A few years before Chester Bennington first screamed his heart out for Linkin Park, he was a scraggly, insecure teenager finding his way in his hometown of Phoenix. Everything changed for him when he wowed Sean Dowdell, a local drummer a couple of years older than him, by singing Pearl Jam’s “Alive” nearly flawlessly in a band audition. “He had this raw talent,” Dowdell recalls of the then–15-year-old Bennington. “He understood the nuances in the music.”
Dowdell invited Bennington to sing for what would become Grey Daze, a grungy hard-rock group that emboldened Bennington as a singer and a young man. “The relationship I had with that band was the first time I felt I had a connection with anybody,” Bennington told Kerrang! in 2008. “I knew those guys would back me up.”
Grey Daze lasted from 1993 until 1998, a year before Bennington joined Linkin Park, and in that time, they self-released two albums — Wake Me (1994) and … No Sun Today (1997) — that showed off the singer’s ability to mine his personal pain and channel it directly into his songs. Rock fans in Phoenix took note; Bennington recalled in 2009 that Grey Daze regularly attracted 1,000 to 2,000 people to their shows every week or so. Dowdell remembers the group selling around 10,000 copies of their albums before they broke up. But with the arrival of Linkin Park — fresh voices in nu metal with songs that propelled the band’s debut album to diamond certification — Dowdell says the band’s label, Warner Bros., wiped the internet clean of any mentions of Grey Daze, because it was a “competing product.”
Now Grey Daze are getting a second chance. In 2016, about a year before Chester Bennington’s death by suicide shocked the world, he reached out to Dowdell and said he wanted to get the band back together for some reunion shows and rethink their music. At the time, he had just stepped away from performing with one of his favorite bands from his youth, Stone Temple Pilots, and was refocusing his attention on Linkin Park. Bennington and Dowdell had remained friends since Grey Daze had broken up and gone into business together with Club Tattoo, a tattoo-and-piercing studio with locations in Arizona and Nevada, and the singer thought they could re-debut the band at an anniversary party.
But first he wanted to go back to Grey Daze’s albums and record new versions of each of the songs. “We were planning on sending the producer out on the road for the sake of time to track [Chester’s] vocals while he was out on the road of the next leg of the [Linkin Park] tour,” Dowdell says. “But obviously that didn’t happen.” After Bennington died in 2017, it took Dowdell some time to mourn the loss, but eventually he decided to complete the project with help from Bennington’s friends.
Amends, a new compilation of songs from both of Grey Daze’s records that will come out on April 10th, features rerecorded music by Dowdell, bassist Mace Beyers, and a longtime friend of Bennington’s, guitarist Cristin Davis. It also features contributions from members of Korn, Helmet, P.O.D., Bennington’s band Dead by Sunrise, and his son Jaime. Executive producer Jay Baumgardner helped make the music sound modern without sacrificing Bennington’s inherent adolescent grit.
“The only thing I said to Sean about the project was, ‘Don’t change Chester’s voice,’” the vocalist’s widow, Talinda, says. “As far as I know, that’s how it is.” Talinda hasn’t been able to bring herself to listen to anything with Chester’s vocals on it since his death, and she says she almost instinctually got out of a car driving 40 miles an hour through Taiwan recently because one of his songs came on.
The decision to return to the project wasn’t easy for Dowdell either. He and Chester had started work on the next chapter of Grey Daze in early 2017, when they picked about four songs to recut and sent Davis into the studio to work on them. Chester made a video message to his fans announcing the project — Talinda remembers him flubbing the script a few times and getting frustrated until speaking with Dowdell calmed him down — and they made a plan to rehearse in July for a September gig. “He was on top of the world,” Dowdell told Rolling Stone that year. Tragically, Chester died by suicide a day or two before he was to reunite with his old bandmates, throwing the project into disarray.
“When he passed, I was distraught as all hell,” Dowdell says now. “I just put the brakes on. I was like, ‘This isn’t going to happen. It’s going to stop.’ And then about seven, eight months went by, and it just kept grating on me. Finally, I woke up one night and told my wife, ‘I’m just going to finish the record, and I’m going to finance it myself, and we’ll just put it out. I don’t need it to be big rock-star crap.’ I’ll just put it out and know that I finished something that he and I started together, and I can get it out of my mind, because it was just grating on me every single day.”
At the time, he would have been happy just to put it on iTunes, press a few thousand CDs, and sleep well at night knowing he’d done well by his friend. But once others got wind of it, they encouraged him to make it something special for Chester’s fans. Rene Mata, a close friend of Chester’s, helped connect Dowdell to Baumgardner; and Korn guitarist Brian Welch, a.k.a. Head, encouraged him to give it a wide release. Dowdell met with several labels and ended up signing with Loma Vista, turning down more lucrative offers at other imprints, because the label head told him he wouldn’t put out something “half-assed” and that it had to be for the right reasons. That was just what Dowdell needed to hear.
Talinda says that giving the project her blessing was easy because she trusts Dowdell implicitly, and she knew what Grey Daze meant to Chester. “He wanted to do Grey Daze again because the music was awesome, he loved it back then, and he was excited to be able to create,” she says. “Doing it now that he had all this experience under his belt — he had accomplished so much and come so far since then — he was excited about it. I can hear him now. He’s like, ‘Fuck yeah!’”
It’s no coincidence that Chester’s desire to reform Grey Daze came on the heels of his departure from another band, Stone Temple Pilots. He had joined the group in 2013 and, Talinda says, spent more and more of his free time with them. When he missed his twin daughters’ third birthday because he was playing a gig, she says the girls “gave him a three-year-old guilt trip.” Between that and a loyalty to STP’s original singer, Scott Weiland, he stepped away from the band in 2015, the same year as Weiland’s death. But even if it was the right thing to do for his family, and he needed to redirect his attention to Linkin Park, which had just begun work on a new LP, the absence of Stone Temple Pilots still felt like a void.
“I think when he left Stone Temple Pilots, that weighed on him a little heavier than people think it did,” Dowdell says. “It felt like it was a rock band that went back to his roots that he really connected with and he liked playing with his friends, and I think he wanted that again. That’s where it all started [with reuniting Grey Daze]. He just wanted something of his own again. He was the frontman; he was the singer. And it was just very ‘core’ rock songs.”
When he suggested reuniting Grey Daze, Dowdell says he was “kind of shocked.” But Chester told him, “I just miss having a band of my own.”
Many of Chester’s favorite Grey Daze songs made it on to Amends: “Sickness,” a dense, midtempo rocker with a new guitar line by Helmet’s Page Hamilton; “She Shines,” a churning heavy number with additional guitar by Korn’s Head; the ballad “Soul Song,” on which Chester now shares the spotlight with son Jaime; and the contemplative “Morei Sky,” which features a new string arrangement. Other tracks on the album show off the singer’s vocal range, including “Just Like Heroin,” a heavy number that allowed him to scream to the rafters, and “B12,” which sounded vaguely like Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” “We used to tease him all the time about that like, ‘OK, Billy Joel,’” the drummer says. “He’d tell us to fuck off. We were really good at giving each other shit. We were a tight band of brothers, and we used to fuck with each other always.”
But as fun as it had been to talk about the songs with Chester, Dowdell found it incredibly hard to hear his voice day in and day out as Grey Daze worked on Amends after the singer’s death. “It was torturous, but it was also healing,” he says. “The first four months were like, ‘Holy crap. This is tough to listen to over and over.’ I thought that I had been thinking about him every day before we started the record, but then when you’re working on it, that’s all you’re thinking about. Then you switch modes and go, ‘I’m doing this for all of the right reasons. It’s going to be special. We’re going to create magic here.’”
Hearing Chester’s voice, though, and some of the dark lyrics that he and Dowdell wrote together, gave him pause. Perhaps because the two artists that Chester and Dowdell admired most at the time of Grey Daze, Alice in Chains and Depeche Mode, often sang about gloomy subject matter, Dowdell didn’t think much about the implications of the lyrics until he was working on Amends. On “Sickness” he sang about “hopeless dreaming” and frustration: “Can you help me feed myself,” Chester sings. And on “Morei Sky,” he sings, “If I had a second chance, I’d make amends, only to find myself losing in the end,” which gave the new record its title.
“I never realized until he passed how dark our lyrics were, and I know that sounds foolish,” Dowdell says. “I just had never thought of it that way. Looking back at it now, a lot of this stuff is really prophetic as to what happened in life. It kind of makes me sad when I think about some of those lyrics that we wrote together.”
The “Morei Sky” lyrics specifically make Dowdell think about Chester’s death by suicide. “Goddamn, that’s so powerful and poignant and relevant to what happened,” he says. “After Chester passed, being a close friend, you carry this amount of guilt, like, ‘What did I miss? What did I not see? How could I have let this happen to my friend? How could I have prevented this?’ You go through these emotional roller coasters. And then you read those lyrics and go, ‘How the fuck did I not see he was in such a dark place?’ It’s one of those things where it sheds a little bit more light onto who he was deep down and the thoughts that went through his mind.”
For different reasons, Talinda similarly found herself reevaluating what she knew about her husband in the months after his death. “Chester was packing for a trip about eight months before he died, and I was helping him pack and I said, ‘Babe, where are your antidepressants?’ And he was like, ‘Oh, I stopped taking those like four months ago,’” she remembers. “I was like, ‘What?’ And I knew because he had gotten out of rehab earlier that year, that it could be deadly for him to stop taking them. I was just, like, thrown to the floor. I was like, ‘He did what?’ But, like, what could I say? I can’t be like, ‘You have to take your antidepressants,’ ’cause that would cause a fight. It just would have been more chaos, and he would have felt shame and gone out to drink anyways. That time in my life plays over again and again in my head.”
Those memories pushed her to look into suicide prevention organizations, which led her to form her own, 320 Changes Direction. With her organization, which will be holding a music festival to raise mental-health awareness in L.A. this spring, she’s working toward creating a three-digit phone number that would provide easier-to-access support for people experiencing suicidal thoughts and their family members. She says she wishes now that she had been aware of some of the organizations already out there that she could have turned to for advice. “Family and friends need help too,” she says, “and it’s out there. If I knew of any of these numbers to call — I now know so many of them off the top of my head — I could have called somebody and asked them for advice or found out what to do.”
Some proceeds from sales of Grey Daze’s Amends will benefit Talinda’s 320 Changes Direction, and Dowdell says other portions of the proceeds have been allocated for Chester’s kids. “Several portions of this are being divided between us for different things,” he says. “We carved a large chunk out of it for Chester’s children, for the trust of the family, so his kids can have something once they get a little older. And several of us are doing different things, we’re donating to different causes.”
If the Grey Daze album gets a good response — and both Dowdell and Talinda, independently of each other, say that they hope Linkin Park fans will be open-minded enough to give the music a chance — Dowdell says there’s enough material for one or two additional Grey Daze releases. “Depending on how this is received — and so far, the music we have put out has been received quite well — I think fans will get a second record out of it,” he says.
Mostly, though, both Dowdell and Talinda hope Chester’s fans appreciate it as something different from the singer. They also know how much he wanted to give this music a chance for all the people who couldn’t hear it in the first place. “For me, this isn’t about selling millions of records,” Dowdell says. “If there’s 50 people out there that can find some kind of musical or emotional connection to what we did and they find it as a positive, great. Chester was very interested in doing this after [his commitments to] Linkin Park. It was really important to me to make sure that the message was out there. And those who choose to listen to the message, great. And if you choose not to, that’s on you then, because we did a good job.”
“It wasn’t a formal way of making an album, the way the other studio albums he made were,” Talinda says. “When you have millions of dollars behind you from massive record labels, you have to perform in a certain way. Grey Daze gave him the freedom to just be him.”