How much do you like Linkin Park
May 16, 2017
"We have always polarized"Interview conducted by Markus Brandstetter
The new Linkin Park album should divide fans again. The band opens a new chapter in sound again. Chester Bennington can't wait.
The Californian band has always had a slight tendency towards pop-friendliness and, above all, towards change, but what Linkin Park around the frontman duo Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda are presenting this year with "One More Light" has hardly anything to do with rock still something to do.
Chester Bennington is well aware that the former Nu-Metallers will not make everyone happy, as he happily recounts during a conversation in Berlin. In an interview, Bennington explains in detail why Linkin Park will continue to challenge their fans in the future.
Chester, you worked with external songwriters on your new album. How did that happen?
We always made the first five albums alone and kept everything within the band. If we had collaborations, it was only with remixes and the like. Until we wrote "Rebellion" with Daron from System Of A Down. We enjoyed that very much. The tour cycle for "Hunting Party" came to an end in Europe and after that Mike hung out with two songwriters in London while we flew home. He was just curious about the process of writing songs with people who don't play them live. What do you do, how do you do it? Through this he got to know very talented people.
It's great fun to sit in a room with other people and create something. At Linkin Park we have a very special pattern in how we do things, a way that we feel comfortable. When you bring in a new element, something exciting comes along that you haven't felt before. That's how our collaboration plan with these great songwriters came about. In the past, we sometimes had to bring 300 demos under control. We listened through 40 to 70 demos, everyone was allowed to put lines out until we had 20 songs with four lines, which means that four out of six band members like that song. Whether heavy rock demo, R&B, hip hop or breakbeat: The style of the demo influences the vocal performance and the lyrics.
After we have chosen the demo, we look for a melody, then we write the lyrics. That's how we've done it on every record. This time we sat across from each other in a room and had nothing. Not a single demo. We talked about things that were happening in our lives and waited for inspiration. How are you, what do you wanna talk about? At the end of the day we had text, melody, chord sequences on the piano, acoustic guitars. It was really interesting. We got some great melodies and lyrics right.
Do you like starting from scratch?
Yeah, I like that. I work best when I'm really inspired. When I'm going through something and hear it in my head. And those are always lines of text and melodies first. While we're talking, Mike gets up and plays the piano until someone says, "Oh, that's dope, what was that, play it again!" Then someone hums a melody, someone else comes up with a text idea, and so on. It was a really quick way of working for us. At the end of each day we had a new song.
"We were never a band that hung out and jammed together"
Have you all always been in the same room together?
No, it rarely happens that the whole band is present. The most common combination while writing consists of Mike, Brad, the collaborators, and me. Mike and Brad usually do the heavy lifting in the studio. As soon as we build the tracks, the whole band comes into play: "We have 40 songs. Now we need real drums." We were just never the band that hung out and jammed songs together.
Not like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example.
Even with the Stone Temple Pilots, the whole band was always in the room: Dean, Robert, Eric and me. Dean started to play something, I sang something and then we jammed on the whole thing. This is not the case with Linkin Park. Not even close.
Did you enjoy the way you work at STP?
It was fun, but STP aren't just six people. When Eric wasn't there, it was just me and two of the best songwriters of all time. But I can say that when I'm in the same room with Brad and Mike. Again me with two of the best songwriters of all time.
On your first single "Heavy" you have Kiiara as a guest singer, actually a pretty unusual collaboration.
On "Heavy" we worked with Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. They wrote huge songs and are both immensely talented. Julia also has a great voice. At first she sang the first line and I thought it was fucking cool. While writing it was always going back and forth, one line me, then another line. We thought she should sing the song with us. At that time, however, she did not feel comfortable in this role and wanted to work behind the curtain. So the idea arose that a female vocal part would be good for the song. We invited our friend Zane Lowe to listen to the pieces. Not only do we enjoy his company, he also has a really good ear for music. We told him this is the direction we want to go and asked his opinion.
He loved the music and told us about this girl, Kiiara. We knew her song "Gold" and Zane said she was about to make it big - and that she is a Linkin Park fan. We thought she was cool, she came into the studio and boom! She sang like an angel. It was great to spend time with her and give her a few tips. Julia's and Kiiara's vocals are very different, but they both have something special about them.
Let me put it carefully. We all know that Linkin Park doesn't like to linger too long with a sound ...
(laughs) Yes, we have already established that.
But then many were very, very surprised about your new sound. Regardless of whether you want to call it a departure, a further development or just a new idea that you've been pursuing - do you understand that a lot of fans don't really know how to classify the new material now?
So far nothing with us has been as polarizing as the jump from the last album to "One More Light". "Minutes To Midnight" was an even bigger shock for people I think. Simply because "Hybrid Theory" and "Meteora" had such a similar sound, almost like Volume 1 and 2. With "Minutes To Midnight" we wanted a more organic, rougher sound. We knew it was going to be either great or a fucking disaster. But we always have to make the music we feel like doing. We can't say, "Okay, people liked that, so let's do it all over again." In other words, I like cheesecake. But I don't like to eat cheesecake every time I eat food. I like it, but I want to try something different. And that's how we work.
"The Hunting Party" was the toughest record we ever made, right? Rock in your fucking face. In terms of vocals we proceeded in a similar way to "Minutes To Midnight", not a lot of vocals, just intense. And then we come up with something like "Heavy" and people think, "Whoa, crazy, you were here a minute ago and now you're not even in the same solar system, but in a different galaxy." For us it's just important to make sure that the songs are great, that there is a high level of quality in terms of musicality, production and lyrics. And once the dust settles from that unexpected blow, you can then appreciate it for what it is and not for what you just imagined.
Have you ever taken a glass and thought there was Coke in it? And then you took a sip and figured it was someone else's iced tea? Your brain expects something different and you spit it out because your taste buds are expecting Cola. Well, I like cola and iced tea. But when I expect a cola and get iced tea, I don't like it. But if I am aware of it and rethink, then I like both. And that's how some fans feel with our music. I like being in a band that feels like I'm in a new band over and over again. And that makes sense too. We used to be called Hybrid Theory for a reason. We didn't want to go to Metal Island and spend the rest of our lives there.
I respect our fans and I am grateful that they have always come with us. With every new album, fans gain and we lose fans. When "Hybrid Theory" came out, the record wasn't as highly praised as it is today. We toured with bands who said about us that they fucking hate us. I won't say who it was now, but we were too much pop for the metal world, too much metal for pop, we were too alternative for the rock world and too very hip hop for alternative. We just wanted to be true to ourselves and not be what we were expected to be.
"And then suddenly we were playing at the Grammys with Paul McCartney"
"Hybrid Theory" had a big influence on the music scene of that time, it finally brought the pop appeal to New Metal.
I don't know if I would say that. If someone didn't like the record back then, then he just didn't like it, there is no right or wrong. If she loved someone, so did it. I think on every album we have songs that people can relate to. Some say "I didn't like Linkin Park before, now I did" and vice versa. We have always polarized. I think that's good, because no matter how someone feels about us, they talk about us. Our music evokes an emotional response.
I also notice that people change their minds over time. If you go into it with expectations about something and get something else, you are irritated. I feel the same way with films. If I expect something specific from a film and get something different, I tend to leave the cinema indecisively. Seven years later, however, I watch the same film again and suddenly I like it. Because now I know what it is. I can understand the story and the humor better. I think this is the challenge we give our fans. I understand when someone likes the song "War" and wants us to always do this song. And then we put out Heavy and that person is more likely to groan.
Your collaboration album "Collision Course" with Jay Z also made a lasting impression. What do you remember most about this collaboration?
An entire album with Linkin Park and Jay Z, a special at the Roxy with fans of Linkin Park and Jay Z, an appearance at the Grammys with Paul McCartney: You couldn't have invented that. MTV thought it was cool what Danger Mouse did to Jay Z's Black album and the Beatles' White album. That should have been a one-hour special, also with Green Day and No Doubt. When Jay Z called we said Fuck Yeah. Mike hit the studio right away and said, "Let's take all of our singles, Jay's biggest songs and ours, let's compare the beats by the minute to see which songs go together." The interesting thing: The songs that had the same tempo were also in the same keys and used similar chord progressions. It was like they were meant for each other. Jay Z loved the idea with the special and we told MTV about it too. Mike was blown away. He wanted to make it so good that nobody can repeat it again. Not even us. He wanted to do the best thing ever. This is usually not his way, otherwise he is more of a humble guy.
We wanted the live thing to have fans who knew both Jays and our pieces. So we did blind tests in both fan camps. "Who is your favorite artist besides Jay Z?" - whoever said Linkin Park came on the list - and vice versa. So we found 400 people who independently named both us and him as their favorite artist. That should take place in a legendary club, the Roxy - extremely small. Then we decided on "Numb / Encore" as the first single, it really worked. The next singles also worked great. Nobody would have expected that. It was a completely new experience in all respects. And it was also a lot of work to get our label and Jay's label to handle the paperwork and financial matters. Who gets what? We just wanted to share everything, who cares? The fans deserve to have that shit. We released it and sold ten million albums or so, which is an insane number. It was a huge success, we were even nominated for a Grammy. How the hell did that happen? And because the inspiration for it was the Danger Mouse thing, we called Paul McCartney once. Totally crazy, but McCartney said yes. And then suddenly we're playing at the Grammys with Paul McCartney. If I had only done that as a musician: I would be happy. It's crazy.
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