Interview: Mike Shinoda Talks "Living Things," The State of Rock, and Linkin Park's Fan Base

Interview: Mike Shinoda Talks "Living Things," The State of Rock, and Linkin Park's Fan BasePhoto by Anna Shinoda

When Linkin Park’s debut album, Hybrid Theory, came out in 2000, the band was at the forefront of the changing face of alternative music. That project was the best-selling album of the year, yielded one Grammy win, eventually went diamond, and forever stands as one of the defining albums of a new genre-bending direction for rock music at the turn of the decade.

A lot has changed since then.

We’ve seen a slew of alternative rock bands who were unfairly lumped in with Linkin Park come and go, and we’ve witnessed a shift in music that left a lot of popular rock from the early 2000s as a thing of the past.

It’s been over 10 years since they exploded into stardom, and Linkin Park is still proving, quite convincingly, that they are not a thing of the past. Their latest album, Living Things, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 220,000 copies in its first week of release.

We sat down with Linkin Park’s resident rapper, writer, guitarist, and producer Mike Shinoda to find out what has changed since that first album and what keeps Linkin Park going strong after all these years.

Interview by Jacob Moore (@PigsAndPlans)

The last time we talked, you were still working on Living Things. Now that you’ve finished it up, how do you feel about it?
Well, how do I feel about it? I feel good. For us, what we tried to do when we started working on it is we wanted to bridge the gap between all the previous records. We wanted to bring some of the old fans into the new and some of the new fans into the old and mix it up. At this point, I feel really good about the response. The response to the singles has been awesome. It’s been even better than I thought it would be. At the same time, I’m really excited to be playing some of the other tracks live. Some of those are a little more adventurous. I really want to play, for example, “Until It Breaks” in the set. That will be fun.

How do you feel about the current state of rock? One of the cool things about Linkin Park is that you guys have always brought so many different genres together, and that seems to be a big thing in rock right now.
Yeah, rock is maybe more fragmented than it has been. It’s more fragmented than it was 10 years ago, that’s for sure. 10 years ago, when our band first came out, it was very much about a certain sound, and everybody was making variations of that certain sound. We hated being lumped into that shit. We didn’t even mind the bands that we were being lumped in with, we just didn’t like the idea of somebody saying that there’s a nu-metal movement and having the flag shoved into our hands. In every interview, we said we are not trying to hold the flag of that thing, because we knew that wasn’t our thing, and it never was. We’ve got six guys with drastically different tastes in music, and we’re always feeding each other different stuff. And that stuff is just moving from one guy to the other, and it ends up influencing the music. The more we play together it’s manifested itself in what we write and what we record.

 

I don’t ever mind if the hot thing works its way into other genres. As long as it’s honest.

 

Electronic music especially seems to be catching on in hip-hop and in rock. How do you feel about that? Do you listen to that kind of stuff?

I don’t ever mind if the hot thing works its way into other genres. As long as it’s honest.

Do you think it’s a phase?

I think the dishonest stuff will fall away, yeah. Like, if you see two artists get together because it’s going to sell records and they don’t really go that deep into each other’s music or genre, then yeah, you’ll feel like it’s fake. At least for us, if we’re ever dabbling with something that unfamiliar to us, there’s a real honesty there with our guys. Back in the day with Hybrid Theory, we were plugging in a little jungle and drum & bass thing into our songs—like “Papercut” you can really hear it. I don’t think I can even name 10 jungle songs or artists off the top of my head, but at the time we were so into it. We were getting all these sets of all this stuff, these 90-minute mixes of shit that we couldn’t name, and it was awesome.

Over the years, how has your live show evolved?
We put a lot of work into our live show. In the beginning we only had one album that was less than 40 minutes long, and within the first nine months we were expected to play headline sets. Can you imagine? You’re expecting a band to play at least 60 minutes, and we didn’t even have 45.

What did you do?
We occasionally played a cover. We occasionally dicked around and made our songs longer. We talked a lot in between songs. Now we have the opposite problem, where we’ve got so many songs and it’s like how do we work it all into the set and make it interesting and keep the flow really nicely. These new sets are some of the most high-energy sets that we’ve played in like seven years.

Do you have a favorite song on the favorite album?
No, I mean day to day I guess I could, but it changes. I mentioned “Until It Breaks” earlier. I just like that one because it’s a little more wild than a lot of the other stuff on the record. Today we’re going to play “Lost In The Echo,” which is another favorite of mine. I just like to play it because it’s got a lot of energy.

I read that “Skin To Bone” and “Roads Untraveled” were influenced by Bob Dylan. That’s interesting.
That was Chester. At a certain point during the writing of Living Things, we were listening to folk music—we had this phase, for months, where we just listened to folk music. Brad and I were listening to stuff from the ‘20s and earlier. And Chester was listening to Dylan and stuff like that. And it turned out that Dylan and that ‘60s folk movement was influenced by the stuff we were listening to from the ‘20s. That’s what worked its way into the mind of Dylan and those folks and they were bringing that back.

For us, in particular, there’s an anthology put out by the Smithsonian that’s really great. I’ve actually got a playlist on Spotify of that. There’s all these old prison songs from the South. It’s incredible. They have interviews with the artists and the artists would start and end every sentence with “sir” or “boss,” because they were talking to the prison guards about their songs.

I remember when Kurt Cobain said his favorite artist was Leadbelly. I was in middle school and I heard that and dug into that, and it was so crazy to me.
It’s crazy right? The song format is always very similar, but the ways they emote when they are singing the songs are insane.

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Tags: mike-shinoda, linkin-park
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