Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chester's Interview with INKED Magazine

Credit: Rebecca Swanner (writer), Travis Shinn (photographer)

There’s a strip mall in Tempe, AZ, the desert suburb just outside of Phoenix. Actually, there are a lot of strip malls. But this particular strip mall is home to the original Club Tattoo, a shop opened in 1995. When Linkin Park and Dead by Sunrise vocalist Chester Bennington enters the shop on a bright, blazing hot August afternoon, he seems infinitely less intense offstage than he does when his voice is barreling into the microphone. He is dressed in blue jeans, camouflaged slip-on sneakers, and a white T-shirt that shows off his tattoos. The 33-year-old singer seems at home in the shop, and he should be. This is where Bennington got his first tattoo, 15 years ago, long before Linkin Park. Now, 45 million albums later, he and longtime friends Sean and Thora Dowdell own this shop and four others throughout the States, including a swank new location at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

Parked in the back office, Bennington points to the large koi fish on his left biceps. “This was my first when I was 18. There was a girl named Jodi [Wendt] who I thought was super fucking hot who worked here. I wanted her to give me my first tattoo so she would be forced to lean over me for five hours. I wanted a Pisces symbol, and it turned out to be this thing with these weird fish and these stupid faces. But it’s my first tattoo and it has sentimental meaning.”

Despite the ear-shattering guitars and guttural screams, Bennington can be sentimental. Just not for Arizona. The singer grew up on the west side of Phoenix, in an area he describes as “just suburbia.” But he wasn’t happy. “I hated being in Arizona growing up. Between the abuse as a kid [at the hands of an older male “friend”] and my parents getting divorced and getting into drugs, there were—with the exception of music—no real good memories here. I couldn’t wait to get out.”

A tour of the area where Bennington grew up is about what you would expect from a future rock star. He spent his days manning the grill at the local Burger King, skateboarding with friends, and fronting his first band—the grunge rock group Grey Daze—alongside Sean Dowdell. He also did a lot of drugs. At the time, Bennington was addicted to crystal meth, among other things.

“Cocaine was never really my favorite. I’ve done a lot of it [laughs] but it wasn’t my drug of choice. I’d be like, ‘Oh, okay, you have coke. I guess I’ll do that. Anything else? No? All right, then.’ Cocaine’s high wasn’t really the best. … I love to do things that make you feel really good, like ecstasy and acid and mushrooms. But you can’t do those every day because they don’t work every day. Things that do are alcohol, marijuana, and speed. Those usually work all the time.”

By the time he was 18, Bennington had overcome his addiction to crystal meth and other hard drugs by quenching that thirst with alcohol and pot. He met his first wife, Samantha Olit, while working at the fast food chain. The two were married on Halloween 1996 when Bennington was just 20, and because money was tight he had his wedding band tattooed onto his ring finger. In 1999, the singer auditioned and was accepted into Linkin Park as their second vocalist. He relocated his wife and their first child to southern California and didn’t look back. Linkin Park’s debut album, Hybrid Theory, was released in 2000 to explosive success and by 2001 had already sold nearly 5 million copies. Bennington appeared antidrug during this time, denouncing drug use in interviews and singing “Breaking the Habit,” a song Linkin Park’s other vocalist, Mike Shinoda, wrote for the band.

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