Linkin Park's Chester Bennington talks Dead By Sunrise

Chester Bennington chases angels and demons in Dead By Sunrise
Chester Bennington chases angels and demons in Dead By Sunrise (Image credit: Kabik/Retna Ltd./Corbis)

Linkin Park's Chester Bennington calls his new band Dead By Sunrise. But the singer-songwriter is quick to stress that the name isn't simply a slogan or a neat word grouping - it comes from a real-life struggle he's still trying to reconcile.

"I'm a drinker," Bennington says. "And for far too long I was completely out of control, leading an existence and lifestyle that I'm definitely not proud of. There have been times where I literally thought, Oh my God, I might not wake up tomorrow - that's how bad it's been. So when I got this other group together, the name Dead By Sunrise stuck."

For Bennington, who has shared stages with Paul McCartney, Jay-Z and The Doors, among others, and who, along with Linkin Park, has sold over 50 million albums, the need to record a album of his own with a new band wasn't a mere vanity project - it was a necessity.

"I had to write these songs," he says. "I had to purge them from my system. Call it catharsis, therapy - they had to come out. Linkin Park is a terrific vehicle for me, but it's not the be-all and end-all. I have a lot of different shades and textures to what I do, and thankfully I found the right bunch of guys who could help me do this material justice."

"I don't want to say I'm more proud of this record than anything Linkin Park has done. But as the saying goes, 'This time it's personal'" Chester Bennington

Bennington is referring to ex-Orgy guitarists Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck who round out Dead By Sunrise (the band performs live with bassist Brandon Belsky, drummer Elias Anda and keyboardist Anthony Valcic). On their debut album, Out Of Ashes, they crash their way through raging, harrowing rock (Fire, My Suffering) but they also slow things down for some surprisingly tender moments (Give Me Your Name, Into The Darkness).

"I don't want to say I'm more proud of this record than anything Linkin Park has done," says Bennington, " because obviously I'm very happy with all we've accomplished. But as the saying goes, 'This time it's personal,' and that's what this record really is for me. It's an accurate depiction of my moods and reflections, and I really dug deep to get it right."

Bennington recently say down with MusicRadar to discuss Dead By Sunrise, the status of Linkin Park and the internal demons he says are "still a daily battle."

Why do you think the music on Out Of Ashes couldn't have been recorded by Linkin Park?

"It's complicated. I think everything was relevant to the time. In 2005, after Linkin Park finished touring behind Meteora, we wanted to take a long break - we had been touring for pretty much five years straight.

"Also, I wasn't sure what kind of music the band wanted to make. Were we going to get experimental? Which we did kind of do with songs like Breaking The Habit. At the same time, we were in kind of a box, doing the sort of music that Linkin Park fans wanted to hear. That bothered me a bit - I don't want to have to write songs to order, to so speak.

"So I had these other song ideas that were kind of grungy, kind of punky, a little more singer-songwriter-oriented, very much 'me-centric' - I wasn't sure if it would make sense with Linkin Park."

Are you saying that Linkin Park isn't open to music that isn't 'Linkin Park music'?

"Well, see, this is tricky. I thought that at the time. At the moment I would say things are possibly different and that the band is super open-minded. We can go in any direction we want right now, and I'd say that's the result of working with Rick Rubin. He taught us that anything can work as long as we believe in the material."

What is the status of Linkin Park? Are you on a break?

"Linkin Park is still a band, very much so. In fact, we're recording a new record right now. I'm off to the studio today to work on some songs. I gotta tell you, I'm pretty excited. I think this next record could be our best ever. I know everybody says that." [laughs]

They do. But that's OK - you allowed.

[laughs] "Thanks. I feel like that's such a stock line: 'Oh, it's going to be our best record, our heaviest, our…whatever. I'm just really excited about what we're up to."

At the same time, however, you're doing some shows with Dead By Sunrise.

"Linkin Park is still a band, very much so. In fact, we're recording a new record right now."

"Yeah, as much as I can. It's hard to have two bands going a once. I feel as though I'm leading two lives, and believe me, I have trouble with just one." [laughs]

How did you hook up with Ryan and Amir?

"I first met them years ago at a recording studio. Orgy were making their second record and Linkin Park was doing Hybrid Theory. We met up in the hallway and it went from 'Hi, how are you?' to us becoming fast friends.

"We hung out, played music for one another, and when I had these other songs that I didn't feel right about for Linkin Park, my natural instinct was to try to do them with Ryan and Amir. They understood them right away and we started working together. It all happened pretty quickly, us becoming a band."

Was it easier for you to work with a small group of people as opposed to Linkin Park which has, like, 50 members?

[laughs] "Well, what's funny is, on stage there's six of us, so it's not much different from Linkin Park. But yeah, during the recording of the Dead By Sunrise album, I certainly had more control.

"These were my songs all the way, so it was more of a dictatorship than a democracy. I didn't have to compromise at all. Put it this way: in Linkin Park, if I like a song but three other guys are on the fence about it, the song probably won't make the record. In Dead By Sunrise, I didn't have that problem. I only had to please myself."

That said, you do consider Dead By Sunrise a band, not just 'Chester Bennington and some guys backing him up.'

"Oh, we're definitely a band. But as far as the album, it felt like I was making a solo record. I'm not trying to diminish the guys' input and what they brought to it creatively, but…this was my thing."

Now, Amir Derakh certainly isn't new to a fair amount of the guitar community. He's been something of a cult star for some time. What was it like working with him?

"Amir is obviously a seasoned musical veteran, and he's probably the most underrated guitar player out there. He can hang with the best of them. One thing that's important about him, though, is that he's probably more ahead of the curve musically than anybody I've ever met.

"The guy just seems to know what's going to work, or what people are going to end up listening to in the future. In that sense, because he's so tech-savvy and knows how to produce, he's able take the guitar and make it sound very unique. A lot of people strive to be innovative, but he's able to do it very naturally."

"I am not a good guitar player.What makes my guitar playing tolerable is that I can write songs."

You yourself played some guitar on the record, right?

"I did. I also played synths and did some programming. The basic idea was for me to go in and play all the songs very stripped-down and make them as beautiful as possible. I was going for a vibe not unlike the first Days Of The New record, but it wound up being a big electric record because I brought in Amir and Ryan."

How would you describe yourself as a guitarist? And what kinds of guitars did you play?

"Let me put it to you this way: I am not a good guitar player. [laughs] Not at all. 'Mediocre at best' is probably a good way of describing my technique. I've never taken lessons; I've taught myself everything I know. What makes my guitar playing tolerable is that I can write songs.

"Even though I can't play very well, I can put chords together in a way that evokes a nice melody, whereas a lot of people who can play guitar brilliantly don't have an ear for melody. That, if anything, gives me an advantage over a lot of accomplished players. It's all about guts, not technique.

"As for the guitars I play, I don't know the model number, but I have a Yamaha acoustic which is absolutely fantastic. I also play Hamer electric guitars - they still make terrific guitars, and I really love playing them live. In addition, I have a great guitar that I got in Japan. It's made by a guy who works for Hamer and it's called Mystery - it's one of the best-sounding guitars I've ever played."

Of all the songs on the album, I was struck by two of them in particular, Give Me Your Name and Into The Darkness. You really write about human relationships in a raw, naked manner on these.

"Thank you. Yeah, well, that was the idea. [laughs] Those songs were experiments. Into The Darkness was more up my alley in that it was kind of a love song but it was dark and twisted at the same time.

"I don't know if anybody else finds it romantic, but when I sing 'I want to open my skin and pull you in,' I find it sexy, the idea of wanting somebody so badly that you want to become one with them; you want to inhabit their body and vice-versa. It was hard to open myself up in that way because I usually write about doom and gloom and 'poor me' shit. [laughs]

"Give Me Your Name was even further outside the box because it was a song my wife asked me to write for our wedding. She looked at me one day and said, 'You should write a song for our wedding that we can dance to.' As if that's so easy! [laughs] 'Sure, honey, I've got that one right here.'

"Obviously I'm not a love song kind of guy, but I looked inside myself and those words came out. Truthfully, it was never supposed to be for the record; it was only intended for our wedding. But it came out so good that I thought, Hey, I should put this on the record. Maybe other people will use it for their weddings." [laughs]

"I do enjoy drinking - a lot. And I hate it at the same time. I hate that I need it."

You sappy guy you!

"Yeah, I know. I'm a sucker for that shit." [laughs]

On a couple of other songs, Crawl Back In and My Suffering, you write pretty openly about your addictions.

"I do. I'm also a sucker for alcohol. It's an amazing thing…it was baffling to me when I was going through the throes of alcohol addiction because I'm usually a pretty even-keel guy. But when it comes to drinking, I just can't stop. The urge to drink just takes over. It astounds me how different I am when I'm drinking from when I'm not. I become this other person. Probably not a very good person, but that's what alcohol can do to some people."

Where do you think this self-destructive tendency comes from?

"You got me. But I know I'm not alone. It doesn't matter how rich you are, how successful - it can happen to anybody."

Are you currently sober?

"I am. But I'll tell you, I've had vertigo the past two weeks that I haven't been drinking. It's a hard thing to deal with. I do enjoy drinking - a lot. And I hate it at the same time. I hate that I need it. It's a huge temptation for me. It just takes over. But life is so much easier when I'm not drinking. Hey, I guess that's what we have support groups for, right?"

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Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.