This week, Linkin Park are back in the charts with their new album, One More Light. Their biggest push away from the signature metal of their debut Hybrid Theory to date, it sees them collaborate with Stormzy, Pusha T and Kiiara, as well as work with some of pop’s leading songwriters including Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels. Music Week caught up with Linkin Park’s co-frontmen Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda at their Warners Bros label headquarters in London to find out what inspired such a dramatic overhaul in their sound…
One More Light is a big departure in sound for Linkin Park yet, at the same time, it does seem like every time you make a new album there’s always people grumbling saying, Why aren’t they making One Step Closer anymore?…
Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park, vocals): “Yes, for sure, a bunch of people mean One Step Closer. But then there’s a bunch of people that mean In The End, which is very different. There’s a bunch of people that mean different things. When you ask a fan, who’s been a fan for a long time, What’s your favourite Linkin Park song? If they say One Step Closer or In The End or Breaking The Habit or Burn It Down or What I’ve Done, those songs – the DNA of those songs – are all totally different.”
Chester Bennington (Linkin Park, vocals): “They’re all totally different and at the same time, though, it also still validates what you’re [Music Week] saying, because every time one of those songs was released – with the exception of the first song we ever put out – this conversation has come up.”
Mike, you recently tweeted, Genre Is Dead. Is there a sense you wouldn’t have attempted an album like One More Light even, say, 5 years ago?
Shinoda: “The guys all listen to different things. For example, Chester’s been talking about Watsky a lot, we were listening to that in the car on the way over here. The communal magic of playing new artists or songs for your friends, that was one of my favourite things in the world growing up. And it still is to this day. I love finding new stuff on my own, I love when people tell me about cool stuff I haven’t heard, I love telling people about an artist or song they don’t know about. As time goes on, as anybody who loves music knows, you build up this crazy mental library of music, assuming you keep listening to new music. You learn more and more about what can be done, and has been done so well. So with that said, every time we make a record there are a couple years’ worth of musical education going on. You’re listening to new and old, listening to things that are new to you. And in my case, I’m also trying to pick apart how did they make it.”
So how did the writing of this different-sounding record come together?
Shinoda: “So here’s our writing process, every day we walk in and ask, What’s on your mind today - what do you want to write about? Whereas with other records we’d worked on the music first and that would dictate the direction of where to go with the lyrics. On this album, the lyrics were driving it. Life was the first thing we were looking at when asking, What should we write about today? We made a track that supported the emotional things we were trying to express.”
Bennington: “It’s important for people to have this little window into how we approach the sounds and style. It’s really more a challenge to ourselves, like, How do we solve this puzzle without having any of the pieces that everyone uses?”
Shinoda: “We have this history of doing that exercise. On previous records we’d say, we want this to be a high-energy song and solve it without the obvious things. We’ve checked all the boxes on previous records, so to go back and do that again? [Avoiding that] is always our challenge.”
Bennington: “We always want try to find new ways of doing something interesting and different. And I think one of the things we’ve done on this record that falls into that category [is our] approach to a pretty dark lyrical record. If you look at our record and didn’t hear the music, and you read the lyrics, there’s a few things there that are not so super dark, but the whole record is pretty dark. It’s fucking gnarly. The first track for example, Nobody Can Save Me, the opening line is pretty dismal, but when you hear the song I’m singing it like I’m fucking having the time of my life. We’re delivering something that is introspective and darker, lyrically and emotionally, with the music acting as the guide towards the light, the positivity. There’s a push and pull happening. The thing with this record is that, yeah, the topics on a lot of songs – and the emotion that inspired the lyrics – is heavy and dark, but that’s not the end goal. It’s more like I want you to know what I’m going through, but I’m being playful with it and I’m trying to change my perspective on all the stuff going on in my life and come out of it a better person. That, really, is what we did musically, was add that polarity to the lyrical stuff.”
So what were the real life experiences went into the album?
Chester: “There’s so many of them. We’ve had deaths, relationships and friendships on the line, geographic relocation. We made a list of all the things that the band had talked about going through, and it was a whole sheet full of things, and each one of them lands in the top three most stressful things to go through. Death, money, relationships all in a weird place. It’s all crazy shit to go through, and each person has their own version of that. So, we’ve got all these songs, and we’re trying to figure which songs go where and what are we trying to say: What’s our theme? What’s our message? If I can recall correctly the end result of that was [us realising] that there’s a lot of life going on. We thought, That’s enough, we don't need to go searching; it’s all right here and happening now.”
Mike: “I think that one thing I like about this album is that these are just universal feelings. For example, one of the darkest songs on the record – one of the heaviest songs conceptually but actually one of the quietest songs – is One More Light, the title track. It’s about loss. We had a friend that week that had passed away and, like I said, every day we walked in the studio and said, What do you want to write about today? That was the only thing on my mind that I could write about. I walked into it in almost a defeatist mentality because it was just me and a friend, [producer/songwriter] Eg White, and we felt like we could just be wasting our time, like, who wants to listen to a fucking sad song about death? It’s just going to be a depressing thing, but I can’t write anything else today – this is the only thing I’m thinking about. We wrote about it and I remember when we were trying to work out the chorus, the beginning of it is this sarcastic, Who cares if one more light goes out in a sky of a million stars? And I said out loud, I do. It made Eg tear up, and I knew it was going to work. We demoed out the song and sent it to the guys. Dave [Farrell], our bassist, started crying. Not, like, weeping…”
Chester: “He said, I wasn’t prepared for that. Kind of like, Thanks a lot jerk! He described the song as one that he loves, because it makes him feel certain things, but he hates it because it makes him feel those things. If you haven’t heard the song, and you haven’t read this interview telling you what this song’s about, and you’re going through something that relates to the feeling in the song, it makes you weep. One of my friends passed away, literally out of nowhere. He had a heart issue, high cholesterol, high blood pressure a year earlier and was managing all of that with medications and eating differently. Next thing you know, he’s gone. His son, who’s a good kid, comes out for the funeral and it’s tough, his dad’s gone. One of our best friends is gone. His dad was always like, Don’t ever talk to Chester about music! He was always so protective, all my friends across the board are always like, He’s just Chester! But this kid is like, Yeah, but I love his band – they’re my favourite!
"So, now his dad’s gone, I’m like, Do you want to hear the new record? I’ve got a bunch of stuff on my phone, do you want to hear it? We sat in my car and played everything, like everything - every song on this record, every song that didn’t make the record. He’s just sitting there like, one after another, crying, the next song crying. He was like, Dude, it’s like you’re fucking saying everything that’s going on in my life. When One More Light comes on he’s like, I can’t fucking do this, dude. I can’t do it. It’s great I love it, but I can’t do this.
"That experience there was worth the entire journey of making these songs. If for any other thing, being able to put a voice to how he was feeling in that moment about his dad and his life, summing it all up when he couldn’t say it himself, and him having that reaction. That’s what it’s about. I know there’s a cliché thing where if you reach one person in the world you’ve done something good and it’s worth it, but I know our music is reaching a lot more than just him. It’s reaching people in the band. It’s reaching the people we’ve played the music for. It’s reaching thousands and thousands of people. That’s one of the reasons why I think we were so driven to write the kind of music that we write, because it’s about real shit. It’s about the universal stuff, the human condition. We have feelings and a consciousness. That’s what life’s about.”