Fifteen years ago this week, the sound of American rock was changed forever when Linkin Park released their debut album ‘Hybrid Theory’, to instant commercial success. The band had endured name changes, member swaps and label purgatory prior to its October 2000 release, but the obstacles they hurdled help shape what would become a game-changing release. To celebrate its 15th Birthday, NME has delved deep into the history of ‘Hybrid Theory’ to present the full story behind one of the noughties’ most influential albums.
Band mastermind Mike Shinoda revealed to Radio 1 last week that large swathes of material were written in his parent’s home, but that the group were still hunting for a record deal in the year prior to ‘Hybrid Theory’’s release. Their nine-track demo was rejected by numerous labels, despite the arrival of inspirational new singer, Chester Bennington. Ultimately, seven of those original demo tracks would make it onto ‘Hybrid Theory’, including future singles ‘Points of Authority’ and ‘By Myself’.
Key single ‘In The End’ was formulated when Shinoda locked himself in the band’s windowless rehearsal studio for over 24 hours in order to come up with a new song. He later suggested that the area surrounding the studio – on LA’s Hollywood and Vine, amid “prostitutes, pimps and cheap Mexican restaurants” – shaped the album’s heavy sound.
THE STUDIO SESSIONS
Initially Linkin Park struggled to find a producer to work with the record. Eventually their new Warners A&R man Jeff Blue persuaded Don Gilmore – who would go on to produce records for Duran Duran and Good Charlotte – to take a chance on the unknown band.
During the fast-paced sessions, lasting just four weeks, Shinoda’s rap verses were almost entirely re-written. Bennington was also persuaded to develop a new, harsher singing style, cementing Linkin Park’s distinctive dual vocal attack. Following the departure of previous session players, lead guitarist Brad Delson also played bass on most of the record.
‘Hybrid Theory’ spawned several successful singles, none more impactful than the dramatic ‘Crawling’. Penned by Bennington, it reflects on his time addicted to hard drugs including cocaine and crystal meth, as well as the sexual abuse he suffered as a child. The song went on to win a Grammy for Best Hard Rock performance in 2002.
The fiery ‘One Step Closer’ was written in direct response to the band’s label when Shinoda felt that they “tried to get me kicked out of the band”. He noted in a 2015 interview that the betrayal brought the group “closer together” and they penned the song in response, with Bennington’s famous “Shut up when I’m talking to you!” line being a direct message for the meddling label.
‘Points of Authority’ also showcased ‘Hybrid Theory’s ability to marry electronic aspects with a harder, metal sound. Drummer Rob Bourdon described the unorthodox process behind the song’s conception: “Brad wrote this riff, then went home. Mike decided to cut it up into different pieces and rearranged them on the computer. Brad had to learn his own part from the computer.”
Having worked previously as a graphic designer, Shinoda took it upon himself to generate the artwork for ‘Hybrid Theory’. Using Linkin Park’s musical sound as a signpost, Shinoda illustrated the image of a spray-painted soldier tipped with dragonfly wings. Scattered on the wall behind the soldier are various lyrics from the album. “The idea of bringing heavy elements and some softer elements of music together was represented through the visual art of this album,” noted Bennington in 2003.
‘Hybrid Theory’ was an instant success on its release on October 24 2000. In the first week, it shifted 50,000 copies in the United States alone and was certified gold after only five weeks. The album stayed in the Billboard 200 for 105 consecutive weeks, becoming the best-selling album of 2001. It also reached the Top 10 in the UK, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Finland and Switzerland and was nominated for three Grammy awards, winning one. 15 years on, ‘Hybrid Theory’ is considered to be nu-metal’s ‘breakthrough’ moment. It opened up the mainstream for bands like Slipknot – who months later peaked at No 3 in the American charts with ‘Iowa’ – and influenced current bands including Bring Me The Horizon and Of Mice & Men. In 2014, Linkin Park performed the entire album for the first time during their headline appearance at Download Festival.