Business of HYPE | Episode 11: Mike Shinoda
About Mike’s roots as graphic design student, Linkin Park formation, success, responsibility, mental health, and more
📅 July 2018
📖 49 min read
Jeff Staple (JS): Give us a proper introduction of who we have in the room.
Mike Shinoda (MS): Proper introduction. [laughs]
JS: Yes, introduce yourself, sir.
MS: Well, it’s funny because my introduction, like, my professional introduction includes Linkin Park, and Fort Minor, and the production stuff, the music I’ve made and all that. But usually when I’m just talking or like… I have kids, so when I talk to people like, “Oh, hey. What do you do?” I don’t give them a straight answer at all. [laughs] I usually just tell them I’m an artist.
JS: You mean like the PTA meetings and stuff?
MS: Yeah, something like that. “Yeah, I’m an artist. I’m a musician.”
JS: I feel like the word “artist” then begs more questions.
MS: It does. I had to stop doing that a little bit.
JS: Right. You should just be like, “I’m a consultant.” [laughs]
MS: Yeah, exactly.
JS: [narrating] From HYPEBEAST Radio, I’m Jeff Staple and this is The Business Of Hype. A show about creative entrepreneurs, brand builders, innovators and the realities behind the dreams they’ve built. It’s not often we have a musician as a guest on The Business Of Hype, but Mike Shinoda is no ordinary musician. He helped form Linkin Park, one of the most influential and successful music acts of not only our generation, but of all time. There’s a rare breed of acts in music that has sold millions upon millions of records. Now I know when numbers get that big, it’s kind of hard to put things in the perspective so let me help. Aretha Franklin - 25 million records sold lifetime. Nirvana - 46 million. Tupac Shakur - 51 million. Prince - 65 million. Britney Spears - 81 million. And Linkin Park - they’ve generated over 85 million units sold worldwide, putting them neck and neck with none other than Beyoncé herself. But Mike Shinoda’s managed to avoid many of the trappings that fame, success and ridiculous amounts of money usually garners. Mike can still go to the movies, he can still walk into a deli, he can go to the grocery store, and that’s all by deliberate design. In fact, Mike probably could have made a pretty decent career for himself being a designer or artist. But thanks to his millions of rabid fans around the world, he chose music. And while Mike decided on the quiet life, his bandmate, the late Chester Bennington, was a casualty of it. And Mike’s new solo album Post Traumatic is an emotional love letter outlining how he dealt with the untimely loss of his partner. And whether you have a band or a business, many of the trials and tribulations are similar. For Mike Shinoda and Linkin Park, they’re inseparable.
MS: When we were talking before we started recording, we were talking about that you went to Parsons (Parsons School of Design), I went to ArtCenter (Art Center College of Design). I went to school for art and it was in the more traditional sense - I went for illustration and some graphic design, and that’s what I thought I was gonna be doing until the music thing took off.
JS: You probably could have been a working successful artist/graphic designer.
MS: Oh, that’s for sure. I had done a couple of album covers and single covers for rappers. I pitched to Atlantic Records and a couple of indie hip-hop labels and got a couple things just before we got signed ourselves to Warner Records. And they didn’t even know.
JS: Holy shit! Really?
MS: Yeah. I did Styles Of Beyond. I did… you ever heard of the Canadian rapper Saukrates?
JS: Of course! I love Saukrates.
MS: So his 12-inch single, one of his early singles, I did that. It’s an image of him breaking a turntable in half with his hands.
MS: This illustration was... I did that.
MS: And I did a couple of other little things.
JS: And when Warner picked you up - we’re getting ahead of ourselves here - but when Warner picked you up, you were still thinking like, “I gotta get these gigs out here. I gotta get these art...”
MS: No. I think at that point I knew. At this point it was already… Just to set the stage - in high school music was always in the background, I would do it for fun and do it every weekend. And during the week I was doing at least one class of art, and then after school I would also take art, because I needed to get my portfolio together to submit for college. And I got into ArtCenter, which, for people that don’t know, it’s kind of like the Harvard of art schools. It’s like there are a handful of schools that are just really rigorous training, there are great programs, and it’s expensive.
JS: It’s like an inferior Parsons.
MS: It’s an inferior Parsons, yeah! [laughs]
JS: It’s like second-rate Parsons. [laughs]
MS: Some less educated people would say that... I think it’s funny that you do that, because even at art schools, there are adversarial relationships.
JS: Oh totally.
MS: And really the ArtCenter, CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), maybe RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) too, those three schools really go at it with each other.
JS: I feel like RISD is the one that no one can really talk shit about.
MS: A little bit. [laughs]
JS: When someone’s from RISD I’m like, “Damn!” [laughs] Right?
MS: Yeah. I didn’t apply for those schools ’cause I knew I didn’t want to leave California. So I didn’t apply for RISD.
MS: I toured CalArts, and I liked it, and I applied for there, but I really wanted to get into ArtCenter, and I did. So I was at school there and I was playing music on the weekends, and again - just for fun. And then the band started getting attention, started taking off. And then by the time, probably 3 months before I graduated, we got an offer from Warner Records. And we had showcased for every label - every single one of them had turned us down, all the indie labels had turned us down. Everybody had seen us and didn’t care. But at some point, in the middle of that, we had parted ways with our previous singer and found Chester, and then started doing it again. They were more interested but they still didn’t sign us.
JS: It was called Xero, right?
MS: Yeah. Originally the band was called Xero. And then, when we started with Chester, we renamed the band Hybrid Theory. The band was called Hybrid Theory and then, when we signed with Warner, we changed the name from Hybrid Theory to Linkin Park and called the album Hybrid Theory.
JS: Would you say Chester was instrumental in getting you guys signed?
MS: It was definitely the missing piece. My other friend Mark, who was singing for us, who I started the band with - in the beginning it was just me and Mark, and we were both artists. He ended up studying graphic design at Long Beach State (California State University, Long Beach). He loves music, but he was more into the management side, really, and it’s what he ended up being. So he ended up doing that. People always say like, “Oh man, it sucks to be that guy, he wasn’t the singer in Linkin Park.” No, he’s a successful music manager, he manages a ton of great rock bands - System Of A Down, Deftones, they managed Cypress Hill and all that stuff. So, yeah, he’s doing great.
JS: Right. Rewind a little bit, when you first entered into school, you were just gonna be destined to be a working designer/artist, right?
JS: Was a musician like a distant third?
MS: No, it was there. I mean, I was just trying to juggle... It wasn’t gonna pay the bills, right? So that was the thing, I knew I had to take design jobs, I was working at a design house in Glendale, which is kind of on the north-east side of Los Angeles.
JS: They have a good mall there. A great mall. Great mall. [laughs]
MS: [laughs] Great Korean food. It’s like basically all Armenian and Korean actually are out there. Which is where Joe was from, coincidentally, Joe is Korean. [laughs]
JS: Oh, really? And where you found Joe.
MS: Right. Where I found Joe. So...
JS: You were just being realistic.
MS: The graphic design was paying the bills so I couldn’t really stop doing that. All of these things work together, just in the context of some of the stuff that you talk about on this podcast - as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer, you’re running your own business, you’re constantly having to go and drum up work. Also, you have to be a good collaborator. And all of those things translated - I knew from the very beginning, even when I was in college, when the band was really really new, I knew that all those things translated to both things that I was trying to do. Like, in school, we would do these projects where you might work for 20 hours on a piece, and then you come into class, and 15 people would put all their work up on the wall. And you spend a few hours telling each other why their work is the worst thing you’ve ever seen, and you suck shit, and this is what’s wrong with it. And you have to take that, you have to sit there and listen to everybody else tell you why your work is a piece of shit, and figure out how to, number one - have a thick skin about it, but number two - really find the truth in those things. And I always found the stuff that’s made me the most angry was the stuff that was right, you know? It was like, if somebody said something that was just ridiculous, I had a thick skin about that. I was just like - they don’t know, their perspective is different than mine, their goals are different than mine. They’re not trying to make the same thing I’m trying to make. But if somebody says something that I couldn’t understand why it bothered me so much, it was usually because there was some element of truth to what it was they were saying.
JS: Yeah. The power of critiques.
MS: Yeah, man. And that’s true for a band too. Our band has always been a like a democracy. And so listening to each other’s opinions and criticisms and stuff has always been one of the key components of the band.
JS: Back in this timeframe, who were your inspirational muses?
MS: Okay... I remember the obvious stuff, musically, I listened to... I‘ve always been a big fan of Nine Inch Nails, Deftones on the rock side, those guys. And also, more classic stuff like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, which incidentally I got turned on to because of a lot of Rick Rubin’s production. So, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Run-DMC. And then, at that time, The Roots were really starting to happen. I loved The Roots, I loved a lot of the Rawkus stuff...
JS: You know I designed a lot of the Rawkus stuff?
MS: I remember reading that, yeah. [smiles] So wild, man. So crazy. I mean, that stuff was so… I was just talking about this in the car because we were listening to Pharcyde, you remember The Pharcyde?
JS: Yeah, of course.
MS: Okay, so The Pharcyde came out as a rap group from LA, and the vibe that I always got from them was like tagger-skater, almost like pre-backpack/backpack rap. They were playing live music. There was live music going on, real live drums and bass, and all that guitar, and them rapping over it. You’d catch them at house parties doing that apparently. I didn’t actually ever see that. I did see them on stage, with everybody there, in the early days. Then all of a sudden, things change. This was a group that was all about, like… it was more like just having fun, it was very playful and jammy. And then all of a sudden it was like - Nas came out. It was Nas, and Mobb Deep, and Biggie, and 2Pac, and so on. And there was a seriousness and a complexity to the delivery, to the subject matter, and even to the culture behind, your personal story - who is this rapper? And if you didn’t have that, then nobody wanted to hear you. All of a sudden a group like Pharcyde couldn’t exist.
JS: You’re right. Wow.
MS: And I was deep into all that. I probably listened to more East Coast hip-hop than West Coast hip-hop, but I listened to it all. I did. That was probably like 90% of what I listened to.
JS: And then, did you have artist/illustrator, graphic design muses?
MS: Yeah, for sure! In school, since I was focusing on illustration, it was a lot of like… the Mark Ryden kind of world, it was a little more cartoonish...
JSI: Was Juxtapoz a big thing in your life?
MS: Yeah, magazines like Juxtapoz, galleries like La Luz De Jesus and...
JS: Giant Robo?
MS: Of course! Giant Robo, yeah.
JS: These are just... I mean, I hate to say “old school” now, because it makes us old. [laughs] These were like mainstays back then.
MS: But this stuff is very like… One of the things about the internet is that you can go deep on just about anything. But I feel like the recorded history or the… what do you call that - the verbal history, right? Not the recorded history. So, the verbal history of people that were there and fell in love with these things - it’s so important to keep that alive, because it speaks to the things that are in play now. Everything is cyclical, so you learn things from movements that have already happened. I was talking to Bobby Hundreds, who is a friend of mine, and we were talking about how we’re hitting an age where, like... he’s got employees, and this came up because we were talking about The Karate Kid collabo they did, which is a movie that we all loved growing up. Me in particular, being half Japanese, this movie was like… I was practically looking at my family - they lived in Encino near where I lived, Mr. Miyagi looked like my dad, it was very familiar. [smiles] So Bobby did that collabo and I was like, “Oh man, that was such a cool one to do.” And he said, “You know, obviously a lot of my staff hadn’t seen the movie. So when I told them about this is gonna be one of the things, I always ask who’s seen it and who has not and then we do a screening at the office.” And he found himself in this position of like… he felt like, “When I was your age, let me tell you this story about...” and trying to explain these things, which he has to do pretty regularly about something and the collabos that they do. And I feel weird because… Being on the receiving end of that, I didn’t always love that as a kid, when it feels like they’re lecturing you. But if it’s the type of scenario Bobby’s talking about, where you say, “I’m not pushing this information on you, but if you want to know, I’ll tell you.” And oftentimes they do want to hear it. You can learn something from it.
JS: But that’s exactly who we didn’t want to be growing up. I think I even said to myself - when I grow up I’m not gonna be like my dad who says, “When I was your age, it wasn’t like this.” And I find myself saying that now, so it’s annoying. [laughs]
MS: I think it’s like you just take a beat to let somebody opt in. That’s all.
JS: Yeah, right.
JS: [narrating] You can see how all the varied interests that Mike had very likely prepared and built him into the man he would soon become. Not too many people I know can cite inspirations like Nine Inch Nails, Led Zeppelin, then Public Enemy and The Roots, and then Mark Ryden and Juxtapoz magazine. Mike is literally all over the place. And that’s probably a good thing. As you’ll soon hear, Mike and Linkin Park are about to jettison into stratospheric levels of fame. But at the same time, never really feeling completely comfortable in any one area - constantly shifting, constantly testing new things. I think this was a prerequisite for the challenges he would soon have to face.
JS: You touched on this a little bit just now, but let’s talk a little bit about being Asian. And especially in your world of music where you found success. Being an outcast in your culture of like... let’s say Eminem and hip-hop, you know it as in being a minority, right? But then also being Asian. So, Asians in music back then, you could count on one hand, right?
MS: For sure, yeah. The only one I could think of at the time was James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins. He was a Japanese guy in a band, but he wasn’t the center of the band, he wasn’t the focus.
JS: The one I think of is Jin the MC.
MS: Yeah, and later on there were these little one off like... Jin was an example of like - okay, he’s a rapper. Wasn’t he signed to Ruff Ryders?
JS: Yep, for like a day. [laughs]
MS: Yeah. And he was good. He was a good rapper, and it was like... He was also out at a time when there were really great rappers, you know? And he never claimed to be as great as them, he just wanted to be in the game. But like an Eminem, if you’re that anomaly, you just have to be that much better.
JS: Did you feel that then? Did you feel like you were a minority? Because I feel like you were a minority in every genre you went into. You were the minority, right?
MS: Oh my god. [laughs] It’s almost comedic how many times I’ve written a song from that perspective. I look back at it and I’m like, “Dude, when are you gonna get over yourself? Get over it!” [laughs] But, you know, just the other day… So, I have a new album out and I’ve only played four shows now. And the first big show that I did a couple weeks ago was an Asian heritage celebration in Los Angeles. I played on the steps of City Hall, it was an amazing show, amazing opportunity. Spoke to a lot of fans there - predominantly, I mean, almost a hundred percent Asian crowd. And they were talking about how unique it was for them as a fan to grow up and to see me in a band, it’s like, “Oh, you know, that guy is like me.” What’s weird about it for me is that... I’m mixed, so actually everybody thought, when I was growing up, people thought I was Mexican. They start to speak in Spanish to me, I’m like, “I don’t know.” But the truth is, culturally we did certain things that are very Japanese-American in my house: we celebrated Boys’ Day (which eventually was Children’s Day), and we would go to Obon festivals they’d have down in the valley, and we would do New Year, I’d see my whole family and eat the traditional foods and stuff. My brother speaks Japanese pretty fluently. I opted for art classes, so I didn’t learn Japanese. But definitely it was complicated, for sure - being Japanese and coming into music. Here’s an example: when we were called Hybrid Theory, Joe and I being the two artists in the group, we designed a logo for the group that was based on kanji, Japanese letters. We took the “H” and the “T” and put them into one symbol and it looked Japanese. That’s what we liked about it. That was our logo. And when we got signed and we were talking about - let’s put out these, we’re gonna press up some promotional demos to send to fans or whatever, the A&R guy at the label said, “You know, I’m just not sure about the logo though.” And we’re like, “Why? That logo’s dope.” And he was basically like, “You know, it just looks really oriental.” And I was like - first of all, he said oriental! Second of all, I was like, “Okay, and what’s wrong with that? It’s like a third of the band is Asian!” He’s like, “Well, you know, it looks like those car clubs or like whatever. You’re not like a car club band.” And I’m just like, it’s such a weird stereotypical thing to say! It had nothing to do with anything. It was just in his mind, he was paranoid about the Asian-ness of our logo. Stupid.
JS: Right. And how did you go from Hybrid Theory to Linkin Park?
MS: It’s actually a dumb story. I’ll tell you anyway. Record labels have always had this bad reputation. I think they’re probably better now than they’ve ever been, but back then there were some really shady stuff and dumb stuff. They had convinced us that we can’t be called Hybrid Theory, because there’s another group called Hybrid and it was gonna be confusing for the consumer and blah-blah-blah. The truth is Hybrid was like an electronic act, they could have been European or something, I don’t know. There’s no way anyone was gonna get confused. But again, the same guy, that same person at the label was paranoid about it and he basically told us we had to change our name, which we hated at first but then, when we found the name Linkin Park, we actually liked that name. So it’s cool, it’s fine, we just called the album Hybrid Theory and it’s all good.
JS: When you went from Xero to Hybrid Theory to Linkin Park, and then, pretty quickly after that, you hit massive success. You probably still to this day remember the days of Xero and then, like... what was that switch like when it’s, “Holy shit! This is a different thing happening now, something is like shifting right now.”
MS: Well, the things that I remember… I remember getting free meals and free clothes. That was like a thing. It was like, “Oh wow, people are sending me all kinds of stuff! That’s crazy.” The joke is like - as soon as you can afford to buy the cool stuff, people give it to you for free.
JS: And you no longer have to buy it.
MS: Yeah. [laughs] But that’s not entirely true, we actually… Well, we can come back to that. But the main thing is, the moments when I really realized it were when we’d be touring with groups and they’d start treating us differently, like either treating us really extra good, because they were trying to get on our good side, or they were really jealous and they treated us really bad. And we’d be on tour with them for like a whole month, it’s like, you’re gonna spend a month with somebody and you’re gonna start treating them bad? That’s a bad look! Besides, a few months later they’re like trying to open for us, they’re like, “Hey guys, it was fun touring with you guys back in the day!” It’s like, “No, you guys treated us like shit. We remember that.”
JS: Oh wow, I didn’t think that’d be your answer but that’s really interesting.
MS: I guess with a few groups, we kind of stayed away from it, because we had been treated pretty bad. But for the most part I’d say, we had a few tours with different groups where we were first on the bill out of four bands. What we were used to was - if there were four dressing rooms backstage, the headliner would take all four and you’d be in your RV, or van, or bus.
JS: [laughs] Okay. I didn’t know it worked that way.
MS: ’Cause that’s their show, they can take whatever they want to take. And then all of a sudden we got on this one tour, and I’ll say their names because they were actually - love or hate their music - I’ll tell you that at the time it was shocking. We went out on tour with Papa Roach, who was another nu-metal band. Got there on day one to load in and do a soundcheck, and all of the band was there. They came out and were saying “hello” to everybody and they shook hands with all of us and said, “Welcome to the tour. We’re happy to have you. If you have any questions or issues or whatever, just talk to us.” And it was like… shocking. And that was one of those moments when I went like, “Oh, this is like… that’s how to be.” If you’re gonna be at the top of the food chain in any environment, keep the door open, let people know you’re happy to see them and glad that they’ve joined you. Because, truth be told, every band on the bill is bringing people in. We may be bringing 500, you may be bringing 2000. We’re all still doing something and giving fans a good time. So, I definitely absorbed that kind of mentality and learned from that.
JS: [narrating] People often say - the same people you see on the way up the ladder are the same people you’re gonna see on the way down. And Mike alludes to a valuable lesson here, that you can choose to embrace or ignore. But this goes way beyond band culture. It’s the same for fashion, design or any business for that matter. The way someone treats another person is the truest sign of their character. I remember early in my career, I had a meeting with a powerful CEO of a massive corporation. He wanted to see my work and I was so proud and excited to have this meeting. And when I walked into the building, I remember the security guards made me enter through the back because they thought I was making a delivery. Hey, I get that dude was just doing his job, but I will never forget that feeling. Be mindful of how you treat everyone at every step of the journey. You may not remember the feeling, but I guarantee they will.
JS: And then when you became the headline act… I mean, you’re a very down-to-earth guy, I gotta say, but did it affect you? Did you feel like you had to consciously be like ”I have to remain down-to-earth?“
MS: Oh, I did certain things! I still live in LA. I was born on the valley side, actually in Panorama City, which is not too far from… where the Karate Kid, Encino is not that far, ten minutes. [smiles] And then I’ve moved up and down the valley side, but as soon as you cross over hill and Beverly Hills, Palisades… that’s where all the money is, right? And all the fancy houses and all that stuff. And I never moved. I could have moved down there, because it’s actually closer to a lot of things: manager’s offices and labels and all that stuff, and it’s like - all these nice houses and stuff. But I never wanted to do that, because I knew that slowly but surely that culture would affect me. And also, planning on having kids and stuff, the place you decide to raise your kids - that affects the kind of people they are, whether you like it or not. It probably doesn’t completely define them, but it definitely colors their experiences.
JS: The environment colors a lot.
MS: Yeah. So, Not to say I completely stay away, but at least I’ve had an awareness of that, for them and for me.
JS: Right. After you gained the success and became - instead of the opening to the headline, what’s the flossiest thing you ever did? Where you even checked yourself and you’re like, ”That was crazy, MIke!“ [laughs]
MS: There was a point where… Do you remember Pimp My Ride? Remember West Coast Customs?
JS: Yeah! Xzibit.
MS: So I had a green, an olive green Range Rover with rims and a system in it, that literally that same company…
MS: Pimped. They pimped my ride. [smiles]
JS: That’s kind of modest, I mean, that you got your ride pimped.
MS: But to me that was like... I wasn’t embarrassed of that, for sure. I felt good, I felt like that was like a dream car at the moment, you know?
JS: Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome.
MS: The funny thing is that we always, like… in general in the band, we put a lot back into the band. We would invest a lot of money into our records. This will be kind of not what you expect, maybe, but… Giving yourself the environment and the opportunity to make albums in a very relaxed way with all of the gear and possibilities, where it feels like - anything I want to do in the studio, I can just do it. That’s very... what’s the word? It’s like...
JS: It’s a luxury, right?
MS: Sure, yeah. It’s almost like, if I think of it in that way, our studio experience for a very long time has been very luxurious. And that goes with, instead of writing your songs at home and getting them ready and then bringing them in to record, we would walk in with nothing and just sit in the studio and create with all of these amazing tools - hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of dollars of gear, I don’t know how much money, some of those studios spend that much on their gear. So, the beautiful thing about that is to be able to go in and record in a studio for a year in that environment. That is expensive, and we would do that, because we knew that we were investing not only in our record that we were making, but in our education about how to make a record. At this point, I can’t imagine how many years I’ve spent just sitting in a studio. Many, many years. That ten thousand hours thing? We blew that on the first year, I think we did that. [laughs]
JS: I think that’s a wise investment. You invested in yourself versus the need to like, buying three Lamborghinis.
MS: I was never that guy. That kind of attention doesn’t really do anything for me. So yeah, it always kind of went back into it. I think it went back into the art and the work.
JS: That’s dope. I want to touch on one portion of your career, which is the project that you did with Jay-Z. You talked about East Coast hip-hop and how that was an inspiration for you coming up. The concept behind that, did you birth that concept or did Jay do it? How did that come to birth?
MS: I mean, it came from me. [laughs] So, here’s what happened. I remember that we got the message from John Meneilly, Jay’s manager, saying that basically MTV had decided they wanted to make a series on mashups, where they would take two dissimilar artists and put them together. It was basically like, at the end of rap-rock, they were like - okay, we’re gonna do these mashups of bands and rappers and that’ll be a series, and we’ll do it every week or every couple weeks. So they told Jay, “Would you do our first episode?” and “Who do you want to do it with?” and he said, “Linkin Park.” So he was the one that chose us. They called us and we said that sounds amazing. Our manager said, “How do you want to respond?” or whatever. We were touring in a bus at the time, and I had a laptop with some recording software on it and an MPC. Jay had just put out his Black Album, acapellas and instrumental. Did he just put an acapellas out? Whatever it was, I could get his acapellas. Like, literally just go get that, which was unusual. So, I made three of the songs in the bus. In basically a day or two. I made them, and that was my response. I sent those and I remember we had exchanged phone numbers and Jay texted me when he got them. I just looked at my phone, I got this text that said, ”Oh shit!“ That was it, that was the response. Everybody flipped over the idea and we all got on the phone, it was me and Brad on our side and then Jay and the managers. I told them what I wanted to do. They wanted to do these little mashup thing, mashup episodes. I think we go and we do basically an EP of songs and we create something that’s so good that they can’t do a series. Make the first episode so good, it’s like the bar is too high. What nobody really knew is that, by asking me to do it… this is the thing that I was better at than almost anything else. My favorite thing to do when I was growing up: learning how to produce, learning how to make beats. The way I would make beats is mashing things up. Like, I had been mashing stuff up since the early 90’s! And my first beats were like - I’d sample Nine Inch Nails, and Rage Against the Machine, and The Jackson 5, and put a Mobb Deep acapella on it, or a Wu-Tang. That was what I did every weekend!
JS: [laughs] This is your shit. They thought they were getting Linkin Park but they’re actually getting you to do this.
MS: Every weekend that’s what I would do! People would have parties, I would go to my house and make stuff with my friends, and maybe we’d rap over it, maybe they’d just be mashups, maybe that’d be joke songs. And then we’d go to the party at about 11:30, when everybody’s already hammered, and drive up, and be like, “Yo, come in the car!” and they’d listen to the new shit, and I’d play them the song.
JS: That’s sick.
MS: So when we did the Collision Course thing, it was just that.
JS: I love that when the question was posed to you, your answer was just, ”I’m going to work.“
MS: This is music!
JS: You’re not even like ”What’s my rate? What’s my fee? How is this carved out?“
MS: The thing is, I’m sure that the legal teams had... it was maybe the most complicated and the hardest project they had ever assembled, because they were dealing with Viacom, Jay-Z’s catalog… By the way, the producers on the songs that we used: Kanye, Timbaland; there were samples involved, and there were Linkin Park and Warner Brothers. And then we turned it into an EP and a DVD worldwide. I can’t even begin to imagine what the legal conversations were like on that. I know that at the end of it everybody ended up happy, we tried our best to split everything in ways that everybody got their piece. I didn’t feel strong-armed by Jay’s people and I don’t think they felt that way by us, so it was all good. And by the way, we won a Grammy for it and, when we walked up, I expected us to all kind of talk, at least on our side I expect us all to talk and Jay to talk. And he just pointed at the mic and stepped away, he was just, ”No. Go talk.“
JS: Wow. Like, this is all them.
MS: Yeah. ’Cause he knew my role in doing it, so he just kind of said like, ”Go on.“
JS: That’s dope! But he came in the stage but he let you do the talking.
MS: Yeah! I mean, it’s on, you can pull it up on Youtube. He just kinda points at the mic.
JS: But I love that! Because so many projects that have that scale and potential die on the cutting room floor, at stage one, because it gets lawyered to death or something. But it’s because you created, you just went out on a whim - I’m just gonna start working on this shit.
MS: And we had the vision. I remember, when it came to the Grammy performance for example, our guitarist Brad was the one who said, you know, this whole mashup thing, as we all knew, came from the Danger Mouse Grey Album. The Grey Album was where Danger Mouse just having fun, he mashed up Jay’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album. So the idea was, for the Grammy performance we said - that’s where this mashup thing started, let’s finish it and bring it full circle and include the Beatles. Let’s include Paul McCartney. I was like, “Wow, that’s such a dope idea! We’re never gonna get Paul McCartney, but that’s dope.” So he asked management to contact Sir Paul, and he came back immediately, and said yes. And we were like...
MS: But that’s the thing - it’s like when the creative leads like that, and you can… it’s almost like what people talk about a good elevator pitch. When it’s like - this is my concept. If that concept is short and sweet, and you get it, and you know it’s good, it’s much easier to get to the finish line.
JS: When you get the picture ready.
MS: Yeah, when you believe in the concept. So, he said yes, and everybody else went, ”Whoa, okay.“ [laughs] And then it was funny, because Jay had just retired.
JS: Retired, air quotes. [laughs]
MS: Yeah. So, we were in. Paul McCartney was in. And then we went to his manager and said, “Okay, so this is what we’re doing,” and Jay’s manager said,” No no no. Jay is not doing it.“ [smiles] We were like, ”WHAT?! Come on! We got Paul! We got him.“ And he was like, ”No no no. Jay’s not doing any more performances, any more music, he’s an executive now.“ So, the idea was so strong, that it even convinced them to pull him out of retirement for a moment. It was probably one of the reasons people said, “Oh, he’s not really retiring,” it was because of this performance.
JS: [narrating] Mike’s vision is crystal clear here. And he’s right. If you have that set, everything else will fall into place. Sometimes for myself, when I embark at the beginning of a project or collaboration, I actually imagine the headline of the Hypebeast post or what the Instagram photo or caption will look like. And this is without even knowing what we’re actually making yet. It’s like a trick to set my goals way into the future. And then my job as the lead is to just act on the steps to make that vision come to fruition. But what happens when that vision doesn’t quite align with the body of work you’ve already created? Or maybe you want to keep what you’ve done in the past pure? Or maybe it doesn’t align with the partners that you currently have in place? Whatever the reason might be, there are times when you might need to consider creating a side project.
JS: I want to go into a little bit about Fort Minor. So, Fort Minor is like your personal side skunkworks project I would say, right? [smiles] I wanted to ask, because I see it relating to brands a lot. A lot of clothing brands have diffusion lines, right? And it’s like, they have ideas that, for whatever reason they feel like they can’t put into their existing big business, so they create this other thing.
MS: How do you define a diffusion brand?
JS: Diffusion could be up or down but just... Maybe it’s like - I’ve defined the parameters of this Brand A so well, that these other ideas don’t fit into that parameter anymore. Is that why Fort Minor was born?
MS: Yes, same thing. It wasn’t just that Linkin Park was so well-defined. Fort Minor came after the first two Linkin Park albums, which were basically the same aesthetic. And then we did the Collision Course thing with Jay. And we also did a remix album called Reanimation, which was much more electronic and hip-hop. But I never felt like with any of those projects, Collision Course included, I didn’t feel like any of those were me doing hip-hop, where I came from. So I wanted to kind of play around with some stuff that was just digging back into my hip-hop roots, but approaching it with my newfound knowledge of how to make a song and how to record. I was a much better producer and a much better engineer than I was when I started. So I wanted to go back to that and see what I would make. And it was really started for fun and then it just became a record.
JS: But with Linkin Park, the way I see it is almost like - you have partners. And you have to have discussions with your partners. Did you try to discuss these Fort Minor ideas with them and they were like, ”Mmm, not us.“
MS: No, I didn’t. I didn’t even go to them with it, because I knew that they would be so convincing, in a way. Like, if I started talking to them about it, the songs would get changed a lot.
JS: Even for you personally, their opinion of it would change you?
JS: Holy shit, that’s mind-blowing to me! What sign are you? [laughs]
JS: Oh okay. That’s why.
MS: That’s why? [laughs]
JS: I think if you were Leo, it wouldn’t matter. [laughs]
MS: Okay. [laughs]
JS: I feel the same as you, man. I will hold ideas to myself, because I know just by exposing them, they’ll change the idea. Just hearing other people’s talk on them...
MS: If you know you’re susceptible to, like… I’m a good collaborator. I like to collaborate. So, there are times when I have an idea that I feel like is a pure idea, that I know that if I start opening the door to other people, that the idea will change. And I have to think before I have the conversations, I have to check myself and say, “Do you want to keep this idea the way it is or do you want to change it?” Because if I don’t want to change it, then I just don’t start the conversation. That’s how Fort Minor happened. That’s actually my new album - the solo album I just put out this week - it’s the same thing where I just knew, in both cases, that I had a complete vision and it didn’t want any other input.
JS: Okay. So, then the other side of that coin, did you have to sit down and tell the fellas, ”Guys, I’m doing my own thing with this.“
MS: Yeah. It was a little tricky, but at the same time we had been through... We had had a really long run on the road, and with all the music we had put out, and the guys wanted to take a break. And I’m more...
JS: ...keep working.
MS: Yeah. I love to work and I keep making stuff anyway, even if I’m off. My attitude was like - well, I’m gonna make this stuff anyway. First it was - I’m making it for fun, and then it became a thing, and it was like - well, the guys are gonna be… what is this, gonna put them off the road for an extra six to nine months? Probably not a big deal, you know? So I just let them know that way, that’s kind of what I was thinking. I remember them being supportive. So, yeah, they were cool.
JS: [narrating] It’s great to hear how Mike was protective of his new ideas, not wanting to share too much too early for fear of influencing himself in a way he knows he didn’t want to. But at the same time, he knew he had partners in both music and business, and transparency is paramount to keeping the sanctity of Linkin Park. Finding that balance was the key in allowing him to explore these different paths. So we’re about to start talking about Mike’s new album Post Traumatic and unfortunately we can’t do that without discussing the sensitive topic of Chester Bennington’s suicide. Now if you don’t want to hear the subject matter, you might want to skip to the end of this episode. We’re gonna have links and phone numbers there for places you can reach out to get help and just talk to someone. Between Chester, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and others, this topic might be a lot for some to handle right now. So, yeah, here we go.
JS: And now you’ve got your new solo album.
MS: Yeah. Like I said, similarly, I had an idea for it and it was pretty clear.
JS: Right. I mean, you went through something really traumatic and then, did you feel like right after that happened, you had to express it creatively?
MS: Yeah, I did... Well, let me explain it like this. For me, I’ve built something with a group of guys that, because it was so big and so many people associated me with it and it with me, that it was a meshed, right? So, when you think of Linkin Park, you think of me. And you think of me, you think of Linkin Park. I think it’s not what I set out to do. In the beginning, I don’t know if I had an idea of any of that stuff, but it’s what it ended up happening. And for better or worse, it was just true. And then, even when I made things, when I made songs, when I made art - paintings or whatever, I oversaw, for example, the merchandise and the web and the packaging. Sometimes with Joe. I’d say, oftentimes with Joe, sometimes without. And then, a year ago Chester passed away. And it was like, everything came into question all of a sudden. It’s like we’ve built this thing together and... Just to use a really simple example of what has occurred - I can’t just go out and play the song “Numb” onstage. Or “One Step Closer.” Right? Because if you have somebody else singing it, it’s not the same. And we did that, we had a tribute show with all these wonderful artists that came out and sang his parts, and we did a three-hour performance at the Hollywood Bowl for the fans. And afterwards I thought about it and I was listening to it - even as we were rehearsing it - as good as all those artists were, they weren’t Chester. So I was having this feeling of like - am I not allowed to do that anymore now? Is Linkin Park done and so, therefore, am I done?
JS: Oh wow.
MS: It’s hard, you know? It was just a self-doubt, it was a moment of self-doubt. I shouldn’t say moment, because it was on and off for maybe months. But I made stuff anyway, because I’ve always like... whenever I’ve been dealing with things that are heavy or difficult, I’m always making art. It’s therapeutic. It’s also kind of meditative. It might be painting, it might be just playing instrumental music, for example.
JS: So you were making stuff.
MS: So I was making stuff and eventually, some of those things turned into songs about what was going on.
JS: Did you feel obliged to the fans? Because not only was Linkin Park this thing you’ve built, but now there’s this following, which is massive. Did you feel like you owe it something, was this your response? Besides like a press release, you wanted something more of like an emotional response?
MS: I didn’t feel like there was an obligation or almost like - if you didn’t do it, you’d feel guilty. Like, I wouldn’t have felt guilty.
JS: If you didn’t put anything out?
MS: No, I wouldn’t have felt guilty. But I felt like our relationship with the fans is more than a fan-artist relationship. It’s more cultural. A lot of people don’t know that about our relationship with the fans, and it was on full display after Chester passed away. There were tributes all over the world. I mean, just imagine how many countries we’ve played. It was fans getting together, some of them had their own concerts and sang all the songs.
JS: It’s amazing. Your fans are almost more like Apple fans, right?
MS: It’s like that, yeah.
JS: It’s like... religious. [laughs]
MS: It’s a little bit, maybe. [smiles] I’d say, maybe. And the thing that I noticed about them after that is that they were reaching out to one another. That it was like, they were going through something difficult, and they didn’t just need closure. They needed to be consoled, they needed camaraderie and community. And some of them needed some of that more than others. Because, whenever it borders on or addresses suicide, that information is like a landmine for some people. It sits inside of a conversation and, once it happens, they can’t undo it, you know? If that triggers somebody, then it can be really hard. So, for those fans, a lot of us had to get educated on their behalf. Like, to get educated about how to talk about it and how to be sensitive to them. And now, when other artists have passed away, when other people, I mean, just recently - Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. I got called to do an interview about the same subject that came up again. And I’m in a better position now to talk about it than I was a year ago, because I’ve been thrown into this subject. The bottom line is we’ve got more influencers now than we’ve ever had in the history of the planet. It’s diffused. Like, your average kid living with their parents - one minute they have 50 followers, in the next minute they’ve got 5,000, and then you blink, and they got a quarter million, right? They think of themselves as popular, but they don’t think of themselves as responsible or like an influencer in that way. And they’re gonna need to start. Because, if they talk about something as tricky as suicide... Look at what happened to Logan Paul. Like, he was... I’m gonna be very generous and say ”uneducated“ on the subject, and... people let him know, as they should. So, that’s the thing about the connections that we’ve got.
JS: The thing you said about suicide almost being like a landmine - it gave me the chills, because it is one thing if someone dies of cancer or like, it’s very sad. But suicide is really like… I almost equated to a zombie film, where you got bit. You heard about it, you got bit, and now it’s like, “Do I have that in me?” And then once you start thinking about it, it starts perpetuating and then you get like... yeah.
MS: The good news is, for people that have that… you know, it’s a visualization thing, it’s like a trigger - and the good news is, unlike the zombie film, you’re not doomed. You can work your way out of it again. But it does take work. Now I’ve learned to talk about mental health as a thing that is... in the simplest form - we should think about mental health the way we think about physical health. So, if you wake up in the morning and your back hurts, you may decide, ”Oh, it hurts a little bit, I’m gonna take it easy.“ You may say ”Oh, it hurts a lot. Maybe I’m gonna take an Advil or take some medication.“ Or one of the higher, ”Ugh, I gotta go to a doctor. I have to go see a professional.“
JS: And no one does that for mental health right now.
MS: They don’t do that for mental health usually. And people walk around just ignorant of their own mental health status, when they could be checking in and saying, ”Oh, I should take it easy,“ or, ”I should get medication,“ or, ”I should see a doctor.“ Like, those are different levels of pain, right? And we do have that mental pain, and we should go through those processes, if that’s what we need to get better.
JS: Yeah. I just heard a David Chang podcast. He’s talking about Bourdain and he said - it’s so common to have call in to work and be like, ”Yo, I can’t come in. I feel like crap today, my back hurts,“ like you said. But if you call in to work and say, ”I can’t come in because of my mental issue,“ that’s a huge stigma that no one wants to bring up. That’s like, ”Oh, you’re weird.“
MS: Well, also they conflate it, they mistake it for just being crazy. They lump it in with, ”Oh, you’re unfit.“ But that’s not true. And I realize it from an employer’s point of view, it’s a very fuzzy kind of excuse, like, ”I can’t see it.“ And by the way, if the reason they’re depressed is because of a very personal issue, then they can’t tell you. So now all of a sudden you’re being told, “You gotta just trust me, I’m in trouble.” That’s hard. That would be hard for an employer, I’m sure.
JS: Yeah. Okay, so, this last part, I think, is something that I definitely want to bring up, because I view what we do sometimes in life as like a rat race. And you enter this rat race and you try to figure out your ways to success, and fame, and notoriety, and financial success, and respect. And what’s been happening since Chester, and you could even say Amy Winehouse before that, and now Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain… When Anthony Bourdain, when that happened - ’cause that dude to me was like living the life - like, there was no… not financial success, but there was no more making it than his life. It begged the question - and I want your take on this, because I think you’ve in many ways completed the rat race, like you’ve at least gotten to the point where you’ve seen the other side of the rainbow and you’ve seen massive success. What is it about exiting that rat race that fucks up some people so hard? I mean, even like Kanye right now, he’s openly struggling. What is it? What is it on the other side? Tell us.
MS: I mean, there are no definitive answers for people, right? But one thing that’s always helped me with perspective on success is the moment I had to realize that success could be in the more subtle things than you thought. When you’re young, you think about money and... some people get into music for money, cars, girls, whatever. Just fame, just being famous. And my number one focus above those things the whole time was making great music, making stuff that I felt was great. And other people could talk shit about it or do whatever they’re gonna do, but when I listen to it and I listen to something else that I thought was great, I could at least go, “I’m getting closer, I’m getting better and I’m certainly not bad at this.”
JS: You were concerned with the product, that’s it.
MS: Yeah, I wanted stuff to be great! So then, whether you make the money or you don’t make the money, I stood behind the product first and foremost. And we made an album called A Thousand Suns, which was a concept record. It was very hard for people to digest, it was a polarizing record. We put it out, and before we even put it out, we had massive fights with the label about it, because it wasn’t commercial enough. And it got either one star or five stars on every where it was reviewed. Because there were people that said, ”Wow. This is art. This is beautiful,“ and other people that said, ”Wow. This is not Hybrid Theory. Fuck you, guys.“ In order to put yourself in that position, you have to say, “What are my goals? And am I achieving them before anyone else even sees it or hears it? Am I achieving my goals without any other input?” And we felt we were, so we put it out, and then it didn’t matter how many people said bad things. We already knew that we were achieving our goals. Moving even further along in life, those goals can be even more subtle. They can be balancing work and family life. Some people prioritize inner peace, so there’s not that noise of competitive nature, and the world outside, and the news feed, and whatever is going on. To be able to say, “I went my entire day and I wasn’t really fazed by all that stuff,” that’s a good day.
JS: You’re at that point?
MS: I’m... getting there. I’m getting there.
JS: It’s still a struggle though. You still have to deliberately mute things out.
MS: I mean, you work out, right? If you work out, some days you come in and you’re like, ”I feel great. I’m ready to go.“ Another day you go, ”Man, that workout was kind of weak, I feel bad.“ But you’re gonna come back the next day, you don’t feel like, ”Oh, my workout is ruined forever. I’m just bad at this. Now I quit.“ I feel like with some people, they feel like they got to a point where they achieved so much, and then go, ”I don’t have anything. What else is there? It’s all downhill now.“ And that’s sad. For me it’s always been like, when you hit one goal post, you got to look for the next one. And look for it in a very honest way.
JS: [narrating] This is really honest advice from someone who has seen a lot firsthand, and quite truly someone who is still learning each and every day. Because he’s up there in that upper upper echelon, I wanted to ask for his viewpoint on someone we see every day in the Hypebeast community. Someone who is figuring out his mental state in full view for all of us to see. Let’s hear what Mike has to say about Kanye West.
JS: I think, with Kanye it’s very interesting, I feel like we’re seeing him process it real-time.
MS: Well… He’s in a situation - I’ve met him, I won’t pretend to know him - but he’s in a situation where he has placed a lot of emphasis on a lot of things that are not in his control. And when you do that, you are affected heavily by those things. For example, if chart success is emphasized, you can’t control that. You can make the best shit you want to make, but if people don’t like it, you literally can’t control people into liking your stuff. You can’t control them into buying your product or whatever.
JS: I see what you mean.
MS: And also, if you’re in an environment of chaos, where, in his case, your brand is associated with a lot of other things - it’s associated with Kim’s family, it’s associated with these designers over here, and Adidas, and so on and so forth. That’s a lot of chaos, that’s a lot of stuff out of your control. And if any one of those things reflects badly on you or requires a response, then all of a sudden you’re being pulled in those directions. I think that’s very chaotic.
JS: Right. I would say, if Kanye was in the room, he would say, ”I control all this stuff!“
MS: Not true. No way. Anybody who thinks they are, I think, they’re kidding themselves. Because that’s just gonna fall apart, that’s a house of cards. But the other part of it is that he’s genuinely talented, he’s genuinely one of the best producers alive, and when that’s hovering over your head, that’s a lot of pressure, you know? He’s created this culture of like…
JS: ...chaos, right?
MS: Well, it’s not just the chaos though, it’s... ”I am a god. I am the best. I’m whatever.” It’s like a culture of confidence, when that’s not humanly possible to be that confident every day. And I think, to me, the bipolar thing that he’s talking about in the moments of weakness that you see him just kind of spaz, I think that’s when his confidence gets shook and he knows, like, “Okay, you’re a human being, dude.” There’s a real human in there going, “I can’t be a robot.” You can’t just say, “Hey, make me greatness right now.” If you listen to his music, that takes a lot of craft to create those. He didn’t just give you every demo he made. He made a lot of stuff to get to the albums that he puts out.
JS: I think he needs to move to your side of the hills. [laughs]
MS: Maybe so. Maybe so. [smiles] And that’s the thing, I feel bad for him and I don’t feel bad for him.
JS: Yeah, ’cause he made the bed that he’s sleeping in now.
MS: Yeah. I will say the other weird thing though - I don’t think that’s the best influence on some of the young people though. I think he has a lot of worshipers, a lot of people who just hang on every word and do everything like he does it. He’s allowed to do certain things he does, because he’s earned those things, right? And I see young people doing things that he does and they haven’t earned any of that. You haven’t proven anything, you’re not him. You can’t act that way to people, you can’t say those things to people. And… I don’t know.
JS: It’s awesome getting your perspective, because you have the ability to live in that atmosphere that he’s in and that air. You know what I mean? You have felt that sort of like... your face on a Jumbotron, so you understand how that feels, you know? It’s nice to see that it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a way that you can mute that stuff and really live like a normal human being. [laughs]
MS: Well, I like to go to the movies and grocery store. For the record, we worked hard to diffuse the amount of attention on our individual faces as a band. When we were in 2000-2003, when it was the hottest it could be for us, we literally had the best-selling album on the planet, and then the follow-up was almost as big. It was a crazy time. They would always ask for just Chester on the cover, or just me on the cover of the magazine. We say, “No. Either put both of us or put all six of us. That’s what you get.” And every chance we got, we put all six of us in front, because it diffused the attention. Like, you just knew Linkin Park as a band, you didn’t know my face as much. And so I could go to a grocery store, I could go and see a movie and it’d be okay. I wouldn’t really get stopped that much.
JS: Right. You touched on this before and just to wind up now, what is the future now, man?
MS: I’m still figuring that out. It’s a heavy subject. But the nice thing for me, I feel good about my skill set, so I feel confident that I can make good stuff that I like and that some fans will like. I also know that there are a lot of people that are hurting, who are our fans and not our fans, who have gone through some stuff in their life. And I know that having gone through really horrible stuff this year and questioning everything, that if I can channel the honesty of what I’ve been through into the music and into the performances, then it’ll be helpful for somebody. I’ve been doing meet-and-greets before my shows, and talking to a lot of the fans, and hearing stories that I’ve never heard before. It’s a whole different kind of relationship, where people are coming up and saying, like... worse than I can even imagine, like, “My twin brother died by suicide,” and stuff like that. You would just go, “Oh my god. I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like.” And then they say, “Your record’s helping me. It makes me feel like I can do this. Just seeing you up there on stage.” Just yesterday I did a signing here in town...
JS: When you hear that, you can’t stop. [laughs]
MS: No, man! It’s an amazing and beautiful thing. And I know that it’s also… I mean, I can’t put myself in the position of saving people, that’s for them to do. I can just do my best to live my story and my thing, and hope that they connect with it, and it inspires them to hang on as long as possible, to be around for a really long time. Or just go get some help and take care of themselves.
JS: All right, man. Thank you for your time. That was dope.
JS: [narrating] Hey, thanks for listening to the episode with Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. If you need someone to talk to; if you’re sad, depressed or just can’t figure stuff out, call 1-800-273-8255. Or you can visit SuicidePreventionlifeline.org. Seriously, people out there can help you. And if they can’t, I know for a fact you can help yourself. You just need to give yourself the time.