GREY DAZE Interview: Catharsis by Creation
Sean Dowdell discusses Amends...Stripped, healing, and Chester Bennington
Breathing new life into the familiar and iconic voice of Chester Bennington, Grey Daze has been working hard to re-release music to old and new fans alike. This emotional journey has been healing for many throughout the process of not only creating it, but releasing it to the masses of fans affected by Bennington’s untimely death. The acoustic versions of some of the songs from Amends have enriched this process and brought Chester’s vocals front and center.
Grey Daze got their start in the early 90’s in Phoenix, Arizona with Sean Dowdell on drums, Jason Barnes on guitar, Jonathan Krause on bass, and Bennington on vocals. There were a few musician changes along the way, but Bennington and Dowdell remained dedicated. Bobby Benish (guitar) and Mace Beyers (bass) were brought on the last few years of early Grey Daze. They are no strangers to pain, as they have gone through a break-up in 1998, had their music and albums taken out of existence, lost their guitar player Bobby Benish to a brain tumor in 2013, then Chester Bennington to depression in 2017. With all of these significant changes, Grey Daze have made a comeback to re-create what they did so long ago and bring it to a more modern light. Bringing back Beyers, Dowdell also added Cristin Davis, who was a longtime friend of Chester to release Amends, in June of 2020. Amends… Stripped was just released on January 29, 2021.
Sean Dowdell was kind enough to sit down with Metal Nation and talk about the release of Stripped, healing, and Chester Bennington. Chester chester
First of all, I will need to apologize, because I am very emotional. These last few days of doing research has brought up many memories of a friend I lost a few years ago, which I had not expected, so I have been dealing with many emotions, but it has been cathartic.
“I’m sorry about your friend. It feels good to think of good people though doesn’t it?”
Yes, and I think over the years you lose that closeness with them, and this week I have felt him much closer again. Thank you for that.
“You’re welcome. In the beginning it was a lot of tears for me too. Now I love to talk about him, so for me it is a continual healing every time I get to talk about him, it is a little bit more and a little bit more. I can understand where you are coming from and the emotions you are feeling.”
Well I am glad to hear that. This album really pulls Chester’s vocals out even more than I feel Amends did. It is a beautiful and emotional album.
“Thank you so much. Thank you. That’s great to hear.”
Why did you choose these five songs?
“First and foremost we had acoustic versions of those tracks so it kind of chose itself *laughs*. When they wanted us to create some extra tracks for their resale partners when we were recording Amends, Tom came to me and said, ‘Look, in order for us to do distribution cells with Target, Walmart, and for Japanese release, we need to have one bonus track per per thing, do you have anything? What do you think?’ So I said, ‘Well, we have these old acoustic versions of these songs, what do you think?’ So I played them for him and he said, ‘Those are beautiful, let’s go re-record them.’ So we went in and re-recorded ‘Sometimes,’ ‘Soul Song,’ and ‘What’s in the Eye’ acoustically. We worked with Billy Bush on it, in East West Studios right after we did the Amends record. Once we put them out, Tom and I and Ryan Wooley were talking one day and they said, ‘You know, these songs are really special, we should do a whole album like this.’ I said, ‘Uh, we don’t have a whole album of acoustic version songs, but we have five or six.’ Then Ryan said, ‘Let’s do an EP.’ They put us back in the studio again with Billy and another producer named Esjay Jones and we did, ‘Shouting Out’. As we were going through the material, we found this really unique performance we had. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the multi-tracks for it, we just had a two track version of when we were recording a version back in 1997. I jumped on a grand piano and played a version of ‘The Syndrome’ with Chester sitting next to me on the bench and Bobby Benish picked up guitars and we ran through it a couple of times and we recorded it down to two track, and it is just a really cool rendition of ‘They Syndrome’ done acoustically. The tempo is really different. Its not perfect, you hear some tuning issues and Chester is not in perfect pitch throughout the whole thing and there is no layering of vocals, it is literally just us in a room, but it was really just a special performance they we decided to include on the Stripped album, and it gave us an opportunity to pay homage to Bobby as well, because Bobby is no longer with us. He died of a brain tumor in 2003. It gave us an opportunity to do something special for him and, in my opinion, keep something really unique and in tact of the original band.”
I think that is great though. You don’t get that very often anymore with all the production that goes into albums. I like the organic rawness and how it is wonderfully flawed.
“Thank you. When I think back to some of our influences, like those old MTV Unplugged videos they used to do, you had Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, I think Alice in Chains did the best unplugged ever, and Nirvana did a really special one too. You think back to those old recordings and one of the things that sticks out to me as a musician and an engineer, was the few parts where Kurt Cobain goes to sing the chorus and there is this crazy feedback that comes through the microphone, but it’s there in perpetuity, it’s never going away, they can’t remix it that way, it is literally on his microphone, and it is an imperfect perfect thing.”
Yeah I remember on the Alice in Chains one where Layne messes up the lyrics and they had to restart the song. *laughs*
“I don’t remember that, I will have to go back and watch it.”
Another incredible lyricist and vocalist gone too soon.
“Yeah, he was amazing. That band, specifically Alice in Chains in the grunge era, was an enormous influence for Grey Daze.”
You can definitely hear that, even though Amends has been modernized. I like how you have gone through and pulled out musicians from that era for the Amends album, even though Korn was not grunge, they were still part of that timeline.
Unfortunately, your old recordings were taken down by Warner Bros due to Chester’s obligations with Linkin Park. Has it been a breath of fresh air being able to re-release these songs?
“Oh without a doubt. I fucking hated Warner Bros. for a long time. They manipulated him into doing something he didn’t want to do, and they convinced him it was the right thing to do with the bullshit reasons they had at the time. I was very pissed off at Warner Bros. when they did that, they basically erased the history of the band and marginalized us into some crappy local band, and that’s not what we were. We had a deal with Warner Bros. when we broke up, which is crazy! They had their golden ticket with Linkin Park and they didn’t want anything to mess that up. Every time Chester tried to put Grey Daze back together, they would manipulate it into a situation where it would end up making it not able to happen until Chester finally had it. He called me in 2016 and wanted to put the band back together and said, ‘I’m done listening to them. I’m over it.’”
Good for him. I’m sorry it didn’t end up coming to the full circle you wanted it to. It is almost like taking away your firstborn child.
“Yeah, and they clouded him with things that were irrelevant in my opinion, they saw as a competitive thing to Linkin Park and they didn’t want, in my eyes, to tarnish the Linkin Park money machine for them, and I understand it from the business side of things, but it bummed me out when it happened. Although, if that had not happened, we wouldn’t be doing this or putting out this music in this format because it would’ve already been out there in it’s old format for so long but it was erased for so long many people didn’t know about it.”
That’s true. Sometimes things happen for a reason even though they’re painful at the moment.
So originally I had gone into my research for this interview planning on not asking many questions about Chester which I realize now was a very ignorant thought because this album is 100% re-created for him.
“*laughs* Yeah it’s about him. *laughs*”
Exactly. *laughs* I thought, ‘He has probably been pestered so much with these questions about Chester that I am going to try to go away from that and just focus more on the music.’ After about five minutes of research I realized how ignorant I had been. *laughs* I did notice in interviews, you always use the saying, ‘Was tragically taken from us’, when referring to Chester’s passing. I think this is a wonderful way of stating it because it shows the depths of depression and gives it a separate entity so people can maybe further understand how depression works. Is this stated this way consciously or subconsciously?
“I do consciously word it that way because I feel that way. I think when you hear somebody committed suicide it implies that a rational person made a rational decision based on reason and that’s not what happened here. Chester was a very intelligent human being that got so low in one moment that he could not rationally pull himself out of it and made a very poor choice. I don’t take away the ownership of his choice or his responsibility for his decision, however, I don’t think it was a rational human at the moment that made that choice. If he had had any semblance of his family and the people that loved him at that moment he would’ve snapped out of that decision and would have been yesterday’s news, but that’s what depression does to you. It puts you in a moment of despair thinking that you can’t pull yourself away from it and you’re not thinking rationally about your children or your family or anything like that. That’s what it does, and that’s why I say depression is something that took him out of this world.”
I couldn’t agree more. It is a very dark and lonely feeling that you think is just never going to get better, when in reality taking a nap, or getting a good night sleep can be a whole new day. But in that moment it can be a very scary feeling. I feel like Amends coming out last year and Stripped coming out this year are really important albums to come out during these tough times for so many reasons. People need to understand that these difficult feelings are all temporary.
“Thank you. I think that is all by coincidence, it sounds beautifully designed the way you say it, like we were some brilliant operators that saw the need and could feel the need, but it wasn’t quite like that. We started doing this and the time just happened, sucks the way the world is the way it is right now, but maybe a bright side in a dark world. We are happy to bring it to light, and give fans a chance to hear Chester differently than they had heard him before and maybe fall in love with the lyrics of these songs in a different way than they have his past catalog of songs.”
I do think it happened when it was supposed to happen. I know it’s been a lot of years of much pain and anger in many different ways, and I’m sure it was frustrating along the way… Understatement right?
*laughs*“Yeah that’s understated. I do want to touch on one thing you said before though. On the depression side of things I think there’s two aspects; there is the emotional side of it and then there is a physiological side of it. For what it’s worth my opinion, it does not mean it’s true, it’s what I think happened in Chester’s situation. He was on anti-depression medication for a long time, and had stopped taking it. I think that played into what happened, eventually. I think that physiological impact it had on his mind and body definitely became overwhelming for him in that moment and affected his emotional state and his mental state at the same time. I believe the physiological aspects of it just as important as the emotional side.”
Absolutely. It’s extremely dangerous to quit taking psychotropics without weaning off of them or talking to your doctor about a safe way of getting off of them. I 100% percent agree. They are attached with helping to balance chemicals out and you don’t know whether you are capable of balancing yourself out or not until something like that happens and it is not like you can just pull yourself out of that depressive state at that point.
“I agree. Can I ask you, since you have listened to it all, what’s your favorite song on the new EP?”
“Soul Song”. I have probably changed my mind 30 different times, but “Soul Song” I get the strongest emotional reaction from.
“That’s awesome to hear. I’m glad you can connect with it like that.”
Along that same question, which one are you the most proud of? And which one do you think Chester would be the most proud of?
“*Takes a deep breath* Oh man, the first one is easy. ‘Sometimes’ off the acoustic record Stripped, speaks to me in a way that it never spoke to me before. There is something really special about the strained section underneath his voice the very last part of the song that gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. ‘Soul Song’ was my favorite song on Amends, so I am probably biased about that version, and I also don’t want to pick the same song on both records. That’s a weird little character flaw I have I guess. *laughs* Also the acoustic version of ‘The Syndrome’, just remembering what it was like to record with Chester and Bobby at the same time, and they are both gone now. That song holds a special place in my heart, but if I have to pick one, it’s ‘Sometimes’. For Chester, that is a tough question because I am not in his mind. I think he would appreciate, ‘Shouting Out’, because it was one of his favorite songs that he wrote the lyrics a hundred percent on and it feels like a bit of an apology from beyond. There are a couple of songs we do that do that, but I just feel like that song maybe might speak to him a little bit louder than everything else at the moment.”
I like how you worded that. “Sometimes” is such a beautiful song, it has a beautiful light to it.
“Yeah *laughs* It does show a moment of hope than the usual Grey Daze darkness, talking about deep sadness in a lot of our lyrics, and we talk about a lot of pain and stuff like that, but ‘Sometimes’ gives you a little ray of light. That is one thing I like about the message of that song.”
Yeah it’s something we need right now. It’s important to find a comfort in those lyrics where you feel like someone understands you and that is what is so magical about music right? You feel understood when no one else gets it. Being able to have that message of hope, especially through Chester’s voice, is pretty amazing.
“Thank you. Chester had that ability to connect with the listener. People felt like they knew him that never met him, through his music. He was able to connect emotionally with so many people because he was able to express exactly how they felt and maybe they weren’t even able to describe it to themselves what those emotions were, but as soon as they heard him speak or sing about the way he was feeling, the could immediately identify with the message and what they were going through.”
Yes, and for a long time music didn’t really do that, it was more surface and facetious type things.
“Yeah it was sex, drugs, and rock and roll! *laughs* It was, how arrogant can we be and how over the top. That is actually one of the things I am most proud of with these records and what we are doing with the music. I think we are giving people the reminder that the emotional rollercoaster that music can provide is very important. To me, and some people may say I don’t know what I am talking about, or call me an idiot, but the emotional integrity has been lost in the more recent music and this gives us a chance, and the listeners a chance to maybe identify with an emotional insight into the music.”
Yeah it is important because it is reality. Sometimes music is good for an escape, but, let’s be honest, the majority of the time that we really really need it is when times are tough. Those are the times you want to have that connection.
“For sure. And when you think about some of the more lonely and painful moments in life you can almost always attach a person, a place, a song, or a smell to those things. Those are timelines of photos of your memory of those experiences. As a child I can remember some really painful moments that I can instantly feel again and brings me right back to those moments when I hear a song. To my point, you heard our music and it brought you to the unfortunate loss of your friend and hopefully brought back some good memories, not bad ones.”
All good. It has been a very cathartic week and I believe this all happened when it did for me for a reason.
“That is awesome to hear. Thank you very much.”
Thank you very much for putting this music out here and giving me my friend back.
“Oh. That’s awesome to hear it that way. Thank you for sharing that.”
I know you still have some songs from Grey Daze in the pocket for possibly future releases, is that something you are planning on doing?
“Yeah! We wrote the new album for the past 8 months, we just finished the writing about two weeks ago and now we are setting up to go into the studio in April and knock out the next record.”
Awesome! So are you planning on bringing other musicians in like you did on Amends?
“There are a few things I would like to try to do for Chester. There are a few people he would have really loved to play with had he been alive, and didn’t get a chance. I am reaching out to a few of those people and maybe they will, maybe they won’t. We will see. There is about five people that we are hoping want to play with us and play with him, we will see what happens.”
One more thing I wanted to touch on, as I watched the making of Amends documentary. Everyone talked about the energy that was felt while you were recreating this music and listening to Chester’s vocals, what was that experience like? I know that feeling of the energy of someone you love who has passed, so I was very interested in that.
“It was cathartic and very healing. It was hard in the beginning, it brought back a lot of stuff, just like you were speaking to at the beginning of our conversation about your friend, it was very similar. Then as time went on, it became very healing, and became fun eventually. It felt like we were doing something special. You know that feeling when you are involved in something great and special, it became that. You started to realize the magnitude of what we were doing. You started to feel less important about yourself and more interested in the greater good of what we were trying to accomplish. That’s when the lightbulb went on for me of how special everything was that we were trying to complete.”
Trying to explain what that feels like to someone who has maybe not experienced a significant death or doesn’t have that same type of belief or reaction when it comes to losing someone close, how do you explain that presence and that energy?
“I am a firm believer in the beyond and souls living on, so for me it was easy to digest when I felt his presence or when I got those unexplainable feelings of love or compassion that would come over us at certain moments. I am a firm believer that it is him coming through from the other side. So that was easy for me to digest, I can’t speak for everyone else. I think Cristin and Mace feel the same way. I know his mother and father do, they felt very touched and felt his presence when they were able to hear the music and hear what we had done. That is the best way I can describe that.”
I agree, it is just a feeling and when it comes you say, ‘Oh hi, you are here, I can feel you.’
“Yeah, they come through in different ways. People who don’t believe it, you can’t argue with a wall. If that is their belief, so be it, it is not my place to argue that. If you think that way, it is easy to digest, and if not, you are constantly wondering what things are or why they happen and for me I just think it is a way for them to reach out and touch you on the shoulder every once in a while.”
Last question, if Chester was here right now, what would you say to him?
“How the hell have you been dude? Where the hell have you been? I would give him a big hug and probably have some playful words and wrestle around a little bit. Just tell him that I love him and I miss him.”