The L.A. rap rockers tap into old styles and new maturity for their fifth full-length
By Melinda Newman
Special to MSN Music
In the 12 years since Linkin Park released "Hybrid Theory," the Los Angeles-based multiplatinum rap metal outfit has sold millions of albums and has outlived several ridiculous rumors that the band's co-writer/co-producer/rapper Mike Shinoda can recall at a moment's notice. "There's a lot of baggage, good and bad," he says, sitting on a sofa at Sonos Studio before a recent playback party for the group's fifth studio album, "Living Things," out June 26.
Shinoda spills forth on the most outrageous ones as if they first erupted yesterday: "'This band was manufactured by the same guy that put together the Backstreet Boys'" or "'They even named their band Linkin Park so it would sit next to Limp Bizkit in the CD rack.'"
He's able to chuckle about the lies now, but they took their toll. So all these years later, "In making this record we had to not only just come to grips with it, but get to a point with it where we realize that has nothing to do with the music. We now have gotten to a really healthy place where we all have a sense of humor about that journey."
There's little to laugh about, however, when it comes to "Living Things." Like "Hybrid Theory," the album draws upon personal tales of betrayal, hurt and loss through its searing, intense 12 tracks. But the band's "tool box," as Shinoda likes to call it, has greatly expanded since then in ways that may surprise fans.
MSN Music: This album seems to have a lot of '80s influences from bands that were around when you were very little. Where did that come from?
Mike Shinoda: The '80s references were even more apparent on the first two records. If you listen to "Crawling" and "Pushing Me Away," if you don't hear Depeche Mode in there, I don't know what you're listening for. [Laughs] Ten to 12 years ago, our palette was solid and we were drawing from things that we knew would make something nice, but these days I think it's a more complex palette. We've heard more things, we've listened to more things. I'll be honest, I didn't know the Beatles catalog then as well as I do now. I didn't know the Who's catalog then as well as I do now. I was a hip-hop kid. You asked me about Run-DMC and Beastie Boys and NWA, I could recite every song. Now, knowing a little bit more about that [older] music and the recording techniques that went into making them, those things just allow me personally to pull from a wide range of ideas when I'm in the studio.
There even seem to be some folk influences on this album.
The folk thing arrived about a year ago. It was really coming from [guitarist] Brad [Delson] and [me]. We heard some very old stuff, early 1900s, late 1800s, not like the '60s stuff, not like the Dylan. ... A lot of it was religious, a lot of the stuff that I personally liked were actually from prison farms from the South. They were made at a time when the song structure as we all know it today, the verse-chorus thing, didn't exist. So to hear these songs that have such staying power and are so powerful that don't include some of the junk from modern times was really refreshing for me.
"Living Things"' first single, "Burn It Down," is No. 1 on Billboard's Rock Songs. Do No. 1's mean more to you now than they did when you first started?
Yeah, having gone through a point where we put out some songs that didn't perform as well as we had hoped, and, in some cases, it was kind of confusing. "Leave Out All the Rest," on our third record, I always thought that was going to be a really big song. ... So whenever you've got a few things that didn't pan out, you find yourself experiencing a little bit of humility. ... I'm very appreciative of that stuff when it happens; I always have been.
You seem very happy sitting here, but there is a lot of anguish on this album. You call it "Living Things" because it's about personal relationships. Does it hurt to exorcise demons?
Yeah. It's obviously so silly when people talk about, like, "Oh, somebody becomes successful at what they do and they have no right to complain about anything anymore." And the moment that person loses a parent or a spouse, it becomes obvious once again that they're a human being and no matter what successes you've got or where you're at in life, pain hurts. ... When something that matters to you gets taken away -- or, actually, sometimes just having to wait for something hurts. ... We write from a place that's honest every time, but the stuff that goes on this record as compared to the last is definitely more personal. There's a lot more "me" and "you" in the lyrics, and that's always coming from a place that's very real.
Plus, you are all in your mid-30s. By now, life has kicked you around, so there's some fertile ground to plow.
When I was younger, I didn't have as much of a concept of the ramifications of my actions and of other people's actions. As soon as you start to get a little bit of a sense of the scope of how things are affected by what you do or what other people do to you, it just means a lot more, and if it's something bad, it just hurts worse, you know.
More on Bing: Linkin Park
How was working with producer Rick Rubin different this time from the previous two albums?
Over time, we just get more familiar with each other's style and with each other's abilities. ... I love basketball, and when I watch a good team, they've got the chemistry and they get the rhythm going, it's so fun to watch. I've actually experienced that with Rick and our band. There's no playing catch-up when we get in the studio together. Our band is built on the philosophy of bringing together lots of different sounds and things that we like, and we're working with a producer who is known for being able to do that. Rick is not a pusher. He barely suggests any specific things. He draws it out of you.
What was your worst day in the studio while making "Living Things"?
It's more from the producer role. Rick is not one for really giving much of a s--- about deadlines. He's like the opposite of that, and my bandmates are kind of unaware of it or they don't care either, so I am kind of that guy. There was a moment when I realized that we needed finalized song titles, a finalized album title and real album artwork due in less than a week and we didn't have anything. It was killing me. It's like herding kittens. It's like, "Guys, somebody focus. We just need this stuff done or we're going to lose our release date; you guys can't even focus on getting an album title together." It was killing me.
It's been a dozen years since the first album came out. What's the one thing you know for sure about Linkin Park?
[Long pause] Oh boy. I don't want to say anything disparaging ... [giggles]. I don't know if I can answer it. Give me a pass on that one.
Melinda Newman is the former West Coast bureau chief for Billboard magazine. She has covered music and entertainment for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, MSN, AOL Music, Hitfix.com, Variety, People Country and other outlets. Recent interviews include Taylor Swift, Susan Sarandon, Pink, Jeff Bridges, Brad Paisley, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Carly Simon.