“I want to be in the driving seat... I want to be an artist again”: Mike Shinoda on new music, Fort Minor, the power of nostalgia and what’s coming next

On the eve of his new Crimson Chapter EP, we join Mike Shinoda for a stroll down memory lane and examine why the mid-’00s scene still connects with fans today, the impact and success of Fort Minor, and why the Linkin Park man will always strive for something new...

“I want to be in the driving seat... I want to be an artist again”: Mike Shinoda on new music, Fort Minor, the power of nostalgia and what’s coming next
Luke Morton
Mike Miller

Mike Shinoda is reading Kerrang! magazine. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence when you consider how many times he’s graced the cover in the past two decades, but today he’s flicking through the pages and smiling with wide-eyed wonder at our autumn issue’s Sleep Token cover feature. “You guys in the UK, you’ve always got the new, hot band that everyone’s obsessed with,” he grins, explaining how he too worships at the altar of Vessel, describing the mysterious collective’s latest record as “crazy”, “really interesting” and “super cool”.

But we’re not with Mike to fanboy over mysterious masked men. Rather, we’re meeting in the glass labyrinth that is the Warner Records building in a rare couple of hours of downtime for the Linkin Park vocalist, visiting London to record a video for his Already Over Sessions, following from the Sydney edition, with plans to film in many more cities across the world. It’s a simple premise, really – to record a live version of new solo track Already Over with a select number of musicians from that location, giving organic life to a song Mike originally played every instrument on. And while he isn’t willing to share who he’s picked from the UK to join him in the studio this afternoon, don’t expect the British edition to be a supergroup of artists you already know.

“I was inspired by the fact that when I flip through my social media, the algorithm has identified that I love to watch people who play instruments,” he laughs. “There was a moment where Instagram realised that I just love watching drummers, and every third video was a drummer video.” Soon the bombardment of tub-thumping #content began to percolate in Mike’s creative brain, and before you knew it, these Instagram wunderkinds were being asked to collaborate with one of alternative music’s most successful artists.

“It’s different to ask [a musician from Instagram] to come play in a session than it is to asking someone who plays guitar in a band and is a signed artist. I know a lot of people in bands, but to ask, like, a 20-year-old person who’s only ever played guitar into their phone for years to come into a studio and play together is really exciting, different and weird, and I love how uncomfortable and weird it made me feel.

“It’s a huge crap shoot, it’s really risky. The folks I’ve invited don’t know each other, I don’t know them, and the chemistry could be all wrong and it could completely suck – but that’s the fun of doing it.”

It also speaks to Mike’s fondness and commitment to fostering a community, bringing unknown musicians together to add their own flavour to a song wholly written by himself. From his Twitch streams to Discord to even the fact he comments on his own YouTube videos, this notion of togetherness runs deep in the man sat opposite Kerrang! today. Put it to him, though, and he’ll modestly brush it aside as simply “putting connecting tissue” between people, before returning to his thoughts on social media creators.

“A few years ago I noticed how much more exciting it is to watch a video by a person who’s really talented at something, versus a video that’s a trendy dance or a funny meme. They’re still entertaining, but they fall into the category of everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame – or in this case, 15 seconds. Everyone wants to trend, everyone wants to go viral, and many people are going to get to do that – your chances of doing that are better than they’ve ever been – however, after that happens, it’s like, what did you go viral for? Was there any meaning to what you did?

“But when I see someone who’s talented at something and the video gets seen by a lot of people because the person has something to offer, to me that comes chock-full of value. They can actually have a career because they’re good at the drums, as opposed to doing a cute dance or they tripped and fell (laughs).”

That Mike wants to bring his favourite uber-talented bedroom musicians along for the ride is testament to the man himself, who has been at the top of the rock and alternative mountain for over 20 years – not just as one half of the vocal duo that would define nu-metal with Chester Bennington, but in his own guise as Fort Minor, the debut album of which is being reissued this December. With it coming on the not-super-marketable 18th anniversary, you have to wonder ‘why now?’ And the answer, it turns out, is simple. “I really wanted them out on vinyl, and I’d never done a zoetrope so one of them is a zoetrope animated vinyl! That’s something that pops into your head as being cool to do and you just do it.”

And how did it feel revisiting that project again after all this time?

“I remember how naturally it came up,” Mike begins, wearing that same smile since we started talking. “At the time when I did Fort Minor, we were coming off the first two Linkin Park albums, and we were getting pigeonholed a little bit. We felt like we were being forced into a box that said, ‘This is what Linkin Park sounds like, you make this type of music’. None of us felt like that was good, but I, in particular, was really uncomfortable with that.

“I grew up on hip-hop, and Linkin Park wasn’t hip-hop, so I felt like I wasn’t expressing a part of me that’s a core part of my DNA, so I started making a bunch of rap songs to get it out of my system and feel that feeling. And the more I made them, the more it became obvious that I should put it out. That became the Fort Minor album.”

What’s perhaps most interesting about Fort Minor’s The Rising Tied LP, however, is just how successful it was. At a time when Linkin Park were untouchable, having sold millions of their first two albums, their driving creative force decided to take a sideways step and record a hip-hop album… which went platinum. Mike even managed to enlist Jay-Z as executive producer, having met on the era-defining Collision Course EP, and whose voice you can hear in the album’s intro describing it as ‘underground hip-hop’.

“I don’t even know how that happened,” chuckles Mike, noting how it was taken from the recording of a meeting between the pair, and he just wanted to have Jay’s voice on the album.

“I wasn’t making a pop record, a rock record... the stuff that I listened to growing up was underground rap and anti-pop. I have a pop sensibility, I make hooks and things that stick in your brain, sometimes intentionally, and they naturally came out, but they were filtered through the lens of my version of a Wu-Tang or Public Enemy.”

He’s not wrong about writing hook, and is swift to point out that the top Fort Minor tracks have been streamed just as much as the top Linkin Park ones. Indeed, monster single Remember The Name currently has over 670 million plays on Spotify, over 100 million more than One Step Closer, Faint and Crawling.

“It became really popular in sports,” he says of the song’s runaway success, adding that it was the Chicago Bulls’ walkout anthem for a decade.

“That was a little bit strategic on my part. It started with action sports, I wanted it in skateboarding videos, then we realised that basketball worked really well too. And I’m a huge basketball fan, so [I thought] let’s do as much as we can do with the NBA and X Games! Those are cultural things, though. It’s not jingles, it’s stuff that kind of becomes part of the fabric of a thing that you do in life. That’s a different kind of relationship with a song. I never intended for it to be that and it’s magical when that can happen. It’s very hard to strategise that, to make a song a part of culture in that way – it has to happen naturally.”

You might think that with all this chat of a Fort Minor reissue – and the small matter of Linkin Park releasing a 20th anniversary edition of seminal album Meteora earlier this year – Mike is a nostalgic kind of guy. However, while admitting that he’s probably spent more time this year looking back than usual, he doesn’t dwell on the past.

“I have friends who’re in their 40s who only listen to old things. [They’re like], ‘Oh man, this Travis Scott and Lil Yachty, I can’t get into it,’ whereas I went to a Travis Scott show two weeks ago! Not that he’s brand new, but the point is I like new music as well, and I’d be just as happy going to see Lil Yachty as I would be going to see Fall Out Boy or Depeche Mode. There are days when I’m in a more nostalgic mood and days where something just came out and I’m so excited about it.”

Case in point, Mike highlights the latest records by Kevin Abstract and Caroline Polachek as some of the new music he’s into, as well as some unreleased Kid Brunswick material – “if you’re a fan, you’re gonna be pumped.”

There’s a perceived truth, when comparing hip-hop and rock music, that fans of alternative music are more obsessed with looking back, while rap fans care about what’s happening right now. Look at the big business festivals like When We Were Young and Sick New World are doing, and there’s certainly an argument to be made, but Mike is quick to assert that this year’s 50 Years Of Hip-Hop celebration was a much bigger, cultural retrospective commemorated across the world. Although, he does understand the allure of When We Were Young.

“The nostalgia about those things, I wonder sometimes if some of that stuff is based on how fragmented things are on social media. Things are so ripped apart and thin, and you’re getting constant confetti of information. Little tiny pieces of objects that you’re looking at. Before you would have a TV show or radio show that everyone listened to or watched, you’d show up the next day and everyone you knew had watched it or listened to it. Think about the days of Elvis or The Beatles or something, everyone was excited about the same thing, but these days it’s too hard to be excited about the same thing because nobody’s tuned in to the same stuff. But when you can rally around something that’s common, it feels like it’s that much more impactful. One could make an argument that the older things are gonna be the ones where more people paid more attention to just one thing.”

It’s true that the MySpace/emo scene was probably the last time there was a distinct tribe on a mass scale in alternative music – “You were wearing a uniform. You were fully subscribed” – but Mike doesn’t necessarily miss that aspect of music when considering what it leads to artistically.

“I’m not a huge fan of rules about [music]. I’ll listen to a little bit of templatised music. Like the blues is very templatised music, country too, a lot of rap these days is very templatised – you use the same sounds, you talk about the same things, you make them the same way and they all sound similar. The blues, again, if you didn’t use the same chords in a certain way then it wasn’t the blues. Country does the same. It’s more interesting to me to speak about something new like Teezo Touchdown. He’s on his own planet, doing his own shit, and I like that about him – he stands out as somebody that I want to listen to because he’s doing something so strange and singular.

“That said, it’s not going to be for everybody, so the draw around that little bit of culture is going to be so specific. But maybe, what I like about it is that it is specific, that tribe is tight, and when you meet people that are a part of it you feel a stronger connection to them – and that’s always been the case. ‘Oh you like the Misfits, you like S.O.D…’ these groups that most people won’t know, but when you hit that one person who does, you have everything to talk about.”

All of this comes back to community and connection, and there are few fandoms stronger than that of Linkin Park. Since their inception, legions of rock, metal and even hip-hop fans have gravitated to the nu-metal powerhouse, and now some six years since the band were tragically forced to push pause, Mike still maintains his ties to that most amazing aspect of his life even when moving forward.

Upon the release of Already Over last month, he said the track ‘creates a bridge from the past to a blurry but exciting future.’ With some time between giving that quote and now, has he given any thought into what that actually means?

“It’s a big question mark,” he begins, flashing another knowing grin. “I do have ideas of what that means and I’m exploring all kinds of things. As I go and the community and fans come with, it’s this weird balance between trying to make good plans for the future, like wanting to put out a song or it be accompanied by visuals or a game… but it’s also about being very agile and going with the flow, where intuition takes you, and I’m trying to be better at both – being simultaneously a good planner but also flexible.

"When I say blurry, it’s because I have concrete ideas of what I want to do in six months, but I’m also open to something completely blindsiding me and putting me into a new project. I could meet somebody in a session today and want to spend hours with them making cool new shit. I don’t know. I have no idea.”

But what do you want to make happen in your future?

“In a creative sense, it’s like I’m in a dating phase,” laughs Mike. “I have lots of ideas I like and would spend time with, but I’m not ready to fully commit to this being the one thing I’m doing right now. I’m in a flexible phase where I wanna explore a lot of different creative things, and at the same time, I know I’m in a phase where I have a lot of ideas and I want to be in the driving seat of getting there. I say that because in the past few years I didn’t want to be in the driving seat, I wanted to assist, I wanted to help other people get their songs and ideas complete, but right now I want to be an artist again. I want to make my own things and I have a number of things I want to try…”

Mike Shinoda's EP The Crimson Chapter is out December 1 via Warner

Read this next:

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?