"The biggest misconception about us is that we're just a rock band," describes Linkin Park's guitarist Brad Delson. "We think our music is a cross-section of many genres; a hybrid of what the six of us have grown up on." The title of the band's debut album and its original band name, Hybrid Theory, describes both the six-piece's artistic goals and its approach to making music. Linkin Park's sound, a melting pot of heavy alternative rock, hip-hop, and electronic flourishes, is utterly their own, an accomplishment strengthened by the band's remarkably powerful, organic songwriting. But almost everything about Linkin Park has been unforced, including their Southern California origins.
The band saw its beginnings in emcee/vocalist Mike Shinoda's small bedroom studio, where he and Delson recorded the band's first material in 1996. The two had attended high school together, where they met the band's drummer, Rob Bourdon. Shinoda hooked up with DJ Joseph Hahn while studying illustration at Art Center College in Pasadena. Meanwhile, attending UCLA, Delson shared an apartment with bassist Phoenix, who left the band after college and returned a year later. The final piece of the puzzle was singer Chester Bennington, a transplanted Arizona native who started making records when he was 16. "When I was two, I used to run around singing Foreigner songs--there's tapes of me doing that...Since I learned how to talk I've been telling everybody I was gonna grow up to be a singer." laughs Bennington.
The combination of Bennington's rich, mammoth vocal style with Shinoda's rapid-fire emceeing helps to define Linkin Park's sound. "I think one of Chester and Mike's goals is to be as integrated as possible," offers Phoenix. "Although the styles we're mixing can be very different, we want the combination to feel natural--that is a big part of our band's identity." Weaving influences as diverse as Deftones, Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, and The Roots into a unified whole, Linkin Park "want everything to come together without feeling forced," explains Shinoda. "As part of the writing process, I record everyone directly into a computer to best integrate our digital and live elements. We spend countless hours mixing and matching parts until we get the right combinations and composition."
The band immersed itself in the writing process until the spring of 2000, when they inked with Warner Bros. Records and immediately went into the studio. To help record their work, they enlisted producer Don Gilmore (Pearl Jam, Apex Theory, Sugar Ray). "We met with a lot of people and had a very difficult time choosing a producer," says Bennington. "But Don, aside from making things sound good, stood out as someone who could really push us to work harder as songwriters." The end result is an album that is as well-crafted and melodic as it is confrontational, with a strong lyrical message. "Chester and I write about universal emotions, whether it's feeling insignificant, optimistic, or frustrated," Shinoda describes. "We write about everyday life, because sometimes it's good to know there are other people going through the same things that you are." These lyrics, along with the diverse instrumentation in which they are embedded, result in a powerful musical statement: Linkin Park's debut album, Hybrid Theory.
Following the completion of Hybrid Theory and the return of Phoenix, the band has played incessantly, introducing crowds worldwide to their explosive live performance. "I've always wanted our show to be energetic," says Hahn. "We use drum pads, samplers, and turntables with original vinyl to perform all the sample parts live on stage, which I think brings an exciting uniqueness to the songs." The energy and tightness of the band's performance, on tours with Deftones, P.O.D., and Papa Roach, and as a headliner itself, has secured Linkin Park a strong foundation of dedicated fans worldwide, and helped propel the band's record sales into the millions.
When asked about the secret behind the Linkin Park's rapid success, Bourdon responds, "Ever since the beginning, we've always tried to maintain a strong relationship with our fans. From our close-knit street team family, to our videos, to designing quality merchandise, to our hands-on website activity with www.linkinpark.com, we stay involved in order to put our fans first." Linkin Park's reputation for being fan-oriented is best exemplified in their dedication to interacting with listeners at shows: the band obsessively sign hundreds of autographs at every concert. When asked about this phenomenon, Shinoda explains, "It's just a way of giving back. Our fans have helped us to realize a dream we didn't know was possible." It's taken Linkin Park five years to become an overnight success, and in the process, they've proven that a fresh combination of talent, unwavering dedication to craft, and pure artistic vision can, as Bennington describes, "get you through anything and help you realize your dreams."