Mike Shinoda: 'Whenever We Go Into Making a Record, We Try Creating the Best We Can Create for the Moment'

artist: linkin park date: 08/07/2014 category: interviews
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Mike Shinoda: 'Whenever We Go Into Making a Record, We Try Creating the Best We Can Create for the Moment'
"The Hunting Party," Linkin Park's new album is a return to the aggression and heaviness fans came to recognize on their earliest records. Besides being the heaviest music the band has made in years, this is also the first time they've self-produced. Recorded on tape, "The Hunting Party" is a panorama of blazing guitars, layered keyboards and epic vocals.

In the conversation below, singer Chester Bennington and emcee/vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Mike Shinoda participated in a tele-conference interview. Multiple writers for various outlets across the country were each given the opportunity to ask the members one or two questions. What you're reading here are questions posed by an assortment of different journalists writing for different media organizations. The content has been edited and various questions have been inserted that were not asked during the original interview.

The Hunting Party is a shift in direction for the band?

Mike Shinoda: Yeah. When we were making the album, I had a handful of demos that weren't quite as heavy as this. They were a little more electronic-driven. There was just a day that I was listening and I was looking for something to listen to and I couldn't find what it was that I wanted. I wanted something more aggressive and heavy and energetic. I wanted it to be like, modern and progressive and the only stuff I was finding was if it was modern and progressive, it tended to be a little more mellow. And if it was heavier, it tended to not be as progressive. And so, I think we all found that there was just a style that was kind of being underserved that we wanted to hear and that's what we decided to make.

How do you feel about the reception of the album?

Chester Bennington: It's funny because I think probably more so than any other record, maybe other than possibly "A Thousand Suns," I feel like critically the record's been overwhelmingly positive. Like, I have yet to read anything negative about the record on a critical level that has been written, which is pretty amazing, and so for that we're very grateful. But at the same time, almost on a daily basis I run into Linkin Park fans and I'll take pictures or say, "Hi," whatever, and every single person that I've met since we released this record has told me that they love the record. They are super happy that it's out like it is and that they've been waiting for the great rock record. I feel like we have accomplished our goal on this album. I think not only creatively, but personally for the band, but also for a lot of our fans. Like, they appreciate what we do, but they've kind of been waiting for us to rock out for awhile, and I think they appreciate not only that we did rock out, but in the manner in which we did.

Was everybody in the band totally open to exploring this new direction?

MS: For me, it was a bit of a process. I felt like Chester was on board from the beginning and Dave ["Phoenix" Farrell, bassist] and I had talked about it a number of times, but it was still, like, figuring out at that point what we were. And so, like, what is a louder record mean? What is bringing energy to the album, even more so than the last album? What does that mean? How do we do that without it sounding throwback or derivative of heavier stuff that we grew up with?

How did you approach that?

MS: We were trying to find the right tone, so that I could take that to Brad [Delson, guitarist] and Rob [Bourdon, drummer] and say, "You guys, I know this is something that you don't naturally gravitate towards at this point in your life, but check out these reference points." Bands like Refused and At the Drive-In and Helmet are a great example of how when you listen to those albums, I feel like there's a huge aesthetic separation between those albums and other things that were going on at the time. And that's what I was keying into and saying, "It is possible to bring a smart, and maybe alternative in the more pure sense of the word, an alternative to what people expect when they hear metal or heavy music or whatever."

How has touring changed for the band technically over the past 25 years?

MS: We have so many opportunities and the focus a lot of times is on what's the selection process and what choices do we make that keeps things focused and exciting. I feel like on this one the production that you'll see evolves over the course of the show really well. It's more video-based. What's funny about it is in our band, technology has actually allowed us to be more of a band, more of an organic free-thinking kind of group, because we are the kind of band that creates a lot of our stuff in the studio in layered forms. For us, we create in the style where things get layered and there's a lot of different stuff going on in each song oftentimes. And 10 years ago that stuff would be locked into a timeline with our sampler keyboard, or whatever, and in more modern stuff, we can actually react on the fly and say, "Let's slow this part down. Let's speed it up. Let's pitch it. Let's loop it," and there's moments when we can just kind of jam out and enjoy it.

Technology has become a valuable tool in terms of a live Linkin Park show?

MS: And that strangely is like this merging of the humanity and the technology. The other thing that I should just mention is although there is the technology in the set-up of what we've got going on onstage, and I feel like it's very high-tech for music as far as what a music set-up on stage can be, we also have a great deal of responsibility to be a live band. So, whereas we have the opportunity to put certain things in the computer or on a sampler or whatever, we're very careful about what we do, what we do put in the computer, because we want to be playing everything. We want the crowd to see us in performing the song, and I feel like even in almost every case, if you were to remove that other stuff and just have what's being in played in front of you, you basically have the same song.

Can you talk a bit more about the visual elements of the stage production?

MS: One important thing to start with is that the visuals on "The Hunting Party" were rooted in a handful of drawings and artwork by an incredible painter named James Jean. James, I don't even know where to start as far as how important this guy is or how incredible he is. In talking with him, we wanted to do something that has never been done with his artwork before and landed on the idea of converting it into an actual 3D sculpture, each piece into a 3D sculpture. So, although the sculptures live in the computer, we got them rendered in 3D art. Our amazing group at Ghost Town did those renderings with James and then those built out the basic foundation of the artwork for the album.

That sounds fairly complex.

MS: I think in the context of a live show, it's really important to have something that lives and breathes. And to some degree, one of the challenges that I posed to the production team was based on what we decide to do with the show every night. If we decide to play something differently, if we decide to expand the part or whatever we want to do, I want the artwork to change with the performance. So, it needs to be malleable and that's where the real production challenges start to arise.

On the Carnivores tour, you're going out with 30 Seconds to Mars and AFI. Do you have personal relationships with those bands?

CB: I think the relationship is more of a professional relationship. I've been friends with Jared [Leto] for a few years so we're pretty friendly. But it's not like we're all having birthday parties together and things like that.

But you obviously like what those bands do musically?

CB: We've been very close to our fan base for a long time asking questions and seeing who they want us to tour with and it's been really interesting. We decided to poll our fans to see who they wanted us to tour with and for five or six times in a row, 30 Seconds to Mars has either been the most popular band that they want to see us tour with or number two. Not only has 30 Seconds to Mars grown tremendously over the last several years into not only a great studio band writing great songs, but they're amazing live. I don't know if you listened to AFI's most recent record but it's amazing.

"The Hunting Party" was recorded on analog tape. Where did that idea come from?

MS: I think it's something we've been curious about for awhile and it had to be the right moment to really dive into it. I've had a little bit of experience with tape on previous projects, but not really cutting such large chunks of the song and large performances to tape. It's so nice because it forces you to slow down and really consider each performance, each recording of whoever's playing at the time and whether or not you want it. I think it gives this album its sound.

CB: It's like a more live feel. One of the things that's always kind of been surprising to a lot of people that I see when they come to see us for the first time and especially my musician friends is this raw and in-your-face attitude. Even our mellower songs have an edge to them that you get in a live performance that kind of gets lost in the studio and I think that with this record, we've kind of captured a lot more of what we're like live.

Two years have elapsed since the last album. Did you think you might have gone too far during this interim and alienated some of your fans?

CB: I think since "Minutes to Midnight" we've kind of had this conversation. We knew that when we went into "Minutes to Midnight" it was going to be different and we wanted it to be extremely different. And we knew that it was going to be a risk to take and we could potentially alienate our entire fan base.

Obviously you didn't because fans seem to love the new album as you've mentioned.

CB: Our goal was to make good songs and if we accomplished our goal, it would be almost impossible to alienate everybody. Luckily for us, a lot of our fans have come along for the ride on the last two records and we really did go and stretch our wings and see how far we could take these. Going through that process of trying things and making sure that we're creatively excited and energized helps us create music that still sounds like Linkin Park regardless of what vibe the song is. I mean that's kind of what we're known for anyway. So, I think for people to get hung up on us not speaking to a specific sound is kind of a silly idea anyway considering that we've never really been a kind of a single genre type of band. I think going through that process is really a lot of being able to be creative on a heavy record like this. I don't think we could have been as creative with the guitar, and the drums 12 years ago.

What was it like working with Page Hamilton and Tom Morello on a couple of tracks?

MS: The addition of those guys was in most cases pretty late in the game. If you're just talking about from a fan recognition standpoint then sure, somebody sees those names on there and they kind of know what they're getting.

CB: I don't think they would have been into working with us if the goal was, "Hey, let's go work with these people and then that'll make it even more cool."

Your comments in the "Distortion of Sound" film about people not hearing your music the way it was originally recorded was very insightful and honest. You talked about fans listening on cheap Earbuds and computer speakers. When you were making "The Hunting Party" did you ever think, "This is good enough. Who really cares what it sounds like?"

MS: I think you know our band. You know that we're all pretty - for for better or worse - perfectionistic. The point of the documentary is that pretty much everything that everybody listens to when they go to listen to music, is at a lower quality and usually a much lower quality than the artists recorded it at. And that what was intended to be heard is lost to a large degree. When you send a picture from your phone it says, "Do you want to send it small, medium, large, or actual size?" If you send it small, it's like this weird, low res crappy little thing. And if you send it large or actual size, you get something that you actually enjoy. And what we're doing to ourselves from an audio perspective is we're always listening to the small version.

That's absolutely right.

MS: Most people don't even realize that and that occurred to me that we're all doing that and not even thinking twice about it. So the conversation [in the documentary] was just the idea that that should get out there and people should be aware that that's what they're doing. At least if they're making the decision consciously, that's different than doing it and not even knowing any better. When we're in the studio just to put it into perspective, we work nine months on average. On this album, we did a large chunk of it to tape, which is higher quality than basically anything that you can get and even a FLAC file isn't the quality of an analog recording.

That's interesting.

MS: What happens is when it goes in the computer, it basically interprets that audio at the highest resolution that it can. So, when we recorded this stuff to tape, we then dumped it in the computer because of large portions of the process of getting it to the file format that you're going to end up listening to. It has to go in the computer at some point, so what we decided to do was double the resolution of our files when it got imported. Then the resolution of the actual audio is really, really, really high. Every time you lower that - if it goes from 96 down to 48 - it takes in half as much information. Those are those lengths that we went to to ensure a high audio quality.

Then people would buy the CD and listen to it on Earbuds.

MS: The idea that somebody would turn that on YouTube and listen to it on shitty Ear buds is kind of like you're missing a lot of that information. The whole point is people are going to do it anyway. I do it sometimes myself. I do it consciously. I choose to listen to higher fidelity stuff consciously as well, and we should just be aware that that's what's going on.

Do you think people at this point can even hear the difference between a good and a bad recording?

MS: The guys at Harman [producers of the film] did an actual blind test with random fans. They took random music with different audio qualities and they found literally a150 percent increase in head nodding and people just bobbing their heads along. Because they increased the audio quality, people would bob their heads more. I mean, that's enjoyment of music.

Which is why you recorded to analog and why vinyl albums are still the best way to hear music.

MS: They're coming back. The sales of vinyl are up quite a bit in the last five years. Now, keep in mind they can't touch the sales of digital singles. They're nowhere near the same thing, but the point is that there are a lot more people than any time in the last five years that are buying vinyl.

You play rhythm guitar as support to Brad Delson's solo guitars. How do you work out the guitar parts between the two of you?

MS: I just take the easier part because he's a better guitar player to put it really simply. I mean, occasionally we get to things that we can both play well and we just choose whichever one sounds better. Or maybe even sometimes if I'm going to have to do a vocal and this will look better if I'm doing the vocal and doing this part. If the crowd is there to watch me sing lead on a song and I'm struggling and really having to focus on playing something and I can't deliver the song and make it fun, then I'll ask Brad to switch parts with me.

So a lot of times you'll play a simpler part when you have to sing?

MS: A funny thing: there's a song on "The Hunting Party" called "Wastelands" and there are two guitar parts. One of them is the main one that you really hear and the other one is textural and has a higher pitched sound. We were rehearsing it and I was playing the rhythm playing the choruses and I'm, like, "Jesus, this is just so much work. It's so much movement." We had done it all day and stuff and we're working it out, and I wrote that part, so I knew how it went. It's just a lot to do while I'm trying to manage the rapping parts. I said to Brad, "This part is crazy. What are you playing?" Just wondering if we should maybe switch. He hadn't said a word the whole time and he's just letting me do my thing. He showed me what he's playing and what I'm playing, my hands are all over the fretboard. He's literally playing "nee, nee, nee" on one note. It was like two strings and like your first guitar part you ever learned. That's how simple it was. And I'm, like, "Dude, you are an a--hole for not just stepping in and saying, 'Hey, what do you say we switch parts?'"

There really is a focus on guitars on this album.

MS: This is the first album since probably either "Minutes to Midnight" or "Meteora" that has had such a focus on the heavier guitars and drums and so on. And I should also say that for the most part all of those things always existed in a lot of our music. But it's the choice of what do you put up front? How do you mix it? When you're writing it, what's the important part to really take away? A lot of the guitar stuff on the last couple albums has been more atmospheric and a background tone as opposed to being a leading role. So, yeah, the guitars are definitely the main character in the music of this album.

Was Brad onboard for having the guitars at the forefront?

MS: Brad was mentally not interested in playing heavy stuff for a long time. That was a function of him having grown up playing so much Metallica basically and playing six or eight hours of guitar every day. When you're in high school and maybe through college, he just got burnt out on that and didn't want to do it anymore.

Brad just didn't want to rip out solos?

MS: We were making stuff that was really exciting to him in different ways and we were all fine with that. It wasn't like we were mad at Brad for not ripping some crazy solo. I think that's not the kind of music we were making. I was saying to Dave, "There's no way that Dave and I and Chester could create the kind of guitar [playing] that would make this album what it needs to be. We need Brad because Brad is a better guitar player than we are and he needs to be on board with this."

You let Brad know your feelings?

MS: The more I talked to him about it, basically the conversation ended up being, "You realize the real tipping point is you need to get in touch with your inner 14-year-old who got inspired to start to play guitar and what that kid listened to back then and what he wanted to make." It wasn't like, "Hey, I want you to write something that's going to impress some kid in Idaho." No, "I want you to write what would excite you as a young kid to learn to play guitar." Like, "don't make it about anybody else but yourself. So, what is it that would be exciting to you?"

Rob Bourdon's drum parts on the album were also very cool.

MS: I write this stuff for him and with him a lot of the times and I send him stuff and say, "This is what I'm thinking of for the song," and he's always up for a challenge. There's nothing I can send him that he wouldn't say, "I'll give it a shot." He had a lot of fun doing it because he actually had to physically prepare. He needed to up his cardio to actually play the drums on this album, which was funny. And I don't mean that he was lazy before. He was already in good shape and then this stuff comes and it's, "Wow, this is harder to play and especially if I'm going to play 100 minutes of it. I'm going to need to really be physically able to do that." He had to work up to it. I would send him some stuff and it literally would be, like, "Good luck, Rob."

CB: That's a great point. That's so funny.

Are there any songs on the album you particularly like?

MS: I feel like whenever we go into make a record, we try and create the best thing we can create for that moment. Obviously with this album, our effort was more in an aggressive way and I feel like still a very experimental direction. Different people gravitate towards different songs for different reasons, and even I like different ones on different days. So, whereas, one day I love "Keys to the Kingdom" because it may be one of the wildest, rapid fire songs on the album. Another day, I like "Rebellion" because it's such a cool mix of the heaviest stuff on the record, but also it's really melodic and a solid song underneath there. And then other days I like "A Line in the Sand." I think "A Line in the Sand" does all of the best things that Linkin Park can do in one song.

What is the status of your involvement with the Stone Temple Pilots?

CB: Well, we started writing some stuff a couple weeks ago, and that was a lot of fun. So, yeah, we're planning on recording some music as soon as possible and we've got a kickstart on a bunch of tracks and it's fun to be around a bunch of people who just thoroughly enjoy making music all the time. It's, like, I get to be in Linkin Park and play with some of the best musical minds in my opinion in music right now. Then I get to come home and go play with some more people who are great. So, it's pretty awesome. I don't know when we're going to get in the studio. We want to do it as soon as possible, so we'll make that happen with the time that we have when I'm not with Linkin Park.

Do you think this is the most adventurous album you've ever made?

MS: It would be a split between this and "A Thousand Suns" for me. On "A Thousand Suns," we hadn't done anything that outrageous. Before we even wrote five songs, we knew that we were on a path to totally piss off a portion of the fan base. And we knew that if we were going to go down that road, that we had to be committed to being OK with that. It's not a fun thing for us to be pissing people off. I don't feel like our thing is "Hey, I'm just going to do this to make our fans mad."

You never consciously try to go in a different direction - that's just where the music takes you at that moment?

MS: That's never the thing. At the time when we released "A Thousand Suns," what was popular on rock radio was the Strokes and the Killers. It was more of a grimy sound. It was more garage rocky, grungy kind of stuff and we just decided to go out and make this really almost esoteric, artsy concept record that was really electronic-driven and really didn't have a lot of that aggression to it in that sense. And if there was aggression, it was more of an outrageous, experimental kind of sound.

In what way?

MS: For example, on the songs "Blackout" and "The Catalyst." On this album, it's the same thing happening but in the opposite direction. Now everything is that kind of electronic base, a kind of throwback. I hear a lot of Talking Heads in it and even Tears for Fears and stuff of that ilk, which I like.

You're trying to make music that isn't necessarily all around you?

MS: I think, "What is it that is not out there that if I wanted to listen to, I couldn't find other than going back to records that came out in the '90's?" So, that's what ended up happening is we made an album that had that energy. We wanted it to be heavy but progressive as opposed to, "Oh, it should sound like that album or that band."

CB: I honestly feel like "A Thousand Suns" was a far bigger risk than this record. The risks we were taking from the band perspective is that we laughed at them a little bit because they weren't really risks for us. It was just, like, more of a business thing. When we were doing "Minutes to Midnight" and "A Thousand Suns," we knew we were going to alienate probably some of our fan base. We didn't know if anybody was going to like where we were going. This one is completely different. Are people going to buy it? Are they going to believe what we're doing?

You must have believed there would be an audience for the album.

CB: The reality was potentially no. People might not like what you're doing. With this record, I feel like with the culture of radio, it's probably not going to get played a lot. It's probably not going to be number one in the United States. We knew that going into it and those things don't really matter to us. What we care about is making a record that's exciting to us. And at this point in our career, we wanted to make a statement and we can and we found ourselves in a very unique position to do that and make that statement. We knew if we did it right, if we made a good heavy record, we would actually be pleasing most of our fan base. So, I'm pretty sure that 90 percent of Linkin Park fans would be excited to hear a record that reminded them of the Linkin Park they discovered early on. So I think in that sense it was not a risk.

It's all about the music?

CB: We're willing to take a chance at radio and we're willing to do those kinds of things that may not be fitting within the mainstream right now. But we know we're going to be making our fans happy and we know that we're going to be happy because we wrote these songs to be played live and bring the energy at the live shows up. And any time we can put the energy up on stage, everybody has more fun. So, it was kind of a much lower risk in my assessment than "A Thousand Suns."

MS: Yeah. I think that's true. I also say it's a great point Chester made that has to do with how do you measure what's a success and what's risky?

How do you measure success?

MS: What we care about at this point with our releases is are the fans talking about it? And that means anywhere whether it's online or in person or whatever. But you can gauge that on our social media. Are they excited? Yes, they're excited. And then second, are they coming to the shows? Do they care enough that they want to come out and see us play? And, yes, they're coming to the shows. The tickets are selling out and it's doing well. You could talk to us in six months and we'd say, "Yes, it's been a debacle. Like, all of a sudden, they got bored and now they don't come to the shows." But barring that actually happening we're really happy with the reception that everything's gotten.

It is difficult to measure success via social media and the kind of buzz that gets spread around music sites.

MS: You can't just look at it on a chart and say, "How does this compare to so and so?" We're living in a different age and everything is niche. Everything is cut down into a sub-group where you can be a fan of ASAP Rocky and Linkin Park. That's a very realistic possibility in this world. So, just because numbers work out one way or another, whether you're talking about radio or Billboard or the Grammy's or whatever it may be, those are all different metrics and that's not necessarily how the world works.

Transcribed by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2014
More linkin park interviews:
+ Linkin Park: 'The Sound Should Be Epic' Interviews 06/16/2009
+ Linkin Park Guitarist: 'Minutes To Midnight Is A Huge Departure For Us' Interviews 05/12/2007
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