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…

Kerrang! (UK) - - Welcome - Words: Emily Carter PHO­TOS: Getty

“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.”



Mike Shinoda, 2018

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