Photo: LAMC Productions
Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park is back with his latest album, Post Traumatic, and he’ll be performing in Singapore at Zepp@BigBox on Wed, Aug 22. He shares with Men’s Health some of the challenges he’s faced working solo, what this album means for him and his fans, as well as overcoming obstacles in his career.
What’s the creative and production process like doing a solo album compared to doing it in a band with other guys?
Shinoda: There are so many differences, there are almost more differences than similarities. Starting from the beginning, I was trying to capture each moment as it was happening in the songs. And on a lot of my previous songs with Linkin Park, I would almost sketch and let a song slowly take shape. I would write a bit of it one day, and then come back to it a week later and work a little more. So, a song would take shape over time.
[For Post Traumatic], I realised when I started making these songs, my state of mind was changing so much day by day that I needed to capture the songs in the moment, in a shorter period of time. So eeach time I sat down with a song, I really tried to finish it or get as close to the finish product as I could.
As I went, I feel like I made more definitive decisions about parts and what the sounds and words should be. And in a sense, I took more risks because I made a decision and tried to stick with it.
And then moving past that part of it, in general it’s a very autobiographical album. It’s a diary, it’s a journal. So the concept of the songs really drove everything forward. I listen to the first half of it and it’s very dark as it looks back at things a year ago. Then as it goes on, halfway through the album it starts to look forward, and you start to hear more hope.
As much as this album was a way for yourself to cope with what had happened, is it a way to speak to your fans who have had to deal with the Chester’s passing as well?
Shinoda: Going through grieving and going through loss was obviously difficult for those closest to the nucleus. But there are definitely repercussions and it extends out to other people. In our case, that extension, that extended family, is really large. There’s a whole community of Linkin Park and music fans who were affected.
I remember one of the reasons why we wanted to do the Hollywood Bowl Tribute Show was because we had gotten a private funeral, but the fans didn’t have an event to give them closure. So we wanted to do an event to give them something and also to celebrate Chester. So we did that and it felt good.
I think afterwards, it was almost like postpartum depression. We had been working towards that show, and it was so much work and it was such a hard show to do, that once it was over we were like “now that we’re done with that, now what?”
I was already starting to write a lot of this music then, before that had happened. At that point I kinda dove into this album knowing that there was a connection between me and the fans. And me being able to tell my personal story of this whole thing, it was gonna be helpful for me for sure, and maybe it would also be helpful for some of the fans.
Photo: LAMC Productions
Lots of people now would rather chase their passions than get a regular day job. When you started creating music, how difficult was it for you to chase your passions?
Shinoda: For us, we got turned down a lot by nearly every label and nearly every person we talked to. But we still had fans. We would invite friends to our shows and asked them to bring other friends, and we always had a full house when we played in LA or Arizona, our home town. And so, we knew that it was working with some people, and they had favourite songs and they’d request them, and sing along. We knew something was working. We just kept writing.
We were never the type of band to play cover songs or even jam much. We like to write songs and play them. So that’s how we started, and the rejections, all the labels and whatever, we just felt like they were wrong. We kept doing what we were doing.
Even when we got signed, they weren’t signing us because they were thrilled about the band, they were signing us to, at the time, what was called a development deal. It basically said that the band had potential and they would spend a little bit of money to put us in the studio to help us out a bit, to see if we got better. As soon as they got us in the studio, we started taking the album very seriously, and it was obvious to a lot of people at the label that it was working, that we were doing something different.
And that feeling was great! It was weird though, because the guy who actually brought us into the label was a really nervous and agitated guy, and he wasn’t very competent. So other people would talk him into being worried about something about us, or something was not right, he’d get talked into these negative ideas very easily. He’d come to us and say we had to change things, and we’d tell him no and he’d get mad.
We’d fight about it with him. And that happened all the way through the process, and unfortunately it was really tough working with that kind of energy. But at the end of the day, we told everybody we were gonna make the kind of album we wanted to make, and we did. And thankfully it worked, and we were able to use that momentum to continue to build on the band and the career.
Did you ever face any difficulties in making music due to your ethnicity and background?
Shinoda: No, I don’t think it held me back because I didn’t think of it in terms of a disability. I always thought it was a non-issue.
There were times I remember showing [the same guy that brought us in] a logo design when we were called Hybrid Theory back in the late ’90s. I think I’d done the logo and we were showing it to him, and he said, “I don’t like it because it looks weird.” And we were like, “what do you mean weird?” And he said, “it looks too Asian.” And we were like, “what?”
It was a really awkward moment where he was trying to explain himself, saying it looks like an Asian car club or something, and we did not have any clue about what he was talking about. It was definitely a weird comment to make.
But things like that would happen once in awhile, and we’d just ignore it. We just knew what we wanted and we kept focusing on our goals. If someone got in the way of that or didn’t understand it then we’d just try to find a way around them. Even now, it translates to how I approach things. If somebody doesn’t get it, then I look for a compromise if the way they see things has merit.
When I was making the album… I sent [one of my partners at the label] a version of Crossing A Line, and actually the president of the label came back and said, “you know we don’t want to overstep our bounds but we have an idea, maybe the energy could be higher in the beginning of the song”. And my first reaction was, “they dunno what they’re talking about”. But I really listened to it and I thought it’s not a bad suggestion and it kinda makes sense.
So when a suggestion comes in a way that’s respectful and it’s got merit, I definitely have room for that. I feel like you have to have a very respected and curated group of people that you look to for feedback for stuff like that.
I’m looking forward to getting back to releasing music and touring, those things are “normal” to me — it’s what my professional life has revolved around for years. And I know this will be different, so I’m excited to figure out what this new normal is.
– Mike Shinoda
In the months since the passing of Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, Shinoda has immersed himself in art as a way of processing his grief. With no agenda, Shinoda hunkered down alone in his Los Angeles home and began writing, recording, and painting. In January, he released the Post Traumatic EP consisting of three deeply personal songs – each one a powerful, stream-of-consciousness expression of unvarnished grief – accompanied by homemade visuals that Shinoda filmed, painted and edited himself. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with New York Times stating “The tracks are reverberant electronic dirges; the rhymes, heading into sung choruses, testify to bewilderment, mourning, resentment, self-pity and questions about what to do.”
Following the EP release, Shinoda continued to create, and the result is the upcoming Post Traumatic, a transparent and intensely personal album that, despite its title, isn’t entirely about grief, though it does start there. “It’s a journey out of grief and darkness, not into grief and darkness,” Shinoda says. Ultimately, Post Traumatic is an album about healing. The songs, though specific about Shinoda’s experience with loss, manage to be universally relatable, thanks to their honesty and heart. “If people have been through something similar, I hope they feel less alone,” he says. “If they haven’t been through this, I hope they feel grateful.”
Tickets are available here at S$148 with priority entry available for an additional S$20. (This is a Free Standing Event.)
By Gilbert Wong, Men’s Health Content Producer