[Photo by: Blake Primes]
The passing of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington sent shock waves all over the planet, with big stars and ardent fans taking to social media to acknowledge the frontman’s contributions to contemporary rock music and how that soundtrack resonated in many listeners’ lives. Frank Zummo, founder of Street Drum Corps and drummer of Sum 41, was a close friend and a member of Dead By Sunrise, the solo vehicle Bennington put together with Julien-K guitarists Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck in 2008 (replacing Elias Andra, who left the band in 2011). Zummo and Bennington met at MySpace Music’s second anniversary party in 2005, where Street Drum Corps and Fort Minor (the side project of Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda) were appearing. They’d been friends ever since, going on tour together and sharing stories—like in 2013 when Bennington was enlisted to front Stone Temple Pilots and Zummo was playing in the late STP frontman Scott Weiland’s band.
Zummo spoke with Jason Pettigrew about his friendship with the singer, how the four were planning to reconstitute DBS for some guerilla-style pop-up gigs and how Bennington will never leave his heart. Scroll down to check out Zummo’s performance during Quebec’s Festival Des Bières Du Monde de Saguenay this weekend, where the drummer paid tribute to both Linkin Park and his late friend.
What brought you into Dead By Sunrise in the first place?
A couple years later after meeting, Chester invited me to a dinner in Long Beach with Amir [Derakh] and Ryan [Shuck] from Orgy. He was telling me about this solo record he was doing; there were these amazing guys from Orgy, and they were good friends and [he was describing] the vibe it was going to be. He was really, really excited about it. Fast forward to a couple years later, I went to a dinner and met all those guys, and we just instantly hit it off and I literally became best friends with Amir and Ryan overnight. This is after Dead By Sunrise put out their record, Out Of Ashes.
To go back a little bit, during the process of making that record, they were making the record with producer Howard Benson, and so were Street Drum Corps. We were both in [the same studios] making our records at the same time, which was so awesome. We were just bouncing between studio A and B, just friends hanging out, and I got to actually watch Chester make that record and cut his vocals, which was like… To see that guy work in the studio and just to hear him singing, raw in the studio with isolated vocals, [it was] so powerful and so moving. “Let Down” is, like, one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s such a great song, beautiful lyrics. But again, he’s one of my favorite singers of all time.
Going further down the road, Julien-K’s drummer left them right before a tour, and they said, “Hey, we’re doing this tour in Europe. Would you want to do this?” And I was like, “Of course.” We went out to Europe for two weeks, and on that tour, they asked me if I would want to be part of Dead By Sunrise. I was like, “100 percent.” We were going to do a show together in Arizona, where Julien-K were going to play with Street Drum Corps, and Chester was living in Arizona. We were going to do an unannounced, surprise reunion show. Last minute, it wound up not working out.
A couple months ago this past winter, Sum 41 were finishing a nine-week tour. I’m in a random little bar in Russia, and this song comes on, and it was a deep cut from the Dead By Sunrise album that I didn’t recognize at first. I just heard Chester’s voice, and I’m like, “What is this?” And I’m like, “Oh my God, this is Dead By Sunrise!” At that point, I literally got on a group text with Chester, Amir and Ryan. I’m like, “Guys, I’m in Russia. This is a sign. Let’s do this. No stress: Let’s get together for a week, and let’s do a couple pop-up shows in warehouses in downtown LA Let’s just make it really, really special.” And everyone was like, “Yup. Let’s do this.” Chester’s like, “As soon as I have some time off from Linkin Park.” So we were actually talking about it and getting excited. As soon as I got back from the tour, Ryan and Amir were like, “Thank you for doing that. You’re actually getting the band back together right now by your excitement and the way you approached Chester about it.” It’s horrible that we’re not going to have the chance to do that.
Linkin Park have built a reputation for doing whatever they wanted; nothing was either too obvious or too weird, but it felt organic for them. What was Chester seeking artistically that he had to create Dead By Sunrise in the first place?
If you listen to Linkin Park’s first record and new record, they’ve done every style. They’ve constantly evolved and changed: They really reinvent themselves every record. At the end of the day, though, it’s Linkin Park, whether they’re doing a country song or a metal song. It’s just the way those guys perform and sound; they just make it work. I think with Dead By Sunrise, at that time, it was still pretty early on in Linkin Park’s career. I think he maybe didn’t feel that it felt right for Linkin Park and just wanted to do something differently on his own. At the same time, [Linkin Park co-vocalist] Mike Shinoda was doing Fort Minor, and that’s the reason Chester was at that MySpace anniversary party, because Fort Minor and Street Drum Corps played that bill, and he was there supporting his brother. That was at a point where everyone and the bands just wanted different things. They just, creatively, just need to go out of the bubble and do things a little differently, which all artists do.
You reached out to Chester after the APMAs via email.
The craziest thing is, I knew Chester’s a Twenty One Pilots fan, and I wasn’t sure if he knew that I did this performance for AP with Josh Dun. So I sent him an email [Thursday] morning, saying, “Hey! I thought you’d get a kick out of this. I know you like Twenty One Pilots; I did this performance.” I emailed him the video link from AP [Thursday] morning, and then a couple hours later, I found out this news. So crazy. So I don’t even think he had an opportunity to even see that email because I think it was too late by that time. It’s just weird how you instinctively know—I just felt like I needed to connect. Then my manager called me. They wanted me to find out before I found out from social media.
[The news] is rough because [Street Drum Corps] toured with Chris Cornell and Linkin Park [in 2008] and we got to perform with both every night because [Chris Cornell] asked us. He would come watch us every day and was a fan, and he asked us to do “Spoonman” with him every night. Same thing with Linkin Park: We performed the intro of their show, the middle of their show and the end of the show with them. And that was just a magical summer for Street Drums Corps to be part of all that. And now both guys are gone. Two guys I would have never thought and would have hoped to hear their voices for a very, very long time.
The news is very sad. Yet there are some people—high-profile artists and self-righteous fans—who are publicly weighing in on the situation. Chester’s death is not the kind of thing to be armchair-quarterbacking.
You can’t judge, you can’t say anything because at this point, there’s obviously nothing that can be done. No one really knows what’s going on inside of anybody besides themselves. It’s really unfortunate, the demons and things he wasn’t able to fix. And this is how it had to end, unfortunately.
Me and all the guys in Sum 41 were just talking about it. We were on our festival tour, and we played with Linkin Park and Blink-182 in Italy: 90,000 people and such an amazing show. Linkin Park announced they were going to do a headlining tour in Amsterdam, and I go, “Wait a second, we’re off tomorrow. Linkin Park’s in town, we didn’t play Amsterdam on our last tour, this would be amazing.” So I hit up Chester and said, “Dude, we have a day off. If you guys are playing there, do you have support? I’d love to do this with you.” He goes, “This is amazing. Let me ask the guys.” Five minutes later: “The guys would love to have you there. The guys would love to do this.” So we played with them. It was just Chester being amazing again and looking out for another one of my bands. In our final European tour wrap-up video, you see Chester talking about how we helped sell the show out. They actually did offer us more shows coming up later this summer because of that. Their fans loved it; our fans loved it. Just seeing him; the guy was so happy and lovely, and I’m just so glad that our camera guy captured him and I having a nice hug. After seeing him last month, I would have never known that he was having these issues or whatnot, because he just seemed so happy and lovely and always a positive, happy dude. So it was just really, really shocking.
— Sum 41 (@Sum41) July 21, 2017
Tell me your favorite moment with Chester, the one thing you will always remember. A story, a photo, a text message—that one thing.
Standing onstage with him. All the nights I got to perform with him. Just feeling that power and standing next to him. It was just a powerful, amazing feeling of standing onstage with him and having him welcoming Street Drum Corps. He would announce us every night [on that tour], and we got to perform with him, and he would give this whole big speech about us [to the crowds]. There’s a photo I posted on Street Drum Corps’ Instagram. We were standing on these steps they had on their stage, and he would just give it up for us. That feeling, me growing up with that band and then becoming such good friends with him and being onstage with Street Drum Corps, just that powerful feeling of full circle and that everything happens for a reason and the path we’re on in life all leads to something, it was such a powerful feeling.
All these memories and things are flashing back, but I remember he got the gig in Stone Temple Pilots the same time I got the gig with Scott Weiland, and we were just fucking freaking out, like, “You’re in Stone Temple Pilots. I’m in Scott Weiland’s band. We’re going through this at the same time!” And just texting back and forth stories and how excited we were to be playing these songs that we fucking grew up on. It was such a great moment to share with a buddy of mine.
Again, all these stories happened throughout our 13 years of being buds. At the end of the day, he’s a great, great dude, who was so kind to me, my groups, my family. It was great to know him and know his family. I have nothing but great things to say. He was just a kind, kind person. I just really miss him, and it’s just sad that I don’t have that bud to call, text or email with or see anymore.
That’s the good thing about music. I’m so glad that I am out with my brothers in Sum 41. I’m performing, and it just keeps you going. Music, it really does save. I played every note that I possibly could for him onstage last night. It really does save. I’ll be playing for him tonight and making every single hit count. Because life changes in a second and you can’t take anybody or anything for granted. ALT
Watch Frank Zummo's drum tribute to his friend, Chester Bennington, while on tour with Sum 41: