confidently that, you know, if it wasn't me, it would be somebody else. But this is a choice the band made and this is how they felt that they needed to move forward. So I support that and I'm stoked that it's me that's taking over the reins because I know I can pay it the respect it deserves.

What's your take on the lawsuit between Weiland and STP? I keep myself out of that completely. I don't ask questions about it. I don't even know what they're doing about it right now. It's none of my business. My job is to show up and play the songs that they've written and write songs for the future of the band.

So how long did it take you to decide to do this? Pretty much instantly. Almost the second after I was asked, my immediate answer was, 'Yeah, I'd fucking love to.'" And I told them, I'd love to do it, as long as you guys understand that Linkin Park is my number one thing and always will be. And so, that was how it moved. And then after that, that's when it started sinking in, "Dude, you just said yes to this. It's a big fucking deal. It's not something to be taken lightly."

Do you feel like you have to win STP fans over and convince them you're as good as Scott? I don't know if I can necessarily convince people that I deserve it, that is a question that can only be answered by every person's individual perception of the situation, you know what I mean? But we definitely need to prove ourselves not only to our fans but to promoters, and there's a lot of people that love this band that have invested a lot of time into them.

And then at some point or another, they've felt let down by them to a certain degree. So we have a lot to prove. Right away, I think there are going to be people there who are genuinely excited about what we are doing and then there's going to be people there who are coming to see if its worth their time. And so, it's very exciting in a lot of ways.

Just curious, are you a fan of Sublime? Yes.

How did you feel when Rome Ramirez started fronting the band? He's done great, I think. I mean, Rome sounds like Bradley [Nowell], he can play the guitar like him, and the new songs they've wrote sound like Sublime. So I think he's done a great job at respecting what that band has done.

Can you relate to what Rome went through joining Sublime? Kind of, but I think it's a different animal. As with the case of Sublime and Alice in Chains, their respective singers passed away. It's a lot different, I think, in a lot of people's minds and hopes -- they think there's still a chance that Scott might come back to STP. So I do that there's going to be a lot of fans that we need to work to gain their trust and to gain their acceptance of what we're doing.

I just have to go out there and crush it and sing these songs the ways [they're] supposed to be sang. That's going to be answer that people are looking for. I can talk about it all day and try to justify it, but that's not going to do it for a lot of people. They're going to want to feel it and see it.

 

So any time you perform in the Valley, it's a big show since you're from here, right? Of course. I know there's a lot of people excited about the show. I keep getting calls from people that I know who are going.

We're guessing that you may not have to work as hard to win people over since it's a for a hometown crowd. You never know, man. This is equal to someone going to watch Linkin Park without me. A lot people who are fans of Stone Temple Pilots -- even though they respect the person that comes in, there's expectations already set that they'll have to deal with. But it's going to a hometown crowd, by then we'll have definitely [gotten] into a groove of playing and touring together. It's near the end of the tour. So we'll be ready to go.

How much of the song that you'll be performing with STP on tour are originals versus pre-existing hits from their catalog? Well, we're only adding two new songs into the set. We're playing a lot of songs that people are familiar with, but I think we're also digging into a lot songs that they haven't performed, which is pretty awesome. So in that sense, it's really cool to be able to play songs that the band has always wanted to play, but they never could. There are some pretty badass tracks in there. I think, altogether, there might be a couple songs that we don't play depending on how long the set is. We'll alternate those songs in and out of the set then.

And what are the two new original STP songs in there? "Out of Time" and "Black Heart."

Why only two songs from the EP? Well, it comes out on October 8, and I kinda want a little bit of it to be a surprise. I know there's going to be a lot of people taking videos of the show, which is a given nowadays, and I want people to experience that the way the EP sounds the way we've inteded it to sound. If we play the whole thing live and people are experiencing the songs via a cell phone recording, it's cool for a couple songs, I don't necessarily know if I would want that for the entire EP. Once the EP comes out, I'm sure we'll be adding most of the songs to the set.

How much of a contribution did you make to the songwriting process did you make? Was it collaborative? Yeah, I mean, we all wrote the songs together from the moment we came up with the ideas. If we wrote a chord progression overnight in the studio, the next day the band will be in there writing a song around it. So, yeah, from the beginning phases of all these tracks, I was definitely playing a big role in the writing process.

So is performing with STP like downtime away from Linkin Park for you? Um, no, I mean we're making a record right now, so we've got the next couple of years planned out. There's a lot of stuff coming up with the LP, which is going to be the most challenging aspect of doing this. When both bands are kind of doing things at the same time it's going to be difficult to balance it, but I'll be able to do that . . . and do it the way where release music, play shows and do what we're supposed to do in STP.

But for me, you only live once, so I'm going to take advantage of every creative possibility that I can be a part of that's gonna feel like it has something to make me better at what I do. It's going to make me happy and hopefully be successful at it. So I wouldn't necessarily say its like a chance to break away from Linkin Park, it's more of just that this is something that I want to do and I'm going to do my best to make sure I can do it.

Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington are scheduled to perform tonight at Marquee Theatre in Tempe.

Find other cool shows happening in Metro Phoenix this weekend via our comprehensive online concert calendar.

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