With their ten-times platinum 2000 debut, Hybrid Theory, Linkin Park fast established themselves as the voice of a new millennium. The Agoura Hills, California, sextet pounded out a Grammy-nominated mix of hip-hop, hard rock, and alt-metal that featured both the heartfelt rhymes of rapper Mike Shinoda and the impassioned screams of a gangly, tattooed Phoenix transplant named Chester Bennington. Linkin Park's follow-up, Meteora and Collision Course, collaboration with rap luminary Jay-Z also moved units in the millions. The group continued to explore new musical directions with their most recent full-length, 2007's Rick Rubin–produced Minutes to Midnight (Machine Shop/Warner Bros.), an album on which the band focused on a more traditional rock sound, and Bennington, perhaps ready to move beyond his adolescent angst, wrote more than a few songs about current events, like "The Little Things Give You Away," which condemned the way the government handled Hurricane Katrina.
Bennington doesn't just talk the talk: He and his bandmates have their own charitable organization, Music for Relief, which has helped victims of natural disasters including Katrina. Considering such altruistic inclinations, perhaps it's no surprise that the down-to-earth Linkin Park frontman was happy to answer your questions.
Why the dramatic change of sound between the first two albums and Minutes to Midnight?
We're a bunch of guys who don't like to be pigeonholed. When we released Hybrid Theory, people immediately started pigeonholing us as a nu-metal band. Right away we started rebelling against that. When we made Meteora, the success of Hybrid Theory was so overwhelming and powerful that it gave the record company a lot of weight to push us to make the same record again. Their whole thing was just because you had a successful first record doesn't mean you'll have a successful second album. So we kind of felt that pressure like that's what we had to do, not only from our label but also from our fans, too, in a certain way. So we basically made Hybrid Theory, Volume 2.
And we were pegged as nu metal, which isn't bad, but that's not all we do. That's something that we've been trying to prove to people by doing things like Collision Course and by writing songs like "In the End," "Numb," and "Breaking the Habit." So, with this record, we really felt like we'd been successful with not only our records but also our side projects. And so we had the power this time around, the same power we had before we got signed, which is the power to make music that we like, not that everyone else likes and wants us to make. But it's important to us, too, that we make music that's good and hopefully a lot of people will like. We just went with "These are the best songs, let's figure out which order they go in to give the record the right flow."
You broke your wrist while giving a concert in Melbourne, Australia, in 2007. What was your motivation to keep going?
My motivation was that I knew it hurt and I knew it was broken, but was it something I needed to have checked out right away? That's the only thing that's gonna ever make me not do a show, if it's something that just can't wait. It was broken, and I knew it was gonna be just as broken in an hour. It wasn't going to kill me, and I could sing and I could concentrate, and it was tolerable. We're not in Australia very often, so it really would have bummed a lot of people out.
When will your solo project, Dead by Sunrise, be released?
That's a really good question, because it all depends on what Linkin Park is doing and what [L.A.-based electronica duo] Julien-K is doing, because I'm in Linkin Park and the rest of the band is Julien-K. It's kind of a nice place to be, because it gives us a lot of time to sit on our material and make sure we really feel passionate about it after long periods of time.
What is the craziest thing a fan has ever done?
Probably hack into my email accounts and my telephone accounts and try to take over and create new PayPal accounts in my name. And eventually sit in front of my house and stake out all of the movements of the people that lived in my home, and make files of the people that are closest to me through my telephone calls, whether it was family members or friends or business associates, and routinely check up on me. They caught her—mind you, she's now going to be sentenced and probably do some prison time. When they raided her office at her work, she had something like over 300 copies of my telephone bill, and on her computer it showed that throughout her workday, she was on her computer at work looking at my shit. So all my emails would be routed to her. She would go through my emails and read them and then send the ones she thought I would need, and then get rid of the other ones. She also had like shrines of myself and Linkin Park in her house. They confiscated over 800 pictures off of her walls. So, that was not cool. Needless to say, that unfortunate situation and a couple other unfortunate situations have made me and the rest of the band a little more guarded when it comes to fans.
I think you are really good looking. Tell me something about yourself that will make me stop swooning over you. A gross habit maybe?
My wife is sitting with me and she said that I can't do it because I'm perfect. Here is something that's pretty awesome: I have four boys. I like to pin them down and fart on them as often as possible. It's one of those fun things you can do with little boys and not little girls.
I love all of your tattoos. What is your next one going to be?
I'm gonna sleeve my right arm… It probably will have something to do with pirate skulls and treasure maps.
Democrat or Republican? Barack or Hillary? McCain or Huckabee?
I've always been more on the Republican side on a lot of things. I think for a lot of younger people, there's a misconception of what Democrats stand for and what Republicans stand for. For me, it's really a difference of how you're going to run the government, and how big you want your government to be and how much control you want your government to have over you. Mostly Republicans want smaller governments and fewer taxes and basically want to let the people run things on a state-by-state basis and give more freedom of choice to the majority of people. Democrats like to have lots of committees, to raise taxes. They believe that it boosts the economy and that there are more programs that people can use in a social aspect. It's a little more of a socialist point of view on how the government should be run. Obviously, George W. Bush is just a complete maniac. I have to say, I'm not really too excited about my choices as far as Republicans go in this round. So I will most likely be voting Democrat, which really hurts my feelings. Sometimes change is good, and I think the person I'll be voting for could be an extremely positive motivating force. I don't want to tell anybody who I'm voting for, but it's not gonna be her. [Laughs]
Do you have any songs on previous albums you get annoyed with listening to?
I would say "Run Away" from Hybrid Theory is pretty annoying. "Hit the Floor," "Nobody's Listening," those are pretty annoying to me. It's kind of like when you start playing a sport and you see yourself get better, you think you're really good. And you keep practicing, you keep playing, and then you get better and better, and then you look back at a couple of years ago and you're like, Dude, I could totally take that guy now. That's kind of how we feel about some of our songs.
What advice would you give to someone who struggles with depression regularly and feels like just giving up?
I had to have a lot of support from the people that love me to get through all that stuff, and playing music is definitely very therapeutic for me. I get to scream. I get to flail around and do things I couldn't do in a regular public setting. I can't do the things I do onstage hanging out at a club. I would get arrested. If you suffer from really bad depression, that's serious business. A lot of people have a hard time even getting out of bed and functioning, and that's a horrible way to live, and the only way to get through that stuff is with the help of a professional. It's OK to go talk to somebody and take their advice and work on yourself. It's really important.
Do you have any tips on how to make songs feel alive? When I play songs, it feels dim and dull. Yours are like Chuck Norris roundhouse-kicking Hitler and ending wars.
Well, I think the best way to start doing that is to take songs from other bands that you already enjoy, and look at them like a surgeon. You don't just go in and start cutting people open and figuring out what to do. You gotta dissect things and see how they work before you can go in and start ripping people apart with a scalpel and sewing them back together again. You can hear the same chord progression over and over again all day long on the radio; it's the way they strum it. It's how long each measure takes, whether they're using bridges and pre-choruses, and how those things all tie together. And once you figure out how a song is put together, all of a sudden you're gonna start figuring out if you don't like a part because it's probably not good. If you do like something, there's something special there and you have to capture that.
You're from Phoenix, Arizona, and I just moved here about four years ago. How the hell do you get used to the heat?
Well, I guess you don't notice it very much when you're born in hell. It's amazing because I have no idea how people live there. It's nice for a couple of months out of the year, and then for seven months it's excruciatingly hot. Most people will never experience 120 degrees with no humidity, when you get in your car and it's 160 degrees, and you drive and you roll your window down and it's just blowing hot air. It's like you have a giant hairdryer on high at, like, 240 degrees just blasting you in the face. Then you go into a building and you have it set to 70 degrees and your testicles shrink into your body cavity. It is the most ridiculous place to live. And that's why I got out. I saw my opportunity: There's a band in L.A. Maybe I can sing with them! I was like, I am out of here.