WHEN MIKE SHINODA entered the studio with fellow Linkin Park vocalist and songwriter Chester Bennington to record their latest album, they had a common aim: to return to the stadium-shaking sound that spawned their rise to glory.
"We were talking about getting more upbeat songs for our live show," Shinoda says by phone from the group's native California, in advance of this month's Hong Kong concert. "We decided to make an album that has tons of energy in short bursts. The songs have benefited the live shows, because they were really made just for that."
That fifth album, Living Things, wasn't merely a return to basics in an effort to recapture the simple beauty of earlier hits such as Numb. They held on to some of the experimental work that shaped their last two releases, including the electronic vibe of A Thousand Suns. But on Living Things, they sound like a heavy rock band again. And this time they're no longer shackled with the nu-metal movement tag that initially pigeonholed them.
Fans flocking to the AsiaWorld-Arena to catch Linkin Park in the midst of the band's latest tour around Asia will see their most diverse show yet. At the core are melodic songs that thrive on the vocal interplay between Bennington's yelling and Shinoda's rapping.
"There will be a nice balance of old and new songs," Shinoda says. "There'll be a lot from the new record mixed with some of the old ones, too. It will give a sense of every stage of the band, all of the different moods."
Shinoda formed Linkin Park in 1996 in the Los Angeles suburb of Agoura Hills, with high school friends Brad Delson, a guitarist and co-songwriter, and drummer Rob Bourdon. Joe Hahn, a turntablist who adds DJ effects to the mix, and bass guitarist Dave Farrell soon joined. Bennington, from Arizona, arrived in 1999.
Their debut album, 2000's Hybrid Theory, catapulted them to fame. The six-piece have since sold more than 50 million records and topped the charts worldwide with hits such as Faint, picking up Grammy awards along the way. The band is known for recording dozens of tracks for every album, then voting on which ones should be released.
The audience reaction to the latest material is likely to be illustrated by a bobbing mass of humanity in the mosh-pit, judging by the online reaction to the last album. Fans downloaded tracks from the album at a frenetic pace, which cemented Linkin Park's status as the world's biggest band online. The band have a record-setting 52 million Facebook followers, and have received more than one billion YouTube hits.
Linkin Park have embraced social media, using it to reach out to younger fans to complement the diehards who have followed their musical evolution over the past 17 years. "Nowadays, there are all kinds of ways to interact with the fans," Shinoda says. "When we first got on to social media, we really were trying things to see what fits, what works. We do things in a way that we're comfortable with.
"There are all different kinds of relationships. Some are feverish at the concert but they won't live and breathe what we do every day - 'What are they wearing?' 'What are they eating?' They tend to focus on the music and the shows." But there are those who do inhale and exhale Linkin Park, the kind of fanatical followers for whom the band has developed Linkin Park TV on YouTube.
While Shinoda says the band remains a group of musicians, "it doesn't hurt that we can connect with them all directly through Facebook as well".
Shinoda is pleased that their way of getting the message to fans has enabled them to highlight causes that are close to their hearts. The band launched a charitable organisation, Music for Relief, with concerts in 2005, and has raised almost US$4 million to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Haitian earthquake and Hurricane Sandy, which ripped through the east coast of the US last year.
They provide support focused on sustainable regeneration rather just cleaning up the mess, Shinoda says. An example of their star power can be seen from a conversation they once had with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He asked them to help come up with ideas for a video the organisation had created for use in a global sustainable energy use campaign.
Up to that point, the campaigns hadn't been getting much traction with the internet audience. "We redesigned it, and put it out on our social media, and it went from having 1,000 hits to one million," says Shinoda. "When you're speaking to young people in a certain way, then there is trust and familiarity, and that helps."
The band was invited to the UN headquarters in late 2011, where Ban said, "I don't know much about rock music. I stopped listening after Elvis. But this much I do know: bands such as Linkin Park reach tens of millions of people."
Shinoda says the band has started working on its sixth album, but he's not revealing the exact form it will take. "It's impossible to explain to other people what you're doing. With the first album, people asked why we weren't getting a real job, and why we were taking so much time away from our studies. It was difficult, so we've learned not to talk about what we're doing when we're making a record. It can change at any moment."
Linkin Park, August 15, 8pm, AsiaWorld-Arena, Hong Kong International Airport, Lantau, HK$288-HK$888, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 3128 8288