Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington talk touring, technology and 'A Thousand Suns'
The album is dead. The concert industry is in the tank. There are no young, reliable, megastar rock bands left in America.
If any of these things are true, no one thought to tell Linkin Park.
“I feel like we’ve done a lot of things right,” rapper and co-frontman Mike Shinoda said during a recent conference call with reporters. “I mean, in 10 years, most people run the whole gamut, so for us, it’s just a matter of trying to be the band that we want to be and learn from our mistakes and successes. Definitely, I like where we’re at right now.”
Where they’re at is right near the top of the heap when it comes to American rock music. Despite being released in September, Linkin Park’s fourth studio album, A Thousand Suns, was one of Billboard’s top-selling rock albums of 2010. And despite the concert industry’s dismal year in 2010, tickets are selling well for the band’s show Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum. (The band performs with Pendulum and Does It Offend You, Yeah? at 7 p.m. Saturday; tickets are $25-$67. Click here for details.)
After 15 years, how does Linkin Park manage to keep fans so interested in what they’re doing?
One answer is technology. The band has dived head-on into the world of online games and interactive products. Among them: an offical app that aggregates updates on each band member’s myriad side projects, from Shinoda’s hip-hop work and graphic artistry, to singer Chester Bennington’s group Dead By Sunrise, to the band’s charity Music for Relief, benefitting green initiatives and disaster relief.
On this tour, every ticketholder will receive a free, high-quality mp3 download of that night’s show. “We play different set lists and then within those set lists we improvise,” Shinoda said. “From night to night, the music will be different and the visuals will be different as well. No two shows will be the same.”
The unpredictable live show reflects the band’s atypical approach to collaboration. Consider the sprawling, experimental A Thousand Suns — band members worked on most tracks individually, or in small groups.
“Some days it would be just me and Chester; many days actually it would be me, Chester, and Brad (Delson, guitars), and then other days the other guys would come in,” Shinoda said. “We’ve tried working in larger groups. We tried working with six and five, and writing music that way for us just doesn’t really work.”
“We don’t waste a lot of time jamming and learning parts,” added Bennington. “If a guy isn’t there, you don’t have to be wasting their time. The song can take on 50, 60 different variations, and by the time we have the version that we like and we’re all high-fiving each other on, that’s when we go and learn it.”
“You write more interesting stuff when it’s in smaller groups,” Shinoda said. “What’s really fun is that the music that you make sounds different depending on who writes what with whom, and where you write.”
For example, the acoustic track The Messenger spawned from a demo recorded on Bennington’s iPhone, with sparse chords added by Delson. “Whatever the vocal sound that was coming across my iPhone,” Bennington said, “that was the vibe; that was the intention that we needed to capture.”
Figuring out how to mix the experimental songs from A Thousand Suns alongside classic Linkin Park ragers like One Step Closer and Faint is proving challenging. “In theory, we felt really confident about how it was all going to tie together, but we know from experience that it really all has to come together on stage,” Shinoda said. A Thousand Suns, he said, “brings a narrative to the show, which is really nice — it kind of ties different parts of the show together. I find that some of the old songs take on new meaning when they’re put in that context.”
Shinoda said Linkin Park is talking about special shows where they play A Thousand Suns in its entirety, to better capture the album’s moody feel. Beyond that, they’ve explored the possibility of a 3D film —but they’re not ready to talk about those plans just yet.
“Those will be released when they’re ready on linkinpark.com,” Shinoda said.
Added Bennington: “Don’t spoil the surprise.”
He doesn’t need to worry about that. Whatever Linkin Park does next is likely to end up surprising everyone.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*