When Linkin Park cofounder Mike Shinoda appears at Camden’s BB&T Pavilion on Saturday, he comes with a message: Dark times don’t last. Through the rigors of loss — deep raging sorrow, anger, then joy — that is what’s behind the singer-rapper-producer’s intensely personal new album, Post-Traumatic. It’s a look at life and art after the death of Chester Bennington, his Linkin Park partner who committed suicide in July 2017. Post-Traumatic — his first solo album under his own name – began production months after Bennington’s death, the work progresses chronologically, and in diary-like form, through all stages of the grieving process. Shinoda phoned from Germany to discuss the making of the new record, and the celebratory solo shows that he’ll perform in its honor.
You said something interesting in your recent The Daily Show appearance about how mental health is treated differently than physical health.
If you wake up and feel like your back hurts, you might take it easy that day, you might take medication, maybe see a doctor. … We’re not quite at that same point with mental health. One of the keys to getting there is conversation, feeling like it’s OK to say you’re not feeling great today, mentally.
Your music – Linkin Park, Fort Minor, this solo album – has a take-no-prisoners feel. How did an even more difficult, emotional subject matter – the suicide of a friend and collaborator – change your usual working process?
When Chester first passed, I was scared to leave my house. Maybe not scared, but down. I really didn’t want to leave my house. I was scared to listen to our music, or even go into my home studio, partially because I had written so many of Linkin Park’s songs there. I associated those memories with everything at a certain point. One night, I was sitting down with the band, and [bassist Dave Farrell] asked us if we had listened to any of our songs. Everyone said no, they hadn’t, except Dave. He claimed it was scary to do, but that afterward, he felt good, and that he knew he would continue to feel good going forward. He broke that barrier. So, then, it went that way for me too. Eventually, I got into the studio to jam, and those jams turned into songs.
What happened when you felt as if you had enough songs? Did you sense that you had a theme, and that the theme was directed toward your partner?
I felt like it was a diary, I wanted to capture what was going on with me at the time. I wanted to make music to support the lyrics, and I wanted to the lyrics to be true.
It does feel like a diary, as it works chronologically from the sorrow and anger at Post-Traumatic’s beginning, then the fresh air of elation by album’s end.
Definitely, the first half of it is me looking backward at what happened. By the time I hit track 8 [“Crossing the Line”], it turns. I can look forward out of the darkness. There is hope and openness. I actually think that by the end of Post-Traumatic, it sounds as if I am having some fun.
There is passion, sadness, empathy, and joy to what you have written within Post-Traumatic. There is a cathartic end point to its journey. But, there is distance too, as if you needed a safeguard.
That’s interesting you say that. Why?
On a song such as “Place to Start,” it feels as if you are afraid to get caught up in a mind-set similar to Bennington’s. “Somebody else defined me/Cannot put the past behind me/Do I have a decision?/Feeling like I’m living in a story already written.” It feels as if you’re catching yourself before you fall.
Those lyrics found me at the beginning stages of losing a friend. When I was in the thick of grief, looking at what happened – how it affected me – I knew I had put everything on the line for this. I’m attached to this band. Questions arise: Is this over? Is this ruined? Is this fated? Was this supposed to be, and I just didn’t know. Where am I? What I figured out after that questioning was that I am a member of a club that I didn’t want to be in, or asked to be part of. I have had to wrap my head around that. In doing so I have been dealt a hand of cards that I intend to do my best with.
You did a solo show the other night in New York City where you tied Linkin Park and Fort Minor songs to the new stuff. How will you continue to work your catalog into the Post-Traumatic experience in full?
It’s not a sad show. It’s a celebratory show, a fun show. There are moments for tribute, and there are moments for just having a good time. Linkin Park fans know: When I write for the band, and I write for Chester, I write it all with his voice in mind. Not just his literal voice, his higher registers, but his emotional voice. When I was writing Post-Traumatic, I was writing all for me, my lower register, my emotions. It was freeing in a way. While I obviously can never have the voice Chester did – which by the way, is anybody ever going to have such an amazing and versatile voice as his? – I can write things that were challenging for him. Now, when I’m doing my songs, I’m realizing that there were things that I could do, that he couldn’t do, which was surprising. I could do that sing-rapping thing that I do, and whenever I gave him something like that, he felt awkward. Anyway, when I do the show, it is about me finding my natural groove now — what drove the band and what makes it fun for me and the audience.
With Imagine Dragons and Judah & the Lion. 1 p.m. Saturday, BB&T Pavilion, 1 Harbour Blvd, Camden, NJ, $29.50-149.50, Ticketmaster.com