Club Tattoo's Chester Bennington Interview - Part 1
RB: So, I just want to go back from the history of you and Sean’s [Dowdell] friendship, and how everything started.
CB: Well, Sean actually met--I’d been playing in my friend’s garage, with them and, like, jamming out. And we had this other kid that we’d play, [unintelligible 3:39], drums, so we’d go over there every once in a while, screw around and play cover songs and stuff. His brother was in a band, locally, and they were starting this new band, and they invited me to come down and sing--to audition for the band. And so I thought it was pretty cool. And so I went down and auditioned for these guys, and Sean happened to play drums. We were all still in high school; Sean was a few years ahead of me in high school. So, anyways, it happened to be that we were from different parts of the city. Basically, when we say Phoenix, you’re pretty much saying Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale (laughs), you know, Tempe, Mesa--like everywhere is Phoenix pretty much. So we didn’t go to the same schools or anything. But what ended up happening was they took me in the band, but they didn’t take the other dude that actually invited me down, for whatever reason. And so we started a band and we just became friends at that point. Sean became pretty much like a big brother to me, and we’d always hang out, and he’d take me to parties, and it was pretty cool. . . keep me out of as much trouble as possible.
RB: So, then you guys were in a band together for a while?
CB: We were in a band; we were in Grey Daze with each other for a lot of years. We were in a band from the time I was about 15, until I was almost 22--so, about 7 years or so.
RB: And during that time he was already getting the ball rolling on the Club Tattoo thing?
CB: Yeah, during that time. We opened up the doors to the first Club Tattoo twelve years ago, so I was about 19. 18--I was about 18 years old when we opened up the first shop. That was just kind of like a way for us to make money--well for Sean to make money cuz he invested money so it was his shop. But it was a way to make money cuz the band was only doing really well locally. You know, sometimes the shop would carry the band--like pay for the band’s rehearsal space. And sometimes the band would pay to get new equipment or whatever for the shop. The Club was doing really well since it opened.
RB: So, you were 22 when you were. . .
CB: We broke up around that time, yeah.
RB: And then where does Linkin Park come in?
CB: During that year or so--it was a year, maybe a couple months or whatever--that we hadn’t been playing together. And I got a bunch of these packages from these bands all over the country. I had no idea that anyone was even paying attention (laughs), other than people here in our local area. I’d met some people that we knew in the entertainment law side of things that were trying to get Grey [Daze] a deal, and he met up with this guy in Texas, at SXSW. And this guy was talking to this band that needed a singer and had great potential but just couldn’t find the right guy. He was like, “Dude, I know this guy that would be perfect for this if he was interested.” So they sent me a package, on my 23rd birthday actually, and cut the demo. The band was called Xero at the time. I got it and within two or three days, you know, I went in and recorded the demo on my birthday which is a Saturday. The next day I called up the dude that was representing Xero and said, “Can I come out?” and played him the demo over the phone. He said, “Well, when can you be here?” So I was in LA Monday morning at Zomba Music Publishing at 9 am.
RB: So did you take a sort of Club Tattoo hiatus, like the Club Tattoo stores were opening…
CB: I basically took a hiatus from everything in Arizona. I was just focused on music. And it wasn’t until about four years ago or so, when Sean was like “I want to expand and I’m really not interested in a partner but I want to be in business with you.” So we basically started expanding the business together and opening other shops. And it kind of escalated ever since then. The shop has always been really well respected, and had a great reputation in the tattoo world. And we just kind of wanted to elevate the shop. Our goal was to make it the industry standard, basically, of how things should be done: how we treat our clients; and how we treat our employees. And we wanted to share it with as many people as possible. So. . . world domination is the goal. (Laughs.)
RB: I was just gonna say you got brought back into it after having the exposure of Linkin Park, and I was gonna ask you, you’re so busy, you’ve got so much going on, what is it about Club Tattoo other than that Sean’s a friend, obviously, from back in the day. But, what keeps you interested and passionate about doing it?
CB: Well, I’ve always had a soft spot for this place, you know; I helped paint the walls. This particular store has evolved so much since we opened the doors. I mean, it’s gone through probably 50 face-lifts since then and it’s expanded. I actually enjoy being part of something that’s part of my hometown and keeps me involved, and Sean and I--it didn’t work out musically, but we get to work together and be creative. I love art and tattooing, and body art is probably at the top of my list as far as artistic expression. I think the artists in the tattoo world are some of the best and some of the most innovative, simply because of the medium they have to use, to put their art on. Technology for tattooing has grown so much and the different colors--and you can literally do anything you want on a body, and it’s there forever. And that person--it’s unique because that person, it’s theirs; and they take it with them. Whereas like a painting, you can kind of pass it down from generation to generation. So it’s really an amazing, personal, unique experience, and that’s kind of like the way it is with music, too. So it just felt like this is something that was natural, you know? It wasn’t really just because Sean is my friend. It helps, but it’s always something that I wanted to be part of. Even when we opened the first store, I wanted to be part of it and it was cool to be able to do that.
RB: So, this was the first store?
CB: This is actually the first store.
RB: So you built it by hand, you helped?
CB: I helped, yeah, we were--well, this area we’re in now actually is part of what used to be a T-shirt store, with posters and band stuff, kind of like a Hot Topic-y type of thing, you know? And the original store--where all the tattooing gets done, which is next door--it used to be a tanning salon. So we thought it’d be a great place to open up the shop because you’d have artists in there working out of booths that were personal, but you could shut the doors if you wanted to. You know when women get tatted in certain areas, you don’t want your ass hanging out in front of everybody. And it was cool, take the bus up here, hang out at the shop, go to rehearsal and shows. We’d play next door a lot and over time the shop began to grow and we had the chance to take over this place. And so we knocked the wall down and expanded.
RB: Did you ever envision it as successful as it’s become? Like, back then?
CB: It’s always been our goal, but if you would have said, 15 years ago, “You’re gonna own the tattoo scene in Arizona and it’s gonna actually be a really great business to get into,” our parents and everybody, probably including us, would have been like, “Yeah, right, whatever.” I don’t think in general people view the tattoo business as a profitable enterprise, but it really is. I mean, if you think about how many people actually have tattoos now, you’d be really surprised. It’s a huge number of people and it’s a part of a lot of different scenes--music, sports, the art scene-- and everyone from executives to young punks, pretty much.
RB: So how about the opportunity to come work with etnies came about, and as far as you’re concerned, what is it about etnies that makes it a worthwhile collaboration?
CB: Well, the reason we were drawn to etnies, primarily, was because it’s a company that started exactly the same way Club Tattoo did: with a dream and a pocketful of money and dedication. You know, Pierre [Senizergues] put his whole life into etnies and Sole Technology, and it’s kind of crazy, but those are the kind of people we want to do business with--people who understand what it takes, dedication it takes, that are tapped into the people that they’re catering to. In a lot of ways, we’re very similar. So we felt that it would be a really good match, especially after we met with everyone over at etnies, how excited they were. It was really cool to be part of a company that kind of like, to see how a company kind of works. Even though they’re on a much larger scale than Club Tattoo, it’s a very family-oriented kind of vibe. It was just cool, it felt like the right fit. We didn’t want to go with anybody that was overly corporate or have to jump through hoops. It wouldn’t have felt right.
RB: Yep. I mean, this is a loaded question, but when you were younger, did you have etnies?
CB: I did, yeah. I grew up skating and I was never really that good, but there’s a couple years where I was actually surprising myself and I was catching air on a half-pipe or something. I was like, “Holy crap!” Every time I did it I was like, “I can’t believe I just did that.” It’s kind of crazy, but I can almost remember when etnies hit the scene when I was growing up. There was very little to choose from, especially out here in Arizona. When something actually came along, where you could wear a shoe and it wasn’t gonna destroy the top of your foot--that was always the big deal, you know--wearing ‘em down cuz you ollie so much. And when you try and pull some crazy trick and the board karate-chops your fucking foot in half. It was cool, I can remember that.
RB: So, of the designs of the Club Tattoo shoes, which ones do you like the best?
CB: It kind of depends on my mood. I think if I’m kinda wanting to feel funky or if I’m wearing primarily black, I’ll add a little flavor and throw on the slip-ons. But overall I think the Bernie’s my favorite.