Mike Shinoda On Reclaiming Rock Music: ‘I Missed The Artistic Reward Of Going Into A Project For My Voice’

6 October 2023 | 3:00 pm | Mary Varvaris

Mike Shinoda explains how earlier Linkin Park songs inspired his new punk/alternative path as a solo artist.

Mike Shinoda

Mike Shinoda (Source: Supplied)

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Mike Shinoda doesn’t consider himself a singer. Or, at least, until recently, he didn’t.

As an artist, Shinoda made a name for himself as the MC, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and sometimes harmonising vocalist alongside his bandmate, Chester Bennington, in Linkin Park. Of course, real ones also know Shinoda from his side outfit, the hip-hop-inspired Fort Minor.

From 1996 until 2017, Linkin Park were one of the biggest rock acts in the world. Their early albums – 2000’s Hybrid Theory and 2003’s Meteora – fused heavy metal and rap so spectacularly that the title nu-metal could be taken seriously. As their career progressed, Linkin Park followed a more alternative route, embracing hard rock, electronic, and further experimental sounds from 2007’s Minutes To Midnight all the way to 2017’s poppier yet darker One More Light. All along, Shinoda’s songwriting and rapping talents helped define the band’s career.

In 2018, Mike Shinoda released his debut solo album, Post Traumatic, a collection of 18 songs created for the chameleonic talent to find a creative outlet to mourn his bandmate, Chester Bennington, who tragically died by suicide in 2017.

In 2020, Shinoda put out an ambitious triple album, the Dropped Frames series, which was made with the assistance of fans who tuned into his Twitch channel, which he was using prominently during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between the solo albums, Shinoda collaborated with American alternative artist Kailee Morgue on the track In My Head, which featured in the Scream VI soundtrack, and produced and co-wrote Still Alive with Demi Lovato. In 2022, he won the Grammy Award for his production work – the Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical for his remix of DeftonesPassenger.

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Today, Mike Shinoda releases his new single, Already Over, and it’s a banger. It’s exactly the kind of song any Linkin Park fan would expect from him if he said, “I’m making a rock tune” after releasing Minutes To Midnight.

In the weeks leading up to the single’s release, Shinoda shared teaser clips on social media and, on Monday (2 October), tweeted, “I’m very excited for you to see all this stuff the team and I are making. ALREADY OVER comes out this Friday.”

Catching up with Shinoda live from the Warner Music Australia office while he was in the country for BIGSOUND – he’s a new fan of Sophisticated Dingo and Friends Of Friends after seeing their showcases – and while he was there, he revealed to an enthusiastic audience that Chester Bennington told label representatives to “fuck themselves” for suggesting Linkin Park ditch the rap.

The multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist reveals that Already Over “kind of came to me” when he least expected it.

“For the last few years, I've been writing and producing for other people,” Shinoda explains. “I had songs with Demi Lovato, Grandson, Justus Bennetts, and PVRIS. [There were] A number of other things. I mean, looking back even further than that, I did a thing for Deftones that, shockingly, I got a Grammy for it. And I didn't even think that was in the running; I didn't know that was a thing. But it was an absolute shock. I was laughing when I heard about it [laughs].”

Shinoda continues, “There was a point where I realised, ‘Okay, I've done things, I've been avoiding getting on the microphone, and really just focusing all this attention on other people's things.’”

After that revelation, it didn’t take long for the Forgotten rapper to realise he missed something about getting behind the microphone and expressing himself so purely.

“I realised that I missed the artistic reward of going into a project for your own voice – for my voice – and kind of going deep on that,” he admits. “And, you know, the other thing was that I've never really considered myself a singer so much. I mean, I do sing, but it's functional. It's something that I would do to write a song, like sing harmonies or whatever. And I've occasionally sung on Linkin Park stuff.

“The process of writing new songs and singing songs on them was like, I realised that I can actually… With each release, I'm trying to learn something new or experiment with something I haven't done. I was like, ‘Oh, I actually have room to grow as a singer. Like, I can get better at this.’ And so it [singing] hasn't been academic in any way – it's just been writing more songs for me to sing.”

When you listen to Already Over, you’ll hear the sound of an artist who’s confident in playing rock music again, perhaps reprising some of the guitar tones and angst from 16 years ago without feeling cliché or hamfisted. Simply put, Already Over is a great modern rock song from a generational talent.

“I remember with this track – I wrote it on a Fender Stratocaster, just sitting down, with it [the guitar] not even plugged in,” Shinoda explains. The unplugged guitar melodies went straight into his phone. “As I was building it, like, adding layers to it – not super techie or hip-hop [inspired], none of those more complicated things felt like they wanted to go into the song.”

From the earliest stages, Shinoda knew that Already Over “just felt like it wanted to be this kind of punk/alternative thing. And so, I just went with it. I mean, it's been a minute since I did something like that. The first thing it reminded me of was how I felt writing some of the things for Minutes To Midnight. Like, I don't even know, 15 years ago.”

As for what Already Over means to Shinoda, lyrically, and what it could represent, the musician says it’s a “mystery”. “To me, it's almost like there's a little bit of what we call automatic writing,” he explains. “The words, the shapes of the words, just felt like shapes. And so, the lyrics just fell into place based on what felt good to sing in there.

“This song is more abstract than that; maybe that's because I've enlisted – I think I was listening; I've always listened to a lot of different genres and a lot of different stuff from different time periods. But there's been quite a bit of, like, late 90s music in my playlists, stuff I grew up on. There's probably some of that which has seeped into the creative.”

That creative energy has seen Shinoda “absolutely” enjoy returning to the guitar and singing. “The one thing I noticed when I was teaching the song to somebody the other day was that the chords of the song are very structured from part to part. But the actual notes, the actual thing you're playing, because I wrote it on guitar, is changing all the time.

“In teaching it to somebody, I was like, ‘We need to write this down!’” Shinoda laughs, noting that Already Over sounds deceivingly simple. But simple is good. He explains, “I've written stuff that's very simple. You're not going to get a master's degree in music by learning the song; I think that this is actually one thing that's really nice about having my primary instrument be the piano.

“I did 11 or so years of classical theory and training, and I realised at the end of that, I've only got so much speed; I'm not a very dexterous player,” he admits. “I actually taught myself guitar, and then over the years, I learned things from other people, but I'm not a super complex or sophisticated guitar player, and so that's not what my songs are ever about.”

He continues, “Even if you go all the way back to One Step Closer [from 2000’s Hybrid Theory], which I wrote with our guitarist Brad [Delson], I probably did half the guitar riffs, and he probably did the other half. They are riffs that a younger guitar player can play because I'm not a super sophisticated guitar player. I know that someone learning [to play the guitar] can learn the song, enjoy playing it, and get a lot out of it.

“Sometimes, it's not about how hard it is to play; it's about how fun it is to play. And so, I think that's present in Already Over – I think there's an element of kids who are on TikTok learning and getting better [at playing the] guitar and posting guitar videos can play the song.”

At the end of the day, Shinoda is “grateful” to “still be so excited to make things. That's a gift.” Even better, he’s excited that with Already Over and new music on the table, people are already listening.

“I don't take that for granted. I want with this release, not just the song but live – I'm planning the next steps that come after this – and some of them are going to be a little unusual. So, what I'd say to fans is to trust me and follow along, and we're gonna do some fun things.”

Already Over is out now via Warner Music Australia. You can watch the visualiser below.