rock sound is in Biloxi Beach, Mississippi, with Linkin Park, who aside from Slipknot, are probably the world's biggest band of the moment. It's an attest (the days where certain Ozzfest bands play when it's not an Ozzfest) show day for the band and a day of relative calm and little to do - apart of course, from talking to rock sound and having their mugshots taken - some- thing Mike's fellow vocalist Chester Bennington is Quite obviously tired of doing, as he yawns mid-shoot - only to be warned that he's "going to get his ass kicked" by old snapper Punch if he doesn't do as he's told!
So while Chester - displaying his brand new tattoo on his calf, it's the same dragon design his wife, Samantha, has on her lower back - soaks up the after- noon sun on the beach looking out onto the Gulf Of Mexico with his beloved, the others all disperse and do their own thing. The previous day the sextet were 600 miles away in St Petersburg, Tampa, Florida, for one of the Ozzfest shows, and it's here that you realize just how popular the lads are. During an afternoon signing session, the stream of fans eager to meet their musical heroes is phenomenal, and even after the allotted hour slot, Mike, Chester and their cohorts still scramble around to ensure that fans who didn't make it into the queue don't leave without at least having a ticket signed. Even Samantha, who sits lovingly behind her husband, happily takes snapshots for kids so they don't leave disappointed. Never before have I witnessed a band so eager to please. The weekend shows also mark the band's first anniversary of being on the road in support of their mega-selling debut 'Hybrid Theory'. And boy, what a year it's been for the band - completed, of course, by bassist Phoenix, OJ Joe Hahn, drummer Rob Bourdon and guitarist (and wearer of silly headphones) Brad Delson. Surviving the accusations of being a manufactured boy band - and the ludicrous idea that the 'Park were responsible for the tragic incident in March, when Charles Andrew Williams killed two fellow students and injured 13 others in the Californian town of Santee - in a mere 12 months Linkin Park have managed to also sell what for some bands would be an entire career's worth of albums on their debut release.
'We're having our one year national and international anniversary pretty much this week," smiles Mike. 'It's funny, we just went back to St Petersburg and stayed at the same hotel as we did on the first night of the tour last year, and I was getting all kinds of nostalgic flash- backs. You walk around and meet a bunch of street team kids who we'd met on the first night when we first put them on the street team, gave them a bunch of information, stickers and tapes and said 'pass them out to your friends, the album's going to be out in October, e-mail us and all that'. And they always have and they came to the show yesterday and they were like 'we can't believe it's been a year'. It's crazy the amount of stuff that's gone on in that time, and it's really funny that it's such a short time - we've been trying to do stuff for years and just this last year has been insane."
And by Chester's own admission, the past 12 months have been 'really interesting, fast-paced, highly energetic, really exciting, fun and miserable all at the same time - and also somewhat of an exhausting experience.' So you'd think the cracks would be starting to appear by now for a band that had never even played in their LA hometown a year ago, but if anything, life's getting easier for the troupe. Any cracks in the Linkin Park machine aren't apparent in the slightest.
'I think we're closer than ever, we communicate better than ever,' quips Chester behind his shades, kicking back on his hotel sofa. 'We've spent a year living together, and it's definitely not been one of those 'reality TV' shows where they throw a bunch of people together and see how they fare. This was so fast and so furious, and everything's happened at such an extremely fast pace that we've maintained a lot of san- ity by making sure we focus on the shows and get our job done. That helps to take away the negative energy and when you have time to relax you don't take it for granted either."
Still learning and honing their craft, love them or loathe them, Linkin Park have transformed into a solid touring unit, and it's a unit that gets stronger by the day. After the azzfest show, Brad explains how they could hide the fact that they were experiencing a whole bunch of on-stage technical gremlins - something that a year ago would have caused a major outbreak of sweat. But as Mike explains, Linkin Park have learned much of their road etiquette from their peers.
'We had fights in the beginning just like any band,' admits the rapper. '(hed) Planet Earth, for example, are veterans, they have done some hardcore touring for a really long amount of time, and those guys were the first people we met that were in an RV for seven years. They were in really hard living conditions for a very long time and they told us about that - and that kinda like shook us into reality about how crazy it can be. At that point I remember being in Philadelphia and I thought Joe and Chester were going to get into a fist fight - simply because we had been driving to a show, showering, playing a show, driving and starting over again. We were unloading all our gear and the box that Joe's turntable sits on is the size of a refrigerator, it's heavy. We were carrying that around ourselves and it was like, 'great, how the fuck do you get it on and off another it stage?' If you pick that thing up you need at least four guys and we were getting injured, pulling muscles and I e hurting our backs. We were on the brink of insanity and we were obviously at each others' throats by that point.”
y J, Since that Stateside tour with (hed), Linkin Park have 'e indeed become big news and superseded many of 's their peers, but it hasn't caused them any problems or f. snide remarks from other bands, according to Chester. J, "I don't think so dude," dismisses the frontman, "every band we meet and tour with becomes our friends, there's a bunch of bands that are all stoked at our success and we're stoked at their success, no-one ever gets jealous. No-one in (hed) PE has ever said, 'I can't talk to you now as I'm a little bit ticked off and it's hard to be around you. You haven't been around for 10 years, you guys have been around for eight months and you've sold more records than we've sold.' Who cares? That doesn't matter to anyone.
They become people that you know as normal people and they don't become icons anymore, it's like a weird unreal circumstance that we happen to be living in, and it happens to become more real the longer we're living in it."
I I So what are the boys' feelings on the claim that they've 'become catalysts for turning a new generation of kids into rock kids?
"Super, thanks," deadpans Chester. "Right now with the Ozzfest," continues Mike, "obviously we're not a metal band, what we're doing isn't inherently metal - especially versus Black Label Society who are a metal band, and Black Sabbath who are a metal band. So metal kids are coming to the show and if they see us, they're being introduced to something new, and at the same time, the kids that are coming to see us on Ozzfest, they're coming because of this new sound and at the same time being introduced to something new as well.
"The point is we want to position ourselves to sit in the middle of all that and not be too much of one or the other, and just make that middle thing the most interesting thing it can be, we're into all of those things."
But doesn't 'middle ground' equal 'safe'? "Actually, I feel it's more dangerous," retorts Mike. "If you're talking about a bridge between hip-hop and rock - which is one everyone pretty much understands - you run the risk of the hip-hop crowd saying 'that's not hip-hop enough' and the rock crowd saying 'that's not rock enough'. And that's one thing when we were getting started that every label was deathly afraid of, no one was willing to risk it as they were scared."
KEEPING IT REAL
As the Linkin Park machine continues to grow and evolve, so does the bank balance. Throughout history, music has seen bands hit the big time and then promptly disappear into obscurity while their members live on the rewards of making a fast buck while they could. Bands lose sight of why they got into a band in the first place, lose touch with their fans and basically lose all their artistic integrity. So are Linkin Park going to subscribe to the Guns N' Roses syndrome and promptly disappear up their collective arses? Chester and Mike don't think so.
Chester: "My favorite quote regarding that situation was Elton John when he was asked about all his flamboyance for his 50th birthday. It cost 55 grand or something and he was like, 'Well, it's not that I'm into material things and I've never been a person who's into material gain, but I have been on top of my career for 30 years and I have made a lot of money and I can have fun'. And I think that's a cool attitude to have, I don't think there's anything wrong with flamboyancy as long as you don't turn into a jerk and smack little girls or boys who ask for your autograph!"
"Who does that?" asks a bemused Mike.
"I'm just saying," continues his sidekick, "I'm not going to name names, but anyone who has done that will feel it inside when they read this article. It's ridiculous to turn on the people who make you what you are, I and that's the people who buy your records." I Already famed for the attentive detail they pay towards I their fans, whether it be signing sessions or through I the band's website (www.linkinpark.com) which they: regularly check and read, both frontmen are firmly i committed not to let success ruin that bond. "I don't want to gyp any of our fans," says Mike "by I putting them in a situation where they can come and ( look at us in a glass bowl but they can't touch us or I take pictures of us, that would not be cool. If it ever, gets to a point where there are too many people, the I few people who do have a chance to squeeze through, \ we're going to be happy to meet them and lake care of 1 them. We'll always want to take care of somebody, look at Metallica, they've got a ridiculously huge fan base but they always make time for fans. In their position that's a huge thing and I think one day if we can be as gracious as they are, that's cool."
Mike also truly believes that the sextet can ride whatever storm the road to success throws their way, with integrity intact, despite the increasing odds stacked against them. 'Our agenda is one that can stay focused through any kind of ups and downs, money, popularity and fame or whatever, 'cause really what we set out to do is make the type of music we enjoy and always try and stay ahead of..." he drifts off. "We want to push where popular music is, we just want to introduce these things to people and not scare them off and give them some- thing that's cool. We want to deliver that product and deliver that creativitY and simply put on an energetic and fun show, and maintain that family show where everyone feels like they're part of what's happening.'
Both singers are adamant that Linkin Park won't dissolve into obscurity, agreeing that in 10 or even 20 years' time, they'd like to see the band still playing together. Even family life won't take away from the band's collective creative process. Chester for one will be celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary on Hallowe'en and is planning to extend his family in the near future. But despite the fact he's only spent around six solid months with his wife in the past three years outside of his Linkin Park schedule, he believes that he will be able to mix 'normal' family life with that of a touring rock star.
As the singer reasons: "I think at one point or another, the most natural thing in life is you're born, you meet somebody, you have a kid and you die, and that's pretty much a given thing in life. When it happens you never know, unless you don't plan to do it, but at the same time you have to understand if those things do happen in the length of our career, by the time we have kids we're going to make money from doing this as a career. We'll be in a position to do all those things and actually manage to have a life, because there are people who have run corporations who have managed to have a family, and work twice as long and hard as we do in some cases."
Chester has also just launched his own T-shirt company, but Quickly refutes any claim that it's a lucrative money-spinner at the expense of creating art.
"For me it's like this," he explains, "I've never thought about designing clothes, it was brought to me by a friend and they said, 'do you want to do it, it's not going to cost you anything', and I'm like 'sure'. So I started drawing clothes and coming up with cool little designs and I'm like, 'wow, this is fun.' So now I draw, design and make my own clothes, I'm not just purchasing it from a manufacturer and putting my name on it and selling it - I'm creating, like a painter or whatever, it's just another side of something I do, but fortunately I make money on it. No one might buy the stuff, hopefully they do! If I' was charging $25 for signing autographs you could call me a dick for that"
"Everyone has got their other things we could be doing but we've all agreed that our band comes first - this is our favorite part," continues Mike. "We've got spare time, we have other things we want to do that are fun and we want to do that, people would be surprised. Rob, for example, wants to score movies. He sits there with his keyboard and he and I can sit down and make some really fun, interesting, emotional stuff and I think some day you're going to see him doing that.”
"We've made a business, made a partnership, made an understanding and we've made a family here. This is how we put bread on the table, this is how we make a living and this is what we enjoy doing," concludes Chester.
A PLACE FOR THEIR HEADS
A break for a few months is planned in the very near future for the band to gather their collective thoughts and take some well-earned rest. As we wrap up our conversation, we talk about what's next for the Parksters. Apart from Chester's recent singing on the much-anticipated second album by Anglo-Irish/Italian art-rockers Cyclefly - due to hit the streets in October - what plans are afoot for more Linkin Park music? And what sort of pressures are the record company putting on the band to rush-release and milk their cur- rent success?
'We're going to produce the next record when it's done,' declares Chester. "A best case scenario from the record company is like, 'dudes, you're going to write a new album, take a few weeks off from touring this album and then release another one and tour again'. Hopefully it'll happen within the next 10 years!" Says Mike: "We have the fans to thank that we have sold enough albums to tell our record label to screw off if they give us too much pressure on writing, At this point we've sold some albums so we can say 'look guys, we're not going to be ready for quite a while'."
Mindful of operating in a fickle musical world, the sextet know they can't wait around forever to produce the follow-up. "We're aware of where we stand," admits Chester. "We're not going to release the album three years from now, I don't think we could handle the pace that slow. We know our fans are very cool and they want a new album too, but they don't want... What fan wants a band just to release a record just so they can go and buy it and fucking give the band more money and the album sucks? People who like your music are always going to like your music,"
And is it going to be better than 'Hybrid Theory'? "I hope so," chuckles Chester. "This is a pretty fucking crazy way to debut. It's always going to be challenging if you have such a big record, even if we wrote an album which is better it's going to be heavily criticised - probably more so than the first - and there's nothing you can do about it. We had no control over this, we have no control over anything that happens for any reason, with the exception of writing bad music, and hopefully our record company doesn't forget how to run a record company - and that is pretty unlikely, they've been around for a while!"
"What matters to me as a music listener, I care about what songs the band are making and going to see the band and enjoying that experience," concludes Mike. "When it comes to critics, industry bullshit, MTV and video crap, all that shit can come secondary, tertiary and down the line. The important stuff is what comes directly from the band. The stuff that we make and what comes from us is where we want to have complete quality control and make the best shit we can." .