Dream Theater have been at the top of the game for such a long time …
It’s eerie to hear Chester Bennington’s voice in a new song. ‘New’ being relative, given they were first heard over 20 years ago.
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Grey Daze, Bennington’s first band before joining the monolithic Linkin Park, were a burgeoning group in the early ’90s that first showcased the singer’s raw talent. Prior to the singer’s tragic death in 2017, the band had reconnected and was planning on debuting a host of re-recorded tracks at an anniversary party.
Now two of his Grey Daze bandmates, drummer Sean Dowdell, bassist Mace Byers, as well as longtime friend of Bennington’s, guitarist Cristin Davis, have completed those tracks posthumously. With executive producer Jay Baumgardner bringing the songs into 2020, Hysteria spoke with Dowdell about the initial struggle of returning to the tracks.
“The first couple months we decided to jump back into the project and finish the record, what we decided on doing was stripping the songs down to just the vocal tracks,” says Dowdell. “We then worked on the arrangements with Chester’s vocal tracks, then we’d write each individual track so we kind of did it backwards … It was really difficult sitting in a room listening to Chester’s voice over and over again. It was hard and it was painful. After a couple of months working on it though, it started becoming cathartic for us and it was really healing. We then started to have fun with it and he was there with us.” Dowdell admits however, that it wasn’t entirely easygoing once the first hurdle had been jumped. “I won’t say we weren’t sharing tears once in a while,” he says candidly. “We’d be in the studio and a certain line would make me start crying. We shared a lot of tears throughout. The process as a whole was healing for us though.”
That’s why you won’t hear any crazy guitar or drum solos on this record. We did this to showcase him. The record is for him. It’s about him. We wanted it to seem like Chester did a solo record and I think we accomplished that.
[ Sean Dowdell ]
Of course, there are reservations about the motivation behind this effort. But with the blessing of his wife Talinda and the further backing of friends and family, they knew this was something the fans would appreciate upon further reflection. Dowdell says of the process: “Some songs we had to record and re-write three or four times because they just weren’t good enough. They were okay, we could’ve just slapped a Band-Aid on it, and then put it out. But that didn’t feel right. We had the weight of the world on our shoulders doing this because each song had to be something that Chester would be proud of and to have put out there. That was a major high standard to work to and we got to a point where we knew his fans would love it, because we knew Chester would’ve loved it.”
Given the impact of COVID-19, the release date of the record had been pushed back further. However, for Dowdell, he entirely understands that the release of the record shouldn’t take priority in such a trying time. “I understand the severity and the depth of what’s happening in the world,” says the drummer. “It would be greedy and self-absorbed. This is not about me. We’ve waited several years for this to happen; we can wait a few months more. The only downside is that people could connect with it in their time of feeling down or lost. It could’ve been something to grab onto and resonate with. As far as the delay personally, it’s fine. No one wants to throw a party in the middle of a hurricane. It gives us a chance to reach more fans and that’s looking at the downside and finding something positive in this. A lot of people say that Chester helped them move away from suicide and suicidal thoughts and that this was a way to reconnect to him. They have such gratitude in their hearts for the things he gave them while he was here and they’re very gracious and very thankful for the moments they got to share with him.”
Dowdell is still very clearly aware of how precious Bennington’s legacy is to those who loved him from the very beginning, or have discovered his music in the past few years. He says of the recording process, and ensuring that Chester is never overshadowed throughout the album: “It was a very conscious effort to not step on his vocals. That’s why you won’t hear any crazy guitar or drum solos on this record. We did this to showcase him. The record is for him. It’s about him. We wanted it to seem like Chester did a solo record and I think we accomplished that.”