Linkin Park's sudden impact
03.05.2008Linkin Park have silenced the jeering with their creative energy to become the great hip-hop hope, writes Neala Johnson
A MERE four years ago there were some who were convinced Linkin Park was the product of a record company boardroom – cynically manufactured to bring hard-edged sounds to pop kids
But these days the six-man band is one of the most creative forces in American music.
From their artwork to their videos, their production to their remixes, their collaborations to their shoes, Linkin Park have their fingers in so many artistic (and successful) pies that those "manufactured" allegations now seem rather laughable.
Mike Shinoda – Linkin Park's in-house production wiz, rapper and graphic designer – is laughing all the way to the bank. "I loved that, that was so funny," he recalls.
"It was obviously flattering and aggravating at the same time to have people saying, 'They can't possibly have written their music themselves'.
"Some of the naysayers were saying, 'This is ridiculous'. And, obviously, it's not ridiculous," he laughs.
"We're just guys who happened to get together and we work really hard for what we do, and we're always looking for new opportunities to be creative and try out something different – which, luckily for us, is the way the Jay-Z thing came together."
"The Jay-Z thing" is Collision Course, an MTV-instigated mash-up that saw Linkin Park get creative in yet another way – hitting the studio with hip-hop superstar Jay-Z for a one-off record, and then an LA stage for an intimate one-off show.
What could have been a cynically manufactured MTV marketing coup has resulted in a killer CD and DVD, Jay-Z's feel-good beats and Linkin Park's angst-rock hybrid mixing to surprising effect.
The EP sees Izzo meet In The End, Big Pimpin' meld with Papercut, and Numb mesh with Encore (the track that already has been all over radio and video stations).
And for those who think Jay-Z's cred far outstrips Linkin Park's, it was the rap impresario who suggested the collaboration.
After being approached by MTV about doing whatever live event took his fancy, Jay-Z called Linkin Park.
"We were really flattered, first of all, and to let them know they shouldn't consider any other options, that I'm 100 per cent capable of putting this thing together, I immediately grabbed his a cappellas and started making songs," Shinoda says.
"I made Numb with Encore, and Dirt off Your Shoulder with Lying From You, and sent them back and said, 'I wanna do it and here's what it would sound like if we did'.
"Needless to say Jay was really excited about it. I think we impressed him."
For Shinoda especially, working with Jay-Z was the stuff of dreams. Though a large part of Linkin Park is rock, Shinoda's roots are all hip-hop.
Even now, as Linkin Park take a breather after finally wrapping up touring on Meteora, every project Shinoda is giving his spare time to is all about the hip-hop flavour. "Oh that, I can't help it!" he laughs.
"I only listened to hip-hop for years and years when I was growing up. I first started playing piano when I was a little kid and I played for 10 years, and from piano I started learning to play all my favourite rap songs, and from there I got into beats and production, and learned a few other instruments, and that's kinda how Linkin Park got started."
Recently, he's remixed Depeche Mode and made a track for the forthcoming solo album of Jurassic 5's Chali 2na. But most of his time has been devoted to producing Styles of Beyond, a group of old friends with whom he reconnected this year.
"It's weird when you haven't seen friends for a while and you get together, and realise you still have a lot in common and get along really well," Shinoda says.
After big-timing it with Linkin Park and mixing it with the likes of Jay-Z, these old buddies were expecting a little ego from Shinoda. But there never has been much inflated self-worth in the Linkin Park camp.
"I saw (Styles of Beyond's) Tak at the bowling alley," Shinoda says. "I was bowling with my wife and I see Tak there and I'm just like, 'What the hell are you doing here?' And he's like, 'I still live here'. And he told me he thought I moved – like we hit it big with Linkin Park and I moved out of town! And I'm like, 'No, I'm still here'. "
After catching up on lost time, the old friends took to the studio and Shinoda signed Styles of Beyond to Linkin Park's new record label, Machine Shop – yet another outlet for Linkin Park's restless hands and minds.
"I'm one of those people," Shinoda laughs. "My friends joke and tell me I have ASD (Attention Surplus Disorder), as opposed to ADD which is Attention Deficit Disorder.
"Do you remember on Nintendo there was that game, Legend of Zelda? Those sci-fi things where you role play – I could sit there and play those for days and like, not stop. It's kinda scary, but now that's how I approach music – I'll sit there and work on a song for 24 hours and just stop to eat," he laughs.
While fame on Linkin Park's level may make many things come easy, the extra opportunities the band seem to be enjoying en masse at the moment – from the Jay-Z project to the Warner-backed record label to Shinoda's just-released signature range of DC sneakers – haven't come without a little bit of hustle on their behalf.
"You always have to hustle to let people know what you're interested in doing, it's just the way it is out there in the world," Shinoda says.
"You mentioned the DC shoe – they had this Remix project and asked me a while ago if I would ever be interested in doing that, and I said, 'No, that's not my thing, I don't really do promotional things like that or endorse clothing'.
"But months went by and I came back to them and I said I had an idea, 'I really wanna start this scholarship for illustration and graphic design students, like financial help for them to get through college, and I'd like to do the shoe and give 100 per cent of my proceeds to the scholarship'.
"So my proceeds go to this scholarship, and DC was kind enough to match that one for one. Stuff like that . . . nobody's gonna come up with that idea for you."
Shinoda says he and his bandmates – singer Chester Bennington, bassist Phoenix, turntablist Joe Hahn, drummer Rob Bourdon and guitarist Brad Delson – are using this post-Meteora down-time to "change gears".
"It's nice to be at home," he says. "Everybody's asking when they're gonna see a new Linkin Park record, but it'll be a little bit before we see that 'cos the guys are just trying other things out."
Though the projects may vary, the one constant is the effort Linkin Park sink into their work. Had Jay-Z, for example, chosen any other collaborator for this mash-up exercise, that cynical, half-hearted, novelty affair most were probably expecting probably would have eventuated.
But, as Shinoda says: "I will work hard to make anything work.
"One of my loves is producing. I'm can get in the studio and make somebody feel comfortable, that everything is open to them trying out new creative ideas, and that if they do something and it's totally weird, and they don't like it later, they can get rid of it.
"So in my mind, I wouldn't let this go sour."
The Courier Mail - December 4, 2004