Hong Kong-bound Mike Shinoda on Post Traumatic, his first album since Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington’s suicide
Post Traumatic chronicles the bruising aftermath of Bennington’s death in July 2017 and reveals a different side to the typically methodical, analytical Shinoda – though not necessarily by choice
Mike Shinoda’s wife used to joke that his tear ducts were broken. Not any more.
As the sonic mastermind behind American rock band Linkin Park, this southern California native spent years painstakingly creating carefully detailed tracks – dense with serrated guitars and throbbing hip-hop beats – that showcased the signature wail of the group’s talented-but-troubled frontman, Chester Bennington.
Shinoda, 41, did more than program and produce; he rapped too, and with plenty of aggression to match the band’s forceful attack. Even at his most intense, though, Shinoda as a vocalist always put across something of an intellectual quality – outraged, but not agonised.
“By nature I’m very analytical,” he says before hitting the road for a tour that will bring him to Hong Kong for a show at Kitec in Kowloon Bay on August 7. “So even if I’m going to talk about something that’s really emotional, I’ll communicate it in a way that’s organised.
“Maybe it’s because I’m half Japanese and was raised with that Japanese approach to things,” he adds, laughing quietly. “I’m sure there’s a Japanese word for it that I’m forgetting.”
On his new solo album, “Post Traumatic”, Shinoda reveals a different side of himself – although, as that title suggests, not necessarily by choice. The album chronicles the bruising aftermath of Bennington’s death in July 2017. The singer, 41, was found having hanged himself in his home in California just a week before Linkin Park was set to begin a North American tour.
Shinoda’s songs address the tragedy head on.
*“Eleven months ago I was a mess,” he said says of the days after Bennington died. “I mean, I wasn’t leaving my house.”
Sitting on a sofa at his record label’s offices in Burbank, Shinoda is characteristically methodical in his recollection of a moment that “just felt like chaos”, as he put it.
“I couldn’t hold on to the idea of what I wanted, even with simple things, for long enough to do anything about it,” he says.
Stuck at home, where he and wife Anna live with their two young children, Shinoda started painting and eventually “got up the courage to play some music – just to try and calm down and put a foundation under my feet that I could trust”.
As he began writing songs, Shinoda’s goal was simply to document “this truth that exists in the world that you’re feeling today and that you might not feel tomorrow”.
For the first time, he wasn’t worried about the kind of beats or textures that defined Linkin Park’s music, or even the shapely melodies. He allowed himself to follow his unpredictable emotions wherever they took him.
“There were definitely times when I’d listen back and be, like, ‘I sound crazy.’ But maybe that’s because I was a little crazy.
“Last year for me was like the nuclear bomb of loss of control. I have a body of work, a legacy that I have a feeling of pride about, and then I felt like it was ruined.
“I had to look at that and say, ‘Well, I can’t do anything about what happened.’ All I could do is say, ‘What’s next?’”
In its finished form, “Post Traumatic” has some of the polish Shinoda famously brought to Linkin Park (and to a 2005 album he released under the name Fort Minor). The bleary About You, for instance, shows how closely Shinoda has been paying attention to recent trends in hip-hop production.
“I’ve always listened to dark music – Depeche Mode, Public Enemy, Nine Inch Nails – but hadn’t really experienced the things that were going on in the songs,” he says.
Even in Linkin Park, he was writing from a different perspective than his late bandmate was.
“I wasn’t a teenage drug addict,” says Shinoda, who grew up in Agoura Hills, a city in Los Angeles County, and studied illustration at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.* “I wasn’t running around in the streets trying to scrape together money to buy whatever the hell it was [Bennington] was buying at the time. But now I’m in this horrible situation. I’m a member of this club that I never asked to be a part of.”
In a sense, the “club” also includes Linkin Park’s devoted fans, many of whom are no doubt looking to Shinoda’s album in the hopes that it might articulate their own grief over Bennington’s death.
Shinoda said he’s aware of that responsibility. Having talked with thousands of fans over the years about their struggles with depression or addiction, he knows how seriously they take the band’s music.
His experience with Bennington, though, has changed his understanding of the role he plays.
“Look, anyone would do anything we could to help somebody,” he says. “But really it’s up to you. You have to be the one to decide to do something about it, because nobody else can be with you 24-7. And that’s one of the tougher things about this whole thing.
“There’s no human that could’ve been there like that for Chester. At the end of the day, it was his decision or not. And the same goes for the fans.
“I don’t look at this as an inspirational record,” he goes on. “I’m not going to go out and save a bunch of people. My intention is just to go out there and tell my story.”
When asked about Linkin Park’s future – if indeed the band has a future – Shinoda sighs. “Whenever I say anything with regards to our plans, it turns into a clickbait headline,” he says. “But my gut is that I want it to work out. I’ll be looking for ways for it to work out.”
Mike Shinoda, Aug 7, 8pm, Star Hall, Kitec, 1 Trademart Drive, Kowloon Bay, HK$488-HK$748, HK Ticketing