Linkin Park helped a generation of alt-rock listeners channel their emotions, from anger to sadness to triumph. The sextet’s lead singer Chester Bennington became synonymous with their visceral rap-rock — and his July 2017 suicide at age 41 shocked the group’s passionate fan base and the broader musical community.
“Things were happening out of my control that required my life to be different,” Bennington’s bandmate Mike Shinoda, 41, recalls.
With his dense, technical raps, Shinoda balanced Bennington, punctuating his peer’s lacerating howls with cutting verses on songs including “In the End” and “Bleed It Out.” Imagining Linkin Park without either of them is near impossible, which may explain why, for now, Shinoda has chosen to strike out on his own.
Shortly after Bennington’s death, Shinoda began work on Post Traumatic, his debut under his given name and first solo project since his 2005 album as Fort Minor. “In the beginning, I was just recording to capture everything,” he says. “I didn’t have an intention beyond that.” But after detecting “this unresolved feeling about Chester’s passing” among fans online, Shinoda decided to release the music. “I realized that by putting it out I might be able to move the conversation along and help some of them feel some closure,” he explains. “And I realized that because it’s such a personal album, I wanted to put it out under my name.”
The album’s 16 tracks chart the shock, anger, grief, and ultimate acceptance that Shinoda experienced in the wake of Bennington’s death. “Crossing a Line,” Post Traumatic‘s cathartic single, rests at the center of the project, and represents Shinoda’s evolving emotions. “The reason it’s there is because the song is really about crossing over into the unknown and the anxiety and the uncertainty,” he says. “As things went on, things started to not be so dark.”
Shinoda connected with EW to discuss creating after tragedy, the advice Rick Rubin gave him following Bennington’s death, and Linkin Park’s future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: About a year ago, Linkin Park puts out a well-received seventh studio album, One More Light, and embarks on a massive tour — and then this enormous tragedy happens. Were you ever tempted to take time off? How did you summon the energy to move forward and to channel your grief into this project?
MIKE SHINODA: For me, making stuff is — it’s not work. The way I was doing it in the beginning of this album was not work. It was more like meditation or reflection. Just sitting down with sounds and picking through stuff and vibing out and recording. This music has been like an art therapy kind of thing, where there’s a flow that I get into that gives me a positive feeling. Lyrically, I realized that a lot of the things that I was thinking and things that I was experiencing were unique — and hopefully I would never have to feel them again. They were realizations and moments of reflection that I felt like were most potent the moment they were occurring to me. Some of the ideas of the songs, when [they] hit me, I tried to not only write about [them] in that moment but also record [them] in that moment.
Some of these songs sound like Linkin Park, but many of them don’t. What prompted you to explore different sonic directions?
It was intuitive. Sonically, the goal was to make the music that I felt supported the vocals, supported the lyrics the best. Oftentimes, when I’ve written for Linkin Park or when I’ve written for other people, I’m trying to create a bed of music that supports the style and the range of the vocalist and I’m not usually making a song like that just for myself, with my voice and my words being the sole focus of the track.
“Over Again” discusses the Hollywood Bowl show Linkin Park performed last October to honor Chester, something that friend of the band Rick Rubin encouraged you to do. How did you decide that was something you wanted to go forward with? Why did you think it was important to document it on this album?
I talked to Rick in the first week after Chester passed away. He’s a very even-keeled kind of person and energy. He has a perspective. We’ve done three Linkin Park albums with him [beginning with 2007’s Minutes to Midnight] and he made most of my top ten favorite albums growing up. I have a ton of respect for the guy. I asked for his guidance. He said, “Your situation is not like other ones that you’re thinking about. It’s not AC/DC. It’s not Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters. It’s not Chris Cornell. It’s not any of those things. Your dynamic and chemistry and responsibilities in your band are different from any of those groups. You’ve got a different dynamic. […] I think for all of you guys, getting on stage as soon as possible will be really cathartic for you, it’ll be informative for you, you’ll learn about what you can and should do and you’ll connect with the fans and give them a sense of closure.”
So that’s what we did. Waking up that morning knowing all the work we did before the show, the day just felt like an eternity. There were so many hours to go before we would go over to the Bowl to play, I was just thinking to myself, “What am I going to do with my day to keep my anxiety about the show at bay and also not to just be so depressed that I won’t even get on stage?” I decided to sit and write. I had the beat for “Over Again” on the computer and I wrote and recorded a verse about the day, about how I felt that day. As I was finishing, I thought, “I should do this again tomorrow. Because I’ll capture something that’s different from today.” That’s what the song is about: a long-winded explanation of what was going on at the time — and how different that is from now.
You did a show last month and you have more concerts lined up. Was there ever any hesitation that you would play these songs live? What can fans expect from Mike Shinoda concerts going forward?
As soon as I decided that I was going to do the album I knew I wanted to play shows. I love getting on stage and playing. The real question for me was, what kind of show is it going to be? For the moment it’s a one-man show — it’s just me on stage. I’m playing about a third new stuff, a third Fort Minor, and a third Linkin Park. I’ve gotta do it in a way where it leans toward my strengths as opposed to the strengths of all the guys in the band. It’s a unique kind of show and it will probably change over time. Normally I finish an album and then I’m telling people, “This is the album we made as Linkin Park and it’s finished and we’re going to go out and tour.” With this album and this moment in time, it’s very unfinished in a sense. The album is done, but it’s the first step in a journey and I don’t know where that journey goes. Today, I’m doing one-man shows. Tomorrow, I could add people to the stage. The openness of that, it’s exciting and it’s a blank canvas that I feel like I need right now.
Can you speak to Linkin Park’s future?
We don’t have a sense of what that’s going to be at this point. But I talk to the guys all the time and they’ve been wonderful and they’ve been super supportive of Post Traumatic and the stuff that I’m doing. I’m intensely grateful not only for the band but for the fans who have been so supportive over the past year. All of this wonderful momentum that I’m seeing and feeling now is one part my effort and my drive to make something new and it’s one part the fans’ support and their hopefulness. I feel this wonderful sense of hope coming from them that there’s still music on the horizon and there’s still things to be explored and shows to be played.