Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park (#107) | Mike On Much Podcast

About K.Flay and being a role model, mental health and the power of words, ‘Post Traumatic’ and finding a ‘new normal’

📅 June 2018

🎧 MuchMusic

📖 11 min read

(interview with Mike starts at 28:05)

M: How you been?

MS: I’m good. Hi!

M: Hi! You’ve been doing a lot of press.

MS: Yeah, I’ve been doing some. We missed a flight last night so it was a hectic night last night.

M: Where you come from? 

MS: New York.

M: Oh, New York! So, you missed the flight...

MS: Yeah, I did a whole thing about it on my Instagram, they have a brand new thing called Instagram TV.

M: I read that, so how is it, that platform?

MS: I did an Instagram TV episode, I shot and edited it on my phone, I edited in iMovie. Apple is not one of my sponsors [laughs], so I’m just saying that because that’s how I did it. With this album I’ve been doing a lot, it’s very DIY. I’ve done that before when I did my Fort Minor side project about 10 years ago. But this one is like - I did 90% of the writing and recording myself, all the earliest videos on the project that I shot and edited myself. Stuff like that is just kind of part of how I’ve been wanting to do things, there’s just spontaneity and control of it that I’ve been enjoying.

M: It’s part of your nature, man.

MS: I mean, yeah… I remember when I first started doing some of the videos - I did a video for “Place To Start,” which is the first song on the album, and “Over Again.” I kind of did both and I sent them to management and I was like, “I’ve been thinking, something like this? Maybe we have somebody to shoot it?” And everybody responded like, “Why would you reshoot this? This is the video! Isn’t this the video?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t want to be presumptuous, I think it looks cool but you really think it’s okay to do this?” They were like, “Why not?” That was actually in the back of my head anyway, I was really happy to get the kind of green light from people on it.

M: Speaking of this record, a friend of ours is Kristine, K.Flay, who you obviously collaborated with on that, so of all the people that you could have collaborated with - why her? What’s the story there?

MS: I remember the first time I heard her music when it first came out, I was like, “What is this??” And I don’t know how I first got in touch with her but she came down to the studio about two years ago, even more, I think. And we just hung out, she’s a cool person. I mean, we meet a lot of musicians and to think about all the people you meet, the people you know - it’s like, you got certain things in common with some people, and you don’t with other people. And with her I just - she’s a really smart and thoughtful person, and she’s very confident. I feel like, in terms of being a role model, she’s just getting better and better each year, she’s really confident and really a good person for people to follow. So I was like - if I can direct people towards her, I might be doing good for the world, because she’s a good person. Yeah, I think she’s cool, and the collaboration was on the record - we did the song with her, “Make It Up As I Go.” We started that song with the intention of making it a Linkin Park song, we started it back two years ago or something. And our guitarist Brad helped out on that song too, he co-wrote on that song. And the only thing that was really right was the chorus and the chords, and I knew it was gonna take too much to get it done in time for it to be on One More Light, so we just kind of put it on the back burner. And this year I just went back and really related to that chorus, so I wrote the rest around that.

M: So let’s pull it back out again.

MS: Yeah, I mean, that’s how music works for me.

M: Yeah, I think, for a lot of people. We talked to so many artists, and they say that there’s always sort of songs floating around all over the place that can be malleable or maybe aren’t right at the right time, and then they become right later. It’s interesting you mentioned she could be a good role model - you’ve been in one of the biggest bands of the last 20 years, and with that comes power and responsibility. Did you always frame that like, “Oh, we’re speaking to people, this is something that I take seriously?” Are you cognizant of that or are you more like, “I’m a musician, I’m gonna put my art out and..”

MS: Well, we obviously didn’t start out that way. People get into music for different reasons, right? Some people want to get in it and use music as a means of getting money, or fame, or girls, or whatever. And I always did music as a hobby, and my main focus was actually art. So I would paint and draw, and eventually I graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and I got a bachelor’s in illustration, and went into doing illustration and graphic design work while I was doing the band on the weekends. Band was playing good shows in LA, but it was still a hobby. And I was paying the bills with the illustration and graphic design work, and then spending all my money on music.That’s where I was coming from, it was like - if I had 50 bucks to spend, I’d go down to the record store and buy some new music, or I’d save up and get a new keyboard or some cables for my production setup. It just translates into how I see it now, how I do it now. This last year has been really difficult, and one of the first things I needed to do was to be creative, and even if it was just doodling or painting abstract colors and whatever, or if it was just sitting down with a guitar or a piano and just jamming a little bit - those things helped me focus, and it was meditative and helped me sort through my brain.

M: Interesting, so it always starts at the art level - what you’re doing for yourself, what you’re putting out there. I guess, I’m talking more in sort of macro meaning - when you become famous or when you have a voice, what does that voice mean? When you’re speaking to legions of fans - is that something that weighs on you or is it more like, “Hey, I’m just a musician like anybody else”?

MS: I think it’s more of just an awareness. Somebody once said to me, “Whenever you’re on social media, imagine yourself on a stage, look at your number of followers and imagine yourself on a stage with that many human beings in front of you listening. How differently would you speak?” Because many people when they speak on social media, they just kind of blab or whatever crap is on their mind. I always remember that I’m standing on a platform with a bunch of people who are human beings, and they’re all very different - they’re from countries all over the world, they have all different backgrounds and belief systems, and they’re just different. So I try to keep that in mind when I’m speaking to them. Even to the extent that somebody will ask something that’s very, like… I’m from LA, so it might be very LA-centric. It could be something as simple as it’s ridiculous, like “man, this restaurant’s really good!” I’m not gonna put that on my Twitter, 99.9% of my Twitter lives somewhere other than LA! C’mon, the fans in Brazil don’t give a crap about that. But with that said, this is actually one of the things like speaking of platform - one of the things I’m realizing now, with that kind of record that I’ve made and the conversations that the fans and I and others, new fans, are having is that we are talking a lot about mental health, we’re talking a lot about role models, and people being able to express their feelings and let go of some of that pressure that they’re feeling inside. And I’m doing my best to help out because I’m doing that work myself, right? One thing that I realized - this is a bit of segue, but it is exactly what you were talking about a little bit earlier - I realized recently that there are probably more influencers today than there have ever been on the planet, ever. Because the average person - one minute they’ve got 15 followers and they’re in their bedroom at their parents’ house, and the next minute they have a few thousand, maybe more, right? And they don’t think of themselves as an influencer, they just think, “Oh cool, I’ve got a lot of followers now,” and that’s like a status thing or whatever. What comes with that is the responsibility. One responsibility, for example, is some of those people who are following you - they might deal with depression, they might deal with suicidal thoughts. And if you are not careful about what you say, you might put down a landmine for them, and it hits them hard. So I say that because recently when we’re talking about, for example, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain - it came up again, when people were talking about what had happened, the language they were using sometimes got very dramatic, it got very graphic. And then they started bringing up Chester again, they started bringing up Chris Cornell and even further back, like - Kurt Cobain. You gotta be so careful, man... I mean, the best practices - there’s a bunch of sites that talk about best practices for journalists - some of the best practices are to say “died by suicide” not “committed suicide”, make sure to be careful with your word choice in your titles, certainly don’t be overdramatic or graphic in your titles or your piece. Because if I’m just browsing my Twitter...

M: You talk about headlines?

MS: Headlines, yeah. Because if I’m browsing my Twitter feed and that headline pops up and it’s something really kind of gnarly, that person who has that visualization in their mind - it could really trigger somebody, and nobody wants to be responsible for that, no one wants to do that to another human being.

M: Well, that’s a fascinating thought too because you would think that like sort of empathetic forward-thinking people wouldn’t, but for some people it’s their job to write those headlines in order to have that. I mean, I don’t think they necessarily want to trigger anything, but - and I guess it’s just more comment on practices, anyway it’s sort of clickbait and all of this shit - but it seems like there’s people out there that work in those industries, whose job depends on getting those clicks, that constructing those headlines for that reason.

MS: So, that being the case - there will always be good and evil in the world. To me that’s evil, and to listeners who believe that way or similarly - you have power. Everyone’s power is their attention. Your attention is currency, in other words. So if I see something and I click on it - let’s say it’s a news article - I’m actually increasing the clicks through, the algorithms are picking up my activity and that publications getting ad revenue, they’re literally making money cuz you clicked. Now if you clicked because you were curious and you went,  “Oh man, I hate that guy! I hate what he’s saying, I’m gonna click on that!”, you read it and you go, “Yep, still an idiot, I still hate him! It just reaffirms that negative feeling!” but guess what - you just paid everybody that you don’t like! Because you participated. And that’s the problem. So if we can stop, take a step back and just be like, “Oh man, it’s another one of those articles about that thing that I hate,” then don’t click. And that’s the moment when you have actually voted against that thing.

M: That’s your power.

MS: Yeah, that’s your power.

M: Okey, we’re getting to wrap it up so I guess I’ll finish with this: I’m kind of interested always - on this podcast process the minutiae of the work, and in a larger sense meaning - obviously you’re an artist who’s gonna make music, but then also there’s this whole construct which is like sort of the business of music. You know you’ve made this record, and you’ve talked a lot about why you made it and how you made it, and obviously a lot of subjects are gonna come up in the press. Do you find the press has been difficult? Just even the function of talking about it. Or are you someone that’s like, “You know what? Let’s get out, let’s talk?”

MS: I’m pretty open as long as the person I’m talking to is respectful. I’m also forgiving if somebody is just uncomfortable and they just hit a certain topic where they don’t kind of know how to say it. You are human, that’s fine. So I’ve gone out and I’ve done a bunch of stuff - interviews and performances and all that stuff now, and I’m feeling pretty good about it. The main thing is that I’m proud of the album that I made. Post Traumatic is an album that’s basically like a diary, it’s an autobiography capturing the last year, from when Chester passed away to now. And it starts in a really dark place, but the whole point is that it’s Post Traumatic - it’s not about the trauma, it’s about how do I deal with it, what did I do this year. Actually, not even what I do but what did I experience, where did my brain go. And the first half of the album is more looking backwards at the event and then it slowly starts to change direction to the future and hope. And by the end of the record I feel like it’s a very hopeful record. My friend actually joked - there’s a couple of songs that are just straight up like battle rapping - and my friend was like, “Mike, when I heard you just straight up dissing other rappers” - which I don’t do by name, it’s just a stylistic thing, but he was like, “When I heard you just basically spitting these rhymes, I knew you were gonna be just fine.” [laughs] Because that’s where I come from, that’s like one of the most natural things.

M: Getting back to you.

MS: Yeah, it’s very much like… I’ve told that it’s like “finding a new normal” because things can’t be the same. But I do have to find a new way to do what I’ve always loved to do and I’m figuring that out.

M: Thanks so much for your time, man.

MS: Thank you!

M: Really appreciate it. I wish it was a little longer cuz you’re a very fascinating guy to talk to.

MS: Thank you, appreciate that.