Chester Bennington On Heavy Metal and Opening for Metallica

Another one gone. News that Chester Bennington committed suicide this morning has only confirmed that we live in uncommonly dark times for rock music. By now it all feels so trite to dredge up all of those toothless observations about how important he was to so many, how much he had to live for and how depression is a terrifying disease that demands less stigma and more awareness. And I’m as guilty as the next guy. This morning on Twitter I posted the number to the national suicide hotline. What the hell else could I do? Who knows what to say in these situations? Who knows if it will help anybody but at least it felt like a semblance of a solution. The reality is that people suffering real, dark, crippling depression can rarely summon the lucidity or motivation to call a hotline. When your mind’s the thing that’s broken, don’t count on logic to lead you to the solution.

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 6.48.00 PMIt seems that more often than not, the ones most serious about suicide are the ones who hide it best. That said, you never know when you might need this number. You don’t have to be on the brink of ending it all to find comfort in speaking with somebody. So if you’re starting to wonder if you’re going to make it through the next month, day, week or hour, then you’ve got nothing to lose by giving this number a call. Don’t think about it – just call 1-800-273-8255.

I met Chester on a gorgeous spring day in 2014. Linkin Park were preparing to release The Hunting Party and Warner Brothers — their label — invited me up to their L.A. offices to listen to a few songs for a feature in Metal Hammer. There were two girls from Vogue, another girl from some other outlet I don’t recall and me. Some chirpy record label dude led us downstairs through a warren of offices and into a small studio, where the label guy then collected our phones, bags and anything else that might have a recording device. Then they gave us notepads and pens and each of us got a pair of headphones. Area 51 has nothing on these dudes.

I think they played four or five songs. I took my notes and left, heading across town to a photography studio in Santa Monica. The studio was in the top floor of a nondescript red brick building on Santa Monica Boulevard, but inside it had high ceilings, blinding white walls and those sprawling porcelain backgrounds reflecting back the sunlight that was pouring in through a wall of ten foot windows. It was a stereotypical L.A. shoot – catering on one side, photographers busily setting up and taking down equipment and a battalion of bored hipsters grumpily punching away at their phones. On the studio PA, somebody was absolutely cranking Cracker’s Low — a righteous jam indeed — and it took me a few seconds to realize that the sound was so clear because I was hearing Chester singing along with it. He was just walking around the room by himself, almost absentmindedly belting out the lyrics in perfect pitch, drowning out the otherwise solid vocals of David Lowery. Interstate Love Song came on shortly thereafter, and Chester didn’t miss a beat, singing along with STP as if he were facing a sold out arena. He did this for the next few songs. I knew that he had chops but I was entirely unaware of the staggering breadth of his range until then.

IMG_4282I interviewed Mike Shinoda and Dave Farrell first and then after twenty minutes, I sat down with Chester and Rob Bourdon. When I introduced myself as representing Metal Hammer, they each made a face that fell somewhere between confusion, suspicion and amusement. Even though they were exceedingly polite, they clearly didn’t see how they fit in a metal magazine and I didn’t blame them at all. They really didn’t. At least their new  album, anyway. Sure, they have hard rock roots and they emerged as a gateway band for a lot of metal and hard rock fans in the 90s but I understood that they might have been a little leery that they were in for a brutal, old school hatchet job. Which couldn’t have been further from the case. I came in peace. We talked about the new album of course, and the challenges they had getting it out. Chester kept pointing out that this was Dave’s album in a lot of ways and that he and the band had really encouraged Dave to channel his inner shredder and let loose with some mighty, wall-trembling riffs. You can sort of hear that in that album, which ultimately was something of a return to roots for Linkin Park, yet without ignoring the poppy hip hop sounds they’d put together in their past few records.

When it came time to talk about metal, I mentioned how they’d played with Metallica once before and how they had shows coming up with both Metallica and Iron Maiden. I wanted to see what that meant to them. Were they excited? Did they think they fit in with those bands and if so, where was the overlap? To this day, Chester’s response has been one of my favorite interview moments, period. I didn’t have to ask a single follow-up question – Chester was fantastic. He was funny, self-effacing and he showcased what an immensely gifted storyteller he was. At one point my eyes teared from laughing. Of course I save all my interviews and so today I pulled up my chat with Chester and Rob to listen to that story one more time. After hearing Chester’s unguarded enthusiasm, I decided that it’s too good to keep to myself and amid all of the sadness, it feels nice to offer a reminder of what a funny, passionate guy he was. So here’s the clip of Chester talking about heavy metal, about playing in front of Metallica fans and on the versatility of Linkin Park. I’m sad as hell that he’s gone.