High-energy heavy hitters finally discover the perfect mix of rock and rap
Linkin Park is on a roll. After releasing albums sporadically for most of their first decade, the Los Angeles rap-rockers have picked up the pace with two more since 2010, including
Living Things, their latest. “We want to put out more music, more often,” says singer Chester Bennington. “The first six years of our career we released two records that took us two years to make, and were on the road for about four years. That’s a lot of time for two records.”
Determined to pare that down, Bennington, rapper Mike Shinoda and guitarist Brad Delson wrote songs while touring with bandmates Rob Bourdon (drums), Dave “Phoenix” Farrell (bass) and Joe Hahn (turntables/keys) behind 2010’s A Thousand Suns. They headed straight from the road to the studio, working again with producer Rick Rubin, who was behind the board on their 2007 album Minutes to Midnight. The band emerged just a few months later with Living Things, a collection that showcases the experimentalism of their more recent work with the brooding heft of early albums. The result is the most complete record the band has made.
“This is a great representation of all the sounds of Linkin Park on one album,” Bennington says. “Now we know how to be heavy without sounding like we’re a heavy metal band all the time. We found a way to include electronic elements without getting too dancey or poppy—and we found ways to write good rock songs that feel like the more edgy and electronic-driven stuff.”
What explains the broader sound?
We’ve figured out how to write any kind of song we want and make it sound like Linkin Park. We know what we don’t like, know what we do like—and now know how to make it work together. What we’ve done on this album is capture the energy and the excitement of the first two records. There’s a lot of give and take between Mike and me, there’s a lot more hip-hop on this record than we’ve had the last couple. But we’ve also kept the creative flair. We’ve used all the tools in the toolbox.
Why reach for those tools now?
With Minutes to Midnight, we wanted to get rid of anything that sounded nu-metal, and we wanted to challenge ourselves creatively. We had gotten really good at writing songs in a very specific way—and we had to stop it. That was a learning process. We kept that creative ball rolling into A Thousand Suns and got experimental without worrying about song structure or length. We focused on challenging ourselves—pulling electronic elements forward and pushing the heavy guitars back, and finding ways of being heavy without being metal. Now that we know how to do that, we felt comfortable pulling all that together on this record.
How did the songwriting process change on this record?
Something that was different for this record was that we reverted to the way we wrote on the first two records—which meant Mike, Brad and I worked the bulk of it. Everybody comes in, talks about the direction of the album, songs they like and songs that are working—and then the three of us go back into the studio and make things happen. That made the process very efficient and kept us on a clear creative path so we were able to turn this record around fast and keep the quality we expect from ourselves.
What was your vision for the album?
A lot of people may misunderstand how the creative process works for us. It’s not like we say, “I want to write a song that has strings, hard-driving beats and is about a relationship where someone is learning to let go of control. Now let’s go make that happen.” It doesn’t work that way. We don’t premeditate what a song or an album should sound like. It’s a very organic experience. We pull things from the ether and run with an idea that pops into our minds. The only thing we really talked about was making sure every song had tons of energy.
Why was that so important?
With A Thousand Suns and Minutes to Midnight, there are a lot of great midtempo songs—but when you have a half-hour of midtempo songs, they bring down the energy of the live performance. When people come to see us play, they want high energy. We wanted to make sure this entire record was really exciting to listen to. I think this will remind people of a lot of high-energy records like Hybrid Theory and Meteora.
How did A Thousand Suns and Minutes to Midnight turn out so conceptual?
A Thousand Suns was actually an accident. We were talking about making a concept record but the idea of actually writing a record about one specific theme killed the creative process. And for whatever reason we wound up becoming inspired to write songs that had social and political themes. We played with all different kinds of arrangements for the songs, and when we put them in a particular order we felt like it was telling a story. Suddenly we realized we had written a concept record. Minutes to Midnight was kind of the same thing.
So what’s this album about?
The last two records, especially A Thousand Suns, weren’t so much about personal relationships as our relationships with society and the human side of a dangerous world. Now we’re more focused on personal relationships, intimate relationships between people.
How has your approach to those relationships changed?
With age comes wisdom and a different perspective. When I was young things seemed to happen to me. You know, “How could you do this to me?” kind of thing. It was a very selfish perspective, but you don’t know any better. When you’re young everything is about you. As you get older, you realize that’s not so important. You realize all the things you thought were going to make you happy aren’t really the things that make you happy. Your perspective changes, and that changed the way Mike and I wrote these songs. Take a song like “Castle of Glass,” if we had written that 10 years ago, instead of saying things like, “I’m only a crack in this castle of glass. There’s nothing there for you to see,” it probably would have been like, “I’m the castle of glass and you broke me.” [laughs] “I was clean and perfect, and you chipped me. You made me broken.” Now it’s like, “You know what? I am flawed and I am broken, but I recognize that I’m part of something that’s bigger than me and I’m not sure how I feel about that.” That’s a much different perspective.
How have fans reacted to that change?
We’ll find out. Our fans have grown with us as well, but we’re also writing things that a 15-year-old kid can relate to. That’s what’s great about having two vocalists and two lyricists in the band: We attack each song from two completely different perspectives. Also, we don’t sit and write the songs and say, “Here they are guys, take it or leave it.” We encourage everybody in the band to weigh in on the lyrics as well. So now we have six or seven perspectives attacking one song, and we’re all hearing the song in a different way—and that helps us write songs that appeal to a wide variety of people.
–Eric R. Danton