"I'm at this weird crossroads": Mike Shinoda faces the future, but exactly what that future holds, is not yet clear

Mike Shinoda
(Image credit: Mike Miller)

Like many artists, Mike Shinoda often seems more comfortable talking about the music and musicians who inspire him rather than dissecting and analysing the music that he himself puts out into the world. Enthusing about the work of Public Enemy, or Aphex Twin, or Portishead, or Rage Against The Machine, Shinoda is animated and passionate, but when conversation switches to the music he's currently working upon, the 46-year-old Californian becomes noticeably more guarded and careful with his words.

This, perhaps, is understandable. Linkin Park, the band with which Shinoda made his name, have sold 100 million albums worldwide this century, and though the tragic passing of co-vocalist Chester Bennington in 2017 brought the Los Angeles band's career to a juddering halt, Shinoda is only too aware that their history and legacy will forever be referenced in relation to whatever music he creates as a solo artist. Ahead of our meeting at his record company's west London offices, it is politely requested that we respect Bennington's memory and Shinoda's grief by not revisiting the past, but rather focus on the here and now, with the man himself proclaiming his recently-released single Already Over - with its undeniable echoes of Linkin Park's infectious, propulsive pop-metal stylings - “a bridge from the past to a blurry but exciting future”.

It's when one seeks to dive deeper into the exact shape, colour and form of that "exciting future" with Shinoda where things do indeed get more “blurry”, with the man keeping things pretty close to his chest. So much so that, although we're allowed to say that he's in town to record a session with a selection of internet-famous musicians, we're not permitted to say who those individuals may be, because... well, damn, who really knows what global consequences might result from revealing the names of a handful of influencers? But, hey, in these times of chronic over-sharing, maybe a little old-school intrigue and mystery is no bad thing.  

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The singles you’ve released over the past few years - among them Happy Endings, In My Head, and now Already Over - have been eclectic and diverse in terms of their sound. Is that kind of scattershot approach something you want to maintain going forward, so that there’s no definitive ‘Mike Shinoda’ sound for people to pin on you?

“Well, in the last few years, I was doing more writing and production for other people, and got to do some great songs with Demi Lovato [Still Alive], and Sueco [Up In Smoke], and Grandson [Running From My Shadow], and PVRIS, and a number of other artists. And there was a point at which I realised that I was doing a lot of stuff in service of other people's creative ideas, and I had ideas of my own that I wanted to go back to, to get back into artist mode. And so, yeah, In My Head, which came out earlier this year, that was probably the beginning of that, and then Already Over is a continuation. It's not pointed towards an album, it’s just stuff that I like, and I want to continue to stay home and make more cool stuff that I like, songs and otherwise. So that's the gear that I'm in right now.”

Was the decision on your part to move into the creative spaces of other artists in some ways an attempt to deflect some of the attention that was always going to come your way whatever you do now, with Linkin Park being inactive?

"So, in 2018 I did an album called Post Traumatic, and I did that partially to sort through some feelings and emotions and thoughts, and partially to provide a place, with the tour, for fans to come and commune, so we could share something together. When I came home, I was really exhausted, and I took a little breather, and started doing some things with other people because it was really good change of pace. When 2020 happened [and the pandemic happened] I was still in that mode, and I made it a rule that I wouldn't put vote my voice on anything, I really just wanted to make stuff in service of other people's ideas. And I went on Twitch quite a bit and made instrumental tracks, and I put a bunch of those out, just just because I had made them: I was like, Well the music's exists, and people are asking to listen to it on streaming so I just put it out on streaming, it wasn't a big deal. Now so I want to play around with some ideas as an artist."

You say that Already Over isn't pointing towards an album, but are you working towards an album at all?

"No. I'm making things, but I'm not trying to make an album."

Some artists feel that the album format is dead and they prefer the speed and convenience of just dropping EPs or individuals songs as and when without the rigidity of the album release schedule: is that what's informing your thinking?

"I'm aware of all that stuff, but that way of thinking comes with this mentality, like, music is a commodity, and artists are like influencers and their channels are like media channels. I'm not a TikTok influencer, I'm an artist, so that's not my priority. When I make a song I'm not thinking about, like, how does it fit into current trends or release structures? I'm not trying to be really pretentious about it, I'm not unaware that it's just music, it's not that big a deal. But when I'm making a song, I try to keep my thoughts pure to the song. And then once the song is done, then I can decide what to do with it. For me, that's always been a good process. And nothing has indicated at this point to me that this body of work, or these ideas, are part of an album. I'm open to the idea, but if you're asking is that on my list of goals or priorities, then no."

Looking ahead to 2024 then, what might that involve for you, as a priority?

"Well, I'm in the studio all the time, so we'll see."

If you had to estimate how many rough tracks you have on your phone or on your hard drive back in the studio, what number would you choose?

"I feel like if I answer that question, it raises too many questions and expectations from people, and I'd rather not deal with that."

Right. I mean, obviously though you're aware though that as an artist with a massive fan-base, there are expectations that go along with that, and people are waiting to hear your music. Do you have to shut out those thoughts?

"Yeah, I think I'm at this weird crossroads or inflection point, about the relationship with people on the internet. Having those direct connections with fans, or just people, via social media, can be positive in so many ways, and useful in so many ways, but I've started to wonder if social media is actually social anymore. The only part of it that I feel is social is DMs, because the actual channels and feeds don't feel social to me at all, I'm rarely getting actual social content. And by social I mean, am I connecting with another human being over something? It's a removed connection now, it's, Oh, did you see this meme? I saw this meme, and now you and I are talking about the meme, and that's a connection. But it's not like you've posted a picture of your family, or a picture of your birthday, or a sporting achievement: that, to me, is a real connection that I'm not getting. And so I'm starting to feel like, these expectations, and this stuff... I don't know that it's ideal for me. It's kind of a bummer."

Is that thinking feeding into the fact that you're doing these sessions with local musicians in London, as you did in Australia, because that's a real human connection?

"Yeah, yeah. I follow a lot of musicians on on my channels, and the algorithms have identified me properly: they're like, 'Oh, you like to watch videos of people playing drums, check out all these drummer videos!" And I'm like, God, there are so many great drummers and guitarists and singers out there. So, as we were putting together ideas about how to support Already Over, the idea came up, and I committed to doing some sessions with people that I found on the internet, assembling like one-off bands. I love the idea of getting these people together, and playing a couple songs, and it being a total crapshoot. It could be a complete failure, but we're gonna do it anyway."

You talked about how you work in the service of others, but when you're working on your own material, how are you at reaching out to others? Are there people you'd like to collaborate with, is there a Mike Shinoida wish list?

"Oh, when I have ideas like that, I never want to put them out into the world unless they're real. Just because it creates a weird pressure between artists."

Oh, I didn't need names, but is that something that would be of interest?

"There are creators or collaborators that I that I respect and follow, and there are certainly people that I would love to work with: some of those people fans would know, and other people fans will not know. But, yeah, talking about things like that before they happen is a sure fire way to ensure that they won't happen!"

Let's not jinx anything then. But, at the risk of jinxing this too, we will hear new music from you at some point in 2024, right?

"Yes. For sure. One hundred per cent. When it's ready, be ready."

Mike Shinoda's The Crimson Chapter EP is out now via Warner.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.