Saturday Night Live has just come back from a commercial break, and tonight's host, former longtime cast member Dana Carvey, smiles, looks into the camera and says, "Ladies and gentleman, Linkin Park." It's the second time that the band has played the show and, tonight, they're there to play two tracks off their latest record, A Thousand Suns.
The first song the band plays on SNL is "Waiting for the End," a song that clearly shows the band's evolving sound. It's obvious from the beginning that this is not the same nu-metal band that helped popularize the rap-rock genre in the early '00s. There is no record scratching from Joseph "Mr. Hahn" Hahn, Mike Shinoda's raps are sparse and subdued, and Chester Bennington has gone from shouting into the microphone to showing signs of becoming a real crooner. It's a far cry from the band we met a little over 10 years ago upon the release of Hybrid Theory.
For Linkin Park's second song, "When They Come for Me," things get even crazier. The sirens, cricket noises, tribal drums, and industrial-music backdrop no doubt cause some longtime fans to scratch their heads and wonder what happened to the band they thought they knew. It's a feeling that occurs a lot listening to A Thousand Suns, the band's second album produced by Rick Rubin, and clearly the group's most experimental and ambitious record yet. But as is usually the case, that combination doesn't always lead to immediate acceptance.
A few weeks before their SNL appearance, I spoke with Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington on the phone. Despite the record's mixed reviews, Bennington says he's happy with the direction the band is headed and looks forward to getting back in the studio.
"I think that I'm really stoked. I'm really happy where things are right now, and I'm kind of enjoying the ride I'm on," Bennington says. "So I'm just looking forward to making the next Linkin Park record. I'm looking forward to finishing this tour and getting back into the studio. All I want to do is sit in the studio and make new records. That's all I want to do. That's my goal."
The Phoenix native lives in the Valley and owns Club Tattoo. When Linkin Park performs at US Airways Center, it will be the first time the band has played the downtown arena. It seems most musicians would be excited to play such a venue in their hometown, but Bennington says that returning home isn't without its downside.
"In some ways, it's kind of a pain in the ass — the same way that playing in L.A. is a pain in the ass. I know a lot of people, I have a lot of friends and acquaintances, and everybody wants to go to the show, so I kinda just want to hide," he says. "When you have a guest list that's a thousand people deep in L.A. or Arizona, it kind of becomes a job. It becomes a second job that I have to do to wrangle all of the guests or say 'no' to a lot of people."
After the tour, the band plans on heading back into the studio to begin working on the another Linkin Park album. According to Bennington, the band never really turned the creative faucet off and is eager to flesh out some of the ideas they've been kicking around. But touring and being one of the biggest bands in the country doesn't leave much time for anything else.
"I've got a lot of stuff going on," he says. "Between the five kids I have at my house and my wife and Linkin Park, I barely had enough time to squeeze out a Dead by Sunrise album."
So what about plans to continue his acting career? (Bennington appeared in both Crank movies as well as last year's Saw 3D.)
"I don't know, man; that was a pretty bad movie."
Glad to see he's got some perspective.