When the Cali-based “rock meets rap” outfit Linkin Park released their first album, Hybrid Theory, it beat out Britney Spears to become the best selling record of 2001. That level of success freaked them out. After releasing their second album, Meteora in 2003, they regrouped and re-emerged four years later with a completely new sound that caused an uproar amongst loyal stans.

The albums Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns bore the sonic signature of legendary producer Rick Rubin. Rubin was also behind the boards for the band’s latest studio effort, Living Things, which is set to drop June 26th.

Last Friday Complex got a chance to hear a few tracks and chat with Linkin Park co-founder and resident MC, Mike Shinoda. He’s a smart dude with an interesting take on the band’s place in music history.

The new songs have a big, modern polished sound, but with that warm, fuzzy, hard-hitting Rick Rubin feel to them. Linkin Park has evolved from MTV frat-house faves into a class act and MC Mike Shinoda makes that clear in the rap-heavy joint “Until It Breaks” off Living Things. Over a bed of big healthy drums, he confidently spits, “I’m a Banksy / You’re a Brainwash / Get the picture like that?” Yes, we get the picture.

Interview by Jeff Sanico

Do you keep abreast of rap current affairs?

I think I do. These days everything moves really fast. There’s all kinds of sub-genres so it all depends on what you’re talking about. For instance, just this morning I heard about this track. It’s a Foster The People remix for “Blue Jeans” (by Lana Del Rey) that Azealia Banks raps on. She’s dope. The guy that mixed our record was doing her record right after ours and I was like, “Dude, can I sneak in?” I’m excited to hear Azealia Banks’s stuff.

What excites you about the new Linkin Park album?

It doesn’t lose any of the creativity of the newer stuff and it brings in the energy of the older stuff. It’s kind of a comprehensive sound. I feel like we’ve been able to take all the stuff we’ve learned on the way and put it all together in each song and still keep it fresh and forward-thinking.

Whenever we get in the studio we react really badly to anything feeling like it’s a throwback or a repeat of what we’ve done—as long as it feels like we’re taking a step forward it feels good. This record echoes a lot of different random things from what we’ve learned along the way. I think every artist’s “new album” is their favorite one.

We’ve been immersed in this one for a year. It’s like we are currently in the eye of the storm. All of my focus is on getting this record perfect and presenting it to the fans in the way that I think is the perfect way. It’ll never be perfect, but we just do our best to make it the best it can be. I’m thrilled about the record, I couldn’t be more excited about people hearing it.

How close is the new record to completion?

 

If you think of the difference between like, just use Kid Rock as an easy example. His reference points were like, Run-DMC and like, country rock. Our references were more in the vein of Dépêche Mode, The Roots, Def Tones, Nine Inch Nails and things like that. While his was very aggressive, we called it “frat-rock,” ours was more somber and introverted at times.

 

We’re mastering right now so it’s basically done. It’ll be out June 26th. The single “Burn It Down” just came out. We’re starting to get some feedback on how people are receiving it and it’s been awesome.

The first couple days we had the highest web traffic in the history of the band—broke all kinds of personal records. It did really well compared to things in the past few years. The industry at large is like… it’s hard to tell where the benchmarks are sometimes, because we live through the bubble of the music industry.

In comparison to that, everything could feel small. Depends on whether you’re an optimist or not. I don’t think we’re pessimists, so we just really try and be in the moment and be happy with what goals we can set and how we can achieve them.

What’s the process for creating a Linkin Park song?

Our process is really loose. Sometimes we’ll start songs with a piano, a beat, or lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics get written and mulled over and picked apart a million times. And sometimes it’s just like, walk up in front of the mic and freestyle it off the top of your head and that’s what ends up being on the record.

It depends on the idea and what’s good for the song. Part of the thing that’s always been there for the band is, before the album Hybrid Theory, the band was called Hybrid Theory, and that was our philosophy from day one. We like all these different types of music and they’re very specific.

It’s not like, oh, we’re just going to mix rap and rock. What kind of rap do you like? What kind of electronic music and rock do you like? Our tastes were different from what was going on out there.

If you think of the difference between like, just use Kid Rock as an easy example. His reference points were like, Run-DMC and like, country rock. Our references were more in the vein of Dépêche Mode, The Roots, Def Tones, Nine Inch Nails and things like that. While his was very aggressive, we called it “frat-rock,” ours was more somber and introverted at times.

Fast-forward to today, I know that our musical tastes have evolved and broadened a lot. We listen to so many more things now, and so to mix all that stuff becomes increasingly difficult but simultaneously, increasingly exciting, when you feel like you get it right.

Has your fan base been feeling the progression?

The first two records were a whirlwind. Hybrid Theory was the best selling album in the world that year. We beat Britney Spears, which didn’t even make any sense to us. A couple years later we decided we needed to go back and basically completely change what we were doing or else we’d be stuck doing that thing forever.

We ended up doing an album called Minutes to Midnight, which was like taking a few steps out of the box and learning how to do something different. The last album was called A Thousand Suns and it was a complete departure. We went totally out of left field to people that were following the band.

But to us, it was a necessary step. We knew going into it that it was really going to be polarizing. It was going to take a lot of effort for a fan to get into it, which is a lot to ask of people. Because it was a concept record, the first two songs on the album were instrumental and had absolutely no traditional structure—you didn’t get a song until the third track in.

We absolutely lost and gained fans. If you look on the iTunes reviews its either one star or five stars. Everybody loved or hated it. That’s kind of the point. So coming back after that… we love that record and had a great time doing it and touring it. It kind of worked out exactly the way we wanted it to.

So coming into this record we’re like, what do we feel is the next step for us creatively? Like, what are we excited about doing? And, this is it. It’s definitely feeling like there was a thirst for a certain thing that is very “Linkin Park,” and we wanted to give them that. We’ve been holding it back for a long time and we felt like now is a good time. We’re excited about doing it. We’re excited for people to hear it.

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