Yes, that’s the question that plagued Linkin Park following the release of their 2000 debut, ‘Hybrid Theory’.
At the time, it was easy to be suspicious. The band came out of nowhere as a complete package – memorable songs, great videos, spiky hair and parachute-sized jeans that were horribly in fashion. Their debut was so accessible, it shifted a over a million copies in a matter of months. ‘They must be a candy-coated boy band,’ scoffed many as the six-piece were rapidly becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet.
So less than five months after their album was released, this writer traveled to an unseasonably chilly Spain where the band were main support to Deftones on their 2001 European tour…
LINKIN PARK are shivering so much, their bones could well rattle out of their winter coats and onto the floor below.
Chester Bennington and his five bandmates are huddled together in a draughty Spanish backstage area – yes, it’s cold in Spain today – which would do well to keep a fine wine chilled as opposed to keeping one of the fastest rising bands of the last 12 months in good spirits – and toasty – until their coveted support slot on Deftones’ European tour.
With their debut album Hybrid Theory doing brisk business – it’s already hurtled past the one million mark – the band seem oddly relaxed amid the attention focussed on the band.
“We’re just amazed at the reaction we’ve been getting,” says emcee Mike Shinoda, from behind a cloud of his own warm breath. It’s cold, but not the Hoth-like conditions the band seem to think they’re enduring. “Every day brings us a new opportunity as we’re so grateful for everything. We’re not taking one second of this for granted.”
We’re here to find out the minutiae of California’s newest stars who are startlingly different from their nu metal contemporaries – not one has mentioned any childhood neuroses yet. Should be fun, then.
BORN ON December 1, 1977, Big Bad Brad Delson – “that’s my first, middle and last names,” he attempts to have us believe – is Linkin Park’s headphone-wearing guitarist. He’s a rubbish liar, too.
“I hate all the guys in Linkin Park,” he murmurs quietly. “I’m sure they all hate me too, so it’s a mutual relationship.”
His deadly serious face lasts for all of five seconds.
“I’m kidding,” he says to the surprise of no-one. “These are all my friends and the fact I get to hang out and tour with them is amazing.”
WHICH GUITARIST INFLUENCED YOU IN YOUR FORMATIVE YEARS?
Brad: “I’m only 23, but I’ve been playing guitar for about 12 years now. It was the late ‘80s and bands like Guns N’ Roses and Metallica were the coolest, so I tried to grow my hair long. It was really curly and I tried straightening it with chemicals and it ended up dying on me. I had to cut it off and start right over. Right now, I’m really inspired by Dave Matthews’ creativity. I don’t try to sound like him, though. I also like Steph from the Deftones, too.”
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR PERSONAL HIGHLIGHT SINCE THE RELEASE OF HYBRID THEORY?
Brad: “Every day has been phenomenal. We’ve been a band for about five years and we’ve worked really hard. We weren’t looking to get signed at first, but just put in a lot of hard work and write as good songs as we could. Recently, it’s become a like a dream come true in terms of getting to make record and go on tour with all these great bands. The fact that all these things are happening now – I’m very appreciating everything.”
TELL US ABOUT LINKIN PARK’S FIRST-EVER GIG.
Brad: “We thought it might have turned into a disaster, but we ended up getting a publishing deal after that show. We somehow got on the bill with System Of A Down and SX-10 – Sen Dog from Cypress Hill’s band – and it was packed. This guy who had been interning with the music industry came after work and was really excited and made us an offer after the show.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE ALLEGATIONS THAT LINKIN PARK ARE, IN FACT, A BOY BAND FOR THE NU METAL GENRE?
Brad: “It’s really funny, actually. I see that rumour on the internet. People could make up a rumour that I’m sleeping with Hillary Clinton and people might believe it. It’s not true. We’ve known each other since we were little. The reason people might think that we’re this manufactured boy band, honestly, is because we’ve all got short hair. We don’t look like these old metal heads and people think that we’re so young, we couldn’t have got it together to make a band. Whatever.”
IS SOMEONE TELLING YOU WHAT CHORDS TO PLAY IN YOUR HEADPHONES?
Brad: “No! I’m actually not sure why I wear them. I started wearing them a while ago and got used to it and thought it would be a good idea to keep wearing them. That’s all I’ll say about it. That’s more than I told Rolling Stone, at least.”
ARE YOU WORRIED THAT LINKIN PARK ARE RIDING THE DYING WAVES OF NU METAL?Brad: “The whole idea about this band is blending different styles of music and I think that’s exciting, regardless. When you take two styles of music and put them together, it’ll always be interesting and new. So, that phenomenon in itself is not going anywhere. Boundaries between musical genres have been breaking down for quite some time. Kids these days don’t listen to one kind of music. They could be listening to Nine Inch Nails and the Black Eyed Peas. In terms of fads that go on in music, sure I think the styles we’re drawing from are very current, but our focus is on songwriting – that’s timeless.”
FOR SOMEONE who enjoys “beating the crap out of the drums”, Rob Bourdon is surprisingly shy and reserved offstage. Born in January 1979, Bourdon is the baby of the band who likes to play piano when time permits.
“I used to take classical lessons when I was younger and was forced to keep going,” he explains. “I learned something from them and it’s a great emotional outlet, too.”
WHICH DRUMMER INSPIRED YOU TO START HITTING SKINS RATHER THAN A KEYBOARD
Rob: “I started playing drums in elementary school – third or fourth grade – after I went to an Aerosmith concert. My mom actually knows Joey Kramer (Aerosmith drummer), so I got to go backstage and see the whole production. It was so exciting and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. From that day forward, I became interested in playing music and the drums in particular. When I got into high school, I got into a lot of funk, like Sly and The Family Stone, James Brown, Tower Of Power – a lot of groove-based stuff, because that’s what I found amazing. I was intrigued by the rhythms.”
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE EXPECTATIONS OF THE BAND’S SECOND ALBUM AFTER BECOMING BIG SO QUICKLY FOLLOWING THE RELEASE OF HYBRID THEORY?
Rob: “Not really. We try not to think about the future too much. Right now, we’re just concentrating on touring and promoting this album. We’re just really excited about everything. For the next year, we’ll be touring solidly. We’ve been playing songs like Forgotten for four years now, and they’ve been refined and adjusted over the years, but it’s still cool to play it every night.”
IS THIS YOUR FIRST BAND, THEN?
Rob: “No, I started playing in bands since I was around 13 years old and I’d cover songs like Smells Like Teen Spirit with my buddies. That’s when I met Brad and we played in a band for about a year. It was rock meets rap and funk. We were called Relative Degree. We practised a lot and played one show – but it fell apart after that.
WHAT’S YOUR PERSONAL LOW-POINT SINCE JOINING LINKIN PARK?
Rob: “I miss my home and my friends. We’re gone for months at a time and when we come home, by the time we get settled in, we have to go on the road again. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s all part of being in a band. We’ve been touring constantly pretty much since the album came out.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BANDMATES?
Rob: “I’d say Chester is probably the most emotional of the band. He’s a passionate guy and puts all his soul into whatever he’s doing. Phoenix is easygoing and cool to get along with. Joe is really creative. Mike, as far as engineering and production goes, is a genius. He’s a wizard with computers. He and Joe are really artistic. Brad’s the smart guy of the band.”
DJ JOSEPH Hahn, along with the blue-haired vocalist Mike Shinoda – whom he met at art college – is the visually creative force behind Linkin Park’s One Step Closer video.
“I studied illustration and took a year off and worked in special effects,” he says. “We did designs for monsters and prosthetics. It’s helped band-wise because they pretty much leave all the art stuff to me.”
Born on March 15, 1977 in Dallas, Texas, Hahn can be found skipping rope to keep fit after a show, without looking like a sweaty girl.
AS THE DJ, HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PIMPIN’ ON THE ONES AND TWOS?
Joe: “Right after high school, I think. I enrolled in art school and that’s where I met Mike. We were both into hip hop and that’s where it started. When NWA started, I really got into it. It was so different. Gangster rap is overplayed now, but at the time, it was cool. A very exciting time.”
DID YOU EVER LISTEN TO METAL?
Joe: “Oh yeah. We all grew up listening to everything. I think our generation is more open to all kinds of music. I think Napster made it so much more accessible.”
HOW DO YOU COPE WITH TOURING CONSTANTLY?
Joe: “Just take each day at a time. It keeps you in a good frame of mind to know it’s paying off and people are buying your albums. My back still hurts from carrying all that equipment and packing it into an RV. It’s been tough and dangerous, but we’ve paid our dues.”
WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING IN A BAND LIKE THIS?
Joe: “We’re reaping the benefits of making Hybrid Theory and because of the album doing well, we’re getting to see the world and we get to tour with some really cool bands and be around people we admire. It makes touring fun and it’s getting better and better.”
BASSIST PHOENIX – “that’s my full name,” he protests, although it’s actually Dave Farrell– was born in Boston on February 8, 1977 and lived five years in the city before moving to Orange County.
A big animal lover – that is a huge fan of beasts in general, rather than large ones specifically – Phoenix lists his two favourite people as his girlfriend and his dog.
“I’m a huge softie for pets,” he smiles. The huge softy.
WHAT WAS THE BAND’S MOST TRYING TIME?
Phoenix: “When we were first starting out, Brad and I were college roommates, so we’d drive together to practice. He’d have a Marshall amp and head in the trunk and I’d have a tiny practice amp in the back. We’d go to the cheapest practice areas and have to set up our own PA. That took ages. We’d rent the room for two hours and spend most of the time setting up equipment. Then we’d take it down – that was for two years solid. Since then? It’s been amazing every day.”
WHAT’S YOUR PAST MUSICAL EXPERIENCE?
Phoenix: “When I was in high school, I messed around in bands with my friends. I played guitar and most of my friends did too, so I learned how to play the bass. I’d always played instruments, including the violin, but that’s not very cool when you’re in high school.”
ON THE BAND’S ALBUM ARTWORK, YOU’RE MISSING FROM THE LINE-UP. WHY?
Phoenix: “When I finished college, we were called Xero and we were changing our name to Hybrid Theory. I ducked out of the band to play with another band for a year, who I’d played with too. It was a prior commitment and I toured with them for 12 months. When I was out of the band, they hired a bass player and Brad did most of the bass work on the album. I came back in October.”
WHAT PERSONAL QUALITY DO YOU BRING TO THE BAND?
Phoenix: “We have different talents in the band. Brad, Rob and myself take an interest in the business side of the band too, so we have the nous to tell when someone is trying to rip us off. We managed ourselves until there was too much going on to look after ourselves full-time.”
ANOTHER DAY, another hair colour. Now proudly displaying an aquamarine shock of hair, Michael Kenji Shinoda – born February 11, 1977 in Panorama City, California – oozes the kind of infectious laid back vibe that would soothe even the most neurotic nu metal singer.
Labelled as a technical genius by Hahn, it was Shinoda who was the band’s sole frontman, often joined by his friends on a temporary basis. Today, he’s nursing an eye injury after his contact lens ripped.
WAS ROCK MUSIC YOUR FIRST LOVE?
Mike: “Not really. I took classical piano lessons for 10 years – and my parents said it would be good to get into college. I got sick of playing classic music, so I started to learn jazz. Through that, I got into hip hop and loved the beats. Ever since I was 13, I’ve rapped over my own beats. I’d copy people’s styles and kind of got into my own thing. I hate narcissistic, money-driven trap. I’ll listen to it and appreciate it, but I can’t identify with it.”
WHAT’S ON YOUR STEREO GENERALLY?
Mike: “I listen to Jurassic 5 and the Roots, you know, as that’s what I can relate to. I always listened to Run DMC and Boogie Down Productions, too.”
WHAT METAL BANDS INFLUENCE YOUR VOCAL STYLE, THEN?
Mike: “I used to mix up the music, and made tapes with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Anthrax and Rage Against The Machine. Those are the kind of bands that caught my eye. And when I was getting a band together, that’s what I based it on.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF CHESTER WHEN YOU FIRST MET?
Mike: “He actually crashed at my place the first time we met. We got on really well from the outset and he’s cool to get along with. We’ve more or less hung out like best friends since day one.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING THE SOLE FRONTMAN BEFORE CHESTER JOINED?
Mike: “I only sang on my own for around two months. When we did shows, I’d get friends to the other vocals. It was really fun. It’s strange, though, whenever I’ve written vocals, I’ve always written them with two people in mind. I think it adds a cool depth and vibe to the songs.”
THE RESOLUTELY English-sounding Chester Charles Bennington was born in Phoenix, Arizona on March 20, 1976 at the ungodly hour of 3:25am. As one half of the dual vocal attack, he exudes an uncompromising passion about the band he fronts.
“We’ve put our lifestyles at stake to do this and we believe in ourselves 100 per cent,” he says. “I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
YOU’VE AMASSED A NUMBER OF TATTOOS ALREADY. WHAT DO THEY REPRESENT?
Chester: “They all symbolise something. My left had has my engagement finger tattooed and my wife has the same. And yes, we did it before Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. I got that done because I couldn’t afford a ring and my friend has a tattoo shop, and did them for free. The flames on my arm represent the Aries part of my fire sign. My left shoulder has a Piscean symbol and a Japanese Koi carp on my right. I have the album design on my left calf muscle. My back piece is six arms spread out and was done by my friend, who said it was a visual representation of how I reach out and grab the audience. I thought that was nice. I want ‘Linkin Park’ somewhere, too.”
WHAT DOES YOUR FAMILY THINK OF YOUR BAND’S ACHIEVEMENTS?
Chester: “My dad – who is a retired police officer – loves it and has always been supportive of me. I think he loves it a little more than I do, actually. The reason why he’s always supported me is because this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve never backed down and I think he respects that. We’re not a cliched rock band where everyone is messed up on drugs. We’re all decent people, so that makes me proud too.”
LINKIN PARK ARE A NU METAL BOY BAND. DISCUSS.
Chester: “That’s one of my favourite rumours. I respond like this: if you want to believe that, then there’s nothing I can say or do that will make you change your mind. I’m not going to go out of my way to disprove it. If they care about the band, it’s simple as clicking on the internet to read our biography. There’s plenty of information about us on there. But the people who say or believe those rumours aren’t fans anyway. That’s cool, but we’ve actually been a band for around five years. The only weird thing about me joining the band, to be perfectly honest, was a friend suggesting I check them out.”
ARE YOU AWARE OF THE PRESSURE YOUR SECOND ALBUM WILL BRING?
Chester: “Amazingly, this band works better under pressure. We’re not going to worry about outselling Hybrid Theory, because you can’t count on those things. You just have to go in and write songs you like and do things that make you happy. If you can do that, then you’ve succeeded. We never imagined this kind of response and it’s a great thing to be part of. To attempt to match this for that sake alone is ridiculous. I’m confident that people will enjoy subsequent albums. The more pressure the better, I say. It drives us to do our best.”
Earlier this year, Chester Bennington sat down with Alexander Milas of the Metal Hammer Magazine Show to talk about the fifteen year anniversary of Hybrid Theory and the band’s last album, The Hunting Party. Click below to listen.