Interview with Mike Shinoda
11.05.2008"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....
NY Rock: Were you afraid of the legendary sophomore jinx while recording Meteora?
Mike Shinoda: 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.
NY Rock: What happened to the songs which didn't make it on the final cut?
Mike Shinoda: They never got finished, really.
NY Rock: Will you finish them and release them on an outtakes album?
Mike Shinoda: 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.
NY Rock: 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?
Mike Shinoda: 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.
NY Rock: How did you get the idea to do little intros to almost each track?
Mike Shinoda: 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, from nothing.
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.
NY Rock: Both you and Chester write the lyrics. Do you work together or does each write his own part?
Mike Shinoda: 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.
NY Rock: 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?
Mike Shinoda: 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.
NY Rock: Would you ever exchange roles with Chester, just for the fun of it?
Mike Shinoda: 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].
NY Rock: It would be fun to try it one day!
Mike Shinoda: 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.
NY Rock: You wanted to collaborate with Björk. Anything planned?
Mike Shinoda: 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 seen.
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.
NY Rock: You have a slight element of Depeche Mode.
Mike Shinoda: I like Depeche Mode, I do.
NY Rock: What would you be doing if you weren't in Linkin Park?
Mike Shinoda: 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.
NY Rock: Does Joe give you a hard time when he's directing your videos?
Mike Shinoda: (Smiles) No, he's a good director. He's very creative.
NY Rock: He almost set you on fire during the filming of the "Somewhere I Belong" video!
Mike Shinoda: Yeah, but it's all in the name of making a good video.
NY Rock - May 2003