"We still haven't met all of them face to face," singer Chester Bennington said. "Just now, we're driving into their towns and they're introducing themselves: 'Hey, we've been talking on the Internet for three years. Nice to meet you.'"
Members of the six-piece comprising Bennington, MC Mike Shinoda, guitarist Brad Delson, bassist Phoenix, DJ/sampler Joseph Hahn and drummer Rob Bourdon spoke with POLLSTAR during their November 28th gig in Toronto, the group's first show outside the United States. Paired on a free Tuesday-night bill with Unified Theory, the Horseshoe Tavern was packed by 9 p.m. and a waiting line continued throughout the evening.
Since forming in the L.A. area in 1996, Shinoda estimates the band played about 30 shows ("a show a month") and no more than another 10 once singer Bennington was added to the lineup. Of course, there were "about 40" private showcases for labels, he said, but it certainly wasn't through the live circuit that Linkin Park built its original fanbase rather the online circuit.
Back when the group was known as Hybrid Theory, it spent considerable time honing its songwriting and developing a sound on which melody is the basis, and texture and depth are the fuel. It paid off.
"Before Chester was in the band, the very first show that we played was at The Whisky in Hollywood and (we) got offered a publishing deal with Zomba off that first show," Shinoda recounted.
Self-managed at the time, the band determined it would forsake the slow-moving grassroots approach to building a career and sign with Jeff Blue, the guy at Zomba Music who believed in the band's potential from the beginning.
"We felt we were ready for a little bit of a kick-start with the help of a publishing company who could introduce us to the right people and give us some collateral to buy new instruments and equipment, get a decent recording and a better show," Shinoda explained.
The band recorded five songs and printed 1,500 copies of the self-titled EP, selling a few hundred at first then giving the remainder away. The key was making the majority of those songs available on the Internet for free.
"The street team kids started building off those MP3s," Shinoda said. "They were able to download all of our music and they started talking back and forth to us. We had hundreds of kids on our street team.
"We basically found people, mostly on the Internet, who would go over to MP3.com and check out our thing. If they were interested, they called us up and we gave them some promotional items and (they) supported the band. They've been there, still with us."
At some of the band's recent shows, Shinoda has spoken with kids who have driven 300 miles to attend a Linkin Park show, wearing Hybrid Theory T-shirts and asking the band to sign the garb because they've been fans for the last two years. "They know about every single thing about the band," he said.
Despite nine months of showcasing, the band went to Warner Bros. when Blue took a position in A&R. To avoid legal hassles, it changed its name to Linkin Park (due to the similarity of the name Hybrid Theory to other acts and businesses) and went into the studio with Don Gilmore to produce the debut album.