Interview: Linkin Park Talk the Importance of Underground Music, Improving Their Live Show, and What Has Kept the Band from Breaking Up
In celebration, we're sharing extended outtakes from our interview with Linkin Park's Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda for the cover story. For that story, plus features on Avenged Sevenfold, Judas Priest, Suicide Silence, Every Time I Die, Body Count, King 810, and a lot more, check out the issue.
Interview by Dan Epstein
REVOLVER The new album, 'The Hunting Party,' seems like it will translate very well to your live show.
CHESTER BENNINGTON What’s cool about this record is that, I know for us, we have a lot of singles that have done really well, but when you put them in the set, like "Shadow of the Day" and "Iridescent," "Powerless"… we love those songs and they’re great songs, but you put 'em in the set and it’s like [mimics sound of a balloon slowly losing air], and then you’re working the rest of the set to get the energy back up for the finale. [Laughs] But now, over the last couple of records, we’re like, “Let’s write songs that will be fun to play live and that are good songs!” So between 'Living Things 'and 'The Hunting Party,' we’ve just replaced the whole lull. It’s gone! Now we’re doing fun things like medleys, where we’re mixing together a few of those tracks, rather than bringing the show down for 15 minutes, it’s like, let’s do that in five. We’re able to have a lot more fun with our music now, because we have a lot more stuff.
'The Hunting Party' has a renewed aggression to it. Why go so heavy, and so guitar- and riff-focused?
SHINODA If you’ve listened to our last few records, you know that the guitar has kind of taken a backseat in a lot of ways. There’s two reasons for that—1) I’m playing all of that guitar, and 2) Brad [Delson, Linkin Park guitarist] was just not wanting to play. He wanted to do other things and write songs in a different way. He played a little bit of guitar, but not anything focal or featured. I went to him and said, “Look, this is what we need to do. I think it’s important, and here’s a million reasons why.” I’ve known him since we were like 12 or 13, and he walked around with a Metallica shirt every day. I said, “Think about what you liked when you were 15 years old—and think about what you did not like, what you wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Would that kid back then like what you do now? Are you making music that would make that kid want to become a guitar player, or even want to listen to your music?” My favorite groups were the ones that my parents wouldn’t buy me, or wouldn’t let me listen to—and if I heard the football team and cheerleaders listening to it, I’d probably disown that group or that rapper or whatever. And if the band became too popular, I wouldn’t listen to them. When we’re young, we define ourselves by the music we listen to and what we wear—the stuff we can face out to the rest of the world and say, “This is what I’m about.” But once it becomes mainstreamy or waters itself down, you want to move on to something that’s more underground or more cutting edge. Not everyone is like that, but I know that Brad was that way, and I know that I was that way. I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to pop music.
BENNINGTON I would have killed anyone who put on any kind of pop in my presence.
SHINODA I was getting into Corrosion of Conformity, S.O.D. and M.O.D. back in those days.
BENNINGTON Bands like the Refreshments and the Rembrandts, that music fucking angers me to this day. And the same thing is happening now, where there’s all this stuff that feels like the soundtrack to 'Friends' or 'The Wizards of Waverly Place.'
SHINODA When I listen to rock radio these days, I feel like I’m listening to a lot of stuff that sits somewhere between a car commercial and Nick Jr. — it’s so safe, and so OK to listen to with mommy and daddy. And there’s all this faceless indie stuff that’s like a mash-up between M-83 and Phoenix… Ever since that first MGMT record came out, people have been trying to do that same thing over and over again. Even MGMT was like, “Fuck that—we’re not gonna touch that shit any more!” [Laughs]
BENNINGTON And seriously, guys—chill the fuck out with the goddamn reverb, already. I’m not fucking kidding. I’m going to take it away from all of them!
SHINODA When you show me that you know how to use that, I’ll let you have it back. [Laughs]
How did you go about getting Brad on board with the new album's direction? He told me that he was inspired more by the Refused, rather than getting in touch with his inner Metallica fan.
SHINODA That was the next conversation. This album is not about bringing back the aesthetic of hard rock--I don’t want to call up those guitar tones and drum sounds. The idea is to bring back the ethos of this stuff. It was more about finding the bands and the sounds and the moments in time where certain bands and records were particularly important to us. I remember when the Refused record came out, we were just so excited about that album! For me and Dave, the At the Drive-In record 'Relationship of Command,' huge record for us—we were just so obsessed with that record.
BENNINGTON It blew my mind, still does.
SHINODA But that record was not one of Brad’s favorites. So it was this whole thing of finding the stuff that pushed the right buttons. And it was also about deciding what’s outside the boundaries, what’s not OK for this record.
BENNINGTON For me, heavy music is the easiest to write to, because that’s what I grew up on. I’m not a real big metal fan—I was never into Iron Maiden. Metallica was about as far as I went, but that’s because Metallica is really a punk band who can play their instruments really well. And we all don’t like the kind of country-metal sounds… But I know what I like about the heavy stuff that I like, and if it sounds kind of metal then I know what kind of vocal I want to put over the top of it to make it a little more raw. Strangely enough, I didn’t really sing on this record, except for “Final Masquerade” and “Until It’s Gone.” The rest of it is just me yelling at everyone. To me, they’re more like shouting on key. Even though there’s a melody on “Wasteland,” I think of it more like shouting than singing. But we do put a lot of rhythm in, a lot of melody, and a lot of dynamics.
This is the first Linkin Park album to feature guest musicians, including three guys very familiar to Revolver readers: Daron Malakian of System of a Down, Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, and Page Hamilton of Helmet. Why bring them in?
SHINODA The timeline of getting a band off the ground is so much longer and harder than the trajectory of being a rapper or a DJ—mostly because those things are usually envisioned and executed by one person or a couple of individuals. With a band, you have to have at least three or four individuals who are all proficient at their instruments, who are all talented to some degree, and who all have the same vision—it all has to line up, right? And then at some point, you make it big, and you’re so protective--every rock band is so protective of their fan base and their aesthetic and their name, that they don’t want to work with any other group. They won’t even tour with certain people. And we’re the same way! One day I was like, “We all need to stop it, because everyone else is getting over themselves and going out and crossing genres—it’s not only beneficial for all the artists who are doing it, but it’s beneficial for music in general." And that opened the door to the idea of working with other people.
Talk to me specifically about "All for Nothing," which features Page Hamilton.
SHINODA That was one of the ones that was pretty much done. I laid down a chorus vocal myself, and I listened to it the next day when I came into the studio, I was like, “Fuck, this really sounds like Helmet!”
BENNINGTON That’s the first thing I said when I heard the new chorus. We’d been kicking a couple of choruses around, but they never really lived up to the song’s potential. Then he played me the new chorus melody, and I was like, “That’s really fucking cool, dude—and the coolest part is that it doesn’t even sound like you! It sounds like fucking Helmet!”
SHINODA And when’s the last time I sang and it sounded like Helmet? [Laughs]
BENNINGTON And that’s when we were like, “Well, maybe we should go straight to the source!” You kind of have to let the song tell you what the song wants, and I think this song was telling us to call Page.
Besides the guests, this is also the first Linkin Park album that you guys produced yourselves.
BENNINGTON I’ve always known that we could make good records on our own, without a producer. There’s a real special relationship that we have when we’re creating a record. There’s a submissive element to being in this band. I mean, I write a lot of songs, too, and come up with demos and things. Sometimes Mike will say, “I like that one,” or he’ll say, “I think that’s cool, mess with it for awhile”—and three years later, I’ll come up with something and he’ll be like, “Now it’s right!” It takes me longer. But I’m cool with Mike and Brad going, “Check this out! Check this out! Check this out!” I can just do what I do best.
It’s like basketball—someone’s setting you up for the shot.
SHINODA I love the basketball analogy, actually. On any team, you’ve got players who get the credit for doing X, Y, Z. In the studio, Brad and I are the ones really pushing stuff forward, but everybody writes songs and makes demos. We democratically vote on which demos we want to work on, and they usually end up being mostly my demos.
BENNINGTON I think it’s really important for young musicians to understand that this is the type of shit that usually breaks bands up. I have an artistic ego that needs to be heard—only I beat the fuck out of that thing, put it in the closet, and abandon the house! [Laughs] There are bands that break up over this stuff—like, look at Creedence Clearwater Revival. We all go through this process where everyone gets hurt at one point or another, and we all work through that, and it takes a really long time—and then we all end up picking his songs. [Laughs] So at that point, I just go, “I’m going to make the best version of his song possible!”
SHINODA And by the way, not all of my songs are good songs!
BENNINGTON Just most of them! [Laughs]
SHINODA I’m throwing away my songs, too! If you think about it, though, we worked on this record with Page and Daron and Tom—and in all three cases, we sat and talked to them about their process and our process. We were sitting there to write some stuff together, so we were like, “How do you do that?” Everybody does it differently, and I think fans would be surprised at how different it can be. But we had those conversations with guys who’ve been in bands that have had difficulty in the chemistry department, or with people just butting heads about stuff. And I think it made all of us so appreciative of the fact that our guys… When we’ve got a problem—and believe me, we do—stuff’s always coming up for any band—we can look in each other’s face and say, “This is a problem, let’s fix it.” We like what we do as a band, and we don’t want to be bummed out about any facet of it. If something’s not great, then let’s make it great… I love to tell people that I’m so proud of the guys, their performances on this record in particular.