When Chester Bennington died in 2017, he left behind a slew of broken hearts, unrealized dreams and half-finished projects.
Sean Dowdell knows each very well.
Dowdell and Bennington were in the Valley band Grey Daze together before the singer joined Linkin Park. Prior to Bennington’s death, he announced via social media that he and his Grey Daze bandmates were reforming, taking a select number of songs from their independently released, mid-’90s albums and re-recording them in a proper format. That never came to pass.
For the last two years, Dowdell (drums and backing vocals), Mace Beyers (bass), Cristin Davis (guitar) and a group of Bennington’s friends worked on fulfilling that dream to finish the work titled “Amends,” which is due out April 10.
They used Bennington’s original vocal tracks with re-recorded music, modernizing the music and bringing it to a level they feel Bennington would be proud of.
Never coming home
Dowdell spoke to Bennington two days before he died by suicide. Bennington traveled to Los Angeles and he never made it back to Phoenix to start Grey Daze rehearsals.
After a six- to eight-month mourning period, Dowdell started working on the project again. He says it was an emotional process, but one that was necessary. Dowdell says the project “gnawed” at him every day, with a voice telling him he had to finish it.
“I woke up one day and told my wife, ‘Look, I’m just going to finish the record,’” recalls Dowdell, a partner in Bennington’s Club Tattoo. “I wasn’t trying to get a record deal or anything like that. I’d just pay for it. I am a successful entrepreneur. I figured we’d get this thing done and put it out there.
“Completing it was a personal mission. It was a friendship mission and it was a musical mission. Once I set my mind to that, I was going to complete it. I pretty much set aside a chunk of money and said, ‘We’re going to get this thing done and I don’t care who stands in the way.”
Listening to Bennington’s voice over and over was painful, Dowdell says. But after about three months, it proved to be healing.
“I started to have this understanding of my friend, even on a much deeper level, even though he and I wrote the lyrics together and I knew these lyrics for 20 years,” Dowdell says.
“It just came to a deeper understanding, listening to it over and over and over again. I understood that Chester had some dark pain. I had to come to terms with that all over again and I understood it a little bit better. Once I did that, I started enjoying the process of working on this and finishing it.
“I almost felt guilty, like I shouldn’t be enjoying this. Then I thought, ‘Wait a minute. Of course he would want me to enjoy this. I’m still working with him. He just happens to not be standing here.’”
Dowdell says he felt Bennington’s presence as he finished the record.
“There were certain times where I felt him almost pushing me like, ‘Oh, do it this way.’ My wife is very spiritual, and she would get messages. She kept telling me, ‘Chester is trying to tell you that he needs you to be patient.’ We were very, very patient and we did it the right way.”
The music has a plethora of special guests. On the starkly poignant “Soul Song,” Bennington’s son Jaime joins him on vocals for the first time along with Bush guitarist Chris Traynor. Meanwhile, a twin guitar collaboration with Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Shaffer of Korn gives “B12” a push-and-pull drive.”
The album title comes from the piano-driven “Morei Sky.”
“That song embodied the entire mood and emotion of the project,” he says. “I think it’s a way for closure. He’s not with us, but we can put this music out there for his fans to hear.”
Dowdell could have released the unfinished Grey Daze music as it was, but it didn’t feel right. The songs were recorded without proper production. Bennington’s voice needed to be perfected just the way he would have recorded an album today.
“The goal was to make this music to where it sounded modern and relevant in today’s environment,” Dowdell says. “I needed to keep his original vocal integrity and emotional intensity there.”
Bennington was amazed by the fans who had Grey Daze memorabilia, Dowdell says. He recalls Bennington phoning from Germany after seeing 10 fans with Grey Daze T-shirts, hats and posters.
“He’s like, ‘Where do these people get this stuff?’” Dowdell recalls with a laugh. “‘I’m seeing pirated shirts in Russia and they’re showing up with old CDs.’
“People really didn’t get to hear the music after Linkin Park exploded. That was bittersweet because we had worked so hard. We had a couple of record deals and we were drawing huge, sellout crowds. The band should have gone to that next level and we just imploded. We got in a big fight and broke up. The rest is history.
“He went on to Linkin Park fame and they crushed it. I’m super proud of him for what he did there.”
But Bennington called Dowdell in 2016 wanting to reform Grey Daze for the Club Tattoo anniversary party in the fall of 2017. He suggested rerecording the music when he had time.
“One of the things he said on the phone was, ‘I just miss having a rock band that’s my own. Where it’s mine. I miss playing with you and hanging out with you.’ As we got older, we had kids and we weren’t able to hang out as much as we used to. But we’re the closest of friends.”
Dowdell recalls pranks he and Bennington would pull on each other, thanks to their “stupid sense of humor.”
“We love to mess with each other,” he says. “I would send him a big Sasquatch statue for Christmas and put it in his yard. We lived in nice neighborhoods and the neighbors were like, ‘What?’ We would mess with each other like that.
“We had that type of loving relationship. I’d send him this gigantic crate and he would think it was something awesome. Instead, it was a statue of a naked chimpanzee holding a Budweiser with a cowboy hat. He was truly like my little brother.”
Dowdell admits he’s getting “crazy offers” to bring Grey Daze to the stage. But he’s said no to all of them.
“The only way we would play live—and we’ve discussed this internally—is if we had a guest vocalist who would come and sing in true Chester fashion,” Dowdell says.
“That’s the only way we would consider doing it. They would have to be in a respectful way that included Chester throughout the entire process.”
That’s been the mantra of the Grey Daze project.
“There’s an immense sense of responsibility of doing this right and not being exploitative and making sure that everything we do has the intention of keeping it true to the form of what we would have done had he been sitting right next to me,” he says.
“I get a lot of questions like, ‘Are you guys giving this money to charity?’ We made sure and carved out a large portion of everything for Chester’s children in perpetuity so his kids will be taken care of long term.”
Other monies will go to 320 Changes Direction, the charity run by Bennington’s widow, Talinda Bennington-Friedman.
A Queen Creek resident, Dowdell says he’s ready for the major amount of attention this album will generate.
“It’s not going to change who I am, especially because I get to make it all about him and not me,” he says. “It’s not about my ego. The 20-year-old version of me would have focused on me, me, me. Now the 46-year-old version is focusing just on my friend who passed.
“Now it’s a gift I get to give to his fans and people who want to listen to him. If they find there’s some talent in the rest of the band, great. That’s fine.”