MIKE SHINODA

About a year ago Chester Bennington, the lead singer of “Linkin Park”, took his life. The new album of his band member Mike Shinoda is all about coping with that loss. On “Post Traumatic” the 41 year old rapper recounts his darkest hours and the way out of his crisis.

TAHIR CHAUDHRY: How are you?

MIKE SHINODA: I’m good. I just have a jet-lag.

TC: When did you stop just replying with “I’m fine”?

MS: I still do this bullshit as an immediate reaction. But the reality is… If you and I sit down to have conversation the first thing I would do is to say that I’m in good spirit even if I’m really tired and you could tell me that your twin brother is really ill, he’s in the hospital and you are worried about him. That would affect my ability to feel empathy and be understanding. That’s why we a few years ago as a band started each session and meeting with a check-in about how is everyone really doing around the table. That was super helpful for dealing with each other.

TC: How outspoken are you about your thoughts and feelings in your daily life?

MS: To the extent that it’s appropriate (haha). I wanna be fair to people. Sometimes your thoughts and feelings aren’t fair. Just the other day my manager sent me an email with all the unfinished things that have gotten complicated. And my emotional reaction was like “That stresses me out! Don’t tell me that!” (haha). I think that a lot of negative things that we feel are based on not having control. Then it starts to feel bad. In terms of my music the new album was to find ways to feel like things that was happening were predictable and controllable.

TC: Talking of being predictable…today is a promo day and you are doing interviews for about four hours now. Why are you doing this?

MS: A lot of it is the same stuff and that’s part of the reality in doing press. The question for me was if I’m making an album “can I not promote it?”. Sure but what will happen is that people are gonna be much more curious about what is going on with you and assume that something is wrong. I’m doing interviews for 15 years. I can’t stay silent now.

With Chester Bennington at the Comic-Con International 2014 | Foto: © Kevin Winter / Getty Images

TC: Let’s talk about your fans, especially the younger generation. Is there something that worries you the most right now?

MS: Well, it must be really overwhelming to read the news and be connected like everybody is when your awareness is just beginning to develop. I remember when I was a young teenager and I was realizing how big the world was, how I thought politics worked and the ramification of decisions that small elite groups make that affects the whole planet… a horrible shit! And that stuff is just really vivid, unedited and sometimes exaggerated for young people through social media because informations are easy to get and everything is more transparent as they used to be. That must be hard, especially when you are going through hormonal changes. I don’t envy it.

TC: I think, through the world of media we constantly are faced with images that show what kind great things we don’t have or do. So the biggest fear we have is our social irrelevance and a kind of social death.

MS: So one thing we should more talk about is mental health. I hope that the young people know is that it helps to talk about it and be honest about how you are feeling about things. And if you feel negative and depressed then dragging your demons into light make them feel smaller.

TC: Metal and indie music always tended to be dark. Nowadays we see that these elements are also moving into rap and pop.

MS: A lot of Indie music that I grew up with was very depressing but metal had lots of different expressions. But there are new metal bands where it almost became a fad to be damaged, depressed and sad. Your point about a wave of r&b and trap artists that are out right now singing about depressing stuff that does strike me as telling. It’s also following the trend of depression and suicide statistics. I wondered for years when indie garage rock came back, like The Strokes or Franz Ferdinand, where music was particularly for me was not emotive and people were kind of partying a little bit. People weren’t as vocal about the things that were going on in their heads and metal was like going away. And I felt like what’s with all the kids who have really potent emotions. What are they doing with their emotions right now. But now they got a lot of options.

TC: There is this trend of pop-punk or more exemplary emo-rap with rappers like XXXTentacion, Lil’ Xan or Lil’ Peep who celebrate their self-destruction publicly. Why do you think is the younger generation attracted by music that is dark and disturbing?

MS: I think because that’s how they feel. Maybe it’s a overdrawn version of how they feel but maybe it’s not. It’s not surprising to me. It’s emo all over again but with a different genre. I tend to think that the lyrics are slightly exaggerated but they come from a real feeling. When we started out there were places where they were afraid to let us play live. The were afraid that songs like „One Step Closer“ with “Shut up when I’m talking to you” or “I’m about to break” could be bad for the kids. We showed them they way we approached it it was designed to let you vent so that it was a positive experience and people would leave feeling better.

TC: Your new album is called “Post Traumatic”. I think everyone would love to forget traumatic experiences. But with this album, are you trying to integrate them into your life?

MS: No, it’s just a reaction to the reality of what is there. Calling it “Post Traumatic” it alludes to the stress of that and it alludes to the journey out of darkness. For me the journey doesn’t end with the end of the album. It doesn’t end ever. It keeps going. It’s a path without good or bad connotation. In the story of my career there was a very bad thing that happened a year ago. So that forces a new chapter.

TC: Why was is it so important to record, produce and design the album by yourself?

MS: It’s a personal subject. It only seemed right do to it solo. My thoughts are my thoughts and my friends might not share the same thoughts. If you would ask my band member how he was feeling and he said “I’m good” and I’m sitting next to him feeling terrible, his answer would not reflect my reality. There is complexity in dealing with a group in terms of the emotional state and decision-making. With this album I wanted to be out there in the world with the ability to be spontaneous in order to keep things moving. However, it felt good for me.

Mike Shinoda: “Losing Chester was maybe like losing a limb. I don’t know what that's like either. I never lost a limb but you expect it to be there. It’s part of who you are.”
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TC: Sometimes you wrote songs about the struggles Chester was going through and he liked it. How were you able to trace his feelings so accurately?

MS: We spent tons of time together. We always travelled to our shows together. When we were driving or flying and when we were in the studio we constantly were talking about the topics of songs we wrote or wanted to write. We talked about actual scenarios a song reminded us of. One technique is that if you and I would sit down to write a song then in order to get more material I say: “This song is about what happened to you and your friend last week who called and screamed at you and you didn’t even know why he was mad and super rude”. And you would say: “I know. It pissed me of so bad. What does he know? He’s just calling me to yell at me because he’s upset but it’s not my fault”. As you are talking I would write down all the interesting things you say. It’s almost like therapy.

TC: Until now, thankfully, I’ve never lost someone that was really close to me. So I cannot imagine how it really feels to lose a friend. Can you describe it?

MS: No, I can’t.

Because my situation is not like people I heard of who lost their twin brother or sister. I can’t imagine that. Similarly my whole career in the professional light has been with the same group of guys and everything was built on that. Even the things that were on the side like scoring films or Fort Minor wouldn’t have been possible to some degree without the platform that Linkin Park gave me. Not only that. My relationship with Chester was also very close, creatively. I would write in so many different styles knowing that he had this wonderful talent to deliver them perfectly. Having that be taken away was just… devastating.

TC: I understand.

MS: Maybe it’s like losing a limb. I don’t know what that’s like either. I never lost a limb but you expect it to be there. You use and rely it. It’s part of who you are. But this could be stupid later. I could read this one week later and think that it was a stupid answer (haha).

TC: The song “Place to start” is about facing the unknown after the loss. You sing: Feeling like I’m living in a story already written / Am I part of a vision made by somebody else?. What do mean to say by these thoughts?

MS: In the beginning of the album I was saying things that were true in the moment I was feeling them. So at that moment I was questioning all of those things. I didn’t had the answers. That’s why a lot of it ends with a questioning mark. So I was thinking like “Is my career over?” and I had this weird self-doubt like “Am I any good?”. So the quoted lyrics are about the situation if you are watching a movie and you already know what the outcome of it is gonna be. There are movies I saw that were done that way. Like in the movie “Arrival” the two fell in love and she knew that in the it is going to be horrific but she does it anyway. She knows that she wants all the years that happen between when they meet and when the horrific thing happens. So this thought strike me at the time I was writing these lyrics.

TC: If you see your life as a big story. What would be the moral to this story?

MS: I know that it’s unfinished. Even when I finished this album I knew it’s just part of the Wikipedia page. I don’t intend to force something. I don’t want to go with the flow but ride out the wave to see where it goes and what comes after it. As I do that I also know that community and conversation have been an important part of it. So when I’m feeling and thinking a certain way and even encountering an opinion that is opposite to mine just be civil and listen with respect. That’s my biggest insight.