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Less than 90 seconds into our interview with Mike Shinoda, the musician has hopped out of the frame of Kerrang!’s Zoom call. His now-empty desk chair swivels, before he quickly returns with his favourite guitar – the very same guitar that conjured up Linkin Park’s classic 2007 single What I’ve Done, and Mike’s 2023 banger In My Head, which featured Kailee Morgue and was included in the Scream VI soundtrack.
The same six-stringer is also responsible for the 46-year-old’s excellent new solo track ALREADY OVER – which was not only written and sung by Mike, obviously, but he also single-handedly performed every other instrument on the song, too. Oh yeah, and recorded it all himself.
“It was just so organic and natural,” he grins, still holding the guitar and clearly full of genuine pride. “I’ve done so many types of songs, and it should be said that some of my favourite music is stuff that’s very much off the beaten path – stuff that most people do not like (laughs). But then I make something like ALREADY OVER and it was just me sitting there and playing on this guitar that I’ve had since 2005 or 2006, and this song came out of me.
“People are kind of saying that it’s recognisable – it’s got the DNA of what people have known me for in the song,” he adds. “And part of it is because I didn’t run away from that. It wanted to be that kind of song; I said ‘Yes’ to it.”
Here, Mike goes deep on all things ALREADY OVER, as well as his previous solo work, his next chapter, and that new hairstyle…
Musically ALREADY OVER came to you while you were playing your favourite guitar, but what about the lyrics – where did they come from?
“I had a bunch of different things in mind, but, like, if you look back, I don’t know why I write such dark shit! It’s just the type of music I have always gravitated to forever. Even when it was in rap music – I grew up on rap, mostly hip-hop in the ’90s, and most of it was hyper violent. Lots of bragging, lots of violence, lots of mean stuff (laughs). And then metal and stuff like that was always simmering in the background. I remember one of my oldest friends playing me Rage Against The Machine. He’s like, ‘Oh, you like this type of rock and you like rapping – you’re gonna love this band!’ And I was like ‘Jesus, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard!’ And it’s not happy stuff!
“For me with this song, there’s a lot of chordal movement. If you play guitar and you follow along with all the chord changes, and how the lyrics and the vocals follow along with it, this is not the type of song that I could have written 15 years ago. There’s a lot more to it in the way it’s put together that I wouldn’t have been in tune with back then. Specifically because if you go back to early Linkin Park, I would write a track and then I would put vocals on it. And once the track got written, I really wouldn’t change it very much. For the most part, if I rewrote a part, I was rewriting a vocal to fit into the track that I had already deemed finished. But nowadays I don’t do that anymore, and part of that is informed by all the writing experiences I’ve had with other people in the past 10 years.”
Given that you do work with lots of other artists and producers, what was behind the decision to be like, ‘I’m gonna do absolutely everything on this single, and make more work for myself’?!
“It was actually almost the opposite of the way you just described it. I have done a lot of work with other people recently, and I realised that a lot of times I get excited by things I haven’t tried. I’ve done a lot of things intuitively and not so much intentionally, and it’s been like, ‘Experiment ’til you get it right.’ These days, I realised, ‘Wow, I’ve got a really good sense of the tool set, I’ve got all these new ways of approaching things that I have, that I’ve been using on other people’s songs, so what happens if I use them on my song? What happens if I sing the whole thing? And I write it with the intention of my voice sounding as good as it can? What happens if I do the drums this way? What happens when I do the guitar this way?’ And by the time I got to the finishing line on this song, it had all fallen into place. There was so much momentum, and so much excitement about doing it, that the opportunity had already passed to ask anybody else to participate. I’d already recorded and done everything that the song needed, and I went, ‘Oh, I gotta send it to mix. It’s done!’”
Did you turn to anyone to get feedback on it?
“Yeah, I did that, I sent it to people. At first, I sent it to management. I was like, ‘Here’s some new stuff that I made’ – I think I sent them a couple of things I was making. And they were like, ‘This is amazing. Let’s put this out.’ And the label was the same. I think actually somebody did say, ‘What about a feature?’ And I was like, ‘I haven’t put out a song that’s just me in so long. It’s been forever since I’ve released a single that’s just me.’ And so that felt right – it felt like the thing I really wanted to do. It’s entirely my vision, and it’s not mixed up with anybody else’s DNA.”
Where do you see ALREADY OVER sitting in your solo discography, because Dropped Frames feels like its own thing more related to lockdown and livestreaming, so is this more of a follow-up to Post Traumatic?
“Dropped Frames was like a series of weekend vacations! I love that type of music, and it was definitely a fun little experiment – when I was talking earlier about, ‘I like some weird shit that most people don’t like,’ those are collections of weird instrumentals with weird sounds that I made on Twitch, which is not for mass consumption! But I put out a song called Fine [in 2019], and I’d say that, In My Head and ALREADY OVER follow a through-line, and to me are part of the same chapter.”
Was it written around the same sort of time as In My Head?
“I think it was just after, by a very short period of time. And as I recall, it came together really fast. It was a series of sessions here in my studio – just a day here and a day there. Eventually I knew that I kind of had the shape of the whole thing, and it was around when the Fall Out Boy record [So Much (For) Stardust] came out, and I was like, ‘Who mixed that? It sounds so classic!’ It turned out it was Neal Avron, and I know Neal so I reached out to him. I was like, ‘I want Neal to mix this song – he’s got that special thing.’ And he’s a lovely guy. So he was really the other piece. I think I had experimented pulling some of the more recognisable DNA – what you might think of as the Linkin Park kind of DNA – out of it at one point. I muted some of those sounds, and I liked the song less. It didn’t get better, so I went back to this version.”
Why did you try to change it up, when the original was already working?
“Sometimes in my process, you don’t know that your first idea is the one until you hear it compared to another idea. I’ll replace things with other things just to know if the first thing is good. And when I’m making the second thing, I’m hyped on it. I’ll make something and go, ‘This is totally better!’ And then the next day, I’ll listen back and go, ‘That wasn’t the way to go…’ And then that might inform a third idea or a fourth idea and so on. Sometimes the answer is to choose one of the things you did, and sometimes the answer is to combine them. And sometimes the answer is, ‘Actually, all of them suck, and there’s another thing you should do!’ And that’ll be the one.”
You released a remastered version of Post Traumatic a few months ago. When you went back to that album, was there anything that inspired you in terms of your new music?
“I’m grateful that the way my brain works on this subject is that I can listen to something and go, ‘I’m proud of the work I did; that was a snapshot in time and it was as good as I could do in the moment, and if I were to redo it today, I would do these things differently.’ It’s like, ‘When I write my next song, these are the things that I like about the old songs, and these are the things I could do better.’ It could be that I only got to 60 per cent of the idea, and what if I went to 100 per cent? With Post Traumatic, I felt like I wanted to hear a version of the album where it was remastered and really pumped-up and louder, and more bold that way. And so that’s why I did that. When I was listening to some of those things, I was thinking, ‘Oh, that was an interesting idea – I could develop that further.’ I did notice that there isn’t very much stuff on it that sounds like a live band – there’s almost nothing. There are very few moments on it that are just live band moments. And I was like, ‘That’s something to do…’”
Finally, tell us about the new shaved hair…
“I think a lot of us want to embrace a new moment or new chapter, and so you change your appearance. It feels good to say: ‘Yeah, I’m in a different phase now.’ So I want to express that. We were getting ready to shoot some pictures for this release, and I was talking to the folks that I was working on that with, and I started talking to a new stylist named Blake, and he had sent some images of different ways I could do my hair. And he had thrown this idea of the shaved stripes. And I was like, ‘Dude, I love that.’ And he was like, ‘Oh my God, I thought that was such a reach!’ We showed it to the photographer Mike Miller, who is an absolute legend. If you’ve never checked out Mike Miller’s photos, it’s mostly ’90s rap, but he’s taken some of the most iconic pictures of Tupac, and all the great rappers from that era, especially on the west coast. His body of work is insane. And the more I was thinking, ‘This song feels like it goes back to my roots in a way,’ I wanted to reference that in the imagery that comes with it.
“I know this is such a long answer for the simple thing you were asking (laughs) but we put a little extra love into this. There’s a lot of thoughtfulness that goes into it – it’s not just like management calls and goes, ‘Hey, get me the hot photographer and go and shoot some photos.’ You can do that, and I’ve done that a lot, but this was not that thing. And part of the reason is that I wanted to put the effort in. Singles these days are so ephemeral and thin – you just kind of throw songs out, and if people like it then you keep going, and if they don’t like it you just move on and do a new song. And I was like, ‘I would love to almost put an album’s worth amount of effort into the aesthetics of this one song.’ I didn’t want it to let it just be for a week – let it be much longer, and just continue the momentum, and express the chapter in as many different facets as you can. Go deep! I’m in a mode where I’m more critical about the details, but it’s as a function of being very excited about the music. In my mind, there’s an aesthetic world that this all lives in, and communicating that in a way that feels consistent can be hard sometimes. And so it takes a little bit of extra effort.
“And, also, when I was saying that I want to put more effort in and more points of interest into this chapter because it’s not just about ‘drop a song and try to get it to trend on TikTok and blah blah blah,’ if you go to the website – go to mikeshinoda.com right now – we made a game, and the game is going to reveal over the course of weeks. And it starts now. I’m very excited about that. Stuff is going to keep happening over there for the next few weeks. And if the fans love it then we’re gonna keep going, and keep developing it. But for right now, we’ve got a period of weeks that we’re going to do some fun things with people!”
ALREADY OVER is out now.
The Kerrang! Chart
The ultimate new music countdown – every Friday!
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