Frontman of the Week – Chester Bennington

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Chester Charles Bennington was born on the 20th of March 1976 in Phoenix, Arizona to a mother who was a nurse and a father who was a police detective working mainly with child abuse cases. He became the victim of sexual abuse when he was about 7 or 8 years old. He didn’t want to tell anyone, because he was afraid people might think he is gay or lying. The abuse was subtle at first but escalated up until the age of 13. His parents divorced when he was 11 years old and his father gained custody. His father worked endless double shifts, his older brother and sister had left home, while his other sister was never around. Chester resented everyone in his family and wanted to run away. He decided to express himself through poetry and art. He listened to Depeche Mode and Stone Temple Pilots to help him cope. Chester’s first band that he was a part of was called Grey Daze, he developed meaningful friendships with his band mates. He gained some of his confidence back that he lost during his childhood, but found new ways to escape from the abuse he suffered in childhood. He started to indulge in heavy drinking, doing drugs and having sex with a number of girls. At the age of 16 he was doing a lot of LSD and heavily abusing alcohol. When they couldn’t find acid, they turned to speed. They were doing bong-hits of meth.

At the age of 17, Chester’s mom was so shocked by his emaciated appearance that she banned him from leaving the home. He continued drinking and smoking weed to ward off any cravings he might have. He admits that he was a full-blown raging alcoholic. Grey Daze opened for any national act that would come through Phoenix, they were able to sell out a 2000 seater on their own. They released two albums which was well received locally but failed to spark interest nationally. Tension in the band would ultimately lead to the gradual dissolution of the band.

Surprisingly Chester Bennington at the age of 22 was working at a digital services firm. married and at that point his music career didn’t look very promising.

In Los Angeles there were five musicians who wanted to find a way to blend hip-hop and rock music. Mark Wakefield introduced Mike Shinoda to members of his High School hardcore band, drummer Rob Bourdon and guitarist Brad Delson. Two other friends of the band joined and the band was named Xeno. When Wakefield left the band Xeno needed a vocalist and when Zomba’s Jeff Blue showed some interest in their music they handed over a demo to Jeff hoping something promising would come of it.

On the 20th of March 1999 Chester picked up the phone not knowing that Jeff Blue was on the other end. He told Chester that he thought this band that he found might just be the big break that he was looking for. Jeff sent Chester a demo informing him that the band had a hip-hop/rock vibe going on. Chester wasn’t really into hip hop music then, but the band didn’t disappoint and Chester knew he could take their music to the next level. He recorded his vocals the very next day, he played it to Jeff and was on the steps of the Zomba Music studios the very next day. Jeff was sure Chester would be the best man for the job, but the band wasn’t so sure, because they were auditioning vocalists at the time. Chester thought he was doing the band a favour, because he had been in a successful band and they just viewed him as another option on a long list of musicians. The band was indecisive but eventually Chester was hired. The band was now called Hybrid Theory. Chester and Mike Shinoda worked on their music feverishly and Chester shared his abusive past with Mike while they were writing. Chester was homeless in LA and had to sleep in his new band mates’ sofas, cars and at a rehearsal studio. The only thing that kept him going during this time was the knowledge that the band had something special going for them.

When the band wasn’t working on their music, they were trying to generate interest online by posting mp3’s. Despite positive reactions and feedback the band still couldn’t get record labels interested. They played over 50 showcases for various record labels and they couldn’t believe that nobody was interested. Jeff Blue had been hired at Warner Brothers A+R department and decided to make Hybrid Theory his first signing. They signed to Warner Brothers in 2000 and they had another band on their label called Hybrid. That lead to Hybrid Theory changing their name to Linkin Park. Some people at the record label weren’t particularly friendly towards the band the band’s producer only liked about 2 of their songs which meant that the band had to rewrite their album. The label wanted to promote the band as Chester’s band and wanted to make him the star forcing Mike to be demoted to the keyboard player or left out of the band entirely. Chester resisted immediately, because he got the job thanks to Mike. The band cut off all communications with the record label unless it was absolutely necessary. They stood their ground and insisted on recording their music, their own way. They were proud and exhausted when they finished the record.

The band’s debut album was released on the 24th of October 2000, the band was parked outside a 24hr record store waiting to go in to buy the first copy of their new album. The band started to speculate about the amount of album sales that they could expect their debut album to sell in its first week. The band’s bassist thought it might sell 3000 copies, but Chester thought it might sell 8000 copies. At the end of the first week Hybrid Theory had sold 47, 000 copies and the band couldn’t believe it. Following the release of their debut album it is estimated that the band played about 300 shows in 365 days, they played about 5/6 shows a week. The press hailed the band as the latest success story and the leaders of the nu-metal movement, a label which they didn’t appreciate. They didn’t feel as if they had anything in common with the bands that were categorised into the genre they were placed in. The band had to face criticism from the press that claimed that the band were put together by their label and that they were essentially a rock version of a boy band.

Their morale started to drop because of the constant touring, it drained them of their energy and everywhere they went it was either cold, raining or snowing. Chester started to feel estranged from his new band mates, he was drinking and heavily into smoking pot. Chester and his wife were constantly at each other’s throats, his mood swings caused his band mates to be wary of him and they avoided talking to him about anything that might fuel an argument. He felt lonely, he never performed a show sober and smoked weed right up until the time they went on stage. Immediately after the show he would go and get drunk.

From 2001 to 2002 the band’s schedule became even more intense. In their downtime Mike Shinoda remixed Hybrid Theory for their Reanimation project. Mike underestimated the amount of work he was going to have to put in. He ended up having to juggle 30 artist’s work and schedules, he vowed never to do it again.

The band then entered the studio to record their second album Meteora and experienced a lot of pressure due to Hybrid Theory’s success. On the 25th of March 2003 Meteora was released to commercial and critical success. After the album’s release Linkin Park hit the road and didn’t stop touring for another two years.

By the end of 2004 the band needed a break, because they were completely burnt out. Chester was trapped in a marriage which wasn’t working and he was drinking more heavily by the day. He wasn’t leaving the house, he would sit in his closet in the dark the whole day and shake all day. He would wake up drink a pint of Jack Daniels, drink some pills and return to his closet where he would stay for the rest of the day. He fell through windows, endured seizures and went on frequent hospital visits. By his own admission he was a total wreck.

Fortunately he decided to ask for help and everybody he cared about came to his aid. He became sober, divorced, remarried and he opened himself up to his band mates during emotional counselling sessions. Chester didn’t realise the effect his behaviour had on his band mates and he has tried everything he could to stay sober since.

The renewed atmosphere led the band to feel as if they had more creative freedom in writing and recording their third album. They were tempted to repeat their formula, but they had to take a risk and try something new. Minutes to Midnight went to number 1 in 23 countries. Linkin Park’s fourth album A Thousand Suns was released on the 14h of September 2010. Their fifth album Living Things was released on the 26th of June 2012 with the first single Burn It Down met with critical success.

Recently the band Stone Temple Pilots fired their lead vocalist Scott Weiland. Shortly after the announcement on the 19th of May 2013 STP released a free download of their new single Out of Time ft Chester Bennington via their official website. The website featured new promotional pictures with Chester Bennington and the rest of the band which implied that he will be recording and touring with the band at least for the time being. Chester grew up listening to the band and when the opportunity came up to join the band, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Chester has endured much difficulty in his life, but I believe that his experiences made him who he is today. A strong, talented and resilient man.

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Rock Regards,

Lauren K