Just when you thought you have lost Chester Bennington of Linkin Park forever, you hear his voice again in brand new songs. Before Linkin Park, he sang for Grey Daze, American grunge rock band that would give birth to the most iconic frontman of all time. With Bennington’s untimely passing, the group’s plans to return were put on hold, until now.
Thanks to Universal Music Singapore, Nookmag had a once in a lifetime interview with Sean Dowdell, Grey Daze’s drummer and founding member. We discussed the past, present and future of Grey Daze.
When you started Grey Daze, it was in 1992 and Chester Bennington was a teenager at the time. Can you tell us more on how the band started?
Sure! 1992, we were forming our first band. Chester [Bennington] was 15, I was 17. We had been mutually introduced through a mutual friend named Chris Hewlett. He said he knew a kid that sounds just like Eddie Vedder [of Pearl Jam]. We should try him out. Chester showed up to rehearsal a couple of days later and he literally came in. You know, when he first walked in the room, he was this little scrawny kid, had these little tiny glasses and this awkward curly hair and did not look like a Rockstar at all. And then he sang on the microphone and he was amazing, and he blew us out of the gutter, and he made us feel bad about judging him by the way he looked when he walked in the door and that’s why I tell that story. It holds us accountable for pre-judging people.
As soon as Chester sang, we knew we wanted him in the group, and we asked him “When can you start?” and he said, “I have to ask my dad”. So, we drove over to his house, we got his dad’s permission and, you know, we started rehearsing 2 to 3 days a week and started writing songs and that’s how it started in the early days. We played our first show probably 4 to 5 months after the band formed. Mostly cover songs. And then we did our first record in 1994. It was called Wake Meand we did our second record in 1997. We signed a record deal with Real Records. We worked on it for an entire year. Right when we were supposed to listen to the mixes and start working on releasing the record, we were told that the record label lost their funding and basically, they weren’t going to give us the masters, so we had to record a new record and we did.
We figured it all out and we went and recorded it at the Conservatory Recording Arts at Tempe, Arizona and recorded No Sun Today and that came out in 1997. Then in 1998, we signed a small production deal with Warner Brothers, and we were supposed to do a 4-song demo. We did a tune up show at one of the local clubs called the Big Fish Pub and unfortunately some of us had developed big egos, some of us had developed drug problems and it just all kind of came to a culmination in 1998 and we ended up getting into a big fight after the show and we all kind of parted ways and the band broke up.
But our attorney, Scott Harrington, who doesn’t get any credit was smart enough to realise that Chester had a lot of talent and he reached out to Chester and said “Hey I’m working with this band in LA called Xero. Why don’t you do a demo for these guys and see if they like it” and they did. So, then he drove out there and did a live audition and then he joined the band. Well, Xero ended up becoming Linkin Park.
And then Chester and I hadn’t talk for a couple of years until 2002. We had reunited, he called me on the phone when he found out our guitar player Bobby Benish had been diagnosed with a brain tumour and the prognosis wasn’t good. He wasn’t expected to live much longer. Chester called me and said “Hey man, we need to clear the air here. We’re best of friends and I’m sorry for what I did.” And I said, “I’m sorry for what I did.” And then literally I think I went out to LA next weekend after not talking to him for a few years.
I went up on stage the next weekend so we picked right back up where our friendship left off and then 2003 we became business partners in a company called Club Tattoo and we played in a bunch of side bands and tinkered with putting Grey Daze together several times over the decades. Once in 2002 we were doing it, once in 2007 and then finally in 2016 he called me, and we were discussing some business. We were talking about putting together a big party for our company and he said, “You know I’ve been thinking about that and I want to put Grey Daze back together for that party.” And that’s how it started.
So that’s how the current Grey Daze started?
Yes. So, we brought Cristin Davis on the guitar. Once we decided to do that, we had to work out the logistics of Chester’s touring and his commitment to Linkin Park and so we decided in late 2016 that we were going to do our reunion show. And as once we started doing that, we started to have promoters calling us all over the world wanting us to play. Then we had this conversation, [Chester] said “I really miss having a rock band on my own, I miss playing with you. Let’s do this full out.” And then so we started talking about how we could go back and re-record all these old songs we had because we had some really great songs.
So, I want to say in February of 2017, I went on started working on 3 of the songs in the studio with the producer named Sylvia Massy and we would go back and forth in email and phone calls. So, Chester would go on the phone, he’d be in Europe or whatever, and I would send him a track and say, “What do you think of this?” and he will say “Ah, I think we need to do this or that.” We started coming up with “Hey we need to modernise these songs a little bit, so they don’t sound dated”. We started talking about having programming and synths and keyboards and pianos and to bring it into a little bit more relevancy in today’s music world. Something that his fans would be able to digest a little bit easier and something that fans of any rock group would be able to understand in today’s music arena. That’s how we came to modernising these tracks.
And then unfortunately, in July  Chester passed away and everything got put on hold. Then about 6 to 8 months passed, I decided I want to finish the record. It’s something that Chester was very passionate about, we were talking a lot about it before he passed away. We were on the phone working through things literally 2 [to] 3 times a week. Right up to time to time he was supposed to come [over]. He had just come off the road. He did a weekend in Sedona [Arizona] with his family. He was supposed to fly back to LA to do a TV commercial with State Farm or something like that and then he thought he was going to drive down to Sedona and we were all going to meet up in Phoenix that Saturday and then we were starting Grey Daze rehearsal on Sunday. And he passed away that, I think it was Thursday, Wednesday or Thursday so, that’s how into doing this he was.
When we lost him, all got put on hold. Like I said, about 6 [to] 8 months past and we decided to finish the record. Once we did that, once we went in the studio and pick these different producers to work with, we literally said, “You know, we’re going to start over. We’re going to strip his vocals down, we’re going to strip the music down away from his vocals on every single song and we’re going to work on an arrangement of his vocal tracks. Make them sound as good as we can and then we’re going to build the song around his vocal track on every single song” and that’s what we did. I think we came up with something very special by doing it that way.
Can you tell us more about the production of Amends?
Sure! So, we literally re-wrote every single song from the ground up around his vocals. We chose 5 different producers so we can work on multiple songs at the same time and we can get a different feel for different tracks. Like, the track ‘B12’ we worked with a producer named Alex Aldi. We brought Head and Munky from Korn to work on that song with us and that song is probably the most aggressive song on the album. It sounds like a Korn and Grey Daze mashup. It’s very aggressive. Then we brought in a singer named LP who sings a duet with Chester on a song called ‘Shouting Out’ and it’s beautiful. it’s soft. It’s probably our only pop song on the record, it’s beautiful. We brought in Chris Traynor to play on ‘Soul Song’. There’s a definite heavy driving chorus on that song and he plays in a band called Bush. So, we brought in different people to work on different aspects to give us different characteristics for each song that we were looking for and it was an amazing process to go forth with. One of the reasons why it took 2 and a half years to finish this record was because we had a very painstaking process to strip these down to nothing and we had to work with what we had. We can’t go back and say “Hey, Chester can you add a vocal here” I mean, that wasn’t an option. So, we literally had to build the songs with what we had, and I think we did, I think we created a masterpiece, I really do.
So, with the [release of the] album, it’s pushed back because of the current pandemic, how do you feel about that?
I’m fine with it. I mean look, I understand people are disappointed with it but the best way that I can describe it is this, nobody wants to throw a party in the middle of a hurricane. You know, nobody wants to come to your house when there’s a hurricane happening and that’s what’s happening all around the world. There’s a gigantic hurricane happening all over the world so let’s just time out, let’s get through this pandemic stuff and then we’ll celebrate properly what we think is a very important musical thing. And you know, it’s not just our decision. We had problems, you know, the manufacturers stopped making the record, our distribution stopped shipping records. Our supply chain is completely interrupted. Everyone in work with the record label has to work from home. It’s not just a “hey, we’re going to push this off just because”. I mean, there’s so many logistical reasons as to why we did it but the main one was just it doesn’t feel right trying to release it in the middle of this craziness.
In the future, or once the pandemic is over, are there any works on having a tour to promote Amends? And if so, who would you say would be the frontman for the band?
No, we would not do that. The whole reason why we want to release this music was because of our friend Chester. We did the album entirely in tribute and to honour our friend and it would feel very disingenuous for us to finish it and then say, “Here’s our new singer!” That doesn’t feel right to me. Or Cristin. Or Mace. None of us feel like that’s the right way to do it. As far as the tour goes, the only type of tour I would do is maybe a talking tour where I go to different countries and do interviews like this in person and let people ask questions and get to know us on that level. That seems interesting, I would do that.
Yeah and that would be really different, and it would change how everyone sees what a tour is.
Yeah and you know, we could play the music but not live-play the music and as far as a live show goes the only way we would do a live show is if we did it in tribute where we would bring in some different singers who love Chester and they would do a tribute show in honour of Chester. That’s the only way we would do it live.
With the current pandemic, people all around the world has been trying out new things and learning new skills so, how have you been spending your time in quarantine?
Well, I run a 5k every morning. I have been writing a book. I have 7 companies I’m doing remodels on in Arizona. 3 of them in Arizona. I am promoting this album. I am working 10 to 12 hours almost every day right now, working more than I have in a long, long time. So, I have a lot of projects. A lot of people are like “Oh, I’m going to sit and watch Netflix for the next 2 months.” First of all, it doesn’t even interest me but second of all, I’m a very busy person. My mind is always moving forward, trying to figure “I always want to be better. I always want to create.” And those things drive me. And it drives a lot of people crazy around me because they say I don’t know how to turn my mind off. And I understand that but it just how it works. I always want to do something better, different, fun.
After Amends, will we have other albums from Grey Daze, and would it be with Chester’s songs as well?
Yes, we have at least enough material to do one, if not, two more albums with Chester. So, yeah, we’re good so long as… Well, the band has this opinion. If Amends is received well and you guys love it then we’ll do another one. If it’s not and no one cares, then we won’t! But, from what I’m seeing, it seems like a lot of people are loving it so very likely that we would be doing another record real soon.
Can you tell us more about the song ‘Soul Song’ and how did you guys get Chester’s son to be a part of the video?
For ‘Soul Song’, we used two different producers, Esjay Jones and Lucas D’Angelo. They helped us write the song in the current format, brought in a guest guitar player named Chris Traynor, he plays in a band called Bush. We worked together really, really well with him in the studio and I think we really captured a side of Chester that was really special, in that moment we had. As we were working through some of these songs in the studio, I got an idea, you know Chester never got a chance to record with his children. He never got the chance to do that. So, that’s something we can give back to Chester. We can connect that for him. So, I reached out to all of his children and Jaime jumped to the chance and said “Yeah!” Came in, he sings backing vocals in the chorus with his dad. After we finished, he said, “You know, I really liked to produce a music video for you guys.” And we said “Yeah, yeah okay cool.” As we were talking about releasing ‘Soul Song’, the label wanted us to do the video. I said, “You know, Jaime really wants to do a video for the band.” It makes a lot of sense for him to do the video that he sang on with his dad. So, that’s really how that kind of came about. And then we just gave it to him and said, “Do your thing! You create it, you create treatment. Take the meaning of the song that you feel is yours and create the video.” And we gave him the carte blanche to do what he wants to with it.
So, he did everything on his own?
Well, so, there was another guy named Mark Silverstein that did all of the production side of it and all those filming. But he worked with Jaime and Mark did the entire ‘Making Amends’ series, I don’t know if you’ve seen it – the documentary that we did. So, it was Mark and Jaime who did it and yeah, they did it together! They went to Sedona, to Chester’s cabin, which was his favourite place in the world, and they filmed the video there. That was the last time Chester was with his family was in that cabin.
That’s beautiful. One last question, before the album is released will be see another new single coming out?
Amends will debut on 26 June 2020.