MIKE SHINODA INSIDE POST TRAUMATIC – AND A MEGA POSTER SPECIAL
In trying to process the passing of his close friend and bandmate CHESTER BENNINGTON, MIKE SHINODA turned to music and art. It helped to heal some of the LINKIN PARK man’s wounds, and the results might just help you, too…
“While it starts in a dark place, it doesn’t stay there…” says Mike Shinoda, discussing his forthcoming solo album, Post Traumatic. It’s a record that was painstakingly crafted in his home studio while the Linkin Park co-founder was deep in mourning, following the death of his bandmate Chester Bennington on July 20 last year. Understandably, it’s an album conceived from unimaginable heartache – yet one that culminates in a place of healing.
“It’s not about trauma – it’s not called Traumatic, right?” the 41-year-old emphasises. “There’s a journey out of that that ends up somewhere else.”
This path, for Mike Shinoda, began in the shelter of his Beverly Hills studio house. As Kerrang! learned when we caught up with him for a soul-baring cover feature in March (K!1714), Mike had been unable to bring himself to face the public much following his friend’s passing. But, as it turns out, he was almost forced to stay inside, too.
Two weeks after losing Chester, the California native was still trying to make sense of his loss when he turned to music for comfort. He decided to head out for a bite to eat, facing the world for the first time since the tragedy. Finding himself at the centre of some unwanted attention, though, he was accosted by intrusive paparazzi on the way back to his car. It prompted him to lie low and grieve in private.
“I didn’t want to leave the house much… I had some bad experiences,” he admits. “It made me feel like, ‘Oh great, I’m not safe. I can’t just go outside, so I won’t for a while.’ It was a real bummer.”
The ensuing months away from the glare of prying eyes were spent in the studio, and consequently filled with creativity – a rush of inspiration that not only brought the songs that would go on to make up his debut solo venture, but also the design behind its accompanying visuals. He would sometimes hang out with friends, too (“They would come to me, generally,” he adds), but the ultimate outcome was art. Splitting time between his studio and the room he often paints in, the Linkin Park man channelled his emotional energy into a moving body of work that “starts at ground zero, and follows the different moods and phases since then”.
And while he’s more comfortable with public appearances as we catch up today, cheerily embracing his early schedule having just dropped his kids off at school, Mike is now gearing up for an even more personal display with the release of Post Traumatic. As we pick up where we left off three months ago with the songwriter, producer, composer and artist, Mike is keen to stress that his latest self-imposed assignment isn’t all doom and gloom. Yes, Post Traumatic will detail the overwhelming feelings that followed the devastating events of last July. But that doesn’t mean it will remain there.
Mike Shinoda has always had a more hands-on approach than most when it comes to his artistic endeavours. As well as serving as Linkin Park’s primary songwriter, co-vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist, he’s produced and co-produced several of the band’s records (2007’s Minutes To Midnight, 2010’s A Thousand Suns, 2012’s Living Things, 2014’s The Hunting Party, and their most recent LP, 2017’s One More Light). Not to mention his work with other artists, plus hip-hop side project Fort Minor. Yet despite everything Mike Shinoda has put his stamp on across an illustrious 22-year career, nothing has been more important than Post Traumatic’s key decisions remaining completely up to him, and him alone.
“On this album it was almost a necessity; part of the point of doing it this way was to have control, and to capture each of the moments in the past nine or 10 months,” he says of his DIY approach, having worked on “99 per cent” of the record by himself. “I knew that life was going to be really hard, tumultuous, and interesting. I tasked myself with capturing as many of those moments, and being as authentic and truthful about it as I could. I figured that if I said something on a song, or had written a lyric that was revealing or too personal, I could always go back, change it or throw it away.”
Working this way, Mike says, was both difficult and freeing. He relished being able to “cut out the bullshit in the storytelling”, but also found himself changing directions multiple times throughout the record’s conception.
At first, he wondered if he should release the 16 songs that make up the album in one go on January 1. Then he considered doing it in “batches and EPS”, or even unveiling his work song by song, piece by piece.
Eventually Mike settled on giving fans an EP (also titled Post Traumatic) at the beginning of the year. “Taking my time and working on the songs to make them better, and writing new ones, was the right thing to do,” he reflects.
And it’s no coincidence that the three tracks that comprise that EP – the still-raw Place To Start, Over Again and Watching As I Fall – are also the first on Post Traumatic, the album.
“I wouldn’t call it a concept record, though there is a conceptual narrative there,” he says, detailing how the rollercoaster of moods he experienced in the aftermath of Chester’s death manifested on the record. “It’s in chronological order, in a way.”
Throwing himself wholeheartedly into the project, Mike concurrently worked on 10 or so paintings that complement the music, as well as Post Traumatic’s striking cover art.
“Oh my gosh – the cover image was the first painting I did!” he enthuses, surprised at the significance of this realisation. “That image is an important one, because it’s the most abstract, and simultaneously chaotic and neutral. It has the most chaos, and the most peace, which is really what this album is like.”
He also discovered an “important turning point in the middle chunk” of Post Traumatic, somewhere between the tender internal struggle of Crossing A Line and the confused honesty of Make It Up As I Go.
“Crossing A Line was the moment when I made a decision to try something different,” Mike remembers. “Change is difficult, and doing this project on my own was a hard decision. I’m glad that I did it now, but I don’t know how people will react, and I don’t know how it’ll do out there in the world. Make It Up As I Go is an important song, because it’s an acknowledgement that nobody has all the answers, and I certainly don’t know where this is going to take me. But I’m more open than ever to the ebbs and flows of the direction.”
The tone of Post Traumatic was a conscious one for Mike, too – not wanting these hiphop-infused tracks to wallow in sadness too much. After all, he experienced a confusing range of emotions while holed up in his studio – and it’s why the poppier, more optimistic beats of a song like Hold It Together are so crucial.
“There were days when I felt pretty good, and there were days when I didn’t,” he says, looking back. “And in between the two, there’s this weird grey area where, at one point, I looked back at the past couple of days and I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve had a great couple of days and thought very little about what was going on.’ I was having this feeling of positivity, and then I felt guilt that I was feeling positive.”
Mike pauses for a moment, chuckling at how strange it all felt.
“And then I got mad that I was feeling guilty about that, because aren’t we supposed to try to get better?” he ponders. “But then I started laughing, for some reason – I just felt like it was funny how chaotic that was, because I know that I’m not the only one who has ever dealt with this. Hold It Together was funny, because it was like an acknowledgement of just how fragile things can be at any given point – especially six months ago.”
Post Traumatic, then, has been the definitive crash course in learning. From the unavoidable soul-searching that you’re faced with when your world comes tumbling down (‘I used to think I knew who I was,’ Mike reveals on the poignant Promises I Can’t Keep, ‘Now it’s time to see if it’s true…’), to getting up onstage and performing live without the comfort of being surrounded by bandmates, Mike has navigated this most testing of times for himself by absorbing new lessons in both his life and his career.
“I feel like I’ve always associated a part of my identity with the band, and I’ve been forced to pull those things apart a bit, and separate them,” he admits. “I’m still a part of Linkin Park, and Linkin Park is still a part of me, but I can also separate my identity more than ever and say, ‘This is who I am.’ Making an album on my own, with my name on it, was part of that process.”
He points to his Fort Minor solo work by way of explaining how Post Traumatic is even closer to Mike as an individual.
“I was driving the ship – I was the captain of that project,” says the frontman. “I made all the decisions and I wrote all the music, but I did invite some friends and guests to participate on the record, and I took a backing band out on the road with me. So it was still using that ‘group’ as a crutch, in a sense.”
Now, Mike is conquering those challenges alone. He performed two solo gigs on May 12 in LA, and will face subsequent dates on his own, too. “I will continue to do shows by myself,” he smiles, proudly. “At some point, I probably will add people into the mix, but it’ll still be my record, my voice and my decisions.”
Most importantly, though, he’s just pleased to be helping Linkin Park fans overcome the shared pain of the past year. He doesn’t know what will happen with the band, and he’s still figuring out how to direct the hurt of losing his close friend. But in Post Traumatic, and the touring that will follow (including UK debuts at Reading & Leeds Festivals in August), the Linkin Park family are, at the very least, in this powerful, whirlwind ride together.
“I feel like it’s doing something positive for the fans,” Mike concludes. “And that’s even more important, because I want it to be bigger than myself and my story.”
“THIS IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN MYSELF AND MY STORY…” MIKE SHINODA
POST TRAUMATIC IS SET FOR RELEASE ON JUNE 15 VIA WARNER BROS. MIKE SHINODA PLAYS READING & LEEDS FESTIVALS IN AUGUST – SEE THE GIG GUIDE FOR INFORMATION
Mike Shinoda, 2018