The signature sound that would become Linkin Park's calling card was the brainchild of two high school friends, Mike Shinoda and Brad Delson. The two envisioned a band that would defy categorization, blending some of their favorite styles of music in ways that had never been heard before. Mike was the classically trained musician whose roots were based in the South Californian hip-hop scene, while Brad was the avid guitarist whose influences included the likes of Guns 'N' Roses and the Deftones. Both decided to form a band that would fuse their favorite styles of music into one sound. That band was Xero.
Xero was formed in 1996, the same year the two graduated from Agoura High School in California. They recruited drummer Rob Bourdon, who had played with Brad in the band Relative Degree earlier during their tenure at Agoura High School. After graduating, Mike decided to attend Pasadena, California's Art College of Design, where he met Joseph Hahn, an aspiring illustrator and practicing DJ. Mike asked Joe to sign on to join the band. Joe was considered a perfect fit for the band, someone who could add another dimension of sound to the band's resume. Meanwhile, Brad was accepted into UCLA and roomed with a bass player by the name of Dave Farrell. Farrell was soon added to Xero's line-up.
Xero recorded a four-track cassette sampler in 1997 with another Agoura High School acquaintance, Mark Wakefield, as lead vocalist. The tape was released locally in 1997. After garnering attention doing minor shows for friends, the band hooked the opening slot for a System of a Down show at the Los Angeles club 'The Whisky'. Executives from Zomba Music were at the concert and signed the band to a development deal directly after the concert. The guys realized they had something special on their hands and started to get more serious, sensing they had a future in the music business. Despite their efforts over the next three years, Xero were rejected by every major and independent label in the business. Something was missing.
So the band made a difficult choice. Wakefield was dropped from the original line-up and the band sent out feelers through Zomba to see if there were any vocalists out there looking for a band. Zomba's VP of A&R, Jeff Blue, had heard of a promising vocalist from Phoenix through a friend at a recent music conference. His name was Chester Bennington. Blue knew Bennington was looking for a new band, and gave him a call.
Chester received the call from Blue during a surprise party on his twenty-third birthday in 1999. He was told there was an up-and-coming band in Los Angeles looking for a new vocalist. The next day, a package arrived in Chester's mailbox, containing two Xero demos; one with Mark Wakefield's vocals, and the other with solely the instrumental tracks. Upon hearing the music, Chester thought the band had potential, and wrote parts for the songs based on his own interpretation of the tracks. He went to a local studio to record vocals over the instrumentals, and emerged three days later with finished parts. The tape was mailed back to Blue. Two days later, Bennington was in Hollywood at Xero's rehearsal space, auditioning for the lead vocalist position. He was so impressive that another vocalist vying for the same spot left the tryout before auditioning! Chester was a shoe-in for the band. After adding Chester, the band renamed themselves to Hybrid Theory and started writing new material. Soon, a six-track EP named the 'Hybrid Theory EP' was recorded.
The band then took advantage of the internet as a marketing tool, and posted their MP3.com account all over message boards and chat rooms on the websites of similar artists. A steady fan-base grew and multiplied, and the band began to gain serious buzz on the Internet. Soon they opened up a street team, designed to acquire fans to promote the band by getting the word out on their music. About one thousand copies of the 'Hybrid Theory EP' were pressed and sent out to street team members for promotion.
The band then recorded an album of nine demos that was shipped out to numerous record companies via their contacts at Zomba. Although the demos gained some interest, granting the band with forty-two separate showcases for labels in 1999, they were met with denial every single time. No one seemed to be biting. For most bands, this would usually be the time to hang up their instruments and give up hope, but Hybrid Theory kept pushing onwards, refusing to succumb to the repeated rejection.
Luckily, the band still had someone who believed in them: Jeff Blue. Blue left Zomba and joined Warner Bros Records in 2000. After resolving a legal issue with another band concerning their name, the band, newly named Linkin Park, were finally signed to Warner Bros. Records in 2000, largely in part to Blue. The wheels were in motion. The band had persevered.
With a well-deserved record contract signed and in their back pockets, the band turned to writing their first album. Debut albums are often a band's only chance to show their label they're worth the money being invested in them, and the pressure is paramount. The music industry isn't prone to give second chances. Linkin Park knew they had to write an impressive album, and their first step was to find the right producer for their debut. At first, the label and band had troubles finding a producer willing to take the helm for a new band. Many newly signed acts lack the focus and skill to be successful, and present a challenge for producers. Blue proposed the project to numerous producers but many declined, not willing to give the band a chance. Finally, they found Don Gilmore. With Don at the helm, Linkin Park wrote and recorded their debut album 'Hybrid Theory' in four weeks. Many of the songs were rewritten versions of the previous demos they had sent out to record labels. It was a huge risk. These were slightly modified and polished versions of the songs that had gotten them rejected by virtually every record label on numerous occasions. The band had taken a risk, and waited to see if it would pay off.
October 24th, 2000: The most important date of their careers. 'Hybrid Theory' was released to the public. The lead single 'One Step Closer' was starting to get serious airplay on radio and television networks. The band themselves were getting increasing media attention. Tour dates were selling out. Within five weeks of 'Hybrid Theory's release, the album had been certified Gold by the RIAA, signifying 500,000 units sold. The band had officially made it after five years of hard work.