There are people in very high places who never wanted Grey Daze, Chester Bennington's first band, to see the light of day again. So says the group's drummer, Sean Dowdell. According to him, at the beginning of the millennium, when Bennington was gaining global prominence as the frontman of Linkin Park, the band's label considered his old group, Grey Daze, a competitive product, convincing the rising star that it was in his best interest to detach himself from it entirely, before removing all traces of their music from the internet and distribution services.
That swift, effective eradication of Bennington's formative musical years broke Dowdell's heart, he says. However, towards the end of his life, after departing Stone Temple Pilots, Bennington expressed his desire to return to his musical roots and reclaim Grey Daze. Alongside Dowdell, who was also his Club Tattoo business partner, he planned to re-record their old material and head out on the road with the group. The rehearsals were all set up in Phoenix, the rest of the band ready to go. Two days later, on July 20th, 2017, Chester died by suicide.
The surviving members have taken Grey Daze into their own hands, honoring Bennington's legacy by seeing through the plans they made together before he died. This year, they released The Phoenix, a remastered and re-recorded version of one of Grey Daze's albums, with Chester's vocals still intact. Now, Revolver are pressing the band's first two records, 1994's Wake Me and 1997's No Sun Today, on vinyl for the first time ever, giving them a proper reissue.
Getting to hear them is getting to hear Bennington's total and utter rawness; before he achieved the polished, crystaline emotionality that would define his years in Linkin Park. Revolver spoke to Dowdell about Bennington, Grey Daze and where the band goes from here.
WHAT WERE THE CIRCUMSTANCES LIKE FOR GREY DAZE'S FIRST RECORD, WAKE ME?
Wake Me was originally recorded in 1993, released in '94, with bandmates Chester Bennington on vocals, myself on drums, Jonathan Krause on bass and Jason Barnes was the guitar player at the time. We had been in the band for a couple years and we were putting together the best of the tracks we had written.
We didn't have the grooming or the benefit of an outside songwriter to help us shape and mold these things like a traditional producer would. So, when you hear Wake Me, you're going to hear the rawness of the band. But it sounds really good, especially for a local band with a self-funded release. We had help from our manager who gave us a $5,000 loan, which was a lot of money to us at the time. I believe we did the entire record in about three weeks.
What I love about that album, when I go back and listen to it — I hadn't listened to it in years, until we started the process of re-forming the band when Chester was still alive — it's the rawness and genuine emotion you get to hear in a young Chester.
When Linkin Park became big in 2000 [or] 2001, [their label] Warner Brothers found it was in their best interest to squash all of the Grey Daze records. They literally took them off iTunes, took them off of everything. It was kind of bullshit, to be honest. They saw it as a competitive product and something that shouldn't be out there. It made me very upset.
They managed to convince Chester that it was in his best interest, but as the years went by, he came to the understanding that it was in their best interest, not in his. So, he reversed course on that and eventually wanted to re-form the band. After that happened, we had a large base of Grey Daze fans, and we also had an enormous fan base of Chester's and Linkin Park's who wanted to dig into his earlier musical life and influences.
They wanted to get their hands on the Grey Daze products for many years, but it was very hard for them to get their hands on because they were taken out of production, taken offline. So, they became these kind of collectors items for the avid Chester fan. Over the years, as things progressed and Chester eventually passed away, we re-did and restructured those original songs, and then we still had fans sending us messages all the time — 20 messages a day — asking us to reissue those older records.
We talked about doing it. I said I didn't want to do it on a grand scale. So, we decided to repress and reissue those records the way they originally were, put them on vinyl and CD, and put them out there in a very limited fashion. It will just be for the avid collectors who have been asking for years.
WHERE DID YOU SOURCE THE ALBUM ARTWORK FOR BOTH WAKE ME AND NO SUN TODAY?
I have to say, I think the artwork for Wake Me is one of the worst album covers of all time. In the early Nineties, we just didn't have access to big graphics companies. We took this old photo that my uncle had taken and it was kind of goofy, this tongue-in-cheek thing he did with this model named Adrina.
We couldn't come up with something we liked. We were laughing and said, 'Let's use this!' Looking back, it's funny because it really puts that timeframe into perspective for us. On one hand, it's kind of embarrassing when we look at the artwork because it's not something that really speaks to the band or the music, but at the same time, it has a stamp on that time and what our placement was.
No Sun Today was a little different. We did more of a professional photoshoot for that. We took a girl by the name of Jessica Rose, she was 12 years old at the time, to a graveyard. Grey Daze's music and lyrical content was really somber, really sad, really introverted — we talked about a lot of loss and death. And so, we wanted to capture that visually with our album cover.
I mean, the album title, No Sun Today, that's very sad, very dark. We took photos in a graveyard with Jessica and had her carrying these flowers as if she was visiting a loved one, maybe her mom, maybe her grandmother, to paint this looming picture of loss.
HOW DOES IT FEEL ESSENTIALLY REVISITING YOUR YOUTH WITH THESE RECORDS? DO YOU STILL FEEL AS YOUNG TODAY?
Oh God, I wish. No, I don't feel as young as I did then, but I feel a lot more experienced. I think I have a lot more perspective, I'm a lot more compassionate and understanding about other people. When you're young it's very easy to be self-centered and self-absorbed, and as I get older I realize that making other people feel good has a lot more purpose than trying to make myself feel better.
I was very motivated and driven to do the absolute best I could as a young person but more for achievement's sake. Now that I think I've climbed a few hills in my life, I'm trying to pull other people up the ladder. I'm doing music now just because I enjoy it. I'm having fun with what we're doing.
WERE THE LYRICS ON WAKE ME AND NO SUN TODAY MOSTLY WRITTEN BY CHESTER?
It's about a 50-50 between Chester and myself. But even on a song where I wrote most of the lyrics, it didn't come to life until Chester breathed life into them and made those words actually have some emotional intensity. I could write about something and it would have a certain meaning to me that I thought was deep, and then he would sing it and it would really come to life and take on a whole different context and taken on a much deeper intensity than I'd originally intended.
He and I wrote all the lyrics together. Some songs he wrote entirely by himself. We loved writing together. We were very good at it. We had a great working relationship where our egos didn't get in the way, and that's very rare for a singer to be able to do, by the way. He would not only take other people's feedback but their constructive criticism, too. He was so good — it's hard to be critical of someone that good — but you also had your own ideas that you wanted to share, and he was very open to that. I watched him do that in Linkin Park, too.
WHEN YOU WERE WRITING LYRICS TOGETHER, DID YOU TALK ABOUT THE INTENTIONS BEHIND THE WORDS AND WHAT KINDS OF PLACES THEY WERE COMING FROM?
Sure, sometimes. My most meaningful writing session with him was when we were on a beach in Mexico and we wrote the lyrics to "Morei Sky." That one really sticks out in my mind as a very meaningful moment between him and I. Sometimes he'd bring lyrics to practice and it'd be a very well-formed poem or song. We were very easy to talk to. We understood where the other was coming from.
The lyrics made a lot of sense — we weren't always so ethereal and vague in what we were talking about. We were maybe not as straightforward as an Eighties rock band, but in the Nineties, it was very easy to talk about pain and suffering and loss and self-doubt. When you're young and in your twenties, you have a lot of self-doubt. Hope also plays a large role in what you're doing. So, all of those things were easy to wrap our minds around and put into lyrics.
SINCE, LIKE YOU SAID, THE MUSICAL LANDSCAPE IN THE NINETIES FACILITATED SO MUCH DISCUSSION OF PAIN. DID THAT MEAN YOU WEREN'T SO CONCERNED WHEN CHESTER BROUGHT THESE DARKER LYRICS TO YOU?
Yes, and I wasn't emotionally mature enough to understand. Even though I understood some of the things he was talking about, and when he gave me the point of view of, "Hey, this happened to me when I was younger," I thought he was just expressing how that made him feel at the time. I didn't realize it was an ongoing, continual emotional struggle.
I didn't write like that, so I don't think I necessarily understood where he was coming from in real time. As he went onto Linkin Park, I still saw the same writing style in his lyrics. It's easy to say in hindsight, "Oh my god, these were things he was still struggling with," but I'm not a psychology major. I didn't know these things at the time. Now that I'm 48 years old, it's much easier to see that.
IN SPENDING SO MUCH TIME WITH PAST CHESTER-INVOLVED PROJECTS, DOES IT SORT OF FEEL LIKE YOU'RE SOLVING THE MYSTERY OF WHAT WAS REALLY GOING ON FOR YOUR FRIEND?
No, I'm just trying to do right by my friend. This is something we tried to put back together before he passed, we tried to do it a couple times. We were very connected as friends, we were business partners and pseudo-brothers. We miss him very much. We're trying to complete something that we set out to do together.
I don't think I realized how much the fans would appreciate it before we put it out there. They have this connection with Chester that I think is very rare for most fans to get. They feel like they know him even though they never met him because of the way he talks about his emotions and the way he expresses things. They feel like they have a collaborator in their own expression.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU'RE DOING THIS AS AN ACT OF SERVICE, BOTH TO CHESTER AND TO HIS FANS, BUT HOW DOES IT BENEFIT YOU EMOTIONALLY?
It absolutely benefits me. I have a couple of uphill battles. One, I'm a very stubborn male that doesn't deal well with loss and pain and emotional turmoil, so I don't have those natural outlets. When I lose a parent or a close friend, I tend to internalize things and then it bottles up and turns to anger and shows its way in things that are not healthy for me.
So, for me, I think this was a healthy way to deal with losing Chester. It's been a very long process. It's been about five years now, and we're still dealing with it. We're still thinking about him every day. But as time goes on, it lessens the pain, it lessens the grief. We still miss him dearly, but it's gone from deep, deep grief to gratitude and appreciation for having him in our lives in the first place.
IS THIS GREY DAZE PROJECT ALSO A WAY OF KEEPING HIM ALIVE FOR YOU?
He had such a massive impact on the world — I'm just throwing pebbles into the pond. His legacy is already there, but in a way, I think Grey Daze does contribute to it. It lets his true fans hear him in maybe a way they hadn't heard him before, and give them a true sense of what he brought to the world musically. What we're sharing with them gives them the opportunity to hear something new and get to know him even more, in a way they maybe didn't even anticipate. I think that's special.
WHEN DID CHESTER FIRST HAVE THE IDEA TO REUNITE GREY DAZE?
Chester and I had a company called Club Tattoo that we'd owned for many years together, and we had thrown these giant anniversary parties a few times, which would draw a couple thousand people. Chester and I would get up there and play with our friends. We'd also have, like, Jada Pinkett-Smith's band [Wicked Wisdom] or Alien Ant Farm or Z-Trip or Story of the Year. Fort Minor's first show was at a Club Tattoo party.
We hadn't done one in a couple years. I brought it up on a phone call in, I think, the fall of 2016. He kind of cut me off and said, "You know, I've been thinking that the next time we throw a Club Tattoo party we should get Grey Daze back together," which was interesting because we hadn't talked about that in a few years. For me, it kind of came out of left field. I always had fun playing with Chester so I didn't care.
Once we made the announcement and people started finding out about it, we had these promoters from around the world asking if we would play. They threw some ridiculous offers our way. I didn't realize there'd be so much interest so I suggested maybe going back and re-recording some of our old stuff. The band had already started rehearsals prior to him passing, but he had been out on the road. He was supposed to join us two days after he had passed — he was coming down to Phoenix for it.
We had been working with a producer named Sylvia Massy and started re-recording some of the stuff. Chester had written five or six songs to put on the Grey Daze project — he would play them for me over the phone. I mean, it was in full swing. Most importantly, it sucks that he's no longer with us, but it also sucks that the project didn't get to see the light of day with him still here.
WITH HIS DESIRE TO REVISIT GREY DAZE AND REVISIT HIS ROOTS, DO YOU THINK HE WAS ALREADY THINKING ABOUT HIS LEGACY AT THAT TIME?
No, I think he just wanted another creative outlet. Him and I were very close and always wanted to play together, so that was an easy outlet to plug that into. Chester was not a type of guy who could just do one type of music. He really liked doing several things. He loved working with other people. I know personally that after he left Stone Temple Pilots, it was a very, very deep hurt for him. I don't think he wanted to start something from scratch, he was thinking about all the great music we'd made that had never seen the light of day.
HOW DO YOU THINK GREY DAZE SET CHESTER UP FOR LINKIN PARK?
We played together for nearly eight years by then so he was already a very seasoned vocalist with a couple record deals under his belt. We were playing in front of thousands of fans. We were selling out venues up until the time we broke up. We had songs on the radio. He was a veteran by the time he joined Linkin Park. He had dealt with radio stations, he had dealt with attorneys, he had dealt with records companies and publishing, recording, writing. That's a long learning curve.
As far as preparing him, it was just his experience that helped feed into Linkin Park. We weren't some crappy garage band that Warner Brothers tried to make us look like. It always pisses me off when I hear that kind of stuff. We weren't just these young idiots — we knew what we were doing.
WHAT'S MISSING FROM THE WORLD WITHOUT CHESTER IN IT, AND HOW CAN WE TRY AND EMBODY THOSE QUALITIES OURSELVES?
Man, that's a loaded question. There's a lot missing without him. He was just one of the most honest, compassionate and caring individuals I've ever met. I've never met anybody who was as compassionate for other people's situations than him. Every time I was around him for any length of time, I left thinking that I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to be a better person because of the way he looked at things and dealt with other people.
He made people feel good about themselves when he talked to them. We would be at a restaurant and the waitress would be excited about talking to him, saying things like, "My dish washer is such a huge fan." Within five minutes, he'd be in the back of the restaurant talking to the dish washer, talking to the cook. I'd have to drag him out of there because we'd be an hour late for something else. It was genuine, it wasn't contrived. That was just him. The world misses his compassion.
IS THERE ANY MATERIAL YOU WANT TO KEEP TO YOURSELF? WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE GREY DAZE WELL RUNS DRY?
First of all, I have a lot of stuff with Chester and myself that will never see the light of day because it's not for commercial consumption — it was just he and I sharing a moment or being at a party or hanging out or laughing at each other or making fun of each other, just being buddies. That stuff doesn't need to be shown to the world. It's something I hold dear. I have a lot of magical moments with him that are now just mine.
As far as when things run out, we'll take that as it comes. We can definitely do another acoustic EP with Chester's vocal tracks. There's a whole other album out there — if I can get my hands on that, we'll talk about maybe rewriting some of that stuff, too. Who knows? There are some songs that we wrote with Chester that we never got to record. I'm trying to figure out a way to maybe go and re-record those as Grey Daze songs, but they might not necessarily have Chester's voice on them.
We're working through it on a daily basis. Honestly, I'm not trying to chase down being a rock star either. If it doesn't happen naturally and with a purpose then I'm not sure it's something I need to do. I have a lot on my plate. I have nine companies. I have a lot of employees and a lot of responsibilities. I write books. I teach around the world and I speak around the world. The caveat to that is that music is still a passion I have. We'll see where it takes us.
HOW MANY HOURS OF YOUR WEEK TO YOU TYPICALLY DEVOTE TO GREY DAZE?
Quite a bit. We just released our album The Phoenix in June and it's getting a lot of love. Of course, we did the album Amends in 2020 then the Stripped EP in 2021. Right now, we're working on a few special things. We're trying to work out how to bring this thing to life and work out how to do a live performance in a context that still holds the intent of the band and pays tribute to our brother and singer Chester.
It's very important that if we're gonna do something live that we do it right, that it doesn't come off cheesy. It's taken us a few years to figure it out but I think we finally have. We'll be making some announcements very soon.