- 20 Mar 20
To mark what would've been his 44th birthday, we're revisiting a classic 2008 interview with Linkin Park's late singer, Chester Bennington.
Backstage in Portugal, nu-metal boundary-breakers Linkin Park chat about Barack Obama, the Iraq war and their debt to - yes, really - Jean-Paul Sartre.
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Backstage at Lisbon’s misleadingly named Rock In Rio Festival, an eagle-eyed member of Linkin Park’s road crew offers your Hot Press correspondents a word of advice as we stagger elegantly towards the band’s dressing-room.
“Hey dudes! Don’t walk over there with those drinks in your hands. Chester and Dave don’t touch alcohol and they don’t like talking to people who’re drinking.”
A clean-living nu-metal band? Shome mishtake shurely? Then again, they are based in freakily health-conscious Southern California. Drinks discreetly ditched, myself and photographer Graham Keogh go over and introduce ourselves to the teetotalitarianist rockers.
Sitting behind a long table, vocalist Chester Bennington and red-bearded guitarist Dave Farrell look remarkably relaxed for a couple of guys who’ll be playing to a crowd of almost 100,000 Portuguese fans in a little over an hour (in honour of whom Dave is wearing the national team’s football scarf). Their four bandmates are mingling with members of Muse and Metallica nearby, watching The Offspring’s charged set on a massive flatscreen TV.
As festival headliners, Linkin Park will be onstage at 1am sharp. Needless to say, their interview time is extremely limited. Having sold fifty million albums, won two Grammys, collaborated with Jay-Z and many others, there’s plenty of ground to cover. But seeing as it’s now 11.45pm (Minutes To Midnight being the title of their most recent studio album) and tomorrow’s the day that Hilary Clinton will officially concede to Barack Obama, it’s decided that the quarter hour we’ve been allocated would be better spent discussing the US presidential race.
So where do the band stand politically?
“You know, everyone’s very different in the band,” Dave explains. “I personally never thought in my lifetime that I would witness an African-American win a primary for a major party, and really have a chance to become president. But it’s hard for me to endorse one of them, because I really don’t know how I feel about either one. I think I’m more excited about the idea of Barack Obama than I am about the chance that a woman could actually be president. Simply because it seems almost impossible. Just growing up in the States and knowing our history, it’s going to be a really interesting thing to see.
“But politically I’m all over the place. There are certain Democratic views that I agree with and there’s a lot of Republican views that I agree with. And none of the people that are running sit well with me at all. So I really don’t like any of them. Ha, ha!”
Some of the songs on Minutes To Midnight seem to be explicitly anti-Bush – most notably ‘Hands Held High’ [“Asking you to have compassion/ Have respect for a leader so nervous in an obvious way/ Stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay”].
However, Dave maintains that the band’s bile isn’t necessarily just aimed at the Republicans: “I wouldn’t say that any of those songs are geared anti-party. Because we all have different views within the band. But in terms of the Iraq war and the decision that our current president has made in perpetuating what we think is a bad situation, that’s really what we were touching on in the song. And especially with a song like ‘No More Sorrow’, there are some very direct things being said, it’s less about the party and more about the person [“Are you lost in your lies/ do you tell yourself I don’t realise/ Your campaign’s a disguise/ replaced freedom with fear/ You trade money for lives”]. And again in a song like ‘Hand Held High’, that is more of a social thing, without a political agenda.”
Chester explains further: “It’s not a song about choosing sides. It’s about recognising that we disagree - and we disagree from a human point of view, and not from a good guy/bad guy kinda thing. Because all of that is relative anyway. You’re only who you are because of where you’re born and the people who surround you.
“Choice plays into a lot of it, but if we were all born in Jordan we’d be products of what the culture is in Jordan. So it’s all relative to each person. So we try not to segregate people by setting some kind of political agenda in a song, but try putting more of a social and human perspective on it.”
“Yeah,” Dave agrees. “To me, ‘Hands Held High’ grew out of the Jean-Paul Sartre quote about how when the rich wage war it’s the poor who die. I think that’s where a lot of Mike’s lyrics grew out of [Mike Shinoda writes most of the band’s lyrics - OT]. For me that resonates really strongly.”
Do you have many friends in the military?
“Yeah, just through all different connections – people or friends that we grew up with,” says Dave. “And at this point in our lives, we’re at the age where we know families who’ve got younger kids who’re in the military, and also with our security guys and our crew and people we work with, there’s guys that either have gone over themselves or have really close friends who’ve done different tours and things like that. So there’s definitely a personal connection with what’s going on.”
Like many Americans, they’re more supportive of the troops than they are of the cause.
“It’s hard to support a war when there’s no real obvious reason why you’re there,” says Chester, with a weary shrug. “Yet I think it’s important to support the troops – I mean, from whatever side you’re on. It’s important because – especially for us in the US and for our allies – I know a lot of guys are there because they’re gung-ho and they wanna serve their country and they think they’re doing the right thing. And then there’s other guys who’re there because they’re serving – and that’s what they’re supposed to do, follow orders, and they’re gonna do that.”
Surely a lot of people are there because they’re poor and have no other option?
“Well, it is a volunteer army,” he points out. “A lot of people go in to get educated so they’ll have opportunities for jobs later. And it’s a way for them to get out of the situation that they’re in.”
Is joining the army something that you would have considered?
Chester pulls a face: “For me, I’m proud to be an American for a lot of reasons and there’s also a lot of reasons why I’m not very proud to be an American as well. But I like our country and I think most of the people in it are good people. So for me when we get attacked I get a very strong sense of protecting innocent people from getting hurt... and so, yeah, my first reaction is let’s go get those motherfuckers, and then you start to examine it a little bit more and you’re like, ‘Well okay, if we’re gonna do that then let’s work out the best way to do it, and really go for the people who’re responsible and not just take it out on... everybody that might do something like that.”
When I tell the guys about Jim Corr’s recent controversial Last Word interview (in which he put forward the theory that 9/11 was carried out by rogue elements within the Bush administration), they look sceptical.
“Since the very beginning there’s been different things about that,” Dave sighs. “There was an immediate documentary asking was it all a big internal thing, blah, blah, blah. But I think that in this day and age, given how many people would have to be involved, I don’t think you could keep the lid on something that huge. It’s one thing to cover up little things here and there, and I’m absolutely certain that that goes on...”
“I mean, dude, if you watch The Hunt For Red October, it couldn’t even maintain that in one little submarine, you know what I mean?” Chester interjects, laughing. “Let alone an entire country!
“What’s funny, too, the irony of that kind of thing as well is that people are calling the Bush administration the stupidest administration that’s ever existed on the face of the planet, and then at the same time to have that same administration cover up 9/11 sounds a little crazy to me.”
Not that they’re entirely dismissive of Corr’s suspicions...
“It’s a great conspiracy theory and I encourage the insanity that goes around that kind of stuff,” Dave smiles. “And I’m not saying that Jim Corr is crazy by any way, shape or form. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion – and it’s just what you do with that opinion that matters. And that’s one of the things that we’re talking about in our songs.”
Order your copy of the Hot Press issue that this classic interview originally featured in here.