Before Chester Bennington was the frontman of the game-changing, multi-million-selling Linkin Park, he made music with young upstarts Grey Daze. Joining when he was just 15, the grunge-leaning band released two albums together (1994’s ‘Wake/Me’ and ‘…No Sun Today’ in 1997) while playing sold-out club shows across their home state of Arizona.
However after seven years together, they broke up in 1998 for a variety of unsurprising reasons – family, friction, fatigue – and went their separate ways. Chester flew to L.A. the following year to audition for Xero (the band that would become Linkin Park) and after ‘Hybrid Theory’s gargantuan success in 2000, record label politics scorched his history in Grey Daze, as well as their music, from The Internet. Chester and Grey Daze co-founder Sean Dowdell, who was also his best friend, didn’t talk for two years.
But today (June 26), Grey Daze release ‘Amends’ – a brand new record that features reworked tracks from their back catalog, built around Chester’s original vocal takes.
After getting back in contact in the early 00’s and starting Club Tattoo together, a tattoo & piercing studio with locations in Las Vegas and Arizona, Sean and Chester began to reminisce about those early days. In 2016 they had to organise an anniversary party and the idea of a one-off Grey Daze reunion was impossible to resist. Plans were set in motion but, as they often do, quickly snowballed into something more.
“We started getting approached by different promoters from all over the world, and that’s what led to us ultimately deciding to work on new material and re-record a record,” Sean tells NME. “We started working on it in early 2017. We would email ideas back-and-forth and we would hop on the phone where Chester would play me new songs that he was writing for it as well.”
While Linkin Park were on tour in support of their final album ‘One More Light’, Chester told Sean, bassist Mace Beyers and new guitarist Cristin Davis to start reworking their Grey Daze back catalogue. He’d redo the vocals when he returned, they could release an album and maybe play some shows together.
Tragically though, Chester took his own life on July 20, 2017. After initially shelving the project, Sean, Chester’s family and the rest of Grey Daze decided to finish it to honour his memory. Talinda, Chester’s wife, took to Twitter to explain that, “when Chester passed away, Grey Daze’s reunion seemed like an afterthought to everyone involved, they were suffering, I was suffering, and there were way too many emotions to work through before we could even think about what would happen to that project.”
— Talinda Bennington-Friedman (@TalindaB) December 11, 2019
“Once the clouds lifted a bit, once we could focus on what Chester would want us to do, we looked for a way to continue what Chester was working on, the things he was proud of and wanted to share with his fans.”
The result is ‘Amends’, a brooding record of grunge-influenced anthems that takes the stony might of the 90’s alternative scene into the light of 2020. It features contributions from Korn’s James ‘Munky’ Shaffer and Brian ‘Head’ Welch on the moody hyperactive angst of ‘B12’ while Chester’s son Jaime sings on the aching ‘Soul Song’ (think Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’ crossed with Linkin Park’s ‘Numb’).
We caught up with Sean to talk about the album, his friendship with Chester and if there’s anything else left in the vaults.
‘Amends’ is a tough listen, just hearing Chester’s voice again. Was it difficult to finish the album?
Sean: “As first it was really difficult. I just didn’t know how to start. We stripped away all the music and started listening to Chester’s isolated vocal tracks. We worked on the arrangement and tried to make his voice sound as good as we possibly could, which wasn’t too hard because those original performances sounded so great already. Once we’d done that, we started rewriting the tracks around his voice, making sure that it showcased his vocal performance. It was difficult but it eventually became very healing for all of us involved.”
Was it important that ‘Amends’ sounded relevant in 2020 rather than just being a piece of nostalgia?
“That was a conscious decision we made while Chester was still alive. Originally we started thinking about just re-recording the songs as they were in their original form, but once we started down that path, we felt they sounded a little dated and could be improved upon. Chester didn’t want to deliver a dated piece of work and felt like the songs were strong enough to modernise. He wanted his fans to find the music relevant now.”
Chester was a superstar. Could you always tell there was something special about him, even back when you first started out?
“I knew he had talent the first moment I met him, when he came into our rehearsal studio and auditioned. But he was special for so many more reasons other than just singing. He was one of the most compassionate and kind human beings I’ve ever met in my life. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body and I never once saw him start a fight with anyone. He simply wanted to be loved.”
What sets this album apart from the usual posthumous releases we see?
“We would never have spent two and a half years of our lives trying to make something great, just to chase money. Money doesn’t excite me. But completing something that I started with one of my best friends in the world, that does excite me. That’s why we did this. ‘Amends’ means so much to Chester’s family, our families and the millions of fans worldwide who embraced Chester. Everything we’ve done surrounding this release has been to honour him.”
How supportive were Chester’s family during this process?
“We would not have started this record without their blessing. They all knew how important this record was to Chester before he passed. They knew how excited he was and how much he wanted to reunite with the band, so I don’t think it was difficult for them to understand or accept.”
Have the rest of Linkin Park heard any of this record and, if so, what do they make of it?
“They gave us their blessing too. I’ve seen them in person several times and they’re very kind to us and say nice things about the project. They also knew that he was doing this project and how important it was to him.”
What do you want people to take away from ‘Amends’?
“It can either give the listener another emotional connection to Chester that they miss, or it can give them some closure for the loss of Chester.”
And listening back, what do these songs mean to you?
“Each song is something completely different, but I’ll give you one. ‘Morei Sky’ sounds like an apology from beyond from Chester in retrospect of the events of losing him.”
Is this a one-off release or is there a future for Grey Daze?
“We have enough material to do at least one more album as well.”
The new Grey Daze album ‘Amends’ is out now via Loma Vista Recordings.