Chester Bennington: "I don't think we're a metal band"

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Last week Chester Bennington stopped by the Metal Hammer Radio Show studio to talk about the upcoming Linkin Park album, the band's overwhelming success and dealing with the haters. Here's the interview in full!

How do you feel about releasing The Hunting Party to the world?

“I’m chomping at the bit. I had the pleasure of hanging out with some fans who didn’t really know I was going to be there, at a listening party at the Black Heart in London. They knew they were going to hear the record and they knew there was supposed to be a special guest, but I don’t think they knew it would be me. We played the record to everyone, we hung out and took pictures with everybody, we got their feedback and was really surprised at how rocking the record is. For us it’s probably the most linear record we’ve made. It’s pretty straight-forward rock from the opening riffs to the end of the record. I think it’s a bit of a surprise but for me I feel like it’s a side of the band that we’ve been holding in for a while and it’s been nice to unleash the kraken.”

Some people in the metal community have been standing with their arms folded saying there’s no way Linkin Park can be considered metal, have you seen the comments online? Does it hurt?

“I don’t think we’re a metal band either. That was something that we intentionally wanted to make clear from the very beginning when we were tagged as a nu-metal band. Not that we have anything against metal, it’s like a facial expression or an emotion. It’s like someone saying ‘He’s an angry person’ but I can be nice, I can be loving, I can be sensitive – and that’s how we feel about ourselves with our music. We aren’t just one thing. There are elements of the band that are metal, there are elements that are pop, there are elements that are electronic and hip-hop as well. We’ve always felt like we weren’t bound to just one genre. After we made Hybrid Theory and Meteora, we wanted to take risks beyond what we’d already done on those records creatively and show the world that we can do a lot more than just make nu-metal songs.”

Rebellion

There’s something so deliberate about The Hunting Party, it’s definitely heavier. How did the collaboration with Daron Malakian come about?

“We’ve had the pleasure of knowing Daron for a while. We’ve been huge fans of System Of A Down forever. I think Mike did the artwork for one of the first records they put out, so he was already a fan of the band before we ever got signed. Those guys have been a band we admire as well as bands like Rage Against The Machine – we have Tom Morello on the record, Helmet were a huge influence and Page Hamilton is on the record. But on the hip-hop side Rakim was influential on the music we wanted to make. We loved hip-hop, we loved rock, and we wanted to bring those two worlds together. It just so happened that while we were doing that other bands were doing the same thing because we were a product of the world we were growing up in.”

After the huge success of Hybrid Theory, are experiences like sitting down with fans at the Black Heart rare nowadays? It’s sold 23 million records and that sets up a pretty big wall around you so you might not get the feedback from fans you require that enables you to create a record they’ll want to hear. Has that been a difficult transition?

“What is difficult is making a record you think other people want (laughs). We make music that we want to hear then we cross our fingers and hope everyone else likes it too. Obviously being a musician you want to make music that connects with people, you want people to want to listen to it – that’s the goal. I don’t know any artists that make music and don’t want people to hear their music. The focus has never been on what other people think of us, it’s more about what’s going to satisfy us and what’s going to get us excited about making a record. And with Linkin Park making a new record is like being in a new band because we have the ability to write so many different styles and bring so many elements into the fold and find a way to make it make sense together. With this record it is a rock record from beginning to end. We sprinkle some electronic elements and it has the sensibility of writing a pop song, making sure the melodies are sound, the structure is a certain way… but we also wanted to challenge ourselves and make something that would stir the pot and be a visceral experience that would feel raw and like an open wound. When we dropped the first batch of demos, we realised that it sounds good but it’s just another wave in the ocean. And that’s not exciting to us. What’s exciting is making hard, heavy music that’s fun to play. And to challenge ourselves technically. We put the challenge out to Brad Delson that ‘would his 14-year-old self look at him as a guitar player and think he’s awesome?’ I don’t think so, considering Mike has been playing guitar on the past few records. So we challenged him to go in there and have fun and show the world what a good guitar player is. And we pushed every member of the band the same way.”

Until It’s Gone

Some people might look at you and your album sales and wonder where the angst and the desire to sound heavy comes from?

“The idea that success equals happiness pisses me off. It’s funny to think that just because you’re successful you’re now immune to the full range of the human experience. But we also realise that we’re not kids any more, we’re not youngsters with this teen angst and this feeling of ‘why does the world piss me off?’ and finding a way to express it. We have had a lot of success and there are a lot of great things going on for us, but there are things that really matter to us. When we talk about lyrical content we can’t just go back to being that angry kid, we need to talk about something that makes sense to who we are today. One of the themes that works really well and stretches into different areas is ‘What’s worth fighting for?’ – you can come up with a lot of different answers. Human rights, freedom, your creativity, your identity, finding your voice, being oppressed – all these things happen around the world on a constant basis that we find people struggling with, and we often struggle with as well. Those things do fill us with a lot of anger and we want to make a change in the world and to get involved. And being in a band like Linkin Park comes with a lot of benefits because we get to see the world and meet people. Even though we have sold millions of records we are literally a bunch of guys who have a cool job. I don’t think I’m any different to who I was when I joined the band other than I’m older and have more experience. I appreciate that people know me for my music and that’s why they like what I do. They don’t know what I do outside of music and that’s intentional. I like going to the grocery store, I like going out in public and hanging out being another dad at the baseball game, and that’s something we cherish – the attention you want to get is the attention you do get.”

It’s quite a conflict to try and maintain anonymity.

“I meet fans every day and there are some fans who have hung around for a long time. There are a lot of guys from the metal side who are like ‘Eff those guys, rarrr!’ which is fine, just listen to something else. We like to be able to stand behind what we’re doing. Every record is a different experience, we have to go in like it’s the first record we’ve ever made. We don’t just rest on the success we’ve had, it’s a blessing but it’s not guaranteed.”

Wastelands

The Hunting Party is out 16th June. Check out our track-by-track review here.

Listen to the full interview