Mike Shinoda’s life was forever altered July 20, 2017, when he learned that Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, his longtime collaborator and friend, had died by suicide.
Bennington, Shinoda and the rest of Linkin Park had conquered the music world in 2000 with the release of their multi-platinum-selling debut album “Hybrid Theory,” with the hit song “In the End.” In 2017, they were still performing, having just celebrated the release of the band’s latest work “One More Light,” and touring behind it. Released months before his death, it turned out to be Bennington’s last recorded work.
Since then, Shinoda has grappled with what it means to be an artist in a world without Bennington, the man with whom he shared vocal duties for nearly two decades. During that time, he has performed with the remaining members of Linkin Park only once, at a tribute show that the singer held in Bennington’s honor last October at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. He has been processing his grief when not fielding questions about the band’s future, or comforting those who have also been deeply affected by the work Bennington left behind.
It’s a role that isn’t always comfortable for Shinoda, and one exacerbated by the release of his solo album “Post Traumatic,” alongside the record’s resulting tour. The singer, who will performing at the Ritz in Raleigh Oct. 23, had an idea of what he could expect once his newest project was presented to the world.
“By doing this, I’m going to have to answer hard questions that cause me to relive these things over and over,” Shinoda explains over the phone. “I have to see fans who are coming to the shows and seeing me on the street, and they’re going to be upset, and telling me how much our music has meant to them.
“It’s one thing to have those discussions at a time when you are prepared to answer those type of questions,” he said. “It’s quite another thing to have someone walk up to you on the street as you are having a perfectly nice day with your wife and kids, and they are going to be crying. So I had to ask myself if I wanted to do all of that.”
We spoke with Shinoda during a break in his current tour, where we were able to touch on what life as an musical artist in 2018 has been like.
Q: The list of artists who appear as guests on “Post Traumatic” is a who’s who in music, with the Deftones’ lead singer Chino Moreno and rapper Machine Gun Kelly being two of the standouts. Were these collaborations that just organically happened with musicians who happened to be free at a given time, or was this a dream team of talent that you had always had in mind for a solo project?
A: Well, let me start by giving you a little background on where I was at when the album started to come together. At the beginning, I was afraid to go into my studio; I was so anxious about what had happened with Chester, and most of Linkin Park’s demos were written and recorded in that room, so being in there was very weird. Then I realized that it’s just a room in my house, it’s not like I can avoid it forever, so I needed to start spending some time in there again. Plus, I write all the time, so I started spending a few minutes at a time in there, until the songs that I was writing at the time became this album.
While I was doing that, there were a few songs where I felt — for as personal as the whole record is, it plays like a biographical album — if a song needed something else that I couldn’t give it, that there was someone else who understood where I was coming from to help out. Most of the people that show up on the album I had known for a while.
Chino I’ve known since Linkin’s first big European tour, where we opened for the Deftones (“Change (In the House of Flies)“), and many years later I performed at the benefit show that was held after the death of (the Deftones’ bassist) Chi. I knew that he related, so I got together with him to first work with me on a song, but more importantly just to chat together on whether he had any insights on the bigger picture of life itself.
Q: Now that you are performing these songs around the country, do you ever feel that some are a little too personal to be comfortable when played night after night?
A: I don’t think so. I usually catch that sort of stuff before I go out into the world with it. In the beginning of this thing, as I was writing, I stopped and asked myself if I really wanted to share some of this with anybody. After that, it becomes a question of whether I want to go on tour, and then if I want to do interviews talking about these songs. I mean, I don’t have to do anything; I could just keep the songs and not do any of these things.
In putting the setlist together for the shows on this tour, the question was really on what kind of show I wanted to perform. I certainly didn’t want a sad show; I couldn’t possibly get onstage every single night and do a tribute show, or something like that, so I really put an effort behind building something that was fun and celebratory. There’ll be some Linkin Park songs, some Fort Minor (Shinoda’s hip-hop-driven side project) songs, and some songs off the new album. It’s like a mixed bag of all of those things.
The majority of the set is really upbeat, and I think the fans know now to expect a fun show, although I still take a lot of cues from them on which direction it should go. What I wanted to do with this show, since it’s very personal and I still like not knowing which way it’ll go from night to night, I wanted to make sure that the set left room for improvisation. For example, there was one night on the tour where each fan that came through the meet-and-greet before the show asked for a different random rarity from Linkin Park, so once I was onstage I just began asking the crowd to choose between two songs, and it became clear that they wanted to hear these songs that we just never play during the band’s tours. This has just been really special. It’s unlike any other show that I’ve ever done before this tour.
Q: Was there ever the thought of just releasing “Post Traumatic” under the name Fort Minor, since it was already established, or did it feel too personal for that?
A: Yeah, I did think of that. I didn’t do it because it felt like such a personal record, and I wanted to indicate how personal it was by using my own name. Also, stylistically, it’s a little different; by using my own name, it also gives the album its own identity.
Q: You appeared in a PSA for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, alongside Chester’s widow Talinda Bennington, during the premiere episode of ABC’s new drama “A Million Little Things.” Have you found becoming a spokesman for this helps you with your grief at all?
A: Oh, I don’t do that for me, at all. That show was created by a friend of mine (DJ Nash), who had a friend who had died from suicide, and he actually asked me a lot of questions while he was writing the first episode about whether the tone and subjects sat well with me. He would check in with me on that, and he’s an incredible writer, so I’m a huge fan of the show.
Other than that, he had decided to give up a minute of the show’s runtime to run a PSA for the Suicide Hotline, which tells you where his heart is at. He’s trying to do the right thing. When he decided to do the PSA, he talked to me and Talinda about it, and we’re happy to be a part of it.
Again, I’m a member of a club I never wanted to be a part of. Doing the PSA doesn’t have as much to do with (my feelings), as much as to do with people who may have something happen to them that triggers them; it’s a responsibility of those people creating the content to put the hotline up, or to at least give them some kind of tool that reminds them of where to go.
And you might say, “Well, why do people need to be reminded?” Because it’s a disease. Your brain basically short circuits. DJ actually described it very well within the show, when he said that it’s like being the pilot of a plane who suddenly can’t see where he’s going, and the truth is that you’re headed into a mountain but don’t know it.
Who: Monster Energy Outbreak Tour Presents: Mike Shinoda North America
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 23
Where: The Ritz Raleigh, 2820 Industrial Drive, Raleigh
Cost: $25; $125
Info: RitzRaleigh.com or 919-424-1400