whit Mike Shinoda
"She was completely wasted." Linkin Park frontman Chester
Bennington says of the well-known music journalist who arrived
30 minutes late for his interview. He ended it in 10 minutes because
"she couldn't even get her tape recorder to work, she was
so clumsy." And after such an ordeal, Chester is hungry.
He starts eating the journalists' sandwiches and, suddenly turning
to me, says, "Next time, YOU should do the interview! By
the way, I'm Chester." He goes on to explain why he doesn't
like to do interviews: "I'm tired of answering stupid questions:
'Where does the name Linkin Park come from?' or 'How did you guys
get together?' C'mon! Just go to linkinpark.com and you have all
sorts of information like that!" For someone who doesn't
feel like talking, he talks quite a bit... just like fellow band
member and "significant other" in the band, singer/rapper
Mike Shinoda, who, between sips of cranberry juice, talks about
their latest release Meteora....
Were you afraid of the legendary sophomore jinx while recording
I think that everybody wants to be able to come through on their
second album and please themselves and please their fans. We basically
worked on an album for 18 months. A lot of albums, we only worked
on for two months. I think that because we gave ourselves enough
time, we felt comfortable.
We probably started
off with some 80 songs or parts of songs, which is a lot. It's
like a sketchbook. I went to school for illustration and we would
carry sketchbooks with us all the time and [were] constantly sketching.
You'd be on the phone; you'd be sketching; eat lunch – sketching.
And every once in a while you'd sketch something and say, "I
want to develop this idea more." And so you'd put it on canvas;
you'd paint it; you'd work on it some more. And that's kind of
how working in music works for me. I like to come up with a lot
of ideas with the guys and pick ones that are really good. So
it's very likely that our sophomore album got thrown away in the
mix and then we've gone to better songs.
What happened to the songs which didn't make it on the final cut?
They never got finished, really.
Will you finish them and release them on an outtakes album?
Well, I think some of the songs are closer to being real songs,
to being finished, so eventually – hopefully – we
can put them out. But it remains to be seen. I don't know yet.
We're not really focused on those. We're only working on our live
show at this point.
There's progress in your music in the form of experimentation,
yet without steering too far from the original sound of Linkin
Park. Do you write what you want to hear and play, or do you take
into consideration what your fans want to hear?
It's a little bit of both. I think it would be unfair to completely
take the fans' needs out of the picture, so it's partly for our
fans and partly for ourselves, because if you're not happy, then
you don't have much. You can't make everyone else happy, so at
least we should be happy first. I think that naturally, we just
have kind of a sound. When the six of us get together and make
music, there are some things that just naturally come out. And
that's part of the Linkin Park sound that you hear on the album.
It just kind of runs a common thread from Hybrid Theory to Meteora.
We wanted to experiment
and step outside of the box; so we brought in and used some live
strings, piano. We used a traditional Japanese flute, which is
called shakuhachi. We played with time signatures. There's a song
in 6/8 – we've never done a song in 6/8 before, different
tempos. Obviously, songs like "Breaking the Habit" and
"Faint" are faster than any songs we've ever written
and "Easier to Run" is much slower.
And, finally, I think
the musicianship the guys showed on this album was really kind
of an advancement to me. I think that they really are showing
their skills well and not doing it in a way that's distracting;
it's very tasteful. To me, that's excellent writing – like
when there's a good athlete. You know a good athlete by the fact
that they can do something that's extremely difficult and make
it look smooth and natural. Michael Jordan makes everything look
easy, but what he's doing is extremely difficult.
And on a song like
"Easier to Run," first listen you may not even pay attention
to the drums. But if you listen to the drums on that song or watch
Rob (Bourdon, drums) play them live tonight, it's very technical.
There's no way I can play that. It's very difficult stuff. And
I appreciate that a lot.
I think that the album
is something that... take some time to invest some energy into
it. You will be rewarded. There are things in there that are fun
to check out on like the tenth listen.
How did you get the idea to do little intros to almost each track?
Linkin Park from left to right: Joe Hahn (DJ/sampler), Dave Ferrel
(bass), Rob Bourdon (drums), Mike Shinoda (vocals), Brad Delson
(guitar), and Chester Bennington (vocals).
We've always been a band that experiments with different sounds.
Sometimes the most simple sound works for the song and sometimes
it takes a lot of work to make a sound happen. For example, the
intro on the "Somewhere I Belong" single – that
sweeping sample – that's actually an acoustic guitar. And
everybody, when they hear that, they look at us like, "How
did you do that?" We make all of our samples from scratch,
What happened on that
one was we played an acoustic guitar riff and the acoustic guitar
sounded like country music; it sounded like folk music, so that
wasn't working for me. Joe (Hahn, DJ) and I played with it and
turned it backwards, cut it up into pieces. I rearranged it and
put effects on it, and that's what gave it that sound. And to
me, the samples and the keyboard elements are a very important
part of the mood of what we do. So I think we spent some extra
time with those on this album, really, really invested some energy
into making our sampled elements – original sampled elements
– sound different.
Both you and Chester write the lyrics. Do you work together or
does each write his own part?
We write together. Generally, when we write lyrics, we both have
different life experiences; we've come from different places.
So when we're writing about something or writing a song, each
of us will be thinking about something different when we write
it. But we always have a conversation about what we're going to
write about before we get too far into it. The reason we do that
is because it's nice to have the song be about one consistent
idea. But it's not just his idea; it's not just my idea. It's
something that's in the middle. That makes it more of a universal
theme than a specific theme.
The example he's always
used is that if he were to get into a car accident and be stuck
in a hospital, maybe he'd feel lonely or isolated; he'd feel all
these things. And if he started writing lyrics about that... Now
I've never been in a car accident or been in that situation, but
I have my own experiences that may be similar. When you're writing
lyrics and what the song winds up being about, it's those core
feelings of isolation or whatever the emotion may be, not about
his situation, not about my situation. It's more of the center
of it, which I like more. I think it's more important than a story
about something that happened.
You release a lot of emotions in your tracks. Some tracks like
"Breaking the Habit" are angst-ridden with getting-it-out-of
my-system type lyrics. Is it a cathartic experience?
Yeah, yeah, it's very therapeutic. I like it a lot. In fact, I
wrote all the lyrics on that one. That was, I think, the only
one I wrote all the lyrics on. There had been this theme in my
head that I wanted to write about for five years, and I kept trying
it and writing songs about it, and it never worked. It would always
be too dorky or too cheesy or whatever. And somehow, when I sat
down with this particular music, this thing that I had been trying
to write about for five years came out in two hours – just
flew out on the page. I love when songs get finished that way,
because there's a magic to it.
Would you ever exchange roles with Chester, just for the fun of
We've joked about it. I don't think that I could compete with
him, his talent in singing, just the same as that he wouldn't
want to compete with my talent in rapping. It's just that we have
a natural inclination towards [what we each do].
It would be fun to try it one day!
Yeah, well, we kind of do change roles a little bit when we play
live. When we record, the quality of his voice doubled with his
own voice sounds really good on record. So when there's a harmony
to be sung when we record it, he'll sing it. But when we play
it live, I'll sing it. And the same thing for the rapping. When
we record it, I'll rap back-up tracks and when we do it live,
he raps the back-up tracks.
You wanted to collaborate with Björk. Anything planned?
Somebody spoke to her – I think our manager spoke at one
point. The door, I think, is still open, but we haven't done anything
yet. I would love to. I think that she's a very interesting musician.
She's very original. And one of the beauties to Reanimation [Linkin
Park's 2002 remix release with featured guests] was the ability
to meet with other artists and work in the studio and learn how
they work, because everybody teaches themselves to write songs
in different ways.
And I realized that
Björk is probably – is definitely – somebody
that has a very interesting way of putting together a song, just
in speaking with people that have worked with her. "Spike"
Stent, who mixed Reanimation, works with her all the time and
he was telling me a little bit about what it's like to be in the
studio with her. I think it would be a fun thing to do and there
are other people that I would like to work with as well. She's
not the only one. But we'll see what happens. It remains to be
Right now, when it
comes to making an album, we really want to give our fans just
Linkin Park. We don't want to water it down with anything else
or confuse it with anything else. Meteora is just us and that's
where our focus has been. So hopefully the fans can enjoy that.
You have a slight element of Depeche Mode.
I like Depeche Mode, I do.
What would you be doing if you weren't in Linkin Park?
If I couldn't play music for a living, I would probably be doing
art, doing graphics. And what's funny is that when I go home now
and relax, I paint. So if I were painting for a living, I'd go
home and make music for fun. My parents must have thought that
I was crazy when I was younger, because they're thinking, "How
in the world is the this kid ever going to make a living? The
only two things he likes to do are paint and make music. And the
chances of him being able to do either are slim."
I do actually get to
do a lot of artwork in the band. I do our t-shirts and posters.
I do our website with another group of friends. I do our album
artwork with a friend of mine, who's an art director.
Part of this –
the whole picture – is just the fact that our band is very
self-contained. If you remember in the '80s when there was a do-it-yourself
ethic, how people wanted to make their own amps and make their
own flyers and make their own clothes, and everything was coming
from their hands. What I love about that idea is that you get
a sense of consistency, because if we hire a video director tomorrow
to do a video and he doesn't know our band very well – how
am I going to get him on the same page with me? I can't. It's
much better if Joe, who's in the band, can do that.
Does Joe give you a hard time when he's directing your videos?
(Smiles) No, he's a good director. He's very creative.
He almost set you on fire during the filming of the "Somewhere
I Belong" video!
Yeah, but it's all in the name of making a good video
Park, now successful and comfortable, ponders where to take its
August 17 2004
Every track Linkin Park touches turns to gold, platinum and multi-platinum.
Their debut album, Hybrid Theory, crashed the music industry's
mainframe when it dropped in late 2000, and went on to move more
than 8 million units.
Its remixed version,
Reanimation, earned the So-Cal sextet credibility in the hip-hop
world and the respect of artists such as Jay-Z and the Roots frontman
Tracks from their latest
offering, Meteora, continue to ascend the charts, and ticket sales
for their annual "Projekt Revolution" tour, which stops
at Sound Advice Amphitheatre today, are steady during a year that
has seen massive tours like Lollapalooza crash and burn.
So what is it with
these guys? Pinning down a theory on their success has been as
hard as finding weapons of mass destruction. There are two schools
of thought: one that praises the band's ability to connect with
their massive fan base and the other that dismisses them as a
non-offensive group pretending to be original, despite bands like
Faith No More and Rage Against the Machine that already forged
a link between rap and rock.
So is this a case of
hating the player or the game?
"They're the `it'
band and there's always going to be a small faction of folks who
hate them," said Troy Hanson, 94.9 Zeta's director of rock
programming. "We as Americans build things up so we can tear
them down. There aren't enough quality new bands coming out these
days. Linkin Park still acts like they did when One Step Closer
came out. You have to get out there, shake hands and kiss babies,
and a lot of rock stars don't do that."
of charts, Geoff Mayfield, thinks it boils down to their ability
to relate to their fans.
"At the risk of
sounding simplistic, the bottom line for an artist succeeding
is delivering what consumers want to hear," Mayfield said.
"Sometimes it's tricky when the first album is as successful
as [Hybrid Theory] and its follow-up, Meteora. An example is Limp
Bizkit. They had an underground cachet and were very successful
but Fred Durst became a celebrity and that, and the loss of their
guitar player, kind of put them in a different light with fans."
Linkin Park's songs
are reflective of the sentiments of a post-Columbine, post-9-11
generation trying to make sense of the world.
The desire to explore
these themes isn't surprising given the band members' individual
interests. Bassist David "Phoenix" Farrell holds a degree
in philosophy; emcee Mike Shinoda, a classically trained pianist,
studied art; and guitarist Brad Delson studied mass communications.
The group formed in 1996 when Shinoda recruited high school buds
Delson, drummer Rob Bourdan and DJ Joseph Hahn to form a band.
Singer Chester Bennington,
who paid his dues with bands on the Phoenix, Ariz., scene, joined
in 1999. He's openly discussed his bouts with depression and abuse,
and his guttural screams on songs like Faint are so intense you
can almost see the veins bulging in his neck. Add Shinoda's raps,
guitarist Delson's power chords and Farrell's unyielding bass
and the result is a sharply orchestrated mix of rap, rock and
ProTools wizardry that contains enough desperation and rage to
rival the Book of Job.
speaking, a lot of great art has been inspired by the creator
going through some struggle," said Hahn. "That kind
of idea shows up a lot in our music. Dealing with frustration
is obvious but it's not what we focus on intentionally. Something
naturally comes out of [struggling] and people relate to it."
Songs like Papercut
and One Step Closer are chronicles of paranoia, depression and
struggles with a nebulous tormenting character named "You,"
a pronoun used by fans to apply the songs to a personal situation.
But while angst has
made for great first and even second albums, what happens when
your audience has gone through therapy, grown up and moved on?
"That's the question
on the minds of every A&R exec right now," said Hanson.
"They're trying to find the new sound, the new grunge, garage
band. Music is such a cyclical thing, from the '80s hair bands
to grunge in the '90s and nu-metal [in this decade]. I'm anxious
to see what's gonna come out next."
And when the band grows
Ask him about the direction
the band will take for their next album, and DJ Hahn waxes sarcastic.
"We don't want
to pigeonhole ourselves," he said, the irritation rising
in his voice. "Who knows where we're gonna take it? In the
next few years, maybe we'll be doing shows on the moon with astronauts
and living with aliens."
Well, they certainly
make enough money to try to get there. Money and fame may not
erase your woes but they certainly make a struggling artist much
more comfortable. The fact that they have less excuse for an "orgy
of self-pity," as one critic called Meteora, has some observers
wondering how they'll continue to relate to their audience.
Despite the clean-cut,
positive image they convey by excluding profanity from their lyrics
and hanging with fans, they don't offer any solutions for the
feelings of abandonment and depression that made their careers.
Mayfield believes Linkin
Park's struggle to remain relevant is no different from what the
Rolling Stones and U2 faced after the successes of their early
"It's too early
to tell but the fact that they sustained even this long bodes
well for them," he said. "With that kind of audience,
they have to stay true to themselves. I would think that it would
be astute to follow musical instincts and not tailor their sound
to what they think is popular. There's a tricky tightrope, trying
to keep it from going to your head. What sounds cool in the studio
might not sound good to fans because they're no longer that person."
Songs like the uplifting
Breaking the Habit offer glimmers of hope.
Hahn, however, prefers
to focus on the present.
a lot so far," he said. "We're overworked and we get
along great considering we're around each other all the time.
If we're around in a couple of years that will be the real test."