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Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda on His Solo Career and Being a ‘Debut Artist’ Again

"My brain was at a place where I needed to be able to feel self-sufficient and have control over what was going on."

Mike Shinoda wais all smiles as he stood before a few thousand adoring fans after his performance at KROQ’s Weenie Roast in Los Angeles on Saturday, where he performed songs from his forthcoming solo debut, “Post Traumatic,” as well as material from Linkin Park and his Fort Minor side project.

“I just finished mixing and mastering the [new] record yesterday and I’m doing a double header debut show today. I feel good — it’s crazy,” Shinoda said during during an interview backstage before his 30-minute set. He was actually playing a second show that night — a headlining slot at L.A.’s Identity Fest.

The last time Shinoda had been onstage was October 27 of last year at the Hollywood Bowl, for Linkin Park’s tribute to its late lead singer, Chester Bennington, who committed suicide in July. More than six months later, Shinoda is returning to the stage in what is in many ways a new start, as he explains below.

Always the workaholic — you couldn’t just do one show on your first day back?
It wasn’t my call! It just happened that the show I had already booked was the same day as Weenie Roast. The last show I did before this one [the Bennington tribute] was three hours long, so I can do a 30-minute set and then a 50-minute set.

It was longer than three hours.
Yeah, it felt like a hundred hours.

Everybody says the tribute was beautiful but brutal. How does it feel to be getting back onstage under lighter circumstances?
I think right now with the shows that I’m planning and the way that I’m approaching it, it does feel like a debut artist kind of a vibe. It’s this weird in-between [state] — I’ve got some good songs that people already know I can play, so that feels great. And the disadvantage is I’ve never gone out and done a tour under my own name. I’ve never put an album out under my own name. There is absolutely some building up from scratch — I think more so than a lot of fans or people would think.

This the first Shinoda album, but obviously Fort Minor was your project. Are you preparing Fort Minor songs on the tour?
Absolutely. At this point I’m doing a third of new stuff, a third Fort Minor and a third Linkin Park.

Is it exciting to feel like a new artist again?
I think the easy road would have been to jump into the studio with my bandmates and make a new record, because I know we’d make something cool. But this [solo project] happened so organically and it felt like the right thing to do for me. My brain was at a place where I needed to be able to feel self-sufficient and have control over what was going on, because everything this past year felt so out of control. So to be able to be at the core of every decision for my music and touring feels really good, and I’m really happy with how the album has turned out and how the set has turned out. I can’t wait for people to see and hear everything.

It must be very different from planning a Linkin Park setlist.
With Linkin Park we had so many singles that they were usually the bulk of the set: You only had so many slots that you could fill in with album tracks and other stuff — it was a more populist approach. This is more of an artistic approach, but I want to do a little balance between those [two approaches] and make a statement about who I am and what I want to be doing.

Because Linkin Park was such a big entity do you feel like, in a sense, you are introducing people to Mike Shinoda as an artist?
The album kicks off in a really dark place and it evolves out of that: That’s what happened in real life. I don’t want to call it a concept record, but it does definitely have an autobiographical story arc to it. The new material I am playing during the set, I did have to battle, in my head — do I want to include stuff that’s pretty heavy and dark? Even though I think they are good songs, I also don’t want people to come to a show and feel like they’re being dragged down by something so depressing. I actually think that having rehearsed the set a bunch of times and having done the songs a little bit, I think the fans are here for that catharsis. At least people coming to see me, it’s never been just the artist-fan relationship, it’s deeper than that, and there was a community that our relationship has created over time. So when they come it’s not just about, “Oh, I want to hear some nice jingles that I could sing along with.” I think there is something deeper to it, and I’m thrilled to give that to them and experience it myself and see where it leads. I look at it like a journey: Today is the first step in it and I’ll be changing the setlist from here and playing with the production and presentation.

What are the things you learned from writing this record that surprised you?
When I listen back to this record I am surprised how much I’m singing; I didn’t intend to make an album where I sang so much. Another thing is that stylistically, it’s almost as broad you could imagine. It’s really hard to put it in a box. I remember when I delivered the first few songs to the label they were like, “What genre do you want?” There was an argument for a lot of different things. With playlists these days it’s more about mood than it is about musical genre, and that actually works better for me than the genre tag. When I came up and we put out our first few albums, everything was still very genre-based. We played a role in disassembling that whole thing, and now that’s that a very common idea. I love doing shows with whoever — I’ll play a metal show, a hip-hop show, an electronic festival.

If you were to put on a Mike Shinoda festival, who else would be on the bill?
Let me shout out the guests on the record, ’cause they’re all amazing, and I was really picky about who I asked to be part of it. [Singer-songwriter] K-Flay I’ve known since we were making “One More Light,” [rapper] MGK probably before that, and Chino [Moreno, Deftones singer] from forever and ever ago — I think the Deftones took us to Europe for the first time in the early 2000s. [Rapper] Blackbear is on there, and [singer] Grandson, it was funny how I met him. I just followed him on Instagram and he DM’ed me. It turns out we live not too far apart, so we went to lunch. So [it ranges from] a brand new artist to an iconic artist that we’ve been playing with forever. I feel like that’s very representative of what I’m up to these days and what I’m about.

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