03.05.2008A few years ago, the music world was held hostage by a burly gang of bands that shared a love for mixing hard rock and hip-hop and an inexplicable affinity for the letter K.
Linkin Park, Korn and Limp Bizkit were the coolest kids in school, and rap-metal was the shirt everyone wanted to wear. Of the three, the most commercially successful was Linkin Park, whose debut album, Hybrid Theory, has moved over 14 million copies worldwide. Meaning, if you don't own a copy, you are directly related to someone who does. Here in 2004, rap-rock has become laughable. Some bands, like Limp, have become a parody. Others, like Papa Roach, are running from the genre with their tails between their legs.
Yet here stands Linkin Park, as rapping and rocking as ever, and still one of the biggest - if not the biggest - bands in the world. How did this happen? Easy: they made a really good second album. Meteora is the yin to Hybrid Theory's yang. Dark, moody, hauntingly pretty at spots, the album is full of dimension and flair. Whenever the heavy riffage and rapping start to sound a little hackneyed, the layers of programmed loops, samples, and drum-n-bass beats swoop in to save the day.
"We really want to show people that we're not just doing this heavy, angry thing," says DJ Joe Hahn during a recent Fly Magazine interview, citing Meteora's fifth and latest single, "Breaking the Habit," as a model for the album as a whole.
"When we wrote that song, each of us individually in the group were blown away. We were like, 'OK, this is a great song. Everything needs to be as good as this!'" he exclaims. "I think it's good as far as showing the spectrum of what we're trying to go for. We make music from whatever inspires us at the moment. We have constants in the band, so it's always going to have a certain sound as far as that goes. But within that I think there's still a lot of different ways we can go."
"Breaking the Habit," is easily the album's best and most ambitious track; it's also one of the few tracks where guitarist Brad Delson resists stomping on his tough-guy distortion box. Coincidence? No way. All things considered, Linkin Park walks away from Meteora sounding like an art-rock band dressed up in frat-boy clothing. Nu-metal fans are still digging the riffage; teeny-boppers are still swallowing the pop hooks whole; and snotty rock critics are penciling the album in as the guilty pleasure du jour. The result is tangible - over four million in sales makes Meteora a phenomenon in its own right and makes Hybrid Theory look a whole lot less like a fluke. When discussing fallen or in-the-process-of-falling comrades like Korn and Limp, Hahn almost sounds like he's got a case of survivor's guilt. He's completely at a loss when it comes to discussing what it is that's keeping Linkin Park afloat in the changing musical climate.
"There's no way to explain it," he shrugs. "We just do what we do." Seriously though? Hahn really can't see the difference between Linkin Park and the rest of its ilk? After some prodding, he finally bites. "The important thing to us is honesty and not faking anything, not trying to be a different way," he admits. "I think that really translates as far as the listeners. The people we meet when we play shows, they really see how it affects people. Even though it may not be a specific thing that we write about, people really relate to it." Hahn seems genuinely humble as he speaks, especially for a guy who spends his evenings on a stage in front of 20,000 people. In fact, humility is kind of a theme for the band. I mean, here's the biggest band in America, and I bet you can't name more than half of the members. Which means that Linkin Park's plan is working perfectly. "For us, we want the attention to be the music that we make and the shows that we present, for that to be the real magnet for people," Hahn explains.
"I think a lot of people use the media as a tool to keep themselves in the public eye and to keep interest in them," he adds, totally not making a reference to his friend Fred Durst. No way. "We're normal people. We don't pretend that we're superstars. We just want to be appreciated as artists. It's as simple as that." Linkin Park is currently in the throes of its final tour for Meteora; just to make things more exciting, the tour is doubling as the next installment of Projekt Revolution, an annual summer festival that the band members themselves organize.
"When we started Projekt Revolution, the idea was to bring out revolutionary acts that displayed everything that's going on in music at the time," Hahn says. "So we had a lot of hip-hop acts, a lot of rock acts. It was always our goal to build it up to be a festival, and we've successfully done that this year. So we're pretty blessed." This year's lineup includes Snoop Dogg, The Used, Korn, Less Than Jake, Ghostface Killah, and many more.
Once the tour wraps up in early September, Linkin Park will take a quick breather before beginning work on the next album. Hahn - who has written and directed several Linkin Park videos, including the newest clip for "Breaking the Habit" featuring "Kill Bill" animator Nakazawa - will be using his break to create his first feature film, which he describes as a modern day Pied Piper tale. "Hopefully, if everything goes right, I'll be able to shoot that in between albums," he chuckles.
I'm not sure that sandwiching a major motion picture between touring and recording qualifies as a break, but Hahn doesn't seem to be too concerned.
"It's been non-stop for us, but we always make time to stop and look at what's going on and count our blessings - make the most of it," he assures. "I'm just really lucky to be where I'm at and to have all these opportunities.
"We've got a great thing. We get along really well, especially with being around each other so much, and we make great music together," Hahn spouts. "The sum of all of us is greater than us individually. I think there's a really great thing going on. So however long that lasts, it's a blessing."
"Fly" Magazine - August 2004