A Cut Above: LINKIN PARK on greatest hits, rare gems, Chester's legacy and more | Revolver

A Cut Above: LINKIN PARK on greatest hits, rare gems, Chester's legacy and more

Mike Shinoda and Brad Delson break down new 'Papercuts' collection
linkin park papercuts PROMO 1 crop, James Minchin
photograph by James Minchin

It's been nearly 24 years since Linkin Park exploded into our collective consciousness with debut single "One Step Closer" — the anthemic, generation-defining Hybrid Theory anthem that formally introduced the Agoura Hills, California, quintet as nu-metal vanguards for the 21st century.

The impact was bomb-blast immediate, with the group and Hybrid Theory taking over radio and MTV, in part because of the staggeringly unique vocal tandem between vocalist Chester Bennington — himself a roller coaster of screaming catharsis and melancholic introspection — and the rap-styled toasting of Mike Shinoda.

Two decades on and over 100 million record sales later, it's also fair to say that Linkin Park's iconic legacy doesn't hinge on just one sound. Hybrid Theory, after all, was merely the first of many mega-popular albums. With the release of Papercuts (Singles Collection: 2000-2023), the band's first proper greatest-hits collection, a fuller picture of Linkin Park's sonic evolution becomes crystal clear.

There is, of course, the thrill of the energetic early rap-rock era ("Crawling," "In the End"), but also moments of legitimate hip-hop crossover (their Collision Course period with Jay-Z), arena-dominating pop-smithing (Minutes to Midnight's "Bleed It Out") and tender, soft-shimmer guitar minimalism ("One More Light").

While stacked with hit after hit, the 20-song collection is also notable for bringing two underheard cuts to the forefront. The first is "QWERTY," an all-out war of chromatic, moto-metal bombast and mean-rapped braggadocio unlike anything in the Linkin Park archive. The other is the decidedly more delicate "Friendly Fire," a once-shelved piece from the One More Light sessions in 2016 that Shinoda and guitarist Brad Delson gracefully re-upped recently for Papercuts.

Speaking with Revolver, Shinoda and Delson look back at the life of Linkin Park, the hits and their outliers, and the everlasting voice of their late bandmate Chester Bennington.

How did you end up deciding that now was the right time to put together this kind of career retrospective?
Basically, we did an anniversary thing for Meteora in 2023, and before that for Hybrid Theory, and the response was so warm. When the subject came up… it was just a nice moment to do look back, and also to share this new track. We knew we had this song, "QWERTY," which was a super heavy song in the era leading up to Minutes to Midnight, but the other track was "Friendly Fire," a newer song that hadn't ever been released.

Since this isn't in chronological order, how does this collection flow for you, track-to-track, as it tells the story of Linkin Park?
It's obviously not a chronological story, or an evolutionary story. It almost flows the way a Linkin Park concert would flow — not exactly, though, because we would probably end with "Bleed it Out." There's a really nice energy to it all, and we get to look back at it and go like, "Oh, my god. We made all those songs." It's crazy.

BRAD DELSON We were talking about the two new songs, "QWERTY" and "Friendly Fire," and I was like, "If you just heard those two things independently, other than maybe recognizing the vocals, you would think it's two completely different bands… or two totally different genres." There is a very eclectic range of sounds on this album.

Throughout our career, I think what's kept us intrigued by the challenge of creating music is the ability to play in so many different worlds. That was always what excited us from the beginning: mixing genres or experimenting in ways that were unpredictable. You really see it across the span of these 20 songs.

"Friendly Fire" was recorded a few years ago, during the One More Light sessions. Why hadn't you done something with it back then?
SHINODA Like in any album-making process, there are [songs] that are right on the fringe. They're probably going to make the record… but then they don't. There was some structural stuff [on "Friendly Fire"]. Like, the way we had arranged it wasn't good. It was a little slower than what you hear now. Because the energy and the pacing of it was a little wrong, we just thought it wasn't as good a song as it is.

We managed to fix that. Brad came over here, and the two of us just tinkered with it. His ideas had more to do with heightening it up and making it a little shorter. My ideas had to do more with adding live instruments. [On] the version from before, live drums weren't quite as prominent. I don't think there were any guitars on it at all.

DELSON I would say, for me, the privilege and evolution [I've experienced] as a songwriter and producer is understanding the whole… and how the guitar fits in with everything else. Sometimes the guitar is more front and center, and sometimes the guitar is playing a supporting role.

It's funny, one of the last things we put in "Friendly Fire" was the acoustic guitar at the end — [and] I mean a couple of months ago. We worked on the song in 2016 and 2017, and then we put it aside [because] something wasn't clicking with it. When we rediscovered it, we were like, "Wow, this song's really special."

link park papercuts PROMO 2, James Minchin
photograph by James Minchin

How does that song resonate with you, now that you've turned the corner and completed it?
I love it. It was almost like a sculpture. We had to chip away at some of the organic material for the song to fully reveal itself. I just think it's super beautiful. I'm very proud of it.

Since it's become the de facto title cut to this singles collection, what is it about "Papercut" that stands out from the rest of these songs, at this particular moment in time?
SHINODA "Papercut" was our calling card — more so than our first single, "One Step Closer."

The first thing [people] heard [on Hybrid Theory] needed to be the most boiled-down, essential statement of what the band is about. "Papercut" did all those things to me. It had the aesthetics of all of my favorite hip-hop stuff growing up, and my favorite rock and alternative stuff that was happening at the moment. It was more rap-driven in the beginning, [but] by the end you get some really nice open explosive melodies.

"One Step Closer" did end up being the first single off Hybrid Theory, though. What do you remember of the decision to introduce the band that way?
DELSON "One Step Closer" is one of my favorite songs. I tend to not think about these songs through the lens of guitar, exclusively… [but] if you put distortion on a guitar, it becomes a dominant element right away. With "One Step Closer," the guitar is front and center. I think the riff is really special, and it sounds like me. It was a great introduction to the band, in terms of the pure energy.

Ironically, we thought [the first single] should be "Papercut." We had all these passionate discussions with the head of Warner Radio department at the time, who was much smarter than us. Eventually, we just deferred to the greater wisdom. But the song "Papercut" actually starts Hybrid Theory. Even though "One Step Closer" was the first single, we introduced the band through "Papercut."

It can't be understated that Linkin Park broke during an era when MTV is still one of the biggest things around. And you made a ton of videos. Do you have any particularly memorable video shoot moments?
Video shoots can be kind of grueling. And I feel like Chester was always put through the wringer, just having to do the most uncomfortable things. He was always a sport about it… I was never envious of what he had to go through on some of these shoots.

With "Faint," which we did with [director] Mark Romanek, the backlit thing was so cool. But that lighting rig, which was very complex and intense, failed during the middle of the shoot. We had all those extras there, and we were just waiting for them to fix that light. They must have been jumping up and down, and losing their minds for 11 hours on that shoot.

The bulk of you had been working together for a few years before Chester comes into the picture. What do you remember about evolving the band into Linkin Park?
SHINODA I'll try and keep this short, but we started out as a band called Xero — and by band, I mean it was me and my friend Mark [Wakefield]. We've known each other since we were 13 — we're still tight.

We started making songs and eventually brought the other guys in to be a band and play the stuff. It got to a point where Mark was less of a fit for being a singer — he moved into being a music manager, and still is. When we met Chester, one thing he told us was that he loved the way that we mixed things [together]. He loved the chemistry [of] the way we did things.

[Chester] was more of a raw talent than you'd think of now. Now the only thing anyone thinks of is him being this iconic, huge voice that you recognize the minute you hear it. Back then he was a small statured, poorly-dressed, skinny little guy with a squeaky voice. He wasn't really screaming on records very much. He would do aggressive vocals, but it wasn't part of his repertoire.

He and I really worked to focus in on what was the DNA of the band. It was trial and error, man. We just worked it out as we went — some real air balls as we're doing it. But some other stuff we went, "Yeah, that one's definitely going to work."

With a bit of that dynamic in mind, what is the first song that you hear in your head when you think of Chester?
DELSON I just think of [his] passion. I think of the fearlessness, and the talent. I think of a song like "One Step Closer" that has so much intensity and cannot be denied, and then I think of a song like "Breaking the Habit" that's just so heartbreaking and beautiful. The combination of the power and the vulnerability [was] truly remarkable. That really goes back to the ethos of where we started as a band, which was the [Hybrid Theory artwork's] soldier with the butterfly wings. It's strength, and also the fragility.

SHINODA I don't think I hear just one. I immediately flash to five different songs, and the reason for that is that Chester's voice has always been really versatile.

We knew how melodic Chester's voice could be, [but] on the first record we were just focused on making a really aggressive, loud, energetic record. By the time we got to the second and third album — especially Minutes to Midnight — we wanted to change our sound from the ground up… introduce the fanbase to all these different ways that we can sound. So, we've got a song like "Leave Out All the Rest," or "Hands Held High," or "Little Things Give You Away." Those were all so different than anything the fans had heard us do. I think when you look back at a song like "Waiting for the End," or "Castle of Glass," or even "Friendly Fire," if you had only heard the first album or two you would have no clue Linkin Park was even capable of making these songs.

How does "QWERTY" fit into all of this, then?
We were making Minutes to Midnight at Rick [Rubin]'s house in Laurel Canyon, and apparently we stopped in the middle of [writing] it to go play shows in Japan, which is so counterintuitive.

SHINODA We had done Meteora and Collision Course with Jay-Z. I did a record called Fort Minor. Chester did a record [with a band] called Dead by Sunrise. We [then] started working on Minutes to Midnight and decided to change everything — the way that we worked, the places we worked, the people we worked with. We were making a bunch of really aggressive songs at the time, and "QWERTY" was probably the best example of it. So, so heavy.

Not only was it the heaviest thing [from those writing sessions], there wasn't anything else like it. [Ultimately] there was very little heavy stuff on the [Minutes to Midnight] album — in fact [it] was some of our lightest stuff. Fans were just like, "What the hell?" They were so mad for a minute when it came out.

We ended up debuting "QWERTY" months before that, though. Chester and I wrote the words on the plane on the way from L.A. to Japan, and then memorized and sang it onstage.

DELSON I think about just hitting that open chord in the intro. Our instincts would have been to hit it four times, but I think Rick — pulling on whatever metal reference he was pulling on — was like, "No, you should do more of that." I think we hit that chord 16 times, and I remember thinking we never would have thought to do that, because it just seems far too decadent. That song's pretty rad.

linkin park papercuts PROMO red, James Minchin
photograph by James Minchin

With respect to a rarity like "QWERTY," and this just-released song in "Friendly Fire," is there much Linkin Park that we haven't heard at this point?
The answer is yes, but the asterisk is that in any band's batch of things they've recorded —demos and all of that — the vast majority of it is usually garbage. I think what fans want to know is how many things do we have that are going to get released, and that are good? I don't know what the answer to that is. We'll have to just wait and see.

There's a definitiveness to the title of this: Papercuts (Singles Collection 2000-2023). Since we're speaking right now in the year 2024, what does that say about the possibility of working with Linkin Park for the future?
Rumors always go around. People always ask what's next for the band, and the best answer I can ever give anybody is when there's something to tell you, we will tell you. When there's an announcement to be made, it will be on LinkinPark.com. If you're hearing it from somebody else, you can trust that information as much as you want to trust it. [But] I love the guys, I still see them pretty regularly, and we have fun making stuff together. That's why Papercuts exists.

DELSON I think this album speaks for itself. It's a beautiful reflection on 24 years — it should say 2000-2024, because "Friendly Fire" and "QWERTY" are coming out this year.

Mike, you recently released your "Already Over" solo single, as well as the Crimson Chapter EP. What's next in your world?
I'm in a period right now where I'm a little bit of a recluse. We did a pretty heavy promotion of the most recent single, "Already Over," and my favorite thing about that was doing a series of sessions with different musicians from all over the world.

We'd go to a city and all of the players in the room would lend their flavor to the songs. The difference between city to city is so remarkable — watch the one in London, the one in Sydney, [and] the one in Japan back-to-back. [Even] if you're not a musician, you really get a sense of how much it matters who the people are in the room, because your DNA gets all over everything. It really changes the sound of the thing that you're playing.

Are you going to be doing those kinds of sessions each time you make a new song?
I think I'm done with those, [but] I did have a ton of fun doing them. At this point, I'm back in the lab just trying new things. I'm excited about what I'm making right now.

Brad, are you working on anything else at the moment?
Right now, my energy is really focused on just celebrating this package and the work that went into it. I'm excited to share it with people.

This interview has been edited and condensed for flow and clarity.