Parkin' With Linkin Park
10.05.2008Linkin Park didn't call its debut album Hybrid Theory for nothing. For one, it used to be the band's name. Then there's that whole thing about mixing elements of electronic, hip-hop, and hard rock. The music these guys make is indeed a hybrid, and if it was merely a theory, it was pretty spot on considering that the album went on the sell more than 8 million copies. In fact, it was so successful that the band decided that it deserved to be served up to fans a second time with new mixes, hence the 2002 release Reanimation. All of that fine history brings us right up to the band's latest album, Meteora. What does that mean, you ask? Beats us. In search of an answer we sent executive editor Dave DiMartino to Burbank, California to sit down with Linkin Park drummer Rob Bourden, vocalist Mike Shinoda, and guitarist Brad Delson. Unfortunately, DiMartino didn't get the chance to ask about the band's rumored ultimate inspiration: Abraham Linkin.
LAUNCH: What's the major distinction between this record and your last one?
Rob Bourdon: Our new record Meteora has a lot more dynamic and it's definitely more mature than our last record. There's definitely a lot of ties that kind of bring the two records together. There's a lot similar sounds--we still blend a lot of electronic, hip-hop, and rock elements together on the new record. But you can see growth of the band 'cause we've been on the road for a couple of years and we've met a lot of musicians. For instance, we've gotten to work with a ton of them on Reanimation, so we've learned a lot as musicians and we brought that to the table when we made Meteora.
Brad Delson: I think there's definitely links from our previous work to Meteora. We didn't try to reinvent the wheel completely. We took what was working from Hybrid Theory and Reanimation and improved upon it, and it also represents where we are at today. That did involve taking a lot of risks, and I think one of the great things about Meteora is you definitely hear things that you've never heard before from us, but it still retains our signature sound.
Mike Shinoda: One of the big differences people will notice between Hybrid Theory and Meteora is just simply the use of different instruments, different textures and moods. For example, in "Breaking The Habit" we have live strings and piano, in "Faint" we have live strings. You'll notice Japanese flute here and there, we'll use different samples that will basically create a new mood, create a vibe in the song. The songs still have the Linkin Park sound--they have the dynamics, the heaviness, the things that make it sound like us. But we did try to experiment with different sounds and time signatures and tempos, all these different things just to make it feel a little bit different.
LAUNCH: What was the effect of having such a huge debut album and the making of this one?
Rob Bourdon: When we went to write the record we didn't look at the commercial success of the first one and say, "OK, that's sold this many copies, now we have to top it or make a record that will sell more records." We don't make a record knowing if it's going to sell a bunch of copies. We just made Hybrid Theory, we just made music that we really enjoy making and that we were good at making and it happened to do really well. So, when we went to do Meteora we put the most pressure on ourselves to just make great music that we really appreciate and enjoy listening to, and so we went into the studio and did that. And we feel that Meteora is a success, 'cause we accomplished our goals and the bar that we set for ourselves to make good music. We were comfortable and totally stoked and happy with it before it had even been released.
Brad Delson: People always ask us if we felt more pressure this time 'cause of the success of the first record. Ironically, I would say there was less pressure, 'cause when you're a baby band and someone gives you money to make a record, if that record doesn't do well, that's pretty much it. You're not going to expect anyone to invest in the studio time again. At this time, based on our success of our last two projects, we know we are blessed with the ability to do this as a career. We're able to do what we love and not have jobs simultaneously. Also, what comes with success is creative freedom, 'cause you've gained the trust of the people that you've worked with. So we were definitely given a lot of room to breathe creatively in the studio and we were more experienced. We are our toughest critics and I'm an extreme perfectionist, so there was definitely a huge amount of pressure. I don't want to take away from that, [but] there was also a sense of confidence that wasn't there the first time.
Mike Shinoda: I think there were certain points when felt a little bit of pressure, when we let the pressure get to us a little bit. But the pressure is always from ourselves: We wanted to make an album that, like Hybrid Theory, we could play and still be really excited about the songs. We felt that it was a big accomplishment that at the end of our touring cycle that we were playing the songs from Hybrid Theory and still excited about them and felt that they were strong. That was something that we wanted to achieve with the new record--just a sense of timelessness that hopefully you can listen to the songs in the years to come and still be excited about them.
LAUNCH: What is the meaning behind the name Meteora?
Rob Bourdon: Well, Brad and Mike saw it in a travel magazine when were traveling in Europe. It's actually a place in Greece. It's a rock formation and on top of this rock formation there's a monastery. It just seemed like this timeless epic kind of place that just kind of set a bar of what we wanted to do with the music on the new record, that's timeless and can go on forever and be listened to and enjoyed forever. And for the other four people in the band that didn't see it, we just thought it sounded cool basically.
LAUNCH: Did you change the way you wrote songs this time around?
Rob Bourdon: This time writing the songs was a little different, 'cause last time we kind of just had songs that we were playing for many years. And this time what we were able to do was start recording while we were on tour. We brought a studio with us out on our tour bus while we were on Ozzfest and we just starting laying down ideas while were on the road. So it was very different, starting write while on the road. We had a six-month head-start by the time we got home, and when we got home, we had tons of ideas for songs. We probably had, like, 50 ideas for songs that we narrowed down to 20 when we went into the studio. I had ProTools to work on this record, to write and record drums onto; on the last record, I had microphones taped onto the ceiling with a four-track! So it was definitely more convenient and time-efficient. I think having more technology to be able to do all of this stuff really helped me to think of new things and be more creative.
Brad Delson: When we're writing songs we want to take the listener on a journey from the beginning to the end of the song. And we kind of take that same concept with the album. I think that a lot of artists today have lost the sense of the album. I listen back to things like Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails and you know that there's a line throughout the album. When we were writing, we definitely wanted to have 12 or 13 songs that relate to one another, and also sequence them in a way that takes the listener on a journey--not just within each song, but from the beginning of the album to the end--with the hope that you'll want to listen to it again.
Mike Shinoda: In general, our songwriting hasn't changed since we started. We usually get together in couples--two or threes, actually. Usually I'm working with anyone who wants to record, 'cause I'm kind of the ProTools production person, the engineering person. We get in these groups and we focus on one person and get the material that they kind of want to get out; we get that going, we record that and maybe get some momentum happening, and then they can think up new ideas. That's why we work in couples, because when you focus just one person with one other person, you can really start pulling really cool things out of them.
Rob Bourdon: What's different about this record is that we recorded in the bus, on Ozzfest 2001, almost two years ago. We were recording new sounds, new ideas for songs. A song like "Somewhere I Belong," we did the very first version back in the summer of 2001. [Singer] Chester [Bennington] played an acoustic guitar riff, and I really liked the chord progression--but the sound of it, it sounded weird, like folk music and country, so we wanted to do something with that. [DJ] Joe [Hahn] came in and the three of us flipped it backwards, cut it into four pieces, and rearranged it; when you hear "Somewhere I Belong," you hear this nice, sweeping, digital-sounding sample that originally came from an acoustic guitar. One thing that we're really proud of is the kind of newness to our samples--what we can do to our sounds. The sounds that I'm talking about are the ones other than our guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. In a lot of cases when a band can't do that for themselves, they'll just hire somebody else to do it. I feel that that's kind of like buying the music, hiring somebody else to come in and play keyboards on your record. I feel really proud of our record, 'cause we really came up with everything, because we are able to not only write on everything but be able to do some of the engineering and a little bit of the production. That's not to take away from those great guys that we worked with, but I think that they were really happy that we could work with them to take it to another level. It just creates a really fun, intense work environment.
LAUNCH: The album has 12 songs, but its running time is only around 40-some-odd minutes. Was that a conscious decision?
Rob Bourdon: For our songwriting and for putting the record together, we just try to focus on the meat of it. We kind of cut off the fat: We don't do guitar solos and long, drawn-out stuff like that. When we look at a song, we look at it as a piece of art or like a movie. Every bit of that song should catch your attention and grab your ear and be very exciting. We took those 18 songs that we had in the works and we really thought of it, "OK, let's put 11, 12, 13 onto a record so that when you push 'play' you can listen to the whole record from start to finish, and have it capture your attention and your ears, and there's never a moment where you start thinking about something else." We really put the record together like that, so it works like that.
Mike Shinoda: I think that we've always been into succinct songwriting. I mean, we were raised on Sesame Street, and short, compact shows. All of these shows have been such a part of our life that we don't have an attention span that's very long, so when you get into a six-minute song, it better be pretty damn good. If you're going to do a six-minute song, then it's going to have to some really great stuff in there to hold your attention. What I'm saying is it's not impossible for us to write a longer song, we just always lean towards the shorter stuff, 'cause when we write something that's more toward the four-and-half or five minutes, we usually end up going, "That part's way too long" or "These two things sections can go entirely," and we shorten and shorten until it's a nice, succinct thought that you don't waste any time with--and that we don't waste any of the listeners' time with.
LAUNCH: Is there a theme throughout this album?
Rob Bourdon: Well, I definitely think there's a thread that ties Hybrid Theory to Meteora. They're about universal emotions and feelings, the kind of things everyone goes through on an everyday basis. The really cool thing about it is that Chester and Mike write their lyrics, but they don't tell anybody exactly what they were thinking when they wrote them, so you could interpret them in an entirely differently way than I interpret them. With some of the songs, I don't even want to know what they were thinking when they wrote them, because for me I can get something totally different out of it when I listen to it than what they were thinking when they wrote it. The lyrics are really honest and revealing--they reveal emotions, but they don't really reveal specific things.
Brad Delson: I think that Meteora is a very heavy record. It's a very dark record, and I think it's a very dynamic. I think we've written some of the heaviest things we ever done, and some of the mellowest. Thematically, Chester and Mike's focus has always been sharing their emotions and dealing with their experiences that they've had in the past, and presenting them in a way in which other people can relate. I think that they really push themselves to be honest with each other and with themselves in putting that emotion across, and I think that thematically, it almost reveals itself to the listener as the work is listened to as a whole.
Mike Shinoda: Lyrically, you'll notice kind of a progression or hopefully a growth, because some of the songs on Hybrid Theory are, like, seven years old. "Like A Place From My Head," that was written seven years ago. You'll notice in the lyrics from Hybrid Theory, we're attacking these universal themes of depression, of anger, or of frustration. I mean, we approached those things from the eyes of someone who's 20 years old. Now it's five years later, and we kind of feel that we can attack those thoughts with a little bit more confidence, and also talk about some things that go beyond those things. So this record has those emotions that we expressed on Hybrid Theory, but it kind of has a little bit more. On "Somewhere I Belong," you'll hear a little bit of hopefulness in the chorus, which you probably didn't hear so much in your face on Hybrid Theory.
LAUNCH: How has Linkin Park has been treated by the critics?
Rob Bourdon: To be honest, I don't pay too much attention to that. I don't read a lot of reviews and I really don't read a lot of press about us too often. I really just concentrate what our fans think, and how we're feeling and doing our job as musicians, and how we're treating our fans.
Mike Shinoda: There are a lot of things that go on with music criticism and music media that are just necessary evils. For example, the phrases you use to define music into genres. Like, they use a phrase over in the U.K. and they call things "nu-metal." Now, that's not as applicable here, because you don't have as much old metal, but they've got a good deal of old metal, so they call our stuff "nu-metal." That conjures up a lot of weird things in people's minds. But people need a word to describe a genre of music; it's just a necessity. Aside from playing somebody a song, if you can't do that, you've got write it down on paper. You've got to find words to describe it or liken one band to another band, so that you're communicating accurately. So we don't hold a grudge against anybody that puts these bands in categories or categorizes us or does any of those things. It's just something that people have to do. We can't too frustrated by it, 'cause people are trying to do their thing.
LAUNCH: How has success changed your personal life?
Rob Bourdon: When we released Hybrid Theory, we were in a van, driving ourselves around loading our own gear in and out of clubs, and we really didn't know if we were going to be able to continue to play music on the road and be a band, 'cause we kind of quit our jobs at home or whatever we were doing and went on the road with the hope of doing this thing. But we didn't know it was going to happen. When Hybrid Theory was released, and was a success, there was a comfort to knowing that we can do music as a career and we don't have to have side jobs, and we can really focus and let this become our lives. That's one of the greatest things that's come out of the success of the record; just being able to do what we love is an amazing thing.
Brad Delson: I think that one difference for me personally now, compared to when we were first starting out as a band, is actually supporting myself. I'm constantly not sponging of other people, taking their money to pay my electric bill and my water bill. Now I actually have my own money to pay my bills, so it's a good feeling not be totally reliant on other people.
Mike Shinoda: The success of Hybrid Theory afforded us the ability to have more creative control, which is a great thing. You hear all of these horror stories about weird industry bad guys and bands that hate their labels and all this stuff, and I'm sure that stuff goes on in some cases, but what we did with Hybrid Theory worked out for both parties. We've afforded ourselves a level of trust with the people that we work with, so we can be more self-contained. We have a hand in our merchandise design, website design, our videos, all of our music. We want to make sure that our vision is set forth in an accurate way, the way we imagined it, and that it's honest music and we're true to ourselves and our fans.
LAUNCH: Has being on the road and having so much success taken a bite out of your personal life?
Rob Bourdon: Being on the road and playing shows for our fans is a really fun and exciting thing, but there's obviously a negative side of it, and that's being away from family and friends for such long periods of time. We go out for a couple of months and don't get to see our family and friends for that time, and it definitely can be hard on us, and so that's the downside of it. There's such a great upside to it, too. When I got home from tour I would appreciate the simple things, like going to the grocery store and buying groceries. I was just having the best time in the grocery store, 'cause normal people do that and I haven't got to do it forever. Those little things kind of go out the door, and you start to appreciate them more when they're gone.
Mike Shinoda: I'd say when anyone is doing this type of stuff for a living, playing music and having to tour, there are probably times when you think, "Wouldn't it be great to go home and hang out with my friends for a while?" So that occurs to me, and I realize there's great things at home, great friends at home, so I appreciate that, so when I go home I spend good time with those people. But when we're out on the road, we work really hard and try to keep things focused.
LAUNCH: If you were to hear that Linkin Park is considered "mainstream rock," would that bother you?
Rob Bourdon: It's really hard to say mainstream or not mainstream. We just like making the records and focusing on the music. When we made Hybrid Theory, we made music that we weren't hearing out there in the music world. We put all these different styles together, and what happened with it, happened with it. I think that people look at it in different ways, and we just focus on our fans and what they think of it; we have that open dialog. They hear what we think and we meet them at shows and all that. So as long as we keep that relationship alive, we feel that everything's going good.
Mike Shinoda: I think it is really ironic that some people have kind of lumped us in with mainstream acts, because we aren't a mainstream act: The mainstream came to us. I think the great thing about that is it's kind of an achievement in a sense, that our fans and our music were so powerful that they convinced all these people that it was a cool thing to get into. So in this weird world where a pop magazine just wants to find out what the next hot thing is, 'cause they want to make more money and want to get more young kids reading their magazine, they're going to find out who's listening to what and they're going to go after it. We don't fit in with any of the groups that they've got in their magazines, but they put our stuff in their magazines because they want a lot of readers. That's fair enough, that's the way the world works, and we can't be mad at them for it. But if you really want to know what Linkin Park is about, you don't go to a pop magazine or a mainstream magazine or event. You have to go to Linkinpark.com or check out the CD, you have to check out what we're doing, 'cause when it comes straight from our hand to the fan, that's the most accurate depiction of what we're trying to do.
LAUNCH: How did you come up with the unusual spelling of your band's name?
Mike Shinoda: It's kind of funny, because that's a question that comes up a million times and everyone gets sick of answering it, but it's kind of important, especially for people on the Web. When we originally got the name, it was just the name,--it was like Meteora, we just saw it. We were like, "Ah, that's a cool word. It has a lot of energy, it has this power that we like." And what it was, was a sign for Lincoln Park--that's "L.I.N.C.O.L.N"--in Santa Monica in the L.A. area that Chester drove by, showed it to us, and we were like, "This is cool, we should see if we could use it as a band name." We checked for it online, and of course "Lincoln Park" was taken. So we wanted our own website, 'cause our main channel to talk to our fans was on the Web; we're very active on the Web, so we needed "ourname.com," so that's why we spelled it that way, so we that we could get www.linkinpark.com. Now we have our message boards and our chat rooms, and our fan club through LPUnderground.com. We can talk to our fans directly online--I mean, we go onto linkinpark.com all the time and talk on the message boards and chat rooms.
LAUNCH: Since your success, have you noticed other bands getting signed trying to do what you're doing--copycat bands?
Rob Bourdon: Yeah, I think mixing different styles of music is becoming a more popular thing to do. I think a lot of the kids today are really open-minded to listening to different styles of music. You're going to have your groups that only listen to metal or only listen to rap, but I think that kids are more open to listen to all styles of music, where if you look at their CD collections you'd see all different styles of music from all different genres. So I think that definitely that open-mindedness influences bands to make different [music], to blend those different styles together.
Brad Delson: I think that every band is a product of their influences. I mean, we have influences that we've named that have inspired us to make music--groups like Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails and the Roots, even Aphex Twin. But at the same time, we take our influences and we create our own sound. We want it to be definitively Linkin Park. I think it's a compliment to hear groups coming up and you kind of hear your influence. I think that's great. I think with most artists it takes a while for them to come into their own, so I think having influences is an integral part of developing one's own sound at the end of the day.
LAUNCH: When you look back, what do you think is the one factor that made you guys successful?
Rob Bourdon: It's really hard to think of one major thing that was the make-or-break thing for us. Thinking about all the things that went on during the making and touring for our first album, there were so many things that went into it, but one of the things that we really focused on before we took the next step forward was the songs. We really didn't start promoting ourselves or doing shows until we really felt we had written really good songs, and that anybody could listen to them and there's a beginning, middle, and end. It captures your attention and it captures your ears, and takes you on a journey. We want to put a lot of layers, so the more times you hear our songs, you can hear more things happening every time. So I think that until we got that set and we were happy and said, "Here we go, we got great songs," we didn't take the next step and start promoting on the Internet and promoting shows and playing to fans and playing shows and all that.
Brad Delson: There have been so many moments in the last couple of years that have really blown us away, in terms of how much we've gained though this experience. It's hard to pinpoint one thing. Certainly winning a Grammy for me was huge. I felt like it was a huge accomplishment. Mike actually, that was one of his goals, to win a Grammy, and we all looked at him like he was crazy. Then when we won one, we were ecstatic. But things like that are just icing on the cake, and I think the best thing that happens to us as a band is being able to go out and play live shows, just being able to feed off of our supporters who come out and pay money to see us. There's nothing that compares to that.
Mike Shinoda: There is one time, we had just played Conan O'Brien, I think close to two years ago, and we were just kind of getting started in our minds. We were at the airport after the show, the next morning, and we're sitting there and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, that's Slick Rick!" He's so obvious--he's got an eyepatch on, gold teeth, a beret, all this jewelry, a fur coat on. He's impossible to miss, a fur coat on. And I was just thinking, "Wow, this is crazy, I'm seeing Slick Rick in the airport." Well, it wasn't as crazy as when he came up to us and said, "Hey, I caught you guys on Conan O'Brien." I'm just like, "Oh my God, that's the greatest thing ever. Slick Rick just came up and talked to us!" Things like that, you never get used to.
LAUNCH: Since you've achieved success, what's next on the personal goal list?
Rob Bourdon: Along the way we personally always have set goals, and as a band we've set goals, from way back when we were sitting in our practice room. We were just hoping to get in our RV and go on the road, and then from that we had new goals. For the future, I'm really excited to play our new material for our fans, and I hope that they enjoy listening to it, and I'm excited to get back on the road and have another great touring cycle for right now. I think that setting goals is a great thing and looking forward to these goals and reaching these milestones, but I think it's important to enjoy the process--the road to these goals. It's great kind of just sit back and think about everything that's going on and take it in and enjoy it.
LAUNCH: Is there a band or artist whose CD you've bought that no one in a million years would think you would listen to?
Rob Bourdon: I listen to a lot mellower stuff, like Pete Yorn. I like the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, that kind of stuff. After being on the road with so many other heavy bands and listening to heavier music, sometimes it's nice to listen to Coldplay and chill.
LAUNCH: Do you think that Meteora would be a different record if you didn't have to worry about sales and radio play, et cetera?
Rob Bourdon: When we wrote the record, we really didn't focus on the outside things that go on; we really focused on making a record that really showed where we were at. We made the record we wanted to make and didn't allow the outside influences to influence how it was going to come out. At the end of the day, we have to be happy with it. We need to look at it and go, "Wow, we made a great record." You can't think about the outside things: "OK, let's write a record so we can get a couple of songs we can get on the radio, then let's do a couple of album tracks, and this and that." It doesn't work that way for us.
Mike Shinoda: When we're making music, we're not thinking about the numbers. We aren't thinking about how well it's going to sell. We're just concentrating on making something that we're happy with and that our fans are happy with. You can't control any of the other stuff--who buys what, or what show you're on--but you can make music that you like. And I think that with Meteora, all of us are very happy and very proud of it, and so that's a great success for us.