With Linkin Park set to release fifth studio album Living Things on 25 June, we caught up with rapper Mike Shinoda to find out how Arcade Fire and The Last Shadow Puppets strings-man Owen Pallet helped shaped the new record, frontman Chester Bennington's triumph over drug addiction, hanging with Jay-Z and more. How the devil are you? "I'm doing all right, man, all good."
The last Link Park album, A Thousand Suns, was labelled by some as your Kid A. Does that make your new album your Amnesiac? "That's a tough one but, going by the Radiohead analogy, you could say it's our In Rainbows. I don't know those guys, I don't know what that record meant to them, but for us the nice thing about Living Things is it combines the spirit of our old stuff with things we've never done before, a little like In Rainbows. It's a great record that we really believe in. There are definitely some pretty daring moments on the record - some parts that are going to make people go, oh shit!"
This album harks back to the band's early days then? "Well, after the first two records, it was starting to feel like other people were copying the signature sound of those albums and the genre was becoming a little watered down so with our third album, Minutes To Midnight, we took a small step out of the box before making a huge leap with the last record, which, yeah, was a bit more out there. This one... well, the best analogy is a toolbox. With the third and fourth records, we were looking for new tools to put in the toolbox - wild electronics, different sounds. But we were neglecting ones that had been in the box the whole time. This album mashes all those elements, makes use of all those tools, together. I'd say the guys have become very at peace about who Linkin Park is. For better or worse, we've done a lot of different things as Linkin Park. Some of them we probably regret, some of them we absolutely do not. In general terms we're happy with the albums we've made and where we're at now. This record not only looks forward but also accepts the past."
You worked with Owen Pallett on the string arrangements on this record. Is there an orchestral slant to the album? "Not so much. I love Owen's work on Arcade Fire and our experience with him has just been exceptional. He only worked on one of the songs, I'll Be Gone, which I'm really excited for fans to hear. He was seriously awesome. We'd send him files and notes to work on and he'd send stuff back basically the next day, it was incredible."
You talk about him being fast moving but you are fairly prolific yourselves - weren't you working on a film score while writing this album? "I was indeed, I did the soundtrack to a film called The Raid. The two informed each another. You know, there was a moment during The Raid scoring when I went two weeks without checking in with anyone. I just went away and made so much music. I just kind of flew down the rabbit hole and came out with a bunch of songs. So I brought that to the band. I said, Hey, I think we're checking in with one another too much. Let's stop checking in with each, enough with the band meetings and critiquing our songs. Let's just dive in and ignore the landmarks. Let's just go! We actually made a ton of great music in that time."
In 2004 you made a collaborative album with Jay-Z, Collision Course. Do you feel you had a hand in rise to global domination? "[Laughs] That's very funny. Well, in the US at least, saying Jay-Z was already established at that time is kind of an understatement. I think what we had to offer him at the time was a fresh creative experiment. He hadn't ever done anything with a band like ours. Our relationship with Jay is kind of on-again off-again. He's clearly talented and he's great at understanding the mass audience in a way that most bands, probably us included, don't understand. A couple of weeks ago I went to his SXSW, said Hi and had a couple of drinks before the show. That was fun."
Is there anyone out there you're still desperate to work with? "At the moment, I'm excited about the potential of working with producers to reinvent the songs. It sounds silly because you guys haven't even heard the songs but for me, I've been living with them for months, so I'm psyched to hear reinterpreted. One thing we're doing with the release of this record is that if you buy the record from our official website, you get subscription to a monthly remix package. We're just trying to give people an incentive to go to our site."
Cutting out the middle man to sell directly to fans online? This really is your In Rainbows... "I guess so! So you get your album and every month you get another remix of a song from the record by another artist. Kind of like our Reanimation record but dispersed over a series of months. It's nice to be in direct contact with the fans when it comes to releasing music and not having other entities in the way."
Chester Bennington's struggle with drug addiction and personal demons has been well documented. Is he in a better place nowadays? "He's in a great place nowadays. I'm really excited for him because he's just such a funny guy. It's funny. On this record, there's some moments on the record that are really pissed. At one point, when we were finishing one of them, we were like, Dude, you're such a happy guy that it's funny seeing you turn that on and get so pissed. Because I know it's coming from an honest place. He still has that when he thinks about it, he gets really upset. I remember one day, in the middle of a vocal take, he had to take like a two minute time out to get out of the head space of the song, to stop connecting with it in such a visceral way. He came back and finished the take and everything. It's very real. It surprises me sometimes that is there because in general he's such a happy and caring dude."
Your music is generally percieved as quite sombre, dealing with heavy subject matter. Is there a lighter side to Linkin Park we don't see? "Absolutely. The band has a huge sense of humour about itself. When we're not making a song, you can definitely see we're screwing around with one another, we're keeping in check. If anyone forgets their place, if any ego comes into play or there's any short-sightedness about what the band is, we definitely poke fun at one another about it. Really, at the end of the day, we're kind of nerdy guys. We can try and stand up on the stage and act cool and look, but we're not cool guys. It's fun to put that on and have it be part of the experience of watching a show, but even if you go on our YouTube page, you can see who we really are - we're not really cool guys and we're certainly not tough guys."
Finally, do you remember the Linkin Park versus Q Magazine football match in 2010 (left)? "That was the first thing I thought of when we got on the phone! I'm not a terribly athletic person. I hope you're not going to make fun of me! It was a surprisingly competitive match. A lot of it had to do with the fact that when we showed up, the Q Magazine team had been warming-up for like an hour. We looked at one another and thought, Oh my God, these guys are serious, what have we got ourselves into? But I think you wore yourselves out! I'm not one to talk - if I was in any kind of one on one situation against a Q Magazine journalist, I'd definitely get beat. I'm no David Beckham, absolutely not." Al Horner @Al_Horner
For more head to Linkinpark.com.