LINKIN PARK frontman Chester Bennington looks like the type of celebrity rock star you only ever read about. But here he is in the flesh, perched on a leather sofa in a recording studio in Kensington, London.
A quick visual scan confirms his outward rock star credentials. Tattoos? Tick. Piercings? Tick. Black nail polish? Tick. His bandmate and long-time friend Mike Shinoda is sitting next to him, and he oozes coolness, with an air of mysterious calm around him.
But deep into our conversation the pair both start talking about being fathers, about how long it takes to leave the house when you have children. And that party-all-night rock star image is gone.
Their seventh album, One More Light, is due for release on May 19, and while there are a few firsts on it — like a collaboration with a female vocalist and UK grime artist Stormzy — the rest of their music mission remains unchanged.
Following the release of their first album, Hybrid Theory, in 2000, the American band has gone on to blaze a trail of music success in whatever they do. Their debut sold over 10 million copies, earning it a diamond certified status, and to-date they’ve won two Grammy Awards, and a slew of other gongs.
It’s been three years since their last album, The Hunting Party, was released, and fans have been chomping at the bit for new music ever since.
“On this album,” Shinoda, 40, explains, “I think we got half-way through it, really liked what we were making and decided to really slow the process down and go in even deeper on it.”
By that he means they worked differently in putting the record together. Previously they’d have had demos of music, then added lyrics and melodies. But this time they switched things up.
“We started out with conversations about what was going on in our lives and then we’d pick from that and create lyrics and melodies based on those experiences,” 41-year-old Bennington explains. The band would share stories daily and then craft their music around a story, or an emotion or experience one of them was feeling.
“That really changes the dynamics of the sound, because we’re letting our emotions and our feelings tell the songs what to do, as opposed to the songs telling us what the emotion of the song should be.”
The previous day, during a Q&A session following a playback of a few songs in front of a small audience, Bennington spoke openly about his state of mind when they started the album.
“I hated the world. I had a song in my phone at the start of the process called ‘I hate the world right now’. I was pretty suicidal. I hated my life,” he says frankly.
“Mostly the suffering that I was bringing on was self-imposed. All these thoughts were stuck in my head. It was not healthy. I remember thinking that I wanted to be left alone.”
But he credits the writing process and band with lifting him up out of the darkness into a better place.
He goes on to explain: “I don’t like feelings. I don’t want to have any feelings at all. Even now, through all this process, that was the beginning point, I worked on all this stuff and started changing my perspective. I started reaching out and talking about my feelings. The next thing I know, I wasn’t alone in the conversation in my head. I was inviting people into the conversation and getting feedback and working through this stuff. At the end of the process, I was surprised I was ever in this place. I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t see myself getting in that place again because I have such good friends’. I have a beautiful wife, great kids, awesome job.”
The opening line of the first single released from the new album is a reflection of where he was emotionally at that stage. The song, titled ‘Heavy’, opens with the words: “I don’t like my mind right now.” The lyrics aside, it is also the first time the band has had female vocals, in this instance from rising American pop star Kiiara, on a song.
“People outside the band, their reference points, all these other artists are in way different situations,” Shinoda says.
“We don’t have a timeline on a record, it’s whenever we want to put it out, we don’t have someone from the label breathing down our necks saying, ‘What about the marketing plan?’ In our world, the label has trust in us, we are the artists, we know what we want and we’re focused on the best album we can make.”
The album has been called their most personal one to date, and Shinoda reveals he’s written one of the tracks for his children.
“There was a day I woke up, I was trying to get my kids ready for school and they were fighting me on everything,” he recounts. “With little ones, sometimes the five-minute exercise of walking out the house and getting to the car to go to school can be a 30-minute exercise, because you’re like, ‘I told you to put on your shoes, where’s your sister? Wait, where are your pants? You need pants to go school’.”
Bennington chimes in with his own line of “I told you to brush your teeth 40 minutes ago” and they both nod in parental agreement.
The band will be touring extensively to coincide with the album’s release, though there are no plans yet for an Irish gig.
“We are never going to sit in one place for too long,” Bennington says. “Our musical journey doesn’t have a destination, it just has stops. It has places we like to visit and move on.”