This week marks the 15-year anniversary of Linkin Park's debut, Hybrid Theory, which went on to sell more than 10 million records and changed the rap-rock game forever. Despite the record's worldwide success, creating the record proved to be a challenge. New Times caught up with lead singer Chester Bennington to discuss the band's chart-topping record, his love of the Valley, and what he'd like to be remembered for after Linkin Park.
Now that you've moved back to Los Angeles do you still feel like you have strong ties to the Phoenix area or do you feel like you've moved on?
I always feel tied to Phoenix. I still go to Arizona all the time, and my family is there. I will die in the state of Arizona, and I will most likely live out the rest of my life there. There's been a couple of places I really enjoy and my goal is to spend as much time in those places as possible. Arizona is one of them and it will always be a special place for me. At the same time I'm not really missing Gilbert being out here (laughs).
Since Gilbert is technically so far from Phoenix, did you ever feel like you weren't really living in Phoenix anyway?
I haven't lived in Phoenix in forever. I lived around Phoenix for a very long time. I call everything surrounding Phoenix all the way out to Mesa Phoenix.
Have fully recovered from your ankle injury?
I'm getting close.
Your first performance back after sustaining the injury was here in Scottsdale with Stone Temple Pilots during Bike Week. Everyone told you to take it easy on stage and you didn't. Were you sore after the show?
I've been sore this entire year (laughs). That was gnarly, I went from not walking to doing shows. It was tough but that's been my mentality this whole time. It's like, I have shit to do, let's go. So I trained really hard and did my physical therapy like I was supposed to.
Over the years Linkin Park hasn't been scared to try new things and take risks musically. Was there ever a time where you were unsure about trying something new?
I dunno. Maybe the very beginning. When you're making your first record and you now have this company and these people that work there. There are probably one or two people at the company who are super excited about you, and then there is everyone else who is like, "I hope this guy isn't wasting money that could come out of my budget to push my band." It's weird. Everyone expects something that no one's heard to come from you and they're trying to tell you how to do it. But they don't create anything but they have lots of opinions and it's fucking freaking you out. You start to think about things in a weird way, and it's good because it's important to think about things like that. At the same time it's a different frame of mind and it can kind of throw your creativity in a loop because you haven't done it before. You've got songs and you've got a record deal but you haven't made a record, and in our case the guy who was running the company at the time didn't even like the band so we were feeling some added pressure. I think in the beginning we really questioned more about everything than anytime afterwards.
Probably the time between Meteora and Hybrid Theory was the most confusing time for us because we were like, do we listen to our guts or do we listen to all the people telling us we are going to fail the second time after they told us we were going to fail the first time and we totally didn't? It was a weird thing when everyone tells you you're not good enough and then you go make the biggest record that's been released, and it's like, "We do know what we're doing." You would think at that point they'd go, "You guys know what you're doing. Go make another make another fucking kick-ass record. No they told us we were fucking lucky, and by the way, most sophomore records are fucking bombs. You're like thanks for the fucking vote of confidence.
Now nobody fucking asks us to do shit. We just have good conversations about creativity and what we're gonna do, how much fun we're gonna have, and what our goals are. People are interested in hearing what our process may be like. They want to see what it's like to be in there or how it works. It's nice to be trusted with the process so that you can actually let the process happen.
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I think the biggest risk you guys ever took as a band was the song "The Catalyst" and the A Thousand Suns record in general.
It's funny, I think A Thousand Suns is my favorite record that we've done. The process was really fun, and everyone was ready to just be weird and comfortable being weird. We were just in a cool headspace and I think it really allowed us to make music that was pretty cool. The Catalyst was certainly for me one of those songs that I knew right when we nailed "God Bless Us Everyone/ We're a Broken People Living Under Loaded Gun." I was like, "Holy fuck we just nailed this song." It was just a great song, and I think, like, "The Catalyst" helped the vibe of the rest of that record. My idea was to release that whole record as one track because I thought it was too good not to listen to the whole thing. Go sit back in your chair and close your eyes, get as comfy as possible, push play, and just listen to it. There is a version where you can buy it as one track, it's called "A Thousand Suns The Full Experience."
When you're done with music and you decide to come back to Arizona to die someday, how do you want people to remember Chester Bennington?
I don't really want people to think about me (laughs). Look I enjoy being in Linkin Park, I enjoy the fact that people love coming out to the shows, they love watching us perform, and they love our music. Their are lots of perks to being in Linkin Park that I enjoy. People are generally pretty nice to me so, that's a nice benefit. But outside of that all I want to do is be a dad and just do good things for my community and for people that I can help out. I don't want to die a multimillionaire just growing money. If I'm not doing Linkin Park then I should just be at home. Just remember the Linkin Park stuff — that's the only reason anyones paying attention anyways.