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Linkin Park shoots to the top of the music heap with 'Meteora'

Drummer Rob Bourdon was late for his interview, but the Linkin Park Underground trumps anything else on the agenda. He was backstage with his bandmates at the Cox Arena in San Diego, signing posters and visiting with the Linkin Park faithful at a meet-and-greet for the LPU, the band's official fan club.

Countless artists have rolled out the cliche that they are "doing it for the fans," but the top-selling rap-rock group has demonstrably stayed true to its commitment, playing members-only tours for the LPU.

"After we finished recording 'Meteora,' the first tour we did was actually dedicated to the LPU," said Bourdon, who will perform with Linkin Park at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman.

"We started out in Europe, and we did two weeks there, playing small venues -- the biggest venue was probably 1,000 people," he said. "Over here, we did the same thing for another 21/2 weeks until the album came out. We care a lot about our fans and have a lot of respect for them -- in the beginning, we earned one fan at a time, so we've always tried to have one-on-one communication with our fans, and we've always tried to do things throughout our career to maintain that relationship."

By all appearances, Linkin Park seemed charmed from day one. Its first CD, 2000's "Hybrid Theory," went on to become the best- selling album of 2001, moving 4.8 million copies and beating more obvious chart toppers such as Destiny's Child and 'N Sync.

It's official follow-up, 2003's "Meteora," flew out of the gate with 810,000 copies sold in its first week, but it only looked easy. Linkin Park was turned down by every major label in the business, including Warner Bros., which passed on Linkin Park, then known as Hybrid Theory, three times before finally offering a contract in 1999.

"It was discouraging at times, but we had a lot of faith in our sound and music," Bourdon said. "I don't know what it was, but Warner Bros. was the only one that saw our vision."

Linkin Park's story goes back to high school, when musical guru/rapper Mike Shinoda and guitarist Brad Delson became friends with Bourdon. Delson and Bourdon formed a short-lived band that culminated in only one show after a year's preparation, but the genesis for Linkin Park came when Shinoda and Delson started combining hip-hop and alternative rock styles, formulating the "hybrid theory" that would eventually become the band's stock in trade.

For Bourdon, this was a natural fit for his drumming style.

"I listened to a lot of different music, and some of the best drumming I heard was from R&B and funk and jazz music," he said. "I listened to a lot of Earth, Wind and Fire, Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power and James Brown -- a lot of that music I found just from going through my parents' record collection. I would listen to that and try to replicate what I was hearing, chasing after drummers I thought were really, really great."

Shinoda asked Bourdon to join the new band, Xero, along with DJ Joseph Hahn, guitarist David Farrell, aka Phoenix and original lead singer, Mark Wakefield. Xero played 42 showcases for record companies, but no one took the bait. Bourdon said that Xero's music back then was identifiable as Linkin Park, but needed more time on the evolutionary chart.

"If you were to listen to an old demo, you could definitely tell it was us," he said. "It was similar to how it is today, but we didn't blend it as well as today."

Eventually, Wakefield and Xero parted ways on a mutual decision, and the group put out the feelers for a lead singer. Through various attorneys and industry executives, Xero found Chester Bennington, a Phoenix- based vocalist whose near-operatic vocal range proved to be a perfect fit. After one more round with Warner and two name changes -- first Hybrid Theory, then Linkin Park -- the band was finally ready for its close-up, and when success came, it came with fury.

Propelled by massive radio hits like "One Step Closer" and "In the End," Linkin Park took the reins at modern rock radio and bounded to the top of the rap-metal heap. The band continued its enviable string of successes with the "Reanimation" remix disc and "Meteora," which found instant favor with the radio/MTV hit "Faint."

"It was definitely a big surprise -- we didn't expect to do a tenth of what we've done," Bourdon said. "We finished 'Hybrid Theory,' and we were really proud of it, really excited to get on the road and gain new fans. We thought that hopefully it would sell a few copies -- enough to keep us on the road and playing shows. Then we sold a grip of records, and No. 1-selling band? We never would have thought."
Linkin Park's ride has not been without its stumbles. In June, Bennington experienced severe abdominal and back pain, and was hospitalized for several days, forcing the band to cancel several dates in Europe. Bourdon said that doctors never determined what was causing the shooting pains, but Bennington recovered swiftly and was able to go ahead with Summer Sanitarium dates with Metallica, Limp Bizkit and the Deftones.

"The important thing is that he's doing really well now, and he's in good health," Bourdon said. "It was a scary time when that happened, but we're happy that he's feeling good now."

The band is plowing through its third major tour in less than a year, supporting its live album, "Live in Texas," and touring with P.O.D. before hitting Scotland's Download Festival in June. By the end of summer, Bourdon said the band will start working out preliminary ideas for a follow-up to "Meteora."
"I think that, probably by summer, we'll have a bus out with some studio equipment in it, getting some ideas down," he said. "I'm sure that you'll see another evolution."

The Oklahoman - February 14, 2004



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