Interview: Jeff Blue Reflects On The Struggles, Frustrations, And Joys Of Working With Linkin Park

GID: Firing the original singer had to be hard but look at the result. Chester was an amazing singer and his vocals paired with Mike’s is unlike anything you’ve heard. It makes up so much of their sound. Chester had one of those voices where you know exactly who it is based on his voice alone.

JB: That goes into what I look for when I say iconic. Through my career, I always look for an iconic sound whether it’s Macy Gray’s voice, Jonathan Davis, or Daniel Powter. Chester is different because he had a voice that transcended, and his range was unbelievable. In the book, I discuss when Macy Gray brought an artist in to showcase for me at Linkin Park’s rehearsal space. She got up to sing R&B and Chester joined and started harmonizing with her. At that moment my mouth dropped open. The hair on my arms stood straight. I thought this is way more than a rock vocalist. Chester had that ability to go from beauty to beast. It’s rare to see someone be able to sing this engaging beautiful melody and then go into a scream that incites you.

GID: That’s the thing that drew me and I’m sure other fans to Linkin Park. He was amazing. As we know now, Hybrid Theory is a phenomenal album. There isn’t a single person who didn’t have that record. It was firmly lodged in my boombox for a year straight. It’s iconic, but what was the feeling in the studio when they were working on it?

JB: Well, I believed it was going to be huge. I put my job on the line for this band because I brought them in as part of my employment agreement. That’s how much I believed in it. To feel so good about something and then have your boss come in and say you gotta get rid of the rapper, the songs are okay (laughs) It felt like a popped balloon. Recording was supposed to be one of the most joyous occasions, but I saw the clouds coming the minute my boss called me and said he was no longer my boss. The feeling was a dichotomy of joy and despair.

We were told once again the songs weren’t good enough, the members weren’t good enough, and I had to deal with it because everybody’s job was on the line. It was extremely stressful. It was more stressful than getting them a record deal. The hardest part was the ability to harness that drama and have it improve the situation rather than tear it apart because it was doing both. It forced me to focus on guiding the album to be better than it could be. It put a lot of pressure on myself, Mike, and our relationship. However, it made us laser-focused on making every single second of this album iconic. I was extremely vigilant about it. I didn’t want one second of this album to be filler. I wanted the world to be able to hear all the amazing things these guys created. I think going through all that pressure elevated the bar extremely high.

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GID: Sounds like a lot of blood, sweat, tears, anguish, frustration but it paid off in the end. It’s not only iconic, it’s a timeless album. It doesn’t sound like it comes from any era. It’s still stunning. And as you said there’s not one ounce of filler on that album. It’s a record meant to be listened to from start to finish.

JB: Yeah, and it’s a testament to the band finding their chemistry in the studio. I can’t say enough amazing things about Mike who literally manned that helm and really rose to the challenge. People crack under that pressure. He didn’t and thankfully I didn’t because we were all on the frontline. There was no way this album was just gonna be good after all we went through. It had to be impeccable and true. Every second of that album had to hit you in the gut or make you feel an emotion and the band achieved that. When I listened to the last version of the record, I was stunned. I was crying I was so happy. The guys thought I hated it when I came in crying. It was a very emotional moment to finally hear what I felt connected with me on every single song. I’m glad everybody else had the same visceral reaction.

The interesting thing about the book is I’ve been getting so many emails from people all over the world. Almost 80 percent of them are between 18 and 25. This album came out either before they were born or when they were an infant. That’s incredible. The demographic is staggering. This album reached so many people and continues to be inspiring. Being able to inspire people was an unexpected honor of my book.

GID: And it speaks to the power of music. It doesn’t matter when it came out or how old it is, people will find it and they will connect with it. That’s the beautiful thing about music.

JB: The great thing too is the demographic is 50/50 male-female and generally that’s hard for a rock band to do. So, it touched all genres, from hip hop to rock, every ethnicity, every gender, and every age group. Again, that’s a testament to the band’s chemistry. That’s one thing that’s so hard to find; that relationship where everything flows seamlessly. And it wasn’t easy. That chemistry wasn’t totally apparent in the beginning. We knew we had a great rapper and a great vocalist and we had great writers, but the first demos weren’t fantastic. That scared me to death because I bet everything on Chester. It took a while for them to gel and when they did it was explosive.

GID: What was it like watching this band’s evolution from the aspiring Xero who struggled for years to get a deal to Linkin Park, one of the biggest rock bands in the world?

JB: It’s been a blessing. The one thing I wanted to do in my life was help facilitate something positive. When I was younger my parents thought you had to be a doctor or a lawyer to do that. When I said I wanted to do something in music, they said you’re giving nothing back to the world. You want to do rock music, that’s not gonna change the world in any way. But I felt in my heart that my truth was in music and I wanted to do something that would affect people. When I got out of law school, I thought what do I want to do? At that point, I didn’t have any path. I wanted to do something that was gonna touch people and I felt music was the soundtrack to our lives. That’s what I decided to do because I wanted to do something that would matter to people. I felt I could do more for people in music than I could being a lawyer. Music saves people’s lives and this band does that; people tell me that all the time. So, I think I was part of something positive in this world. I didn’t create the music, but I was there to help facilitate that positivity. To me, that’s the biggest honor I could ever have.

Jeff Blue’s book One Step Closer: From Xero To #1: Becoming Linkin Park is out now. Pick up a copy of the book here. Be sure to follow Jeff on Instagram and his website to keep up with the latest updates.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Illinois Entertainer. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Creeper, and Green Day.

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