Songwriting, Trust Company

Digging Deep – A Conversation With Chester About Songwriting

Kevin Palmer - November 10, 2017

I was on my way to Atlanta when I first heard the news of Chester’s passing. A text came in from my longtime friend and bandmate, Jason. As I read his message, a sinking feeling washed over me like a wave of sadness. Numbness.

Another text from my friend Josh followed…and then another…and then another. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

Although I only met Chester one time (in Atlanta, as a matter of fact) I always felt more connected to him than a lot of other songwriters because both of our debut and sophomore albums were produced by Don Gilmore.

When we got signed and started working with Don on our first record, Linkin Park had just gone Platinum and everyone was talking about them. It was a really unique time to be in the studio with the same Producer who produced Hybrid Theory.

(Me and the band in the studio with Don Gilmore, John Ewing Jr. and Joey Paradise – 2002)

Like Chester, I spent many, many hours in the studio with Don. We talked about life, about other bands he had produced, and we spent an enormous amount of time writing lyrics, re-writing lyrics and sometimes re-writing lyrics again. Many times, Don would just sit and listen to me talk about what I was going through or feeling, so that he could push me to dig deeper, so that I could put it onto paper.

Those chunks of times were literally some of the most challenging of my life. Don used to say, “You have to go through Hell before you can get to Heaven”. And because we didn’t always agree on everything, it did get pretty heated at times. But in the end, I’m so grateful that he pressured me to keep making the lyrics better. I still have all of the pages and pages of lyric ideas that I worked on, complete with Don’s notes scribbled off to the side.

Because Don had worked closely with Chester in the same way, I always wondered if he felt the way I did during the writing process with Don.

Fast forward a few years, and I finally had an opportunity to meet him. It was after a Linkin Park show in Atlanta. Both of our bands were managed by the same management company (The Firm), who gave us passes to see the show and meet the guys backstage.

The show was incredible and the entire band was beyond kind to us. And because we had so many things in common at that time, it made for a really easy and conversational hang.

I got to spend some one-on-one time chatting with Chester, and as we talked, our conversation eventually led to songwriting and our experiences in the studio with Don Gilmore. We talked about how we both got to points where we thought we couldn’t write one more lyric without losing our minds, but then Don would push us to go deeper and sure enough, the song would get better.

That night in Atlanta, Chester also shared with me that while they were writing the Hybrid Theory record, Don kept pushing him to re-write some of the lyrics to a song that hadn’t been titled yet. But Chester said that he felt like he was at the end of his rope with that particular song, and he was so frustrated from the fatigue of re-writing it so many times. That’s when he sat down and wrote these lyrics:

I cannot take this anymore
I’m saying everything I’ve said before
All these words they make no sense
I find bliss in ignorance
Less I hear, the less you’ll say
But you’ll find that out anyway
Just like before

Everything you say to me
Takes me one step closer to the edge
And I’m about to break
I need a little room to breathe
‘Cause I’m one step closer to the edge
And I’m about to break

The song was eventually titled One Step Closer, and it was released as the first single on the album Hybrid Theory- which went on to sell over 10 million copies worldwide.

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And although writing the lyrics for our debut albums proved to be one of the most challenging experiences of our lives, I think Chester and I both wanted to write and record our second records with Don because of the way he pushed and pulled. We knew it wouldn’t just be about good guitar tones, or the perfect harmony, or a killer bridge. We knew he would want to get the very best out of us lyrically, too.

I still can’t believe he’s gone, but I’m grateful that his gift and legacy can live on.

If  you are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, please get help. The world needs you.

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