Interview: Linkin Park – “The Hero’s Journey”

Linkin Park‘s Mike Shinoda discusses new album One More Light, and its place in their forthcoming UK headline shows.

Heavy and Battle Symphony, the two tracks to have emerged from the forthcoming seventh Linkin Park studio album, have unquestionably surprised fans. Yet they are testament to the Californian outfit’s continual musical reinvention. Those who have supported the band throughout their past six albums are no strangers to Linkin Park’s eclectic output, that to-date has taken them from their turn of the century nu-metal roots to 2014’s more subtle The Hunting Party.

Multi-instrumentalist, co-vocalist and founding member Mike Shinoda is appropriately nonplussed by the varied reaction to their new material. “This is our seventh studio album,” he notes, “we know to what degree the music we put out is going to be surprising or polarising.”

A quick search through social media – the world’s most readily available focus group – showcases the mixture of excitement and shock Shinoda speaks of so openly. Trawling through the responses is one of his favourite past-times. “I get a sick enjoyment about seeing people’s responses, in both a good and bad way,” he laughs.

Since their early days, Linkin Park have experimented with new sounds. As well as pioneering a unique sound at the time, their breakthrough Hybrid Theory debut was accompanied by 2002’s Reanimation remix album. Similarly, their six-track collaboration with rapper and producer Jay Z, Collision Course, remains an iconic milestone in the mid-00s alternative resurgence. It is in fact this crossover appeal that has led them to being the most liked band on Facebook, among other impressive accolades.

Heavy [Official Music Video] - Linkin Park (feat. Kiiara)

“It’s just how we listen to music and what we enjoy.”

With One More Light, due for release on the 19 May 2017, the band are taking the collaborative approach further. “Usually it means we’ve finished the song but we’ll ask somebody to add something to the top of it,” Shinoda explains, looking back at previous joint efforts. This time around, he continues, they have embraced full creative partnerships.

“I did a couple of stopovers in London on the way back from the Hunting Party tour and worked with two different songwriters and really enjoyed it. I thought it was super fun and saw merit in keeping that going. I took the songs back to the band and asked them what they think. They loved the material, first and foremost.” One of those tracks, Invisible, now finds itself on the new record.

This approach nods to the new creative direction Linkin Park have adopted for One More Light. Shinoda recalls the different processes involved, particularly the switch from writing the music first to initially focussing on lyrics and vocals. “We started with the concept of the song,” he reveals. “Everything got built around supporting the idea that we’re trying to convey. It sounds simple but it’s a big difference for our band. We rarely write that way.”

“For an artist like us who have historically written more like a hip-hop production team, getting into the meat and potatoes of writing in that way actually ended up with us making really personal songs,” he adds, noting that in the past only the likes of In The End and Breaking The Habit could claim a similar ethos. In effect, One More Light is the most personal and introspective album in the band’s history, at least in Shinoda’s eyes.

Fundamentally, it’s a result of how the individual band members consume music. They’ve never shied away from their broad music taste. Hip-hop influences have dominated their sound since the first moments of Hybrid Theory opener Papercut, and their experimentation with digital sounds celebrates a similarly established lineage. Now, Linkin Park are fully embracing this stylistic blend.

“To some extent it is a very polished record,” Shinoda admits. “Stylistically we wanted to blend all of the sound and genres together in a way you can’t tell them apart.” But it’s not a gimmick, rather a philosophy inbuilt into the band since their very early days. “It’s just how we listen to music and what we enjoy,” he exclaims.

Battle Symphony (Official Lyric Video) - Linkin Park

“The classic story arc.”

Translating this broad sound into a live setting is challenging, Shinoda accepts. Their switches in sound aren’t always met favourably, he admits. Yet come their live shows, Linkin Park are determined to please both old and new fans. In order to achieve this, Shinoda relates their setlist to Star Wars.

“This is probably really weird,” he pre-warns, before launching into his “hero’s journey” analogy. “You start on a big action scene,” he begins, before talking through the emotional journey depicted in Hollywood blockbusters. From moments of great sadness (“when he loses Obi Wan”) to ultimate victory over the bad guys, Shinoda attests to the mirroring between the classic story arc and a live setlist. “Putting it through that lens shows which songs fit where,” he adds as a more serious point, noting the importance of transition from one song to the next.

“I want to make sure that a fan that’s been with us for 17 years is just as entertained as a fan who has literally just discovered the band,” Shinoda enthuses. “The truth is when you’re watching our show we want to transition from song to song, and to have a meaningful connection on a personal level. A lot of our fans relate to our music in that way.”

Promising the inclusion of five new songs on their forthcoming UK tour, Shinoda is adamant that older material will not be forgotten. “It’s a robust set,” he notes, “but not at the expense of old songs.”

“It’s a very delicate balance in trying to figure out how to play Heavy and One Step Closer in the same set. We’ve had so many different eras, but the set it definitely not chronological. It’s about the emotional journey.”

There’s also new production to look forward to, inspired by some suitably eclectic sources. “I remember seeing Nine Inch Nails on their Fragile tour and it was like an art project, where Trent Reznor was taking us through these weird abstractions of versions of the songs. I also saw a couple of live comedy shows and realised that there’s an idea of entertaining somebody at all costs.”

“The boundary of what makes a show is more open to interpretation than I first thought.”

In The End [Official HD Music Video] - Linkin Park

Linkin Park will be bringing tracks from One More Light to the UK in July, for three headline arena shows.

3 July – The O2, London
6 July – Barclaycard Arena, Birmingham
7 July – Manchester Arena, Manchester

Tickets go on general sale at 10:00 on Friday 7 April 2017 through