Land of Linkin
04.05.2008Linkin Park's genuineness has helped it emerge from the late-'90s rap-rock/nu-metal scene with critical respect, big sales — and a future.
How does the biggest-selling rock band in the land get pumped up for a roof-raising, tour-ending, homecoming concert before nearly 20,000 fans?
If you're Linkin Park's Brad Delson, it's not with groupies and drugs. Instead, the guitarist is smiling for photos backstage at the Forum with some people from the UCLA Foundation who are there to accept a gift from him: the endowment of a permanent four-year scholarship.
It's Delson's turn tonight, but all six members of Linkin Park have donated the band's fees from one show on the 15-month "Meteora" world tour — probably in the neighborhood of $200,000 each — to a charity.
Sometimes Linkin Park can seem more like a Boy Scout troop than a rock 'n' roll band, but its genuineness has helped it emerge alone from the late-'90s rap-rock/nu-metal scene with credibility, critical respect, big sales — and a future.
Its debut album on Warner Bros., "Hybrid Theory," came out of nowhere to become the biggest-selling U.S. album of 2001, with a total of nearly 5 million. "Meteora," which followed in 2003 (after the remix album "Reanimation"), is likely to match its predecessor's worldwide total of 12 million.
Monumental soul-searchers such as "In the End," "Somewhere I Belong" and the current hit "Breaking the Habit" have become radio staples, their yearning moods and confessional lyrics serving as lifelines for kids in search of comfort and direction.
"I think they represent what we all miss in rock music," says Warner Bros. Records Chairman and CEO Tom Whalley. "What we loved about bands in what we think of as the golden age of rock music was that each record took on a new dimension, and you would follow that band through those dimensions, and you would become a fan of whatever they're trying to do next."
If it can sustain the pace, Linkin Park could take its place as a mainstream counterpart to the likes of Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers as Los Angeles rock band laureate.
In mid-2004, the members have a clear path, wherever it is they want to go. They've negotiated their key turning points and made their breakthroughs — first by weathering years of record-label rejection, then by proving with "Meteora" that they weren't a fluke.
It's helped that all six members have an obsessively hands-on attitude toward the whole operation, from the creation of the music to the look of their graphics to the wording of their contracts. Though they're all in their 20s, they've managed to acquire a little more perspective than most of their peers. "I remember during the 'Hybrid Theory' touring cycle, we were feeling really confident about what we'd accomplished," says Delson, 26. "And we went and saw U2 play, and we realized just how small we were in the scheme of things.
"Maybe that's too harsh, but we realized just how little we'd accomplished compared to a group like that. Every song they played was a great song, and they were drawing from decades' worth of material. And no matter how hard you work or how good you are, you can't do that overnight."
Of course it took more than being nice guys and hard workers, maybe even more than pure talent, to give Linkin Park its shot. What they were waiting for, it turned out, was an ambivalent, slightly-too-slick rock singer from Phoenix who came to L.A. to join the band in 1999. Volatile and loaded down with emotional luggage, Chester Bennington was the final piece of the puzzle.
A laid-back live wire
When it hits the stage at the Forum, Linkin Park is all seething, searing angst, and the always-impassioned Bennington seems to be putting something extra behind his from-the-void screams, as if making up for the Long Beach show the band had to postpone until tonight because his voice gave out.
I want to heal
I want to feel
like I'm close to something real
I want to find something I've
wanted all along
somewhere I belong
I want to feel
like I'm close to something real
I want to find something I've
wanted all along
somewhere I belong
This isn't a band that wears its scars like body jewelry, but when it comes to bonding with the kids, it helps to have dirty laundry in the psychic basement.
"I mean, the goal in life is for the drama to stop," Bennington, 28, says with a wry smile. His two-story house in the South Bay seems designed with that purpose in mind. Free of clutter, scented by candles, its living room is serene.
"Intense" is probably the word most often applied to Bennington, but there's another side as well. "He's laid-back," says his good friend Jonathan Davis, lead singer of the band Korn. "I wouldn't want to say intense. Yeah, he's just a laid-back guy."
Indeed. Bennington is as relaxed as a country squire on a sunny afternoon, mellowed by a rare extended break for the band after the end of the "Meteora" tour. His 2-year-old son, Draven, is napping, and his wife, Samantha, moves about upstairs. Linkin Park's live wire sits on a sofa cuddling a Yorkshire terrier named Smithers.
Bennington was the outsider in the Linkin Park story, a disenchanted rock singer from Phoenix invited to audition for a group of L.A.-area friends who were trying to make a serious go of their distinctive hybrid: a mix of hard-rock basics with the hip-hop arts of rapping, sampling and turntable scratching.
Though he and rapper Mike Shinoda both write lyrics, Bennington's the one who usually gets credit for making Linkin Park an outlet for themes of youthful alienation and inner pain, thanks to his willingness to acknowledge childhood traumas including sexual abuse.
"I think it's a lot more common than people think," he says. "If you look at it, there's almost two different types of kids these days in this country. There's kids who are really together and then there's, like, train wrecks. I see it all the time because I meet a lot of kids.
"I think people don't get told enough that they have the power to make themselves feel better. So if you can do that as much as possible…. I think that's a positive thing, and I think we do that with our music. As dark as it is, I think it's very positive and motivating…. I think that's why a lot of kids relate to it, whether they've got their [stuff] together or whether they're messes…. I'm both those things myself."
Though not the mess he was, thanks to therapy, success and general growing up. "When I moved out from Arizona to here, Samantha and I knew how to steal from Paul to pay Peter and do the juggling act to make sure our life worked," Bennington says, referring to the couple's financially lean times. "That's extremely stressful…. But you throw in years of drug abuse and years of sexual abuse and dysfunctional family on top of all that, you have a lot of pressure.
"Now we've sold a lot of records. It's the only difference between me then and me now. And I'm older, and I've figured out how to deal with my problems better."
Though one of the favorite stories in Linkin Park lore is that Chester and Samantha tattooed their ring fingers because they couldn't afford wedding bands, they were getting by, having purchased one condo with help from her mother and a second one, which they rented out, on equity and credit.
In L.A., he was convinced that the band he had joined — first known as Xero, then Hybrid Theory before Linkin Park — had a future, but it wasn't easy waiting out the year of rebuffs from the record labels.
"I was just thinking about how great my life in Phoenix was in comparison to what I was doing out here. Even though I didn't have a lot of money, at least I had a job and a decent place to live. I didn't have all my [stuff] in my car….
"I had to work at coffee shops part time, just to have money to go eat at Sandy's Burger across the street from where we practiced. I went insane…. Sometimes at midnight I'd be knocking at Mike's door, 'I can't … do this, I can't do this, I gotta go, it's just insane, what … was I thinking?'
"My option in life was to do this or just work a 9-to-5 job. That was it…. But I was like, 'All right, I'm not gonna go back there, I will make it, and I might as well do it with these guys and we'll figure out how to make it work.' "
Building a base
"We wouldn't have let him go," says Shinoda, laughing. "Even if he drove back to Phoenix we'd figure out a way to make it work."
The "Meteora" tour is over, but Projekt Revolution — the band's annual summer multigroup tour that this year has grown to mini-festival scale — is looming, and Shinoda is meeting the rest of the band at this San Fernando Valley rehearsal complex to revise their set list and work on new interludes.
Linkin Park began with hip-hop aficionado and beatmaker Shinoda and rock-rooted guitarist Delson, longtime friends from Agoura, teaming with drummer Rob Bourdon and other musicians. It gradually grew more serious, and after recruiting Bennington they started building a fan base, using the Internet to establish proselytizing street teams. Warner Bros. finally signed the band, though at first the label hoped to get something more party-minded, another Kid Rock or Limp Bizkit.
"Those things were filled," says the cheerful, loquacious Shinoda, 27, sitting on a couch in a large rehearsal room. "We were bent on creating our own style and developing our thing, and it did take a long time before people were interested in it."
These days it's an inescapable part of rock radio and adolescent life, a sound built on a clatter of programmed beats, billowing guitar chords and exchanges between Shinoda's understated raps and Bennington's full-throttle rasp. With the standard bass/drums rhythm section expanded by Joseph Hahn's turntable scratching, the sound has an unusual weight and density, while softer passages tend to be fidgety, with little things going on in every sonic corner.
"I think what a lot of people miss in today's world is the crafting of records," says Warner Bros.' Whalley, who worked closely with the band in the studio during the making of its second album. "You didn't have a guy playing video games and another guy out in the lounge doing something. They were all in it all day long, giving each other input into their parts."
That cohesive sound got its verbal content when Shinoda and Bennington found their metier as lyric writers.
"That's one of the times when we got to know each other best, when we were writing lyrics in the studio for 'Hybrid Theory,' " Shinoda says. "Wow, some of the stuff he's telling me here, I had no idea that that's what those words were about or that he'd gone through that. And I'm sure vice versa.
"It's really therapeutic to do that and to have those kind of conversations in the studio and to be able to make music that kind of deals with those things. And also later on to have fans come up and say they get it. They know what that emotion is like, they're going through it and that song spoke to them in some way because of that."
Nobody's ready to say much about the next album, which they expect to begin planning and writing on their studio-equipped bus during the Projekt Revolution tour. Not that they're likely to get bored. Linkin Park can seem more like a mini-corporation than a rock band, maintaining a marketing company, record label and fan club among its enterprises.
Each band member is responsible for a certain area. Bennington has a knack for assembling concert bills, and he's taken the lead in creating Projekt Revolution, whose third edition — with Linkin Park and Korn headlining the main stage with the Used and Snoop Dogg — opens Friday in Cincinnati. It comes to Hyundai Pavilion in Devore on Sept. 4.
Shinoda does graphics and monitors the band's visual images, Delson eyes the contracts, bassist David "Phoenix" Farrell attends to the daily schedules and decisions about press, Hahn oversees the videos and former business student Bourdon watches the cash flow.
"It kind of sounds like a corporation, but we really take what we do very seriously, and it's difficult to focus on your music if you have no idea what's going on in the business that your music has created," Bennington says at his house. "There's tons of those guys, they're like cockroaches here in L.A., just tons of former rock stars who've [lost] all the stuff that their music has ever earned them.
"We don't want to be that, so we have to be involved in all the things that involve Linkin Park. We're all pretty much workaholics, perfectionists. Those are our quirks. It goes far beyond just our music."
LA Times - June 18, 2004