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This is a year that has been de­fined by divi­sion. On Au­gust 25, 2018, how­ever, 60,000 voices sang in

per­fect uni­son. ‘I had to fall, to lose it all, but in the end it doesn’t even

mat­ter…’ A smat­ter­ing of grey clouds hung in the sum­mer sky over Read­ing Fes­ti­val, but de­fi­ant sun­light en­sured it was a good day. Were some­one look­ing down, they’d have a fine view.

It was a mo­ment of cel­e­bra­tion, and one of re­mem­brance. More than that, it felt like a turn­ing of the tide. Yes, Linkin Park front­man Ch­ester Ben­ning­ton was 401 days gone, and the wounds were still heal­ing for so many he’d left be­hind. But, as one of his most fa­mous songs trans­fig­ured, you could feel the fo­cus shift­ing: from the tragedy passed to the pos­si­bil­ity ahead; from the over­whelm­ing grief for an artist lost to the breath­tak­ing re­dis­cov­ery of one still here. Pic­ture the scene. Mike Shinoda stands alone on­stage. “I want you guys to sing it so loud Ch­ester can hear you…” His com­po­sure con­trasts starkly to the emo­tional out­pour­ing of so many in at­ten­dance. Sublim­i­nal weight keeps the slight­est slump in those shoul­ders, but he stands straight and strong. That easy smile cuts through the solem­nity like a bea­con. A field of un­cer­tain souls stretch­ing as far as the hori­zon hang on ev­ery word, lean­ing on each other and to­wards the stage in a rit­ual of com­mu­nal cathar­sis.

From a fan’s per­spec­tive, it’s dif­fi­cult to re­call a more de­fin­i­tive mo­ment over the tu­mul­tuous last 12 months. For Mike him­self, it was one of many stops on the un­mapped road lead­ing from dark­ness into light. “I was sur­prised,” he ad­mits, as we rem­i­nisce over how footage from the per­for­mance sat­u­rated news­feeds for weeks after­wards. “The ex­pe­ri­ence the crowd got that af­ter­noon was the same ex­pe­ri­ence we give the crowd ev­ery show.”

His ten­dency to re­fer to oc­ca­sions like these as “group ther­apy” could seem clichéd, but if there was ever any prac­tised ar­ti­fice about Mike, it has long since dis­solved away.

Speak­ing to Ker­rang! back in March, there was some­thing still stunned in him. That ten­ta­tive mo­ment alone on­stage at Linkin Park and Friends’ Hol­ly­wood Bowl cel­e­bra­tion aside, he had yet to per­form his first solo show. So­lace was found in vis­ual ex­pres­sion and the empti­ness of the blank can­vas. He was still com­ing to terms with the var­i­ous arrivals of Kübler-ross’ stages of grief: anger and de­nial clouded the path, bar­gain­ing and de­pres­sion weighed down mo­men­tum.

As we pick up again at the end of this an­nus mirabilis, Mike’s found some­thing like ac­cep­tance. He’s found it in in­no­va­tive art, fresh ex­pe­ri­ence, and a re­dis­cov­ered will­ing­ness to take life as it comes. More im­por­tantly, he’s found it in the fans. In a man­ner that only tragedy can ever truly trig­ger, he has un­veiled him­self as a rock star of un­ri­valled emo­tional lead­er­ship and em­pa­thy. Within a genre that prides it­self on com­mu­nity, he has driven the con­cept to an­other level.

Land­mark acts have lost key cre­atives be­fore. Some, like AC/DC and Me­tal­lica, ploughed hastily on­ward to su­per­star­dom. Oth­ers – Nir­vana, for in­stance – frac­tured and faded, like mo­ments passed, into mem­ory. Few have pro­ceeded with such open­ness, hon­esty and pa­tience. None has showed will­ing­ness to hon­our the grief – their own and that of their fans’ – with such touch­ing dig­nity. That au­then­tic in­sis­tence on tight­en­ing the bind of the Linkin Park Fam­ily meant there was no other con­tender for the ti­tle of Ker­rang!’s Per­son Of 2018.

“What did I do to de­serve this?” Mike asks, de­flect­ing with char­ac­ter­is­tic hu­mil­ity. “This is big­ger than me. It’s unique. I can fa­cil­i­tate an ex­pe­ri­ence or an event where peo­ple from this com­mu­nity come to­gether. At the end of the day, though, I can walk away and know that the com­mu­nity nour­ishes it­self.”

Fes­ti­val sea­son has long since drifted out of view, but that com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to grow.

Win­ter is com­ing to the Amer­i­can Mid­west, but Mike speaks to us on his tour bus – con­sid­er­ing lunch as he gazes out over a sprawl of ur­ban de­cay in Cincin­nati, Ohio – with ami­able warmth. “It looks re­ally rugged out there – a lit­tle scary, the op­po­site of glam­orous, for sure,” he jokes. Rough edges be damned, tonight’s show at 1,500-ca­pac­ity per­for­mance space Bog­art’s – a con­verted vaude­ville theatre that sits some­what at odds with the cut­ting-edge of his sound – prom­ises to be just an­other step on a jour­ney that started back in Jan­uary.

Twenty-five days into the year, the three-track Post Trau­matic EP of­fered fans a first light in the dark. Look­ing back, Mike sees its im­por­tance mag­ni­fied. On­line and in per­son, the show of con­do­lence and sup­port had been over­whelm­ing. Only the glim­mer of con­tin­ued ex­is­tence, how­ever, could stem the sad­ness. “I felt so en­cour­aged by the re­sponse that came from our fans, and ev­ery time I made a move it felt like there was this rip­ple of pos­i­tive re­sponse. It felt like it was help­ing peo­ple by sim­ply know­ing that I was still here.

“I knew that [re­leas­ing those songs] would answer a lot of the fans’ ques­tions,” he rea­sons, “per­haps not in terms of where I’m at and what I’m up to, but in that I’m here and I’m try­ing my best to sort through what had hap­pened. The fans needed this – and so did I.”

March 8 marked a more bold step for­ward. Pin­ning his lo­ca­tion on­line, to Tower Records on Hol­ly­wood’s Sun­set Boule­vard, and an­nounc­ing that he was ready to open up, Mike drew hun­dreds of well­wish­ers. He tire­lessly signed and pho­tographed for all, col­lect­ing only footage for the Cross­ing A Line mu­sic video in pay­ment. The first time he played the track, the packed park­ing lot stood in breath­less si­lence. By the sec­ond spin, they’d mem­o­rised ev­ery lyric.

“Meet­ing the fans was and con­tin­ues to be a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence,” he smiles, “for all of us. I meet fans who deal with in­ner strug­gles, and fans who wear their pain on the out­side. I meet fans who were dev­as­tated by Ch­ester’s loss, and oth­ers who relate to the mu­sic be­cause they’ve gone through things hav­ing noth­ing to do with Ch­ester. I’ve felt en­er­gised by their sup­port, and I hope this can be a gal­vanis­ing mo­ment to help them find hope.”

The full Post Trau­matic al­bum would fol­low on June 15. A ver­i­ta­ble road-map through grief, its fear­less ap­proach stunned lis­ten­ers. More­over, it forced its cre­ator to con­front the self-sac­ri­fi­cial re­al­i­ties of life alone in the post-

Ch­ester spot­light: ev­ery move­ment re­viewed through the prism of loss.

“When you make your mind up to put out an al­bum, it’s not just about re­leas­ing the mu­sic,” Mike con­tin­ues. “It’s ba­si­cally a com­mit­ment to putting your­self in ex­posed po­si­tions to [have those con­ver­sa­tions with] fans and jour­nal­ists, sit­u­a­tions where they will ask hard, un­com­fort­able ques­tions: ‘What hap­pened?’ ‘What was go­ing on with Ch­ester?’ ‘Where do you go from here?’ I knew I would go out into the world, where fans would cry, where they would tell me their most dif­fi­cult sto­ries. I knew it would be a lot to take on, day af­ter day. But I fig­ured, ‘I want to get out there and try to help.’

“Fast for­ward to Novem­ber and it feels al­most shock­ing how far we’ve come. I don’t get stopped at ev­ery turn with con­do­lences any­more. That’s a good feel­ing. I al­ways tell peo­ple that if those thoughts are oc­cur­ring to you, I’d much rather that fans fo­cused them into a cel­e­bra­tion than con­do­lences or re­grets.”

Fo­cus­ing on pos­i­tives isn’t ex­actly on-trend in 2018. In a world where pub­lic fig­ures at ev­ery point on the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal spec­trum have con­verted divi­sion into cur­rency, it feels like there’s a for­lorn nov­elty in an in­di­vid­ual in­vested in build­ing cross-cul­tural sup­port struc­tures rather than tear­ing them down.

Mike re­sponds sim­ply. “There’s no ques­tion, par­tic­u­larly in Amer­ica, that the state of af­fairs can make this an in­cred­i­bly stress­ful place to live right now. If this band, and the fam­ily around us, can help to al­le­vi­ate some of that, then I only think that it’s a pos­i­tive thing. It all comes back to that com­mu­nity.”

Even the stylis­tic swerves through which Linkin Park’s fan­dom has en­dured, Mike nods, wryly, have pre­pared them to reach across new di­vides. “I’ve made plenty of mu­sic that started huge fights in our own fan­base, be­cause of dra­matic shifts in style, like go­ing from [2000 de­but al­bum] Hy­brid The­ory and [2003 fol­low-up] Me­te­ora to [2004 Jay-z col­lab EP] Col­li­sion Course and [hip-hop side project] Fort Mi­nor, then to [2007’s] Min­utes To Mid­night, then [2010’s] A Thou­sand Suns. As a [per­former], I’ve al­ways tried to put my artis­tic in­stinct first, even when I knew that a lot of peo­ple wouldn’t like the out­come.”

Com­mu­nity, he un­der­stands, shouldn’t be pre­serve of the rock world, ei­ther. On April 20, Swedish EDM su­per­star Avicii died by sui­cide at 28. The out­pour­ing of sol­i­dar­ity from Linkin Park fans that fol­lowed was per­haps the most po­tent dis­play of their ac­cep­tance. Their will­ing­ness to em­pathise and to sup­port re­flected Mike’s own. He’s re­luc­tant, of course, to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Those ges­tures of sup­port were started by Linkin Park fans,” he smiles. “It’s some­thing I’m im­mensely proud of. Our fans saw other hu­man be­ings hurt­ing, and reached out to say, ‘We un­der­stand what you’re go­ing through, be­cause we went through it too.’ They ini­ti­ated that out­reach. It’s an em­pa­thy that tran­scends genre, age, or cul­ture. I was so im­pressed by that.”

As in any fam­ily, there have been strug­gles. Run-ins with the self-en­ti­tled thought­less­ness of self-pro­claimed ‘old-school’ Linkin Park fans – de­mand­ing an im­pos­si­ble re­turn to the glory days of Hy­brid The­ory and Me­te­ora – leave the oth­er­wise serene per­former un­der­stand­ably ag­i­tated. Mike be­moans the com­par­a­tive dif­fi­culty of video-stream­ing to the LP Face­book page com­pared to that on his solo pro­file. One at­tempted post on Septem­ber 26 saw him clash with bor­der­line-trolls.

On his sec­ond ap­pear­ance that day, he was bet­ter pre­pared to lead the way.

“There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween cel­e­brat­ing some­one and be­ing stuck,” the we­b­cam com­mu­ni­cated the prom­ise to check-in once in a while to a world of lis­ten­ers. “I don’t want you to be stuck. There’s a thing called emo­tional in­tel­li­gence, and there’s a thing called em­pa­thy. I think you guys have a higher level of em­pa­thy. There’s a con­nec­tion there that’s spe­cial. Don’t ever lose that.”

It’s easy to imag­ine, to dream of, an al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity, where the hor­ror of last July never tran­spired. Linkin Park’s One More Light al­bum-cy­cle would be draw­ing to a close. A slew of sum­mer fes­ti­val head­lines might’ve cel­e­brated 15 years of Me­te­ora. The next cre­ative twists would in­evitably be wind­ing down the pipe­line.

“[I con­sider that] all the time,” Mike sighs. “I’m con­stantly re­minded of all the things [Ch­ester and I] could have done to­gether. It’s par­tic­u­larly poignant on this solo tour as we go through ci­ties Linkin Park were sched­uled to play. Some of those had their dates on [2014/15’s] The Hunt­ing Party tour can­celled af­ter Ch­ester’s leg in­jury [sus­tained while play­ing bas­ket­ball dur­ing a day off], too. It feels in­cred­i­bly sad that there are fans who per­haps didn’t get the chance to – and never will – see Ch­ester sing.”

In his heart, Mike knows that live per­for­mance re­mains the heart­beat be­neath his on­go­ing emo­tional sym­bio­sis with the fans. In kick-start­ing that, spon­tane­ity has be­come a key­word. A Fe­bru­ary 6 In­sta­gram post sug­gested folk “make noise” if they wanted to see him live. By the fol­low­ing morn­ing, a col­lec­tive of LP fan sites had ral­lied. It wouldn’t be un­til May 12’s KROQ Wee­nie Roast at LA Galaxy’s Stubhub Center in the Dominguez Hills, how­ever, that Mike would re­turn to the stage. When the time came, it needed to be a (re)bap­tism of fire.

“I re­mem­ber want­ing to make it as chal­leng­ing a sit­u­a­tion for my­self as pos­si­ble. I had to avoid the temp­ta­tion to try to make it a fa­mil­iar ‘band set-up’ with more guys on­stage. I wanted to strip the ex­pe­ri­ence bare, just like the mu­sic on Post Trau­matic, and see which were the bare ne­ces­si­ties. In the end, I got up there with pretty much just my pro­duc­tion gear from the stu­dio and pulled it off.”

It was the ge­n­e­sis from which more com­plex per­for­mance would evolve. The first test passed, Mike knew he would need more hands for the ‘next phase’ of his vi­sion.


En­ter English multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist ex­traor­di­naire Matthias Har­ris and Is­raeli per­cus­sion­ist Dan Mayo (of Tel Aviv postrock­ers TATRAN). To­gether, the trio con­jure an on­stage ver­sa­til­ity that con­trasts strik­ingly with the “al­most theatre-like” reg­i­men of an LP per­for­mance. “Both guys are great at im­pro­vis­ing,” says Mike, pride ev­i­dent in his voice. “They’re great at fol­low­ing me when I de­cide to call an au­di­ble, and take the show in some un­planned di­rec­tion.”

Even that vir­tu­os­ity is put to work in the name of fan-ser­vice, mind. Ob­scure re­quests – truly deep-cuts with which they’re un­fa­mil­iar – can be re­worked over im­pro­vised beats. “I en­joy the prob­lem­solv­ing el­e­ment of that,” Mike smiles. Out­side-the-box whims are in­dulged. The night be­fore Hal­loween, at Las Ve­gas’ House Of Blues, Mike ex­panded his tra­di­tional cos­play to re­cast the whole trio as leg­endary New York hip-hop col­lec­tive Run DMC. In a crisp twist, he was able to per­form one of their songs, open­ing-up with a blast of 1987 sig­na­ture It’s Tricky.

If there were any doubt that such un­ex­pected de­lights deepen the au­di­ence ex­pe­ri­ence, in­no­va­tive new out­lets prove the point. Mike’s ‘Fan Sto­ries’ Youtube se­ries has cap­tured pun­ters’ voices at shows world­wide. (“It’s up­lift­ing,” one tes­ti­fies, en­cap­su­lat­ing the tone. “It’s trans­for­ma­tive! It’s watch­ing some­one chan­nel ev­ery­thing that he’s got into hav­ing a good time with you. You don’t feel like an au­di­ence­mem­ber; you feel like part of the show.”) A nov­elty merch vend­ing ma­chine at shows even dis­penses ex­clu­sive T-shirts and oc­ca­sional Willy Wonka-style golden tick­ets grant­ing the op­por­tu­nity to meet the man him­self.

The vis­ual art that was Mike’s per­sonal pre­serve at the start of the year has been opened up, as well. “I al­ways doo­dle, draw and paint,” he ex­plains. “I’ve been happy to share more with the fans.” VIP ticket-hold­ers on the North Amer­i­can tour got the chance to col­lab­o­rate with Mike in col­lec­tive mu­ral work­shops – cov­er­ing a grid of blank 12-inch vinyl cov­ers, then tak­ing one each home. The im­pro­vi­sa­tion spilled into Dia De Los Deftones fes­ti­val in San Diego, where Mike cre­ated a cus­tom back­drop and lim­ited event shirts in the aes­thetic of Mex­ico’s Calav­era (Day Of The Dead) tra­di­tion.

Fans’ needs vary, of course. Main­tain­ing bal­ance has been cru­cial: be­tween sad­ness and cel­e­bra­tion; be­tween re­mem­brance and progress; be­tween grief and joy. Mike mar­vels at the vari­a­tions he’s wit­nessed on what’s al­ready been a globe-span­ning ad­ven­ture. Early on, shows in Asia pul­sated with in­ten­sity. Fans at Bei­jing’s Ex­hi­bi­tion Theatre staged a 45-minute-long vigil af­ter the show had fin­ished, singing to each other in sol­i­dar­ity un­til venue staff asked them to leave. One meet-and-greet in Ja­pan saw ev­ery face in the front of the line stained with tears. “It’s es­pe­cially dis­con­cert­ing,” the singer re­flects, “in a place where peo­ple are nor­mally so re­served in their emo­tions.”

More re­cent Amer­i­can out­ings re­flect the em­pha­sis on lighter-hearted cel­e­bra­tion. In Dal­las, Texas, a fan pre­sented Mike with an ‘oc­to­pus hat’, in­spired by his paint­ings. He wore it through the end of the set. When an­other named Zach in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia screamed a re­quest that Mike be his dad, the icon agreed – on the con­di­tion the young­ster be re­named ‘Kacha­lani’.

That mo­ment of di­rect ad­dress and col­lec­tive re­flec­tion at each show be­fore In The End has be­come piv­otal. “It’s emo­tional ev­ery night,” the singer elab­o­rates. “It’s part of the set that I tailor to each in­di­vid­ual au­di­ence; I just read the crowd and speak from the heart. Some nights we have fun, even com­i­cal backand-forth. Some nights it can be sad. Some nights it can even get a lit­tle po­lit­i­cal.

“I will say this, though,” he presses, de­lib­er­ately. “I don’t want my whole set to boil down to that one mo­ment of trib­ute. I don’t think this should ever be­come a me­mo­rial. I’m aim­ing for a vi­brant, mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ence with a lot of dif­fer­ent moods. I just couldn’t live with that sort of funeral feel­ing day in, day out. It would de­press me to the point where I would just want to go home.”

Per­pet­ual mo­tion has been an ef­fec­tive cop­ing mech­a­nism. It is not, how­ever, per­pet­u­ally sus­tain­able. Mike un­der­stands that grief isn’t a race to be won. In the still­ness, when the com­mo­tion stops, the dark­ness can still bleed through.

“Of course [it can],” he sighs. “I’m con­stantly watch­ing my­self to make sure I’m not in de­nial or avoid­ing deal­ing with things. Since many of my road crew were on tour with Linkin Park, we talk of­ten about Ch­ester, shar­ing our favourite sto­ries. Some­times that can get bit­ter­sweet. There are still songs that I can’t sing: the first verse of Over Again; One More Light; Break­ing The Habit; Leave Out All The Rest. Those are too emo­tional.”

As that resid­ual heartache con­tin­ues to be pro­cessed, the fu­ture re­mains un­writ­ten. When (and, in­deed, whether) Linkin Park will re-emerge re­mains an open ques­tion, and one which Mike pre­emp­tively shrugs off with a firm­ness that sug­gests he’s tired an­swer­ing it.

And yet, in­ter­est per­sists. Numb just passed 1 bil­lion views on Youtube. Spec­u­la­tion over what could trig­ger a re­turn runs ram­pant on­line. Gui­tarist Brad Del­son con­trib­uted on Post Trau­matic. Bassist Dave Far­rell has even jumped on a few of the U.S. dates. “We’re in con­tact, but we talk ran­domly,” Mike nods. “Ev­ery­one’s do­ing dif­fer­ent stuff. I was hon­oured that they all came to my show at some point.”

In the mean­time, there’s much to rel­ish in in­de­pen­dence. “It’s ap­pro­pri­ate that the cur­rent sin­gle is Make It Up As I Go,” he grins. “I think it’s safe to say that I’m look­ing for­ward to mak­ing more mu­sic, play­ing some more shows, and even col­lab­o­rat­ing with other great mu­si­cians. I think it might be easy to mis­take this spon­tane­ity and free­dom for di­rec­tion­less-ness, but I’m re­ally just en­joy­ing what I’m do­ing. I’m not work­ing to­wards any set goals at the minute.

“One of the guid­ing prin­ci­ples for me over the course of the last year has been grat­i­tude. That isn’t just for the ca­reer that I’ve had. It’s for the abil­ity to be able to go out there and put my hands on the key­board to make mu­sic, day in, day out. Sit­ting here on the tour bus, look­ing out at this run-down view cer­tainly feels a long way from Linkin Park head­lin­ing Read­ing & Leeds fes­ti­vals, but that doesn’t mean for one minute that I’m not grate­ful for ev­ery op­por­tu­nity I get to step out on that stage.

“I feel more like my own per­son now,” he con­cludes with a fi­nal re­flec­tion on the change 2018 has left in him, “maybe be­cause I’ve been forced to be. “That’s a good feel­ing…” Long may it en­dure.



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