Humble, talented, and inquisitive, solo artist and Linkin Park co-founder, Mike Shinoda, is always pushing boundaries and bettering himself.
27 years ago, Mike started a musical project under the name Xero with Brad Delson and Rob Bourdon. After recruiting members like Chester Bennington and eventually rebranding to Linkin Park, the group then released the incredible record, Hybrid Theory, in 2000. The debut release undoubtedly lifted Shinoda & co to stratospherically dizzying heights and they’ve gone on to be one of the biggest alternative rock bands in the world. Yet even with all the success which followed with seven critically acclaimed albums, Mike admirably has never rested on his laurels and is constantly working on his craft in one way or the other.
Not only is Mike a gifted singer-songwriter, but he’s also a multifaceted creative with a diverse skill set. The American musician can rap, sing, produce, play numerous instruments, produce music, and has a background in art. The qualified illustrator/graphic designer went to the ArtCentre College of Design, in Pasadena, California. Over the years, outside of Linkin Park, he’s started the hip-hop-led musical project Fort Minor, co-written and produced Demi Lovato’s track Still Alive for the film Scream VI, remixed countless songs for a multitude of artists, and even worked on his own solo art. In 2018, the artist delivered his gripping debut album Post Traumatic which dealt with the aftermath of losing his friend and bandmate, Chester Bennington, the previous year. Since that moment, Mike has continually propelled himself forward with EPs, solo mixtapes, and live shows.
Even with many different creative projects on the go, Mike is now thankfully finding the time to realign his focus onto making solo music purely just for himself. Last month, the artist released the anthemic alt-rock single, Already Over, a stellar track which offers fans the DNA of what the artist does best whilst also bringing something new to the table.
With the future looking bright for the creative, 1883 Magazine’s Cameron Poole sat down with Mike Shinoda over Zoom to discuss his UK live session for Already Over, the forthcoming Crimson Chapter EP, how he’s developing his vocals since Linkin Park, a core childhood memory, and more.
First of all, thanks for your time Mike. How does it feel to be back in London? And can you tell me about the Already Over UK Session which you’re working on today?
Yeah, it feels great. I mean, weather notwithstanding but the trip has been great. I went to Berlin and did some press and a session there. We’re going to do a session here. As I think you know the track is a very live song. It’s kind of an alternative rock song and I played all the instruments on the recording. So when I was thinking about how to present it, I was thinking ‘Well, ideally, I’d like people to hear it played live’ but that means that since I played the instruments on the recording, I’m going to have to find out people to play the instruments in the live version.
That kind of led to this idea of going to different places and putting together sessions of local musicians to fill in all the roles. So that’s what we’re doing. Each time I walk into one of these sessions, I’ve never met the people that I’m playing with. You know, I’ve sent them some audio to rehearse to but other than that, they don’t know each other, they don’t know me and I don’t know them and then we just kind of roll the dice and see what happens.
That sounds exciting, even though you haven’t met them, you must have seen their work to cherry pick them.
Yeah, in theory I want them to be great at what they do, great at their instrument in particular, not necessarily like part of a known signed artist or band, that’s not the priority. So usually a lot of folks for example, in these sessions is like someone who is known for guitar videos on Tiktok or something like that. Like they’re really good at their instrument and have a following based on that talent.
Your forthcoming The Crimson Chapter EP is out December 1st. I’m curious to hear about why you wanted Dom McLennon to feature on the Fort Minor remix?
If you asked Dom about it, too, we have been dying to do something together for years at this point. I met Dom when I was on tour with my solo album Post Traumatic and I was doing some festival shows and Brockhampton was playing. I love Brockhampton, so I went over there to see their show. Afterwards, I met a few of the guys and they’re like, ‘Oh man, we love Linkin Park’ and I love Brockhampton, so we just got talking. Of the folks that I’ve met from their collective, Dom and I keep in touch the most. So this has felt like a natural thing. I actually wasn’t intending to put any features on The Crimson Chapter EP, but the thing that would make the song better would be him.
You also included a version of your 2019 track, Fine, on the EP…
I think right now is more than a single and it’s not an album. There are things I like about single releases, and there are things I like about album releases, but they’re generally kind of different for me. I wanted to take some of my favourite things about each and just put them together. So this is like an amorphous kind of moment where I’m releasing music, and visuals and telling aesthetic stories. I’m engaging and interacting with fans in different ways that are kind of more than a single would be. But it’s not going to be leading towards a release of a 12-plus song album. It’s just music and activity over time. So it’s almost like deconstructed in that way.
The sessions are part of it, the game called Surv1val which is out right now on the website, and the EP is part of it. With the EP, I just wanted to do something like taking a painting and creating a whole gallery show out of one idea, that’s kind of what it ended up being. How do I take this one song and then pull all the instruments and the elements of the song and pull out the themes or pull out the sounds and turn it into like something you could listen to over the course of eight songs. When I started doing that, I realised In My Head is definitely part of this chapter and strangely Fine felt like it was part of this chapter even though it was released years ago at this point. Fine is one of the remixes on the EP that’s different. It’s pretty different from the original I think.
Yes, speaking about the game, you incorporated a really fun and interactive way for fans to experience this latest release. You also launched a tamagotchi-esque game on your website called Surv1val where fans can look after a ‘critter’ and win rewards. How would you like to evolve this interactive world-building element as you move forward and release more music?
I love those! Funny enough, I didn’t play with those as much as one of my kids did but I did love the idea. So with the game with Surv1val people get introduced to this nameless, faceless character who’s going to basically task you with taking care of what we call a critter. The critter, with that word and the way it’s described, you assume it’s like a little pet, and then when it gets revealed, it looks like an amoeba, it doesn’t look like anything. You just get this weird blob. So the fans are like ‘Wait really? Okay, so when I’m taking care of this blob, what does this blob do?’ They assume as it evolves, it’s going to turn into a pet. But what actually happens it turns into this horrible monster and I created nine different types of monsters, and you randomly get one of those types. Now, we’re at a stage this week where you’re going to use your monster to battle each other.
I’m not in this case aspiring to create a game studio, I do like supporting the music with things that are more than music, right. I think people that know me, people that work with me know that I have a hard time reining in all the different little ideas that pop into my head that I could do. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at filtering that stuff because it can be a waste of time for me to be honest [laughs] Sometimes, I just have these ideas about things that I’d love to do and then, if I pursue them then like a week later, it’s like ‘okay, well you’re not spread too thin with ten things that you want to do, so you should have picked just one’. So I’m trying to be more like that. It keeps things interesting, keeps things fun and vibrant and I hope to be able to continue the momentum with this period of time making some cool stuff that is fun for people to in one way or another, to listen to or play or hang out and talk about.
With Linkin Park, most people know your mix of rap and vocals but with this new solo era, it feels like you’re developing your vocals and pushing your voice in a new exciting way. What little nuances have you learned about your voice? Has anything surprised you as you’ve been working on ideas?
Maybe not so much with just this song, but over time for sure. I think in the last few years I’ve been singing more and stretching my voice in different ways. If you think about the process of making a song with Linkin Park, I spent so many years writing with and for Chester that if I was thinking of an idea to be sung, my assumption would be that he would sing it right. So it was almost like my default position was the words in the melody that I was writing are going to come out of somebody else’s mouth.
More recently, I have been writing just for my voice and trying to get better at writing things that I can sing well and learning how to sing them better which is surprisingly new. I’ve sung for a long time but not with the kind of intention that I have now. My voice is a unique voice, I don’t have the skillset that some people have but I feel like what I lack in range I kind of can make up for in other ways and I’m learning what those ways are.
Of course, everyone has a different vocal range and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just great that you’re continuing to put out the work that excites you. I know you’ve written for many different people and different projects even outside of Linkin Park, but it’s just nice to see that you’re focusing again on putting out work that feeds your soul and is only for yourself.
Yeah, thanks for that. I feel whenever I do a project, whether that’s an album, a single or something else, I often go into things because I’m curious about something or because I want to learn something. Usually with most albums that I’ve made or been a part of, one of the driving forces is the intention of getting better at something or trying to understand something better. The vocal thing is one thing right now, but in general, I feel like I can always get better at writing songs, I can always get better at engineering, sound design, mixing and arrangement and there’s a lot.
The idea of making a song can be broken down into hundreds of little tasks. You can be great at any one of those tasks or multiple parts of the process. So when I identify a part of the process that I have some room to grow or I’m excited about, I love to dive in and explore it.
As a multi-disciplined creative who is also an artist and qualified graphic designer/illustrator, how do you think this specific skillset has positively helped you better yourself as a musician if at all?
I’ve worried before if you have a lot of areas of focus then you don’t have any focus. I sometimes get worried that I jump around too much from thing to thing. My background like you said, I went to school for illustration and that meant I wanted to make paintings I wanted to paint album covers, book covers or movie posters, stuff like that. And that was a very focused singular thing to do. There’s a lot of room to explore different ideas there, there’s a lot of variety in the types of projects I could do and the media with whatever materials I am using. But the practice itself was pretty singular. Once I got into music, it was very broad and a lot less focused and I think that’s one of the things that was the most exciting about it is there’s so much variety. Especially with Linkin Park, we’ve always grown away from being forced into a box. We’ve avoided it at all costs each time we release something.
I think that that variety keeps things interesting and to answer your question about what I learned from that skillset, some of the primary things are probably having ideas about how to keep a pure focus on creating art that you love and the inspiration of it, the craftsmanship of it, and the attention to detail and getting something to a finish line. There are a lot of similarities between visual art and music. Not to mention, just working with other people, having disagreements about the creative process and working through those, I think I’ve carried over a lot of stuff that I learned in art school about criticism and how to work through a creative idea with other people. That was a skill I learned in art school that I apply all the time when I’m in the studio with other people.
The first time I ever heard your work was when I was in primary school, so 6 or 7-years-old, my brother let me borrow his Ipod and I would constantly listen to the track Papercut from Hybrid Theory whilst playing Runescape. My favourite part of that song was always your rap. So is there a song that comes to mind that you associate with a core childhood memory or experience?
It may just be because I heard somebody playing Beastie Boys down the hall earlier today, but when I heard it I was like ‘oh yeah, this is like when I was a kid.’ That was the first album I ever bought, Beatie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, and I loved the whole album but I memorised Paul Revere. It was the song I really just loved so much. If you haven’t heard it, the track is based on a reverse drum loop and I think it was the first time I’d ever heard somebody do a whole song over backwards music. It also has a story telling, it’s kind of a cowboy story which is also very random and weird. It’s a really creative track, I was in love with how strange that track was.
When I think of that song I specifically think of sitting on an iron fence in this little square, near where my friends and I would hang out and we would sit on that little gate. Kids would be skateboarding, screwing around and we would sit on that gate, talk, rap and we would bust into that song randomly. My friends would say a line and then we would just finish the part of the verse. We were literally just reciting the song and sitting there hanging out.
We’re very quickly approaching 2024, what can you share about your solo plans for next year and what’s really exciting you about the future?
Yes, I think that I’m very excited about a lot of things right now and the fans are going to have to just wait and see.
A cryptic answer! Mike, I know you’ve done so many interviews over the years, and I know it may be weird talking to a complete stranger but human to human right now, I just want to really emphasise that it does mean a lot that you’ve spent some time chatting with me. So thank you, all the best.
That’s very kind, Thank you, man!
Mike Shinoda’s latest single Already Over is out now. The Crimson Chapter EP is out Friday. Follow Mike by clicking here.
Interview Cameron Poole