Linkin Park has to be the best little rock band that could.
A few years ago, the Southern California-based quintet invited the presidents of several major record companies – including then-Arista chief Clive Davis – for a showcase. It was a disaster, says guitarist Brad Delson, and proof that they weren’t ready for prime time.
“All these huge people had flown out to see us, and this was before we had the current lineup,” Delson said recently. “It was probably our worst show ever. We went from being like the golden children of rock to almost a pariah – ‘Oh, yeah, I saw them. They didn’t have a good show.’
“We addressed what we could, and we’ve grown a lot in the last few years to the point where when we did get signed with a great label and were given an opportunity go into an amazing studio with an amazing producer and engineer, we had our shit together.”
Their streetwise hard-rock machine, with elements of hip-hop and electronic music weaved in, was so well-oiled, they landed a deal with Warner Brothers. The label is so high on the young band, it shipped 150,000 copies of its debut album, “Hybrid Theory,” to stores Oct. 24. The first single, “One Step Closer,” is already climbing Billboard’s mainstream rock and modern rock tracks charts.
Not bad for a group that was born out of high school rock ‘n’ roll dreams.
Delson and emcee/vocalist Mike Shinoda were friends who hooked up with classmate Rob Bourdon (drums). Shinoda met DJ/sampler Joseph Hahn while both were attending Pasadena Art Center, and Chester Bennington, a native of Arizona, eventually replaced the original singer.
“It was a long time ago,” Delson said. “We had done showcases in the past with a somewhat different lineup. Even with Chester, before we had all the songs in place, we played for a lot of labels and they didn’t see it. They didn’t get it. They didn’t see the potential for what we were going to do.
“It’s something all bands go through, I guess. We’ve been through an awful lot together, and we’ve stayed friends the whole way. Of course, every band has its different personalities and different ways of doing things, but we’re proof that if you stick together, you can overcome the obstacles and actually come out on top.”
Not until the new-and-improved Linkin Park’s first show at the famed Whisky A Go-Go in Los Angeles did the band members know they were on to something big. Sitting in the audience was music publisher Jeff Blue. He was so impressed with the band’s diversified sound, he offered them a small development deal.
“We basically entrusted him to work with us and eventually shop us to record companies,” Delson said. “We spent a couple of years really growing before we were ready to come to a major label. The funny twist is, Jeff wound up coming to Warner Brothers as well. He’s now their VP of A&R. We made the album with him as executive producer and producer Don Gilmore (Eve 6, Pearl Jam, Lit). Jeff really saw the record through to fruition.
“Jeff was the last piece to our puzzle. We just snuck through the back door. It’s really cool to have worked with people who really believed in us, not because there was a huge hype around us. They saw our creative potential, and they were willing to help us accomplish our goals.”
After signing with Warner, the group and its management immediately went to work on forming a well-connected street team of fans to spread the Linkin Park word across the country.
“We run it online,” Delson said, “and it consists of about a thousand kids, and we basically communicate with them directly. We respond to every single e-mail on a daily basis.
“It’s something that we’ve kind of like literally started from kid one and grown. These listeners really have almost an equity in our project, in seeing it grow, and really feeling like they’re a part of what we’re doing, because at the end of the day, they are.”
Because Linkin Park is all over the musical map, with influences ranging from Aphex Twin to The Roots, their broad appeal will go a long way.
“Right now, it’s great to be a cool band, not that we’re in any competition with the superstars,” Delson said, “but we’ll be in the record store next to Limp Bizkit but also next to the Deftones and A Perfect Circle and Nine Inch Nails. Those are bands we want to match up to. You really have to be on top of your game to be taken seriously as an artist.
“Our thing is, since our music is such a hybrid of different styles, incorporating things like hip-hop and electronic music, we want to be able to play with as many different groups as possible. You can put us with the Disturbed; they’re more of an alternative metal band. Or you could put us with Fuel, which is more straightforward rock. We were just on tour with the Kottonmouth Kings, and they’re hip-hop. We come on and no one turns their head. That says a lot.”
All this is exactly what Delson daydreamed about in high school.
“People laugh at me when I say this,” he said, “but my goal was – as a musician – to play a show at our local club, the Roxy, in L.A. in high school for my friends. I did it. Now I say this, and it may sound like bullshit, everything that’s happened from that point on is all gravy. We’re really proud of the music we’ve made, and for everyone that gets to hear it, that’s more love for us. We’re totally happy.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “Depeche Mode’s ‘Music For the Masses.’ The reason I had that at such a young age – I’m 22 now, so I was 6 when I got that – was because we used to have these European au pairs for me and my two brothers. They were totally obsessed with all the new wave stuff going on, so at a bizarrely young age I was into Duran Duran and Depeche Mode. My parents didn’t really know what I was listening to until they heard the Depeche Mode tape and they said, ‘Hey, this might be a little mature for you.’ ”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “I went with my parents to see the Beach Boys and Chicago at the Hollywood Bowl. I remember there being a lot of drunk thirtysomethings, and someone spilled beer on my mom. It wasn’t the most positive experience. The first concert I chose to go to was back when I was a little heavy metal kid at age 12. My dad took me and my friend to see Love/Hate, Stryper and Dio.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “The new Taproot CD, ‘Gift.’ That’s really cool.”
BWF (before we forget): “Hybrid Theory” sold more than 40,000 copies in its first week, giving it a phenomenal No. 16 debut on Billboard’s pop chart last week. … Take a stroll with Linkin Park on the Web @ www.linkinpark.com.