It’s been a long time since Mike Shinoda rock and rolled with his side-project Fort Minor. Ten years, in fact. After the release of Fort Minor’s debut and only album, The Rising Tied in 2005, Mike announced he was going on hiatus – a word favoured by bands and artists who aren’t sure if they’ll ever be back in that guise again. But for Mike, the hiatus wasn’t the end; he’d simply been busy with Linkin Park.
“The band is so fulfilling, that for many years I didn’t even have the urge to do [Fort Minor],’ he says. The urge has returned, though – Mike recently put out a new Fort Minor track, Welcome, and is in the midst of playing a bunch of solo shows, including one at London’s Scala on September 8. But where did his latest wave of inspiration come from?
“It’s a project that I first did because the band wasn’t doing anything like it,” he explains. “I thought that music like this had to be outside the band. After we did Meteora, I had all these hip-hop songs that I thought I couldn’t make with Linkin Park, so I did it as Fort Minor instead. Then we had a conversation about what kind of albums we wanted to make, and it included stuff that sounded like that. Hands Held High and Waiting For The End are two songs that I would say had a Fort Minor energy, so for a long time, whenever I had an idea like that, it ended up as a Linkin Park song.”
When Mike came up with the idea for Welcome – a pop-tinged slice of chilled but upbeat hip-hop – everything changed.
“If I was ever going to open that door back up, it had to be a certain type of sound,’ he says. “And this song ended up being the one I felt was right.”
Mike is also using Fort Minor’s return as an opportunity to dabble with new technologies that he’s been interested in for some time. The video for Welcome is filmed in full 360, meaning that when watched on the YouTube app, the viewer can move the phone around to see the footage from all angles. It really is impressive – as Mike puts it, “it’s like looking into another dimension.”
He audibly lights up when he starts describing the filming process, and it’s obvious that emerging tech is as much a passion for him as music.
“I’ve personally wanted to do something in VR (virtual reality) or 360 for the last year or so, but the thing that always stopped me was that the technology wasn’t there yet. I didn’t want to have to download a new app to experience it. So when I found out that YouTube was opening up the 360 format to everyone with the app, I realised that was the time to do it. It was also the time I was putting out the new Fort Minor single.”
The filming process – which used a remarkably simple rig of four GoPro cameras – wasn’t without its hiccups.
“A lot of stuff went wrong,” says Mike. “There were sync problems trying to match up the footage, exposures were off…” He trails off, as if wistfully recounting a fond memory. “The point is, it’s all emerging, and that’s very exciting to me.”
He isn’t the only member of Linkin Park with an interest in tech. Earlier this year, the band announced they were expanding their Machine Shop record label into an investment vehicle for emerging technology, and it’s something Mike is hyped for.
“The main reason we decided to start the fund is because we realised how much pleasure we get from dealing with the smart folks in tech,” he explains. “We wanted to do it in a more organised way and get into the trenches with them.”
For their 2014 single Guilty All The Same, Linkin Park teamed up with Microsoft to create a customisable music video, and they’re hoping to be able to produce more where that came from with their new venture.
“The most meaningful part of those relationships is getting into conversations with the founders and the smart folk on the teams,” says Mike. But he’s keen to stress that music won’t be taking a back seat to tech.
“I don’t want this to be misconstrued as us lessening the focus on music,” he insists. “The band still has its hands full with the new album and current tours.”
On the subject of the new album, Mike is cagey about the progress, but says recording hasn’t started yet.
“We’re just starting to get into it now,” he says. “In fact, when we get home after these last shows [the band finish their current tour in November] we’re diving straight into it.”
Despite being totally committed to Linkin Park, Mike enjoys the freedom that performing as Fort Minor gives him.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when you’re at a concert it’s because the artist has something to promote, but I don’t have any real interest in that. I’ve checked all those boxes with Linkin Park,” he says. “Fort Minor is a way for me to get close with the hardcore fans, and there’s only me on stage, so I can make artistic decisions that I couldn’t with Linkin Park. The shows are all rarities and B-sides – you won’t hear them anywhere else.”
If that’s not a good enough reason to go to his imminent London show, we don’t know what is.
Fort Minor headlines Scala in London on September 8.