LINKIN PARK ARE ONE OF THE BIGGEST BANDS IN THE WORLD, AND YET THEY’RE NOT SITTING BACK AND RELYING ON THAT SURE FIRE SUCCESS. INSTEAD, THEY’VE TAKEN THEIR SOUND AND PUSHED IT INTO THE PLACE WHERE FEW ROCK BANDS TRULY DARE.
LINKIN PARK HAVE GONE POP.
“Here we go again,” grins Mike Shinoda. “Let’s see what they say about this one.” Linkin Park have a long history of rolling the dice. Of taking chances. Of mixing things up. They used to be called Hybrid Theory, and it’s an idea that’s stuck. Their six-album deep legacy is full of musical leaps, revolutionary blends and an unwavering desire to do what they want. No record sounds the same, and each step could have taken it too far. “The last four, maybe even five records, we’ve had that conversation, but I’m not afraid of taking a risk and failing.” Ultimately the idea of pushing it too far is “for other people to decide. On the last album, we released a six-minute metal song with Rakim on the bridge – suck on that, everybody. At a certain point, you feel like you’re being contrary or crazy just for the sake of getting a rise out of people, but it was different with this record. It didn’t feel like we were trying to get a rise out of people, really, truly.” Album seven sees the band do what they’ve always done: exactly as they please. To hell with the consequences.
“I want people to think that creatively, as artists, these guys have balls,” smiles Chester Bennington. “They go where they want. They’re not bound by the rules of what they’re supposed to be in the eyes of onlookers or anything outside. We are Linkin Park, and therefore the music that we make is Linkin Park. That, to me, is very risky. I’d like people to like listening to the record but also appreciate the danger, in some ways, of what we’re doing and how willing we are to go there without being afraid of it.”
There’s no way to side-step it. Linkin Park’s new album ‘One More Light’ is drastically different to anything the band have released before. From the front to the back, it’s a pop record. It’s the “polar opposite” to 2014’s ‘The Hunting Party’, and – while Chester reasons that “being in Linkin Park, I’ve heard thousands of demos that we’ve worked on, so it’s not so surprising or strange for me” – every cut feels like something entirely new. And that’s exciting in a way few bands can ever manage after their debut.
That excitement is the heart of Linkin Park. They’re stoked to talk about music, to be around music, to be making music. You can hear the giddiness in Chester’s voice as he recalls that Brian May said in an interview that not many groups take risks like Linkin Park do. “It was very cool to be seen that way by someone I admire, that was also in a band that took risks and was not afraid to do what they wanted to do or be who they were. I feel like I’ve succeeded on this record just from that one comment.” And you just know that Mike’s holding back from spending all his time talking about all the new music he’s discovered. When you put them together in a room, it’s bubbling, hyperactive chaos.
You can feel the enjoyment throughout ‘One More Light’. From the opening glitch of ‘Nobody Can Save Me’, the band relish their newfound space. “It’s a bit of a rebirth. We felt that one once or twice before in our career,” starts Mike. “The most obvious reference point being our third album ‘Minutes To Midnight’. The first two were pretty similar to each other, and then the third one was a risk, a real step outside of what people were expecting. At that point we were questioning, ‘Do we have to do what we’re known for, or what people expect?’ and we put out this album that was this extreme patchwork of sounds, with every song very different from the last. We intentionally sequenced it that way, so it exaggerated the differences between the songs. This album is much less of a patchwork; it’s much more a blend of styles where there is a core sound to the record. To invent a new style and sound and do it consistently across the record, it takes time. We probably spent somewhere between 12 or 18 months on it. You know when you listen to some albums, and it’s about a thing or a moment, this one isn’t that way. It’s about a lot of different things, and part of it is because we were all going through different things.”
“I like to think our music has had some role in blending genres,” Mike explained while the band were still on the road for their last album. “That’s what our music has been about since day one. We never felt like we carried a flag for nu-metal but we definitely carried a flag for people who loved many types of music.” Now, alongside the obvious calling cards of rock and hip hop, Linkin Park can add pop to the list. And they were deliberate with the sort of pop record they wanted to make.
“If you’re super into a niche, like hip hop or metal, you’re very in tune to the varieties of that lane,” reasons Mike. “If you like metal, you can say you like doom or black metal. It’s very specific, and the same thing is true in hip-hop. There’s a huge difference between Future and Action Bronson but someone who doesn’t listen to hip-hop, they won’t know the difference. Believe it or not but I listen to a lot of pop. There are styles of pop I like, and there are styles that I don’t like. The kind of pop record that we didn’t make is the one that goes ‘Oh girl, baby, I love you’, and we didn’t make the kind of pop record that goes ‘I want to see you dance, I want to see you shake’. There are certain topics and styles that we’d choose to do or choose not to do, regardless of genre.”
It’s what gives the record its authenticity. At no point does ‘One More Light’ feel like a band doing something half-heartedly. Or scraping the barrel. Or following a trend. There are a lot of rock bands taking influence from pop, but this isn’t that. More than an echo, this is a band celebrating the nuances of a genre and getting involved in the conversation.
On ‘One More Light’ Linkin Park do what they’ve always done, take the things they like and put them together. Teaming up with Stormzy for ‘Good Goodbye’ isn’t Linkin Park trying to grab onto the coattails of Grime’s success. “We’re not that smart,” grins Chester. Mike’s just been a fan for a few years and wanted to see what happened. “I feel like when some artists explore some territory outside their core thing, it feels like they’re a tourist or it’s a hobby or a whim. For me, the difference is that when I want to put something in a song, I want to feel like I’m not trespassing. I want it to feel like I know what I’m doing and I want it to come from a place of genuine excitement as a fan and a music listener.”
“The first thing that happened was curiosity,” ventures Mike. “Every time we go into the studio, I want to feel like I’m doing something different. I’m learning something. I just don’t want it to be boring.” Normally a Linkin Park album emerges from a hundred or so instrumental demos, with the band putting marks by all the ones they like the most. The ones with the most votes end up being explored, worked on and finished. The lyrics come later, influenced by how the track sounds and what memory it evokes. There’s normally a lot of digging in the past. “You’d be creating characters around the situation and then relating your experiences to them. These characters would have to relate to Brad [Delson, guitar], to Mike, to everyone in the band.” ‘One More Light’ was different, but you probably could have guessed that. Instead of the final piece of the puzzle, the lyrics came first and from conversations. “’Hey guys, this is what I’m going through, let’s write about it’. When one of our friends who had worked with us at the record label for many years passed away, we wrote a song about it. It wasn’t like we were going to write a song about loss and then relate our personal experience to it in a way that we could all understand. It’s coming from a place as it’s happening. You feel it. We’re talking about the thing that’s going on, as it’s going on. That feeling that we have writing it, it’s there on the record. That’s powerful.”
‘One More Light’ is the most empowering and beautiful Linkin Park have ever sounded. The record isn’t heavy like ‘Crawling’ or ‘Guilty All The Same’, and there’s no token metal song to satisfy the naysayers. “We’ve got six other albums,” shrugs Mike. Instead, this record is heavy with the weight of the world. “I feel like a lot of things, whether you’re facing inwards or facing out, are very heavy, emotionally,” explains Mike. “When I look at Twitter or when I watch the news or when I listen to my friends talk about, not even politics, but when I hear them talk about life, things feel heavy.”
It hits closer to home, though. The title-track is about the death of a friend and explores “the idea that life is short. There are so many of us and what seems so important to some is just another day to others. In that lonely sad place, sometimes it can feel grim, and you ask ‘What’s the point’? And so this song asks, ‘What’s the point of all it?’ ‘Who cares?’ And the answer is ‘I do’. Even if it seems like there’s no point, there is one. And the point is that I care. I care enough to pay attention; I care enough to keep moving forward.”
Linkin Park’s new album ‘One More Light’ is out 19th May. This is an excerpt from the May issue of Upset. To read the full thing, order a copy below.