The Post-Traumatic Life of Mike Shinoda
Originally published on STATUS Magazine, June 2018.
Distressing experiences may leave a person deeply scarred, but MIKE SHINODA isn’t afraid to detail his “journey out of grief and darkness” in his latest solo record, Post-Traumatic.
Mike Shinoda is choosing fight over flight in more ways than one: he chose to launch the album under his name and not Fort Minor’s, he chose to work with mixing engineer Manny Marroquin instead of soloing the task like he usually does, and he chose to reveal the inner workings of his humanity in an effort to heal. Enlisting the help of Blackbear, K. Flay, and Machine Gun Kelly, he’s capturing his stolen power back while slowly liberating himself of the anguish.
The meticulous producer’s album boasts an impressive 16 tracks, and with his signature printed on the cover, many began to question what sound he was gunning for. “In the beginning, there were a few super Fort Minor fans wondering if elements of that moniker were going to be on the record because I didn’t call it Fort Minor,” he recalls. “And the truth is whether it’s Linkin Park, Fort Minor, or this, there’s always my DNA in it, you know?”
With the release of Post-Traumatic, Mike Shinoda talks to us about his facility as a creator of art, sharing his private cognitions, and the current state of hip-hop as we know it.
You’ll be hitting the road in support of this album. How’s the tour prep coming along?
It’s always fun to put an album out in spite of the circumstances. It’s all really, really fun to be able to share this stuff with everybody, and the fan reaction has been really positive. They’ve been so supportive and so great the whole time, so it’s great.
Speaking of the album, you decided to release Post-Traumatic under your name instead of Fort Minor’s. What kind of led you to making this decision?
Well, the album’s subject matter is so personal that I wanted to do something to indicate that nature. And I felt I could have gone with Fort Minor and made it my own thing because it’s personal, but it needed to feel like something different as well. It doesn’t sound like stuff that I’ve made before, but it relates to it because it is still me.
“There’s a reason I put [“Crossing the Line”] right in the middle of the album, because the album feels like it transitions from a dark place to something more open and bright.”
And because it’s released under your name, where were the differences between creating this and The Rising Tied? Do you feel like there’s a certain pressure added this time around?
No, I don’t think there’s a pressure. One thing that I did challenge myself to do was to be in the moment when I was making the songs, and to try and write and record each little moment as it was happening. On the song “Over Again”, the first verse was written and recorded the day of the Hollywood Bowl show—the tribute show for Chester—and then the second verse was written and recorded the next day. In other cases, “Crossing the Line” was written at a time when I was feeling like there was this weird and awesome transitional moment. There’s a reason I put that song right in the middle of the album, because the album feels like it transitions from a dark place to something more open and bright. As the album goes on at that moment in “Crossing the Line”, you start to get different song topics, and things start to look more towards the future. And also the present, which is important.
You mentioned this album was a journey out of grief and darkness, not into it. Can you speak about the healing power of music, and what that healing was like for you as a creator?
Whenever I’m in a difficult spot or dealing with difficult things, I always turn to art. I grew up drawing and painting, and obviously grew up making music, but I actually thought that I was going to be an illustrator or a painter for most of my life up until I was in college. Music was always a hobby that I did on the side. I would paint and I would draw, and I would make songs as a function to kind of meditate on what was going on, whether it be positive or negative and it was just fun for me. It’s the equivalent of when people are on the phone and they sit and start to doodle, just like on a napkin or like a little paper by the phone. That’s how it feels for me. But oftentimes, art works its way into something more complex and sophisticated.
“In terms of a major life event, I think what a lot of us are looking for is some sense of normalcy and some sense of control, so to feel like I can make decisions like that and can just go do them helps me feel that control. ”
Nietzsche once said, “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star,” and people have said that it’s through trauma that we’re able to create magnificent art. You’ve created something amazing, but what made you decide to share it to the world? Because at the end of the day, this could have been a very private process.
The way I looked at it, I wanted to capture everything that was going on and if I decided it was too personal, then I just wouldn’t release it. But it would be better to capture it and have it, rather than to not do it and to let those moment slip by. So whether with art or with music, I definitely tried to capture things as they were happening, and if I had a gut reaction or an instinct to do something, I just did it. In terms of a major life event, I think what a lot of us are looking for is some sense of normalcy and some sense of control, so to feel like I can make decisions like that and can just go do them helps me feel that control. And if it’s wrong at the end of the day, I don’t have to answer to anybody else. I didn’t make a mistake that somebody else has to live with, it’s just me. So that’s a lot easier.
Apart from songwriting, did this gut reaction spread to other branches of creating this album?
It spread to the music video aspect of this whole thing. There were times with some of these videos that I’ve done that I just decided to go shoot something, and literally just got in the car and left. I didn’t call anybody, I didn’t get a fancy camera; I just grabbed my phone, my little snapshot, and a little tripod or something, and went and started recording stuff.
Since you dove into your music videos for Post-Traumatic, is directing something you see yourself further exploring, and maybe even doing out of the industry of music?
No, I wouldn’t do that. There are far too many people that are great at it. I worked with a couple of people on some of the videos, [and] as we went along I realized that I can’t hold the camera far enough from my face [laughs] to get the shot that I want sometimes, so I need somebody else to hold the camera.
You collaborate a lot with other musicians, but how has collaborating with directors been for you on this record?
It’s been a wonderful process. The new video for “Running From My Shadow” was directed by a guy named Gus Black, and I didn’t know Gus before; he was a friend of a friend. I wanted to get a video done literally in like, 48 hours, and two days later we were running around shooting a video in downtown LA. It’s been, in a sense, very punk rock and DIY.
Because spontaneity has been quite a huge factor in the making of your videos, how did you come up with the concepts?
Some of these cases, we don’t even have a concept of what we’re going to do; we just look to the environment to tell was what the video should be. There’s a freedom in that—a subtlety. If you’re aware of what you’re seeing, you just shoot some cool stuff and hopefully it leads its way into something interesting. I’m really excited for people to see where this goes, because I’m going to be doing videos for every song. Some of them I will do, and some of them other people will do.
“I know what the shows are gonna look like in three months but I don’t know what it’s going to look like in six months. I’m still changing them and figuring them out—the setlist, new videos, the artwork—it’s more fun that way, and I feel like it’s more modern.”
For every song?
Yeah, every song! So that’ll be going on for months to come. Usually when I do an album and I’m talking to people about it, it’s like, “I’ve finished it, here it is, it’s a finished thing.” For this one, the music is finished, but the rest of it is not. I know what the shows are gonna look like in three months but I don’t know what it’s going to look like in six months. I’m still changing them and figuring them out—the setlist, new videos, the artwork—it’s more fun that way, and I feel like it’s more modern.
“I think there’s been a renaissance [in hip-hop] in the last five years or so. There’s always a place for thoughtful hip-hop, especially people who have a purpose and something to say—a voice. That’s where I always come from when I’m writing.”
Rap’s definitely changed over the years since you first started. Not only the beats, but the general concept of the MC as well. As one of the older heads now, how do you feel about hip-hop’s growth and change lately?
It goes through different phases. I love lyrical hip-hop like Kendrick, and I think Wale is very underrated. I love people who really know that it’s not just about the music and it’s more about the words and the concepts. I think there’s been a renaissance in the last five years or so. There’s always a place for thoughtful hip-hop, especially people who have a purpose and something to say—a voice. That’s where I always come from when I’m writing.
Do you make it a point to stay updated with hip-hop?
Always. Every Friday, I have like a ritual where I go online and pick out from all the new releases. I pick through them and listen to stuff that I like, put it in a playlist, and kind of listen through it that week. Right now I’m listening to the Pusha T album, Post Malone, BROCKHAMPTON, and A$AP Rocky. These are all the big ones. There are tons of artists that I like too, but I stay current on it.
Written by Sophie Caraan
Photographed by Frank Maddocks