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[AltWire Interview] Chester Bennington – “We’ll Be Playing Some Songs That We Haven’t Played Before…”

ChesTHPWhen you’re as energetic and animated as the world famous singer/songwriter Chester Bennington, broken ankles can prove to be a real bitch.  Tasked with fronting one of the biggest rock bands on the planet (Linkin Park), and continuing his duties as the new  vocalist for the classic rock act Stone Temple Pilots, Chester’s plans for a massive US Winter Tour with Linkin Park were brought to a sudden and grinding halt when the singer shattered his ankle during a bad landing in a competitive game of pre-concert basketball.  With his ankle badly injured and his body in excruciating pain, the vocalist dug deep within himself to complete the scheduled show that night in Indianapolis (01/18/15), limping off the stage at the show’s conclusion, in the hopes his injuries would only be a minor setback. Unfortunately as Chester and his band-mates would later discover, the injury was worse than originally thought and per doctor’s orders the singer would be on required rest for six weeks, cancelling the rest of the US Winter Tour dates entirely.

While some people in similar circumstances would take the doctor ordered rest as a chance to chill and take a well deserved break from reality, Chester Bennington never stopped working. Diving headfirst into studio sessions with his band-mates in Stone Temple Pilots, the front-man began work in earnest on his first full length STP record, jumping back and forth (figuratively) between commitments with both his bands and never stopping for a second to put his projects on the back burner.

Now more mobile, and in much better condition than he was only two months ago, Chester has begun preparations for his return to the stage, with a planned US tour with Stone Temple Pilots to begin in just two weeks. Because when you’re a man as committed to the craft as Mr. Bennington, sitting still and taking it easy just won’t cut it.

Read our exclusive interview below.

AW: First off, how have you been doing? How has the recovery been and how are you feeling now?

CB: I’m doing pretty well. I started walking on my foot a couple of days ago, so that’s been pretty awesome. It’s still super sore, but I should be ready to go. I should be ready to play my first show in a couple of weeks, and see how it feels… but not go too crazy.

AW: If I understand correctly because there have been a few conflicting stories: you tripped over a bottle, was it? How did this happen?

CB: No, if I tripped I would not have broken my ankle. [laughs] I probably would have probably just kicked the bottle over, or tripped. I actually was playing basketball and went up for a lay-up and came down on top of the water bottle.

AW: That sounds painful, but I’m glad to hear you’re doing better! Now, something I want to ask: you obviously had your first tour with Stone Temple Pilots in 2013. Going into this upcoming tour next month, what are some of the changes you’re planning to make from that tour versus this one, and what are some of the things the fans can expect?

CB: Well, we’ll be playing some new songs that we haven’t played before. Clearly, STP has played so many songs before. But together with me we haven’t played too many of those songs. So we’re adding some new songs to the set, and we’re going to do an acoustic breakdown to give me a chance to sit down for a bit [laughs]. There will be some new interesting song choices that we’ll pick to play live. I’m not sure if we’ll have any new music ready by then or not, but we’ll definitely be having some different songs.

AW: The new music you’re talking about…I know it’s pretty early now, but how do you feel the style of the record compares to High Rise? Is it sounding similar, or do you feel it’s sounding a lot different?

CB: I think it’s a lot different. I really don’t like talking about music that people aren’t hearing because it’s hard to describe what the music sounds like, but it’s super energetic. The riffs are really cool and the playing has been really insane. So, I think there’s going to be a lot of our STP fans out there that are super happy. Every guitar player in the world is going to want to learn how to play these riffs, whether it’s guitar or bass. Eric has done amazing too. Really it’s now coming down to making great melodies and coming up with some good lyrics.

AW: One thing I thought that was cool was that with The Hunting Party, you basically wrote the majority of “War.” You came in with the guitar riff and the lyrics if I understand correctly. With STP, have there been any songs that you brought in that you wrote all of it or has this been more of a collaborative experience?

CB: These guys are actually very interested in the songs that I write. I bring songs in all the time and these guys want to work on them. They’re super eager. Clearly, we just try to go with songs that are the best songs. That’s all that matters to me. I don’t care if they’re my songs or somebody else’s. It doesn’t matter to me. Typically in Linkin Park, writing the musical side of is not really what I need to be worrying about. I mean, Mike and Brad are writing great songs. So, I write music too – and the ones that come in and sound good and go with what the other guys are making…still work fine. And if they don’t, then, well, whatever. [laughs] Yeah, but there’s always music I’m bringing in that we work on, and in both bands it’s always a collaborative effort. I bring in an idea, whether it’s Mike and Brad, or Robert and Dean, they take that idea and do their own thing to it. Ultimately, it’s always collaborative.

AW: Being that the two bands have such a different sound, when you go to write a song for Linkin Park or go to write a song for Stone Temple Pilots, have you ever found yourself, especially recently, being influenced by some of the ideas from the other band and bringing them into Linkin Park? Do you find yourself sprinkling some Linkin Park influences in Stone Temple Pilots, and STP in Linkin Park?

CB: I actually don’t write music specifically for any purpose. I don’t sit down and go, “Okay, I’m going to write a Linkin Park song today,” and then… I don’t even write songs necessarily for my bands. I just write the songs and I can only write the songs that I’m inspired to write. So, sometimes the songs are not a good fit for either band. Most of the time, I would say, they’re probably different from either band. And, I think for the reasons why I like to step out and do something different? Because there is something in music that I write that I think is interesting and there’s like a style to it that is uniquely my thing. And so, you know, I write hundreds and hundreds…I’ve written thousands of songs that no one will ever hear, probably, because they just get lost in the noise of the other thousands of songs that I’ve written because I like to create songs. So, I just kind of write what I’m inspired to write, and I don’t worry about where it’s put. If I’m with STP and I go, “Oh man I have a riff that might work cool, check this out,” I’ll pull it out. But I never intentionally write anything for any specific purpose. I try to stay out of the way of my creativity.

AW: Thank you for the great answer! In a recent interview, Dean said there was one Stone Temple Pilots concert in particular that changed your life and completely changed the way you looked at things from that point forward. Can you tell us a bit about that concert, and how that changed your life?

CB: Well, if I recall correctly the moment he’s talking about, there was a performance that they did in a place called Compton Terrace in Arizona…it’s like a place that’s literally out in the middle of nowhere. Now it’s in the middle of a more robust area, but at the time it was in the middle of nowhere. And they did like these Outdoor Festivals, and Jane’s Addiction was playing and Stone Temple Pilots was playing. It was stormy and it was crazy, and they weren’t sure if the bands were going to play or not, and it was kind of sketchy. It was pretty windy. Rain is whatever, but wind is typically what us professionals worry about because we don’t like our gear being blown over and landing on people. [laughs] That typically equals ‘really bad’. It was pretty sketchy, and I just remember STP finally came on, and it was like they came out and just crushed it. And their sound was so good and it was just like…I was on acid and it was like this whole moment of the force of nature, the force of their music, and the tension from the crowd. Had they not come out and performed great, it would have been horrible. It would have been horrible for them. But they came out and crushed it, and it was like, the skies opened up – you know what I mean? It was one of those moments where I was like, “Dude, this is what I want” like, I want to do that. Not necessarily, “I want to be in Stone Temple Pilots.” [laughs] “I want to do that. I want to be on stage and make music and play music.”

So I would say seeing STP live certainly inspired me to want to be on stage and be good at it. I started my first band when I was 13 and made my first record when I was 16. I’ve been making music for a long time and I’ve been performing for a long time, and there are only a few bands out there that I would say…when I see them they make me go, “That’s what live shows are supposed to be like.” This particular show, and STP in general…which I’ve seen probably twenty times when I was kid. You know, I got to see consistently a great band perform amazing shows over and over again. And that’s something where as a budding performer…you take little things. You learn from watching the people that you admire. When they do both better live – when they play live and the sound is better than the record and it’s better than you imagined…it’s like the greatest, coolest thing ever.

Chester Bennington in Camden, NJ August 15th, 2014
Chester Bennington in Camden, NJ August 15th, 2014

“I love working with STP. And clearly Linkin Park is like my baby. I think we’ll find a way to make it all happen…”

 

AW: Going way back, talking about your first band. Of course, you did cover Stone Temple Pilots when you were younger, but you also, from what I understand, did covers of bands like Alice in Chains and Candle Box. Who were some of the earliest influences on your musical career besides Stone Temple Pilots?

CB: I mean, I liked really unique vocalists. I liked Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden… I also liked Ministry a lot, Skinny Puppy, Machines of Loving Grace, Metallica, Refused, Minor Threat…probably some Fugazi too….The Descendants, Misfits, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, Rob Base, NWA, Public Enemy, KRS One, all these artists are huge influences on me, and I could just keep going and going and going.

[Editorial Note: Check out our “Behind The Artist” Playlist, featuring music from some of Chester’s biggest influences, here.]

AW: Yeah! I’m sitting here listening to you and thinking, these are all really great artists! [laughs] Recently, in a concert Steve Aoki performed your second collaboration with him, “Horizons” on his tour. Would you mind telling me a bit about that? Was this made around the same time as “A Light That Never Comes?” And, in your opinion, what was different about making that song versus ALTNC?

CB: We did work on “Horizons” together while we were doing “A Light That Never Comes.” We didn’t finish it at that time, but we began working on it as well. We knew we wanted to do something to put on a CD, and Steve wanted us to do something that he could produce on his record as well. Part of that collaborative and creative endeavor included this song. We’ve worked on it since then, kind of passed it back and forth for a while…we’d work on it for a little bit, then kind of cool off, then work on it for a little bit. But then we finally finished it. And the song is really great. I think that it’s a bit darker than the other song. I actually like it a little more than ALTNC just because I think the music is so cool and the structure is a little different than I think what we normally do, but it’s really cool. I think working with Steve is awesome, and I love being able to dive deep into the electronic world and expose our music to people in a way that is fun. Clearly we like to play around with lots of different mediums. Working with Steve was just a lot of fun, and I hope that people really like this track.

AW: This next question sort of applies to both Stone Temple Pilots and Linkin Park. One thing that you did say a long time ago was that, if you had your way, Linkin Park would be putting out records out within almost two years of each other. That was said before you made the agreement with Stone Temple Pilots. Would you still like to try, if you can, to get out records with Linkin Park every two years, or, are you just going to play it by ear, if you will?

CB: You know, I think that… the most difficult part of having the lead singer of Linkin Park front your band is that he’s the lead singer of Linkin Park. So these guys understood that going into this. It does make things difficult. We can’t go out and promote things the same way. I could never go out and promote Stone Temple Pilots the way that we promote Linkin Park or tour Linkin Park because it’s impossible, you know? But given that, the reality is as well that, I think there’s a way of balancing the two and making it work, you know? Stone Temple Pilots is an amazing band with a great history, and a really strong fan base that’s grown with them and wants to see them play live. That’s a really good thing for us, and LP also has a very strong fan base that likes to see us grow, and there’s always so much each band is willing to do. I know that STP is obviously willing to do more.

With Linkin Park and Stone Temple Pilots, neither one should ever interfere with the other. If LP puts out records every eighteen months, that’s what we’re going to do…and tour a certain number of shows every single year, then what’s what we’re going to do. Stone Temple Pilots will just have to figure out a way to work around that. We’ve done a pretty good job so far. We’ve had a couple of hiccups, and that’s clearly kind of expected a little bit. Ultimately, the success of Stone Temple Pilots in the future will come down to us being able to figure out a way to make everything work and have communication be really strong and have everybody be on board with what everybody else is doing. That’s the only way it’s going to work for a long period of time, and I hope that we can find that groove because I love working with STP. I know they love working with me. And clearly Linkin Park is like my baby. So, I just like to play music, I like to perform and I like to write. I think we’ll find a way to make it all happen.

AW: Something else I thought it was really awesome was that you guys released an acoustic version of “Final Masquerade,” which, by the way, was very good! Is this a one-off thing, or do you think down the line you might release another acoustic track?

CB: We just do spontaneous kind of stuff, you know? It was like, “Hey, let’s do this. Could be fun. It could open up some opportunities and get people to look at the music a little differently.” And that was kind of like what we looked at. We were like, “Hey let’s do this for fun!”

AW: Do you think you’ll ever put out an acoustic EP, maybe?

CB: I have no idea. I mean, honestly, I never know what we’re doing. And it’s good because for me, I like coming up with a generalized goal, like, I’d like to have a record out next year. But I don’t like to say, “I want to have a record that sounds like this with these big people on it that will be using these sounds with these guitars and sing this way.” That feels very uncreative to me. It feels way too overly thought out and complicated and even saying it like that makes me not want to do it. For me, any creative endeavor needs to just kind of flow. And so, one of the great things about being in Linkin Park is like, we’re not the guys who are like, “We’re metal guys. Anything that’s not metal is bullshit to us.” One guy could walk in playing a jazz flute and the other guy could come in playing a xylophone and we’ll fucking put a cool beat over it and a melody and affect the xylophone in a weird way and it’ll sound like a Linkin Park song. It’s what happens when you put the people together that matters. It’s not what happens when you come up with a bunch of really interesting ideas and have a bunch of concepts and write them down and then hand them to everybody and say, “Here’s my ideas, let’s make these happen.” It doesn’t really work for me personally. I like to kind of be a little more free-flowing in terms of creative endeavors and therefore, I have no idea what Linkin Park is going to do – other than … I know we want to create music and play it live. So, those are typically the two things that are always on the agenda. [laughs] And then, we allow the creative process to dictate when those things happen.

AW: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the upcoming tour, or anything else you’d like to say to the fans?

CB: All I know is that we’re super excited to come out and play! We can’t wait to get out and perform again, and you know, it’ll be fun to go out as just “Stone Temple Pilots.” [laughs] That’s exciting, because it really bothered me to see “Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington.” So I’m glad that’s gone and glad that that’s over. So, we’re super excited to get out and we can’t wait to play these songs. I can’t wait to get out and test out my hoof and see how it holds up to all the punishment.

AW: They could always wheel you around in a bubble or a wheelchair!

CB: We’re gonna learn some new music. We’re gonna play like 5 new songs, so it’ll be fun.

AW: Sweet! Well, that’s pretty much about it! I appreciate you taking the time out to do the interview!

CB: Awesome! Thanks bud, I appreciate it man!

 

Chester Bennington is currently preparing for a US Tour with Stone Temple Pilots. For tickets and more information, please go here.