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Linkin Park — A Day in the Life

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It’s been a long few days for Linkin Park vocalists Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda. The band flew from Los Angeles to New York to do a frantic round of print, radio, Internet and TV promotion, play an intimate club show for Best Buy and attend the meet and greet after show party. Now they’re getting ready to fly back home, where Shinoda will attend a friend’s birthday party and Bennington will spend some time with his wife and kids before Linkin Park start rehearsing for their upcoming tour, which begins on Oct. 20 in Berlin, Germany.

Having just wrapped up a series of interviews at Sirius XM satellite radio, Bennington and Shinoda are seated in the backs of two black sedans for a 20-minute trip back to their hotel. For the ride, Noisecreep had the privilege of sitting behind Shinoda, digital recorder in hand, and firing off a final salvo of questions about the Linkin Park’s new album, ‘A Thousand Suns.’

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Often these rides are uneventful and dull, but Shinoda was determined to make sure our readers understand every angle of ‘A Thousand Suns,’ so he diligently answers every question we throw his way. There’s only one problem. A full day of press left him kind of hyper, and when you throw in the turbobrew coffee he had at the radio station, he’s vibrating out of his skin.

“I haven’t had a Starbucks in a few months, so I’m kind of scrambled,” he apologized, gripping the handle of the car door and strapping in for the ride. Even though we already conducted our preliminary interview with Shinoda, he was glad we had more specific questions about ‘A Thousand Suns’ as opposed to fluffy, personality-based queries.

“Sometimes you get people who are really into surfacey stuff that doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “The interviewee could be interchangeable. You could pose the same questions to anybody and they’d be exactly as interesting. So I prefer to talk about music and what we actually do and what I’m passionate about as opposed to fashion.”

Linkin Park began writing ‘A Thousand Suns’ two years ago when they were on the road for ‘Minutes to Midnight.’ They continued working on the album as soon as they were done touring. They recorded demos in Berlin, Germany, Prague, Czech Republic and New York and then analyzed the songs with producer Rick Rubin. Some of the songs underwent major revisions between the initial demos and the final recordings, others remained nearly intact.

“‘The Catalyst’ didn’t change a lot,” Shinoda said. “The first demo was a little heavier as far as guitars, and we didn’t like it. We liked the song, but as soon as we took those out and added that echoey organ keyboard sound, then it was like, ‘What’s this?’ There’s always at least one moment for each of the songs where it goes from, ‘OK, that’s cool’ to that moment where everyone’s really sucked into it.”

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Linkin Park — A Day in the Life
Noisecreep follows Linkin Park around on a busy day in New York City.

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Diana Levine for AOL

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Knowing that at least a few of the members of Linkin Park started out as metal fans, we couldn’t help but wonder whether they’re big Iron Maiden heads. After all, their last album ‘Minutes to Midnight’ is almost the same as the Maiden hit ‘Two Minutes to Midnight,’ and the title ‘A Thousand Suns’ is similar to Maiden’s ‘Brighter Than a Thousand Suns.’ Shinoda laughed, then deflected the question.

“The connection that I think is really funny is the connection between the idea of the human race blowing itself up,” he said. “We didn’t intend for ‘Minutes to Midnight’ and ‘A Thousand Suns’ to reference that same thing, with ‘Minutes to Midnight’ being the moments before and ‘A Thousand Suns’ being the moments after. I think that’s the one that snuck up on us and once we realized it, we figured that, ‘OK, subconsciously it’s always been there.’ And it’s not just us, it’s a lot of people. The idea of the human race’s ability to blow itself up is a fear on some level for everybody, and rightfully so. We have the capability to completely destroy ourselves and everything on the planet. And you know that stuff is out there and somewhat out of your control. So it’s serious stuff.”

The fact that Linkin Park’s last two records were named after big, global threats reveals a fundamental truth. No longer is the band addressing the internal anguish of dysfunctional relationships and loneliness so prominently. Now, they’re dealing with more universal themes.

“I guess it’s true for us that the lyrical content of our first record was more focused on what’s going on internally,” Shinoda said. “As we’ve gotten older, the outside stuff has worked itself into the lyrics. On the last record there was the most obvious references to that, on songs like ‘Hands Held High’ or ‘No More Sorrow,’ which were really about things we were watching on the news and feeling powerless to do anything about. just I hope people don’t listen to the songs and think we’re trying to preach to them. I really don’t like that idea of bands telling you how to live your life. More than anything, when we’re writing songs we’re not trying to imitate anything else. We’re not trying to preach, we’re really just trying to express what’s going on in our heads and express ourselves creatively. It kind of begins and ends there.”

Linkin Park have also entered the realm of politics. The band’s charity Music for Relief seeks to provide aid to victims of natural disasters and bring awareness to global warming. And before releasing ‘A Thousand Suns,’ the band contributed the non-album track ‘Not Alone’ to the Haitian earthquake relief album ‘Download to Donate to Haiti.”

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“We had actually done a demo of that song for ‘Minutes to Midnight’ and just decided it wasn’t as moving as ‘Leave Out All the Rest,’” explained Shinoda. “‘Leave Out All the Rest’ had better lyrics at the time, but it was too similar. And we didn’t want two songs like that on the record. And then when the opportunity came up to readdress it and include it on an album to benefit Haiti, we readdressed the lyrics with Haiti in mind and it really created a more impassioned lyrical approach. We were so moved by the things we were seeing on TV and we tried to write about that. We had something in mind. We were seeing that and we had something we wanted to say to those people so we ended up putting that in the song. And the lyrics to that ended up being 10 times better than the song.”

As Shinoda’s sedan pulled up to the hotel, we fired off one more question, hoping it would provide some answer to what guitarist Brad Delson was doing in the band now that he’s not really playing much guitar. As creative and musically compelling as ‘A Thousand Suns’ is, it’s not at all an album for headbanging. Even the heaviest songs lack distorted guitar.

“Just because Brad plays guitar, that doesn’t mean that’s his role in the studio,” Shinoda said. “Brad actually had less time off than almost any of us. When you hear guitar on this record, as Brad would say, ‘It usually comes from Mike.’ He is really valuable in the studio in a lot of different ways that are not guitar related. And the main one in my mind is his ability to structure a song and make sure the minutiae are really contributing to the whole.

“So he’ll go in and analyze the little percussive sounds, high hats and beeps or whatever the instrument may be, and make sure each section is transitioning into the next nicely and that those sections add up to something that’s keeping your attention. We can all do that, but Brad does it really well. He’s probably more interested in it and to some degree better at it than anyone else in the band.”

And with that, Shinoda thanked us for our time, shook hands and headed for the hotel. The hazy New York sun was just about to set, and ‘A Thousand Suns’ were getting ready to ignite.

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