THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT
LINKIN PARK FLIPS THEIR SONGWRITING STRATEGY UPSIDE DOWN FOR A BOLD NEW DIRECTION, AS GUITARIST BRAD DELSON EXPLAINS. BY PETER HODGSON
Linkin Park are used to controversy. Some folks lump them in with the ‘90s nu metal scene, but even the title of their debut LP, Hybrid Theory, hinted that they saw themselves as musical melting pot far removed from that genre. They collaborated with Jay-Z on the Collision Course EP in 2004, and have always jumped headfirst into musical experimentation. But nothing could prepare fans for the shock of One More Light. It’s a very different album for Linkin Park, much more influenced by pop, pop-rock and electropop than anything they’ve done before. It’s a risky move that the band knows could alienate fans of their heavier work, but at the same time, it’s a ballsy and confident step that is completely consistent with the band’s long-established penchant for breaking the rules. Bands that play metal festivals aren’t supposed to have songs that can sit side-by-side with pop hits on Fox FM, right?
Well, Linkin Park doesn’t care, and if you want crushing guitars and industrial beats, there are plenty of examples of that in their catalogue already. What One More Light offers is Linkin Park’s songwriting sensibility shot through a different lens – one that highlights different areas of their creativity. It’s a compelling album for its own reasons, and it gives guitarist Brad Delson a lot of leeway to push his playing in new directions. Wherever Linkin Park decides to go after this particular album cycle, it’ll be intriguing to see how this record feeds into it.
Many guitarists would love the challenge of doing something so different. How did you approach this record as a guitarist?
I’ll start by saying that I’m really excited about these songs. We normally write the music first and the vocals tend to follow that; the music for us typically inspires the vocal. When we started working with Rick Rubin a while back, he challenged us to do things differently and to start with the melody. He told us it was a great idea, and then we basically ignored it [ laughs]. We ignored it for about three albums, and for whatever reason, we kind of woke up on the precipice of this opportunity and said to each other, “Hey, remember that idea of writing songs? What if we tried that?” And it sounded ridiculous, because of course they’re all songs, but it’s an entirely different creative challenge to start with words or melodies. Not only is it something we’d never really been comfortable with, it’s something we’d never even really tried in earnest. So we dove headfirst into that challenge, and it wound up being incredibly rich, creatively. We took a process
that was so familiar to us and tilted it on its head. It gave us the opportunity to almost feel like we were doing something for the first time. And it wound up inspiring a prolific outpouring of about 70 songs. We were writing two or three songs a day! It was a very bare-bones process: we’d get the words done, then the melodies and structure. Then we picked our favourite 20 songs or so, and whittled them down to about ten. That gave us the challenge of working in another direction to complete the thought, because we had the song, but didn’t know what the arrangement or the style would be for each song.
And that’s where it got really fun as a guitarist. That gave us the possibility to try to find the kind of natural essence, stylistically, of each song. And it was a tonne of fun to do that.
I read a quote somewhere that there was a bit of a Cure influence to the orchestration.
It wasn’t me who said that, but I will tell you that The Cure are one of my all-time favourite bands. What strikes me about The Cure is how deeply emotional and honest their songs are. It’s something you can’t fake, and in a similar way, these ten songs grew out of a deeply personal and emotional place, really needing to talk about and express the stories that were going on in our lives when we made this record. We’ve all had things happen in our lives that we can celebrate – and things that were tragic or challenging – and we have an opportunity as artists to channel that into our music.
A theme that jumps out to me musically with this is ‘trust’. There has to be trust within yourself that you can come up with something outside of the way you’ve always done it. There has to be trust within the band that you’ll support each other’s choices, and there has to be trust that the fans will accept it.
I think you’re right. I think that part of it is trust and part of it is the imperative as an artist to strive for the highest inspiration. And often times, that journey takes us in all directions. You’re right, you have to have a trust and an inner confidence, not an outer confidence. That’s the journey that we need to go on, and if we’re really listening to our creative instincts, then irrespective of all the things we can never control in our lives, we’re making something that we can be proud of.
Someone was asking me about the guitar work on this album, and whether this sounds surprising or not, the guitar work was as rich and rewarding for me on this album as it was when we made The Hunting Party. That could be surprising because the guitar on The Hunting Party was certainly a dominant element. It was really aggressive and right up in your face. The guitar on this album played an essential role as well, it just unfolded in a much more tender and subtle way, to complement and support the vocal. As a guitarist, that was such a fun process, to really experiment with tones and layering. We wanted everything to feel hand-crafted, and even though the guitar isn’t loud and in your face, it played a really essential role in helping these songs come to life.
So what gear did you use?
What was cool was that for every song and every layer, we had some go-to gear to give it a little bit of consistency. But in saying that, we also wanted every tone to feel bespoke for that moment, so we experimented a lot. We used Strats, Teles and a Jazzmaster. I used a guitar that belongs to our engineer during the writing of the songs, and a lot of that stuck on the final arrangements. In terms of amps, we used some Orange boxes, a lot of vintage amps, and some handmade pedals that you’ll never see. Our engineer and I would often talk about what kind of tone we wanted to get; he would go and grab three or four pedals from his collection, and we would just experiment, one at a time, with any combination of guitars and amps. We tend to write and record in the same space, so while the arrangements happen later in the process, once we find something we love, it goes right into the song. And that can be a candid moment captured early on.
How are you going to pull this off live?
That’s a great question. Rehearsals are always a big challenge, because we try to be totally unencumbered while we’re creating. That then leads to us having to solve problems and figure out how to translate everything faithfully when it comes to the live show. So rehearsing is really a process of translation for us. Fortunately, we’ve already done that: we’ve put in weeks and weeks, if not months, of rehearsals to learn most of the new songs. We’ve also been organising our new show to ensure that the old and new materials flow smoothly together. It’s definitely a fair task, however we’re really excited by how our show changes form. We’re performing the first shows of the One More Light tour in South America. And we love our fans in Australia, so we’ll be back there soon. I’m really excited for everyone in Australia to hear these songs.
“THE GUITAR ON THIS ALBUM PLAYED AN ESSENTIAL ROLE. IT JUST UNFOLDED IN A MUCH MORE TENDER AND SUBTLE WAY, TO COMPLEMENT AND SUPPORT THE VOCAL.”