The death of Chester Bennington hit us badly and sent us spiralling down to rock bottom. Growing up, we listened to Numb by Linkin Park until the CD couldn’t read anymore. We’re 14 again as we lay down, eyes staring at the ceiling, progressing back in time. We’re living through Grey Daze, that existed pre-Linkin Park: “Fast forward to 2015, Chester’s on the road, and says, ‘I think we should put Grey Daze back together.” Chester Bennington was once too, a teenager like us, and finding his way through music. We spoke to his close friend and Grey Daze member Sean Dowdell on the release of Amends and his friendship with Chester Bennington.
Amends is the origin story of one of modern rock’s most recognizable voices, and a full-circle moment among friends. The album is the fulfilment of a planned Grey Daze reunion that Chester had announced prior to his untimely passing.
SO BEFORE WE START, I’D LIKE TO ASK HOW YOU’RE DOING SEAN? I’m doing good! I’ve been keeping very busy these days with my businesses and of course, promoting this record’s taking a lot of time and you know, the whole shutdown around the world, I’m sure for a lot of people they’ve had to do, you know, stay at home and not do anything. But for me, I’ve been working in my companies promoting this record and writing a book, and I’ve been very, very busy.
GREAT! I KNOW WE’RE ALL GOING THROUGH A VERY WEIRD TIME RIGHT NOW, AND I HOPE EVERYONE IS DOING GREAT AND STAYING HEALTHY. CONGRATULATIONS ON THE NEW ALBUM RELEASE. “AMENDS”, IS ACTUALLY A WORKED OR NEW COMPILATIONS OF SONGS FROM YOUR PREVIOUS TWO ALBUMS, YES?
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE REUNION OF GREY DAZE AND WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF MAKING THIS ALBUM LIKE AFTER A LONG HIATUS?
Originally, let me give you the backstory. So Chester and I were best friends. We were business partners in a company called Club Tattoo. We played in several little side projects together. And we had talked about doing a Grey Daze reunion two or three different times prior, once in 2002. We tried to put the band back together, but it didn’t work out to tie me again in 2007. Then in 2016, we were on the phone. We talked. You know, once a week, twice a week sometimes and we were talking about putting together another club at two parties. So, the company that we own Club Tattoo is a series of luxury tattoo and piercing studios in Las Vegas and Arizona, and we would throw these large parties where literally three, four, five thousand people would show up. They’re incredible!
THAT’S AMAZING! You can find videos of them on YouTube. They were spectacular. Chester and I and some other friends that would get up on stage and we’d play in front of thousands of people that would have a great time, a big party, but we hadn’t done one those in several years. So in 2016, we were talking on the phone, and they came up. We said, “Hey, you know, it’d be nice to get out of the Club Tattoo Party. And he says, you know, “I’ve been thinking about that. And next time we do a club tattoo party, I want to put Grey Daze back together so that it’s time”. We worked through the logistics of timing and all that and yet his touring commitments with Linkin Park, of course. So we decided that we’re going to do a reunion show. We started adding motors from all over the world calling us and want us to start booking tours. He and I start talking on a deeper level about how we’re going to pull this off and he says, “Look, I want to have a rock band on my own. I miss playing with you. Let’s do this.” So, we talked about what we re-visiting. We basically had a lot of songs sitting there that were good and that we could redo and could have an album ready by the end of the year that wouldn’t take him seven to eight months’ worth of commitments to do so.
That’s how it started. And then in January – February of 2017, I went into the studio and started working on three songs with a producer named Sylvia Massey and we would send the tracks back and forth to Chester and he was on the road. We would talk on the phone. He’d say I like this, I don’t like this. Let’s re-do this and as we were talking and doing it we said, “You know what? If we go and do just the way the songs were, it might sound a little dated, and that’s where we could do something better. So we started talking about how to modernize it. We started talking about adding synthesizers and chords and pianos and going back by not throwing the songs away, but revisiting them and modernizing them so that they were a little bit more relevant to not only his fan base but to the music arena in general around the world, so that the whole Grey Daze’s reuniting, reforming album, all that stuff came to fruition. This had all happened while he was still alive. Now, obviously, in July of 2017, Chester passed away and Grey Daze got put on internal hold.
Um… You know, I gave the eulogy, one of the eulogies at his funeral and it just wasn’t on my mind to do the music. Then, after I got back to Arizona, every day I would wake up and it would just be weighing on my mind, it just keeps weighing on me. Then, finally, one day I woke up and I said, “I’m going to finish the record” and, I went and met with the band members and I said, “Hey, I want to finish the record. What do you guys think?”
He said, “Well, how?” And I said, “I don’t know how we’re gonna figure it out.” I said, “You guys want to do this with me?” They said, “Yes.” So then I flew out to L.A. and I met with Chester’s wife, Talinda, and told her what I wanted to do. And she said, “Look. You know, you’re Chester’s best friend. You’ve always had his back. You’ve always had his best interests. I trust you completely. Just make sure it’s good.” And I said “I will. I won’t put it out unless it is good.” So then when she gave a blessing to the band, I called Chester’s mom. Susan had the same conversation with her and then I called Chester’s father, Lee, and had the same conversation with him. You know, through the whole process, Chester’s ex-wife, Samantha, even called me and we had a conversation about music and she gave her blessing as well. Everybody was on board for us to do this. Once we started actually working on the music, it was a different, different scenario. We went into the studio and we basically took all of the music that was around his vocals and scrapped it off to the side. We started with his vocal tracks and we isolated those tracks and made them sound as good as we could work on the arrangements. We moved stuff around or verses, things like that. And then, we’re back underneath those vocals and would literally build the music all the way around…
AROUND THE VOCALS? Yes, I think we ended up creating a masterpiece because of the way we did it because we started with a phenomenal vocal performance on every song. We were able to strengthen those performances. We were able to strengthen those vocal performances by making sure the music enhanced what he was doing and didn’t take away from it. That’s why you don’t see these crazy drum solos or guitar solos, all that crap that you hear in a lot of music. We made the songs about these courses and these vocals, and they are powerful.
SO WHAT WAS THE INTENTION OF WORKING ON YOUR PREVIOUS SONGS INSTEAD OF WRITING NEW ONES WHEN YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT CHESTER BEFORE THIS REUNION?
Well, we did have new songs. Chester had written about four or five new songs with me over the phone. We would be talking back and forth, but we didn’t. Obviously, we couldn’t use those because he wasn’t here to record the vocals. So its a moot point but we had actually about four other Grade-A songs that were completed back in the day that we never had to record one specifically was called “Forever” and “Ryan’s Wisdom”. So those songs, I think would have turned out just absolutely amazing had we been given the chance to go into the studio and work with him. But, we didn’t have a chance. So, you know, the songs that he had written and I thought there were three really, really good ones out of the five that he showed me. I was excited to start writing with him in the studio, but we just didn’t have the time. You know, he passed away too soon and so those plans just never came to fruition.
HOW DID YOU ACTUALLY GET THE NAME “AMENDS”?
So there’s a song, on the album called Morei Sky, and the chorus says, “If I had a second chance, I’d make amends only to find myself losing in the end.” And we were in the studio bouncing names off each other, like, what do you think of this name for the album? and Christine our guitar player looks over at me and says “What about making amends?” I knew instantly as soon as I heard it, I was like. “That’s it. That’s what it will be.” It encompasses so much meaning with all of the events that transpired with us, with losing him so early. Not getting to do all these things we had planned on doing so, making amends to us. It wasn’t about us making amends to Chester. We feel like that if Chester would have woken up the next day, he would have apologized to us and everybody around him because we don’t really feel that Chester wanted to leave this earth. We felt like it was an impulsive decision. There was nobody else around. He hit a low point and he did what he did and knowing Chester the way I did, I just feel like he would have apologized the moment he woke up from that. I feel in my soul that Chester regretted doing that the moment he did it. That’s just how I feel about it. Though you guys may not agree with me, and that’s fine, but that’s how I feel about the events that transpired. So the name “Amends” really encompasses so many things. There’s a duality to it. It takes on really a can take on different meanings for a lot of different people as they view that. But for us, it was an apology from beyond.
I’M SURE YOU GUYS KNOW CHESTER WAY BETTER THAN ANY OF US
I would think so. But, you know. I’m not one of those guys that stand around and discount other people’s feelings for the way they interpret something. Chester’s music and gestures.. music in my mind, there are so many different ways you can interpret it. You can apply it to your life. That’s one of the gifts that Chester had, was. He was able to reach you and help you understand your own emotional pain through his vocal expression. That’s something that I think is so rare in the music world these days. In every generation, you have one, maybe two singers that can do that and he was one of those guys. So the way you may interpret one of the things that Chester does is, is maybe something completely different to the way I do. And that’s OK. I think that’s the beauty of the music. That’s why his part is., it is quite..
IT IS QUITE DIFFERENT, ACTUALLY. HOW DID IT FEEL LIKE WHEN YOU WERE WORKING ON CHESTER’S VOCALS AGAIN AFTER HIS PASSING? HOW WAS THE VIBE LIKE IN THE STUDIO?
Well, initially it was very heavy. It was very sad. We had a lot of tears. We were just working up vocal tracks for a couple of months. He was with us the entire time, I can say that unequivocally that he was there with us in the studio. His presence was felt. We brought a little portrait of him and we put it up on the recording every time we were working. We just felt him. He was there. So what started out as a sad process turned into a healing process and then eventually turned into a fun process. So there are different stages that we went through and quite honestly, these were also stages of grieving for us. You know, there were moments where I would be upset that he wasn’t with us to experience it and I’d be angry with him. And then I would try to remind myself, hey, that’s not it. What started out as a sad process turned into a healing process and then eventually turned into a fun process. So there are different stages that we went through. I would try to remind myself, hey, that’s not how we do this and then we’ll try to reset and think of something positive and try to find a positive fun memory and we’ll share stories about him acting stupid are doing this one thing. It became a cathartic experience for all of us that ultimately became a healing experience.
HE IS A GOOD PERSON AS WELL AS A TALENTED SINGER. SO, LOSING HIM WAS A HUGE LOSS FOR ALL OF US.
You know, beyond him being a talented singer. He was just a great guy. He really was one of my best friends on the planet. He was so much fun. He was so compassionate to others. He was so understanding. He was so loving. He would give a stranger two hours of his time if he could sense the stranger was in pain or needed needing someone to talk to. He was just that guy. And that was the real him. That was not an act. He wasn’t doing. He wasn’t acting. That was him. And that’s what made him such a wonderful man.
LET’S TALK A LITTLE ABOUT HOW YOU MANAGED TO GET SOME MUSICIANS, FROM KORN TO WORK ON THIS PROJECT TOGETHER AND EVEN CHESTER’S SON SANG ON ONE OF THE TRACKS AS WELL. DO YOU MIND TALKING ABOUT THAT?
Sure! So those things kind of happened organically as we are working through the process of recording. I believe the first person that we got involved with was a friend of ours. A very good friend of mine and a very good friend of Chester’s named Ryan Chuck. I played with him in Dead by Sunrise. He played in Orgy, Angela, and Kay. I said, hey, “I think, you know, because since Bobby, our original guitar player, passed away from a brain tumour. It wasn’t about trying to make this so super original, great days that really had nothing to do with it.” This became a way for us to honour Chester and Bobby in a way that made sense and the way that we made sense of it was involving people that Chester and Bobby really loved. So we asked him to play on In Time and he plays the guitar there. He jumped right into the chance of doing it. I’ve known Head for a number of years and he and I were talking back and forth. I said, hey, would you mind giving me an honest opinion about this song? Because I know Head wouldn’t lie to me. He would just tell me, this is good. This sucks. This needs work. You know, whatever. But then he calls me and he goes “Bro, What is this? This is amazing.” And I said, “this is the project I’m working on. This is what Chester and I were working on before he passed away.” So I don’t even understand, like… Walk me through it. So he was so excited about the music. And I said, would you want to take the guitar on this track?
Then, he’s like, are you kidding me? Of course. So he got really excited. Yes. Monkey could do it. I was like, man, I got excited. I’m like, Dude, I know how much Chester loved Head and Monkey. He loved this guy. He loved golf. All those guys were really good to him at a young age. And he always spoke so highly of all of those guys. So it’s a no brainer to get them to play on a track. Well, the ball started rolling at that point. Then we got Paige Hamilton from Helmet to play on Sickness and we got Chris Trainer from Bush to play on a couple of songs, Some Time, Soul Song, Just Like Heroin. She sings a duet with him on a song called Shouting Out. It is so beautiful. She was a huge fan of Chester’s. So those are the people we got involved in. Of course, we have Jamie involved. That was something that just happened. I feel like I got hit by a thunderbolt with the idea from that day that, you know, that Chester never got to record anything with his children. This would be something that we could do to give back to him. And we did. So we reached out to all the children, reach out to Jamie. We reached out to Draven, Tyler, Lilly, Lyla, until I thought that it was a little too soon and the kids were a little too young for the three little ones to participate, which I completely understood, Draven was just a little apprehensive. He wasn’t sure about how he wanted to involve himself. And then Jamie said yes. So we had Jamie come down and he sang on Soul Song. He did a great job. And because he sang on the track, we let him direct the video for Soul Song and pay homage to his father. I think he did a great job on that.