There's more on the way, Shinoda tells Billboard... and he expects the post-Post Traumatic world, on his own and possibly down the road with Linkin Park, to be interesting.
You released the Post Traumatic EP January. Did you always envision a full album, too?
In the beginning, a little less than a year ago, I was making music and painting as a form of almost like meditation. There was something therapeutic in doing it. It was more about just kind of coping with things and reflecting on things as I was doing it. The act of just sitting down and making things helped me process. It got me back in touch, I think, with why I started making music in the first place.
There's a definite arc and almost real-time narrative to the album. You very clearly move from mourning to...well, moving on.
At a certain point that processing was taking different shapes and the song topics started to change. I think you hear that on the album. It's 16 songs, and the first half of it or so is more kind of backwards-looking, and then it starts to look into the present and future a little bit as it goes. The song "Crossing The Line" is right in the middle, and the second half of the album starts to look forward to other things and even takes little breaks from what was happening -- like, there's a song called "Lift Off" which is more of a battle rap kind of song, which is just escapism and is actually a pretty fun song.
Was there a time where you didn't want to, or weren't sure if you wanted to, address all of this publicly.
Yeah, definitely. I think the first songs that I made were just for me, and I didn't know if I would release them in a public way. And I ended up releasing "Place To Start" and "Over Again" and "Watching As I Fall" once I kind of wrapped my head around the ramifications of putting those songs out. I chose to put those songs in particular out because I knew that there were a lot of fans who were going to be having a tough time coping with Chester's loss and the uncertainty of what’s gonna happen with the band. I wanted to communicate on one hand that I was feeling the same way they were, or similar, and on the other (hand) to in a way give them almost like a lighthouse or a beacon of, "This is where I am and this is where I would like to go," so there was some sense of direction.
More so than some other of the recent music deaths there was a sense that Linkin Park fans really wanted to connect and share their grief and mourning with the rest of the band.
You could feel that, yeah. I had a feeling relatively early on that things would get better -- or they just wouldn't stay the same. We'll obviously never forget our friend. We'll always remind everybody how special and talented he was. At the time it'd be unhealthy and irresponsible for any of us to not move on with our lives at a certain point. So I had a feeling that journey ahead, and not knowing what shape that would take, would be interesting. And to share it would probably be difficult, but in the long run it would be interesting and it would help some people. Just simply, I felt like it would be worth sharing and almost like helping to take people with me.
And worth putting out as Mike Shinoda rather than as Fort Minor or under some other name?
I just wanted to signal to people that it was a different sound and a different approach. I always wanted to signal that it was personal. Grief is a personal thing, a personal experience. I also had a moment six months ago, maybe even closer to nine (months), where I realized that if I was speaking to somebody, if somebody asked me "How are things going with the group?" or with my music and career and I started to answer that, my answer could be taken as an answer on behalf of everybody, and I didn't like that idea. We were all in different places from not only day to day but hour by hour -- that's one of the things about grief and dealing with difficult things, the steps, the phases of it. If I felt good one day and somebody says "How are you doing?" and I say "Pretty good" and everybody else feels terrible, then I'm not accurately reflecting how things are going with everyone, and vice versa. So to do this on my own just felt like the more responsible thing to do, and a way the healthier thing to do.
Post Traumatic draws on hip-hop and electronic atmospherics you've worked with in the past. How were you thinking about this, musically, as you were doing it?
I don't know if I could pick one thing, musically. I wasn't thinking about genre or presentation too much. I really don't overthink the aesthetic of each song very much; There's a logical craftsmanship to putting together a song and arranging song and the structure of it and so on. In that way it was just kind of like making an album or any art -- you just do it and then find out what it is you have.
Does it feel like the start of a new something for you?
Oh yeah. There's a lot of unknowns. It's actually more difficult to start up a brand new project than people think. You go back to step one of explaining who you are and what you do and blah, blah, blah -- and, by the way, it was terrifying to decide to do that. It's really scary. But my expectations are appropriately, like, smaller, definitely smaller scale than Linkin Park.
With Linkin Park in a kind of limbo, is it at all an issue for you to be coming out on your own like this?
Well, I remembering thinking about how I was going to approach the subject with the guys, and I was definitely nervous about it. I told them about what I wanted to do and I had already played them some stuff, and they were more supportive than I thought they'd be. And I feel like I'd have a sense of they really were or weren't. In this group it's unusual for us to flat-out say "I don't like that"; Usually what happens is they say some semi-supportive words and you can just tell in their demeanor they don't really agree. It's not passive-aggressive; It's trying to be polite. And there's various degrees of that from person to person. And by the way, one thing I appreciated about Chester is he wasn't as much that way. If he didn't like something he would just tell me. He was the most like that in the band, besides me. But, really, when I told the guys, "Look, I want to do a solo record and here's why," they were really receptive to it. I could tell there's an honest, positive reaction. I slept really well that night. 'Cause I was really worried about it beforehand.
So where do things stand with Linkin Park right now?
We'll let everybody know when there's a clear message. We all have different, varying degrees of interest and stamina right now, and I don't want to hold anybody to anything they can't or they don't want to do. We still talk all the time. I joined Dave (Farrell) for his Member Guest podcast, and I just shot some emails back and forth to Joe [Hahn]. We're always talking.
Are there any thoughts about releasing the Hollywood Bowl tribute to Chester in any formal way?
Oh, that's interesting. I think we talked about that around that time and I don't think there was too much enthusiasm for putting it out another way. It's available if anyone wants to see it; It's on YouTube and people can check out the show there. It was a really wonderful night and one of the most important nights for the band, ever. It was one of those really beautiful moments, and I think from here everybody wants to kind of look forward.
What are your own performing plans to support Post Traumatic?
I did my first two shows in the same day a few weeks ago and it went better than I thought, so that was good. At this point what I'm doing are one-man shows; It probably won't stay that way, but it's a challenge that I took on and I'm holding myself to it. Just being me as the artist on stage, it's a little quieter than it would be touring with a band, but I'm looking forward to it. If the shows continue to go like the first one did, that's going to be fine.