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CRAS instructor records historic vocals of Chester Bennington’s before his Linkin Park fame!

January 30, 2020

23 years ago, which feels like a million, I got swirled into an experience which is now resurfacing in the music industry. Here are a few details…

David Knauer, an Audio Engineer, and Instructor at The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, had built a working relationship with a local band, Grey Daze. He had done their first record, and the time was coming to get working on a second. I don’t quite recall the reasoning, but the project was handed to me and Michael Jones. We set up camp at CRAS, and for the next few weeks, we tracked, overdubbed, and mixed the entire record.

As is always the case, we made sure to get the best sounds we could, using the best signal paths available:

Vocals were cut on a U-47, through a Neve 1073 and LA-2A. (Great story about this later!)

Drums were spot mic’d, using EVERY large diaphragm mic in CRAS’ collection: Neumann U89s as overheads, U87 3’ in front of the kick, AKG D112 in the kick, the obligatory Shure SM-57 on the snare (no bottom mic), Oktava MC-012 on HiHat, and, if memory serves, Sennheiser MD421 on the toms. We placed the drums in the “big room” of CRAS’ Studio A, and Sean Dowdell beat the living snot out of his drums, giving all he had.

Bass was all captured direct through a Klark Teknik DI Box. Get this… Mace, the bass player, was having a hard time “getting into it,” during the sessions because he wanted it to “feel” like a live show, where he was most alive. Long story short, we ended up placing him in an iso-booth with 2 wedge monitors, and re-routing the board mix to him... LOUDLY! And he LOVED IT!

Guitars were cut with a single SM-57 dead center of the 12” speaker we were using at the moment. We had access to TONS of guitar amps, but the few that stick out was an Orange (don’t remember which one!), a Mesa Boogie Caliber .22 Preamp, and a slew of Marshalls, one of which a Plexi. The two guitars that come to mind for those sessions are a Goldtop Hamer Double Cutaway, and a white Gibson Les Paul. Bobby Benish was an absolute sweet guy that LOVED experimenting with guitar tones.

Here’s where things get whacky:

If you’re reading this, you probably come from the “DAWs are second nature” camp. You are probably used to whipping open a session on your laptop, having access to a kajillion plug-ins, and automating every component of your mix. Well, this whole project was done on a Neotek Elite console, and cut on a Studer A827. Yup, you read that right… 100% ANALOG.

So, why all of the poetic waxing of days gone by, right? Well, Chester Bennington (of Linkin Park fame) was the singer for Grey Daze. Yeah, we dealt with the teenage version of the Chester you know.

After we finished the Grey Daze record came out, the band gave their all in trying to support it, but we lost track of each other, and our lives went different directions. About a year later, however, I got a phone call from Michael Jones. He said he’d just gotten off the phone with Chester, and that Chester needed a quick favor. I was asked to head down to the studio, get set up for a vocal session, and get some new material recorded for Chester. Although it was a Sunday night, I liked Chester a bunch, so I agreed.

When we met at CRAS, Audio Engineering School I set up a Neumann U87, ran that through a ADL1272 Pre, and lastly our LA-2A. He handed me a cassette. Yup… a CASSETTE. He said “this is a new band that wants to hear MY VOICE on some of their stuff.” I don’t remember the exact words, but it was obvious that this session might be what “gets him the gig.”

I remember laughing at the ridiculousness of taking a stereo mix from a CASSETTE and dedicating it to 2 tracks of the 24 track Studer A827. It was a laughable moment, being that I was taking a consumer format and tossing it onto a PRO device!

The night came and went, and I believe we recorded 3 takes of 2 different songs. After we cut the vocals, we sat at the console, and “comp’d” the vocals together. What is “comping”? Well, check this out: We printed the lyrics. We made 3 columns next to each line. We listened to each take, and marked down which word/line was best from each performance. After we built the roadmap, we fired up the DAT machine (an arachic mixdown recorder… TASCAM, I believe), and started with the vocals muted. As each line was coming up, we’d “open” the track that had the best piece, then mute it and open up the next track… throughout the whole song… on “the fly”… as the mix was being burned. Yup, NO AUTOMATION.

Somehow, we nailed both tunes, I tore the session down, we high-fived, then I locked up the shop.

Sometime later, a friend of mine said she had bumped into an old friend of mine during some gig. She couldn’t remember the guy’s name, but his band was “Hybrid Theory.” I had no clue who she was talking about. Well after that, I saw Chester’s face on a music video, for a band called “Linkin Park,” whose freshman effort was called “Hybrid Theory.” That’s when it hit me. Chester MADE IT. I was THRILLED for him.

With obvious highs and lows in his life, Chester lived “the life.” He followed his DREAM. Although there was no interaction between us, aside from acquaintances passing on “hello’s,” I was always proud.

Many, many, many, years later… I wake up to a cool story. Chester’s legacy with Grey Daze lives on. Seemingly, the remaining members of Grey Daze, Chester’s wife (whom I’ve never met), and many others (I assume) joined forces, and brought new life to old recordings! From what I gather, many of the original vocal tracks were lifted from the original recordings, and the aforementioned crew got busy and built new music around them.

It’s such a mind-blower, knowing that Chester’s old tracks have landed themselves BACK IN THE SPOTLIGHT! I can’t speak of the new project’s process, but I can only assume that there was quite a few minds blown, hearing Chester’s teenage voice coming through in the studio again. Although, I wasn’t there for this newest incarnation, I was there at the root of it all. And I love knowing that that “root” is blossoming now… again.

Here’s something that most don’t know:
When we cut the basic tracks for the Grey Daze record, we recorded a “scratch” vocal, so that the band felt most comfortable with the process. This is no joke, so pay attention… most of the vocals you hear on that record were the “scratch track.” Yes, we did dedicated vocal sessions, but Chester was very sick during the days we had slated for vocals. We started on a Friday night and finished up that Sunday… 2.5 days of grueling vocals… and those vocals never stacked up to the raw power and emotion he gave during the “scratch” takes.

Here’s to you, Chester! Here’s to Grey Daze! I, and CRAS, am happy to have been there at the “near” beginning of your trajectory, and we hope the story continues.

-G
“the Pissed Off Mexican”