Before Linkin Park’s world tours, diamond-selling albums and legions of adoring fans, there was Grey Daze. The mid-’90s grunge rockers from Phoenix had big dreams, a big sound and a big voice in a long-haired, lanky lead singer named Chester Bennington. Grey Daze was the band with which Bennington cut his rock and roll chops.
Twenty-two years later, Bennington and band co-founder Sean Dowdell, who has since become a tattoo parlor owner, and bassist Mace Beyers talked about their big plans to get the band back together, play an anniversary party in Phoenix and rekindle the grunge-era memories. Once rehearsals started, the band thought of other ways to dig into the project: maybe re-recording and an old album and releasing it. Soon, offers for new shows followed.
While Grey Daze didn’t plan on doing a full tour, the prospect of making the endeavor bigger than a one-off party for friends became more exciting. Guitar parts were re-recorded and the plan was to send Bennington the material so he could re-record his vocals.
After Bennington’s death in July 2017, the scope and direction of the project took a 180-degree turn. Rather than simply a retrospective, the album would be reinvigorated and serve as a tribute to the singer’s early days.
“We wanted to make [the songs] sound new,” said guitarist Cristin Davis, a lifelong friend of Bennington and the other members who joined the band in 2017. “When Grey Daze originally recorded these, they were demos; they paid a couple thousand dollars and went in by themselves and self-produced.”
When the band returned to the studio, it recorded two versions of each. One stayed faithful to the original arrangement and the other added a modern rock styling. The band members didn’t go in with expectations, but as the material developed, they found they preferred the 2020 version of the songs.
“Only ‘Sometimes’ and ‘What’s In The Eye’ kind of stayed pretty close to the original,” Davis said. “[On] all the other ones we used the reimagined versions.”
The stunning part of the recording of Amends is its vocal performance by Chester Bennington. An untrained ear would never know that the vocal takes came from the original recordings. Bennington sounds razor sharp, with a vocal depth beyond his years. In some ways, the Grey Daze material showcases his range in ways that Linkin Park did not.
Tracks like “In Time” features Bennington bouncing between a tender falsetto and pained aggression, while “Just Like Heroin” has the frontman shaking on the ground with a scream that cuts to the depths.
“Thankfully, the guys had the foresight to use a little extra budget on their mics and capture a really good vocal performance,” Davis said. “Chester was between 17 and 21 on those sessions, and it just goes to show how incredible he was—the world got to know him with Linkin Park, but he had been singing like that for years.”
Davis said listening back to the isolated vocals later in life made him truly realize just how unique and special Bennington’s singing was.
“I think all of our egos got in the way, and we all thought we were all as good as Chester was back then,” Davis said. “He really was on another level even way back then.”
When they were teens, Davis never saw Bennington as the rock star he would become. He said they were simply “nerdy kids” with big dreams of one day playing rock and roll on big stages, like many high schoolers.
Original guitarist Bobby Benish passed away in 2004 of cancer, and Davis didn’t join the band until 2017.
“When he sings, you can see it, but when we were walking around school with our backpacks on I didn’t see it,” Davis said. “If I did, I wish I would have been in a band with him a lot sooner.
“I knew he was talented; I got to see him perform on the quad at lunch time, so I knew he could sing,” Davis said. “But he didn’t fit the ‘rock star’ image back then; he had glasses and kind of curly hair, he didn’t look like our heroes did at that time.”
The album’s title, Amends, was Davis’ idea. When the members listened back to the material, they found new meaning in tracks that were written over two decades earlier.
“There’s a couple songs that seem really prophetic, like he could be using it as an apology from the grave,” Davis said. “It’s almost like he wrote his ending at the beginning. It’s haunting to hear the vocals in that context.”
One song in particular, “Morei Sky,” brings that prophetic lyrical intensity: “I’ve lived through things I cannot say/ Back then we dreamt of yesterday/ It seemed as if the only way/ And now we look for hope and pray/ If I had a second chance/ I’d make amends/ Only to find myself/ Losing in the end.”
The song is stunningly powerful and chill-inducing, providing one of the album’s most soul-searching moments.
Davis said one of the most fulfilling parts of the Grey Daze project is creating an avenue for Linking Park fans to learn more about their hero from an era they probably don’t know much about.
“It’s like the origin story,” Davis said, laughing.
Davis enjoys the opportunity to tell these stories in part because the Bennington he knew never changed from the nerdy kid he walked around with at school.
“I always joke around and say that I’ve never met Chester from Linkin Park,” Davis said. “He was no different to me than he was back when we were in high school; he was always just this sweetheart that I knew from back in the day.”
Davis said Grey Daze looked to contemporaries and influences to contribute. The album features Korn’s James “Munky” Shaffer, Helmet’s Page Hamilton, Marcos Curiel of P.O.D., as well as a duet with Bennington’s son Jaime, on “Soul Song.” Jaime Bennington directed and appears in the song’s video. There’s already talk for a future record, and the band would like to work with Jerry Cantrell and Depeche Mode.
Grey Daze currently has no plans to tour because the members don’t know how to pull that off in a way that honors Bennington.
“Everything that we do has to be done in a very delicate manner because we don’t want to disrespect the legacy of Chester; he’s not a replaceable person,” Davis said. “In order to play live, it would have to be the right setting, the right circumstance, the right way to do it.”
The band has discussed inviting guests from famous bands to sing in a tribute setting, as well as playing along yo recorded vocals with videos montages playing in the background. Queen has tried that with Freddie Mercury before, to mixed effects. The band won’t ever permanently replace Bennington, however.
The members have handled each step of the process slowly and carefully, evening going to Bennington’s widow, Talinda Bennington, to get her blessing.
Some of the money raised from the album will go toward Talinda Bennington’s 320 Changes Direction charity. It’s a source of personal pride for Davis, who takes issue with anyone who thinks the project is about money.
“We didn’t want this to seem like we were just trying to make some money because we have this music,” Davis said. “We started this with Chester, we were doing this with Chester, we’re doing this for Chester, and it was really Chester’s idea to get this thing back … just a rock band with his buddies from back in the day.”
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.