“Chester Had Such A Huge Heart”: Mike Shinoda Remembers His Friend
On October 27 last year, Linkin Park and a host of friends honoured the life and work of the band’s late vocalist, Chester Bennington at a special memorial show in the Hollywood Bowl. In K!1695 we spoke to bandmate, Mike Shinoda, who kindly shared his personal recollections and memories of the frontman. This, is his touching tribute.
I knew Chester Bennington was going to change my life from the moment he opened his mouth to sing.
I’d just started the band with a high school friend, Mark, but being a lead singer just wasn’t in his DNA so we went looking for one. When we scheduled a few guys to try out, Chester walked in. He was super friendly, as you can imagine, he weighed around 90 pounds; he was wearing these little, thin rectangular glasses and he was painfully awkward. He was hunched over and quiet-ish. But Chester was so great that day, the guy who was waiting to try out after him just left. He knew.
Even though we’d sent Chester our songs beforehand, he later admitted to me that he’d never done a screaming or yelling part on a track before. That was shocking to me. He could do it better than anyone I’d ever heard.
Chester could sing very sweetly too, and over the course of those few months there was this process of exploration. Usually it was just me and him, sitting in my room in my apartment, writing things and having him sing them into the mic. I would record them and give him some feedback. He was figuring out how to use his instrument and what felt good to him. I didn’t know it back then, but I was producing.
In a time when it was becoming less and less common, Chester was a rock frontman. That’s just my opinion, but I thought one of the reasons he was so special was because he could give people big, dynamic performances without it feeling egotistical or trashy, the way you see sometimes, when people cross the line into the projection and theatre of a big performance. But when Chester did it, it felt like it was all about the fans. Whether he was loud or quiet, he demanded your attention, but he did it in a way that was earnest and inviting.
It was funny because he was the kind of guy that when you would compliment his voice, especially early on, he would look away. He would deny it, or he would make a self-deprecating comment. And so while one part of him really enjoyed being the centre of attention, another part of him ran away. That was part of the beauty of Chester. And he was inspired by a wide range of singers at different points in his life: people like Dave Gahan, James Hetfield, and Freddie Mercury. I would occasionally remind him that he was in that category, but he never agreed with me. He never acknowledged that he was, but in the past few months dozens of artists have reached out publicly and privately, to let us know what an inspiration Chester and the band have been. We’re just so very grateful.
While Chester’s voice made him such a great singer, there was also his willingness to give it everything. Broken bones wouldn’t stop this guy; you couldn’t make him stop. I remember one time in a show in 2007, he snapped his wrist a couple of songs into the set. We told the crowd what had happened and went backstage to figure out what to do next. Somebody said, ‘Okay, go to the hospital Chester, the show’s over.’
‘Fuck that,’ he said. ‘Are you joking? My wrist’s going to be just as broken in two hours as it is now. I might as well finish the show.’
He did too, and that wasn’t the only time that it happened. Chester would hurt himself here and there, but it didn’t matter what it was, he’d still play on. He could be nauseous or throwing up and he’d still play the show. He’d break his ankle and still play. It never stopped him from delivering an A plus performance. Chester whole-heartedly embodied that ‘the show must go on’ mantra.
His loyalty influenced and inspired me, too. Chester always had my back. On the most recent album, One More Light there were moments when I asked if I could sing lead on a part, like on Invisible, or Rebellion on The Hunting Party. Chester was always my biggest supporter. If anyone else was unsure about it, or suggested Chester should sing it instead, he would argue. I appreciated it so much. It wasn’t often that I even wanted to sing, but he was more of a proponent (in it happening) than I was.
But his loyalty was there from the very beginning. When we were recording Hybrid Theory, we were basically a new band with a new record deal. The label could have shelved us at any moment and we were halfway through recording when our A&R started losing faith in us. He took Chester aside and suggested he take the band over, or put me on keyboards, or even kick me out. He told him, ‘You’re the talent, you should make a rock record. You don’t need the rapping, you don’t need the rest of the guys…’ Chester finished the conversation and came in to tell us straight away.
‘So what did you say to him?’ I said.
‘I told him to go fuck himself,’ replied Chester.
A lot of people would have been tempted! We had nothing. We had a record deal that hinged entirely on whether or not our A&R liked the album we were making and he just told the guy to go fuck himself. We could talk for hours about the little stories of making that record, moments of uncertainty, or how things could have gone wrong, or did go wrong. There was so much on the line. But the reason it became what it did, was because we all had a vision for Hybrid Theory. And we didn’t compromise.
Linkin Park & Friends Celebrate Life In Honour Of Chester Bennington
Chester had so many endearing qualities, and he made friends easily. He would never say that about himself, he actually felt like he was more awkward than he was, and when we first me him, yeah, he was awkward. But at a certain point he wasn’t anymore, though he still thought of himself as the same awkward kid. Instead, Chester had this energy about him that was warm and inviting, and in some cases, more intense than other people.
He could get off a one-hour flight from Phoenix to L.A. and have a new best friend. We often talked about riding the wave of whatever was going on in life. He did that in his personal life too. He’d make friends and talk to weird people and really delve into experiences. He always gave people the benefit of the doubt.
I’m a little more reserved than that. I think I worried often about him not having enough boundaries. And it did come to bite him on the ass sometimes. Chester would make friends with somebody and they would turn out to be an idiot for whatever reason. He would end up complaining about it later and I would laugh with him about it. He would then almost ask, ‘Why didn’t you see that coming? You’re supposed to be the one to tell me that was a bad idea.’
He was so generous, though. Sometimes, I thought that Chester felt he was going to save the world by saving animals, one at a time. You could see it at his house: the guy adopted so many damn animals. He had dogs and cats; he had a midget cat, and goats and chickens, and all of this stuff. It was funny because he would give to a point where it would make his life more difficult.
He donated to a children’s hospital in Arizona and he’d fly out to meet everybody there. He’d walk around the wards. He knew all the staff, and he’d do their gala events every year. But he also supported other people in emotional ways, whenever they needed it. I’ve heard so many stories in the past three months from friends - some of them have been in bands - and they’ve told me how they had once been at a low point, or that they also suffered from depression or addiction. They would call Chester, almost in a sponsor role, or as a good friend, and he’d walk them through it.
One thing we talked a lot about was his love for the family. He deeply loved his wife and all his kids. His family is really complicated in terms of blood relation, adoption and whatever, and he basically had seven kids. I spent more time with Chester than anyone else in my adult life, except for my wife. We were always around each other. People would say we were like brothers, but we were different because brothers are bound by blood. Technically we were dudes in a band who could break up and walk away from each other if we wanted to. I think it’s more exceptional that we never did that.
When we were together, which was almost every day on the road, we rode on the plane - together. We were together in the car to and from every show. In the past few years it was me and him, every time. And every day he’d be talking about his family. Every day we’d be showing each other pictures of our kids, and our wives, and talking about what they had been up to, and laughing and celebrating, and complaining. I’m not a perfect parent, nobody is, but Chester had the very best intentions. He had such a huge heart and he loved his family more than anything.
I know he worked really hard to do what he did. He woke up in the morning and spent time with his family. He worked out for two hours. He went to AA meetings, or therapy, or whatever worked that part of his brain. He warmed up his voice. He did all of those things just to exist in every day life. He did all of that stuff, every day, just so he could step up to the starting line; to be on the same plane as every one else. I know that he worked so hard to be the guy that everybody saw. It didn’t come easily for him at all.
I don’t think Chester would ever have imagined the kind of support and the kind of connection that the LP community have shown since his passing. It’s always been that way, but I feel like Chester’s passing has made it more obvious. It’s too bad that he couldn’t see it, and the Linkin Park community isn’t like other fanbases. I saw a video that the fans made, and there were individual people in each frame holding up a written sign. When you put them all together, it spelled a message, a quote specifically about the Hollywood Bowl show. It said things, like, ‘You might feel nervous to get onstage, and this might be overwhelming, but we want the five of you to know that we’re supporting you from all over the world.’ This video was seven minutes long. There were hundreds of fans, it must have taken months if not weeks to compile and edit. I don’t even know how they made this thing.
Before the show, it took some of the guys weeks before they could listen to a single song with Chester’s voice on it. The idea of getting up and playing them without him was more than daunting. In putting it together, we didn’t want it to be a sad show. We (wanted) to spend the evening reflecting on Chester, reflecting on the band, and reflecting on the whole LP fan community and culture around the world. There’s also a subset of fans struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. When someone like Chester dies from suicide it hits those fans so hard.
We’d do anything to make Chester proud and carry on his legacy.
And we miss him so much.
AS TOLD TO: Matt Allen