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The Malay Mail, Music: Minor Revelations

Friday, February 11, 2005

Music: Minor Revelations

February 2006
If Kanye West was said to be hip hop’s most hardworking artiste for 2005, this year, the title looks set to go down to Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, the biggest band of this millenium. Together with Chester Bennington, Shinoda shares the vocal duties of the American rap rock band.
After promoting the band’s second album, Meteora almost a year after it was released in 2003, Shinoda headed straight into the studio to start work on the band’s Grammy-winning mash up album, Jay-Z & Linkin Park Collision Course.

In between, he crafted the raw music that soon laid the foundation for Fort Minor, his solo project of sorts.

Now, three months after Fort Minor's debut album The Rising Tied was released, Shinoda is back in the studio again to work on Linkin Park’s third album, which he will be producing with famed producer Rick Rubin. Oh, did we mention that he's also in the midst of an Asian tour to promote Fort Minor's album.

If that’s not hard working, then we don’t know what is.

"What do I think about that – me being the hardest working guy in hip hop and rock? Let me tell you what I decided for my New Year’s resolution this year – to take more vacations (laughs).

"That’s my goal. I’m starting to feel stressed out. I don’t know how hard other people work but I know that when it comes to what I do, I definitely work hard. I think anybody who is passionate about their craft and their art can relate to that,’’ Shinoda told us in a recent phone interview.

Calling from a studio, Shinoda was in a cheerful mood, excited almost. About what, we weren’t sure specifically, but we surely hope to find out soon.

In the meantime, to get the ball rolling, we asked Shinoda about Fort Minor, a project often described as close and personal to him.

"Fort Minor allowed me to get back to my roots and kind of incorporate all the things I learnt about production and songwriting in the past five years,’’ he said.

Recollecting what inspired him to do the project, Shinoda said it was something that came about when he was about to start working on the Linkin Park and Jay-Z Collision Course album.

"Before that project started, I was already messing around with ideas that would eventually emerge in Fort Minor.

"At that point it was definitely just a hobby, it was just for fun. However, it got me thinking back about the times when I used to make just straight up hip hop music before Linkin Park 10 years ago.

"This was the time when I was getting started, producing beats and rapping over them, messing around with some of my friends like Styles of Beyond.

"When Linkin Park took off I didn’t get the chance to do that for a long time because what we do with Linkin Park is always mixed with other elements. So, I kind of missed it a little bit. You know, being able to just do straight hip hop," he explained.

The project may allow Shinoda to revisit his roots but he certainly doesn’t see it as an excuse to treat it lightly.

"There were number of things that I wanted to achieve with this album,’’ he said.

"Musically, the Fort Minor sound was something that was in my head but nobody else was really making it. And if nobody else will make it, I will try to discover that sound for myself,’’ he said.

Elaborating on the ‘sound’ he was referring to, Shinoda said it was something organic, based on hand-played instruments and traditional song-writing.

And when he said based on hand-played instruments, Shinoda meant it literally. The bulk of the music on the album was played by hand, his hands.

"Almost. There were couple things I didn’t play. There was one sample from the loop Library that you can buy in stores. The song Believe Me had Latin percussion by Eric Bobo from Cypress Hill.

"A number of parts that I wrote for strings and choir were played by a live choir and strings group. Other than that, everything else on the record was played by me,’’ he said proudly.

When asked about his emphasis on live instrumentation, Shinoda said it was because he felt the need to do so.

"Much hip hop right now is programmed inside of a computer or a keyboard. I think there is a void and space that it's missing. Sonically I want the music of Fort Minor to fill that space,’’ he said.

That's the music. Lyrically, topics discussed on the album are arguably Shinoda at his most personal.

For instance, he openly expressed his thoughts on issues like being ridiculed by detractors on Get Me Gone and authenticity in the hip hop game on Cigarettes.

"Lyrically, I just wanted to do something that was individually personal. With Linkin Park, my words are personal but they're more universal. I want to write songs that the six of us can stand behind. But on the Fort Minor album, it was only representing me.’’

Rounding up the project is of course his list of A-list collaborators. On top of appearances from Styles of Beyond and Shinoda’s imprint The Machine Shop Recordings signing Holly Brook, The Rising Tied also boast appearances by Common, John Legend, the Roots’ Black Thought, Cypress Hill’s Eric Bobo, Kenna, Shinoda’s band mate, DJ Joe Hahn and Jay-Z who was the executive producer.

"Since it was going to be a very personal record, I decided to limit the guest list to only people that I already knew. The only exception was John Legend who I met during the making of the record

"Styles of Beyond for instance have been friends with me for about 10 years. We actually grew up rapping together. In fact, their producer gave me a tip on what sampler to buy when I bought my first sampler ever. That’s the indication of how far back we go.

"The reasons I wanted to work with friends was because they understand me and they maybe know me a little better and how I work,’’ he explained.

When the album finally hit the shelves last November, it was greeted with praise by hip hop critics worldwide which were both a relief and surprise to Shinoda.

"I’m actually very pleased with the critical acclaim the album has received especially because it was kind of gamble to do a hip hop album like this. I’m happy to see that a lot of the pickier hip hop critics have given the album a lot of praise. That makes me happy,’’ he said.

"As far as the fans go, the support we have got is fantastic. To me, the album is still building and I can’t wait for people to continue to find out about us,’’ he added.

Still, despite the critical acclaim, the album didn't do as well as Shinoda's previous works. The Rising Tied peaked only at No. 60 on the Billboard 200.

"In Taiwan, we debuted at No. 1 over Madonna and we have exceeded platinum in Japan, so in some areas we’ve done extremely well and others like the US, it's more of a slow build.

"So, it doesn’t bother me so much because I know that the album is still building here in the States. What’s interesting is every week, the sales go up a little bit,’’ he commented.

Now that he has proved his worth both as an MC and as a hip hop producer with Fort Minor, we asked Shinoda about the possibilities of him quitting Linkin Park and focus on a solo career.

"You know, I don’t have any plans for the next Fort Minor album. I don't know whether I’m going to do one, even.

"At this point I’m taking things step by step. My focus is on two things – playing the Fort Minor shows and promoting the album and writing the new Linkin Park album.

"As a matter of fact, I’m actually currently in a recording studio. Chester Bennington is on the other side of the booth listening to something that I just wrote.

"So, you can safely say that Linkin Park won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. We are working on our new record already. We’ve been throwing out album titles but I don’t have anything on that yet. As far as songs, we probably have 50 ideas.

Shinoda then added he will co-produce the album with Rick Rubin and the band is hoping to get it out sometime between July and September of this year.

Since he was at the topic of Linkin Park's new album, we asked Shinoda how do the band plans to stay musically fresh and relevant.

After all as proven by history, rap rock has a rather short life span. Take Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach as examples.

"Rap rock doesn’t really describe us really well. We never felt a strong connection with that category anyway.

"One thing about me and the guys in Linkin Park always believe is to to stay current with the mainstream and stay on top of what’s going on.

At the same time try to do things that are innovative. We definitely want to try and inspire other artistes and fans to hopefully do something different.

"When our next album comes out, people will start to see that even more clearly. Maybe they’ll need to come up with a new category for our music,’’ he commented.

But he was quick to assure that while they were keen to push the envelope, it didn’t mean there would be a major revamp in the band's music.

"The six of us have a distinctive sound sound and I think fans of Linkin Park will still recognise the band. It will just be new and improved,’’ he said.

On to the subject of his upcoming concert in Bukit Kiara Equestrian Indoor Arena this coming Tuesday, we asked Shinoda to give his Malaysian fans some insight on what it would be like to be at a Fort Minor concert.

"In the studio I ran the show because it was my project. But on stage we’re a band made of me, three of the four guys from Styles of Beyond – Tak, Ryu and DJ Cheapshot.

Joining the four of them would be three back-up singers and three strings players - violin, viola and a cello.

"So, if you are coming to the show, definitely come with a lot of energy and be ready to sing the songs to us because we are going to have a good time,’’ he promised.

Having experienced how crazy the Malaysian fans could be during his last visit to Kuala Lumpur back in 2004 Shinoda hoped his Fort Minor bandmates will have the opportunity to experience the same kind of magic.

"I had a really great experience when we came before with Linkin Park. It's actually one of our favourite shows that we ever played.

"As a matter of fact we love that show so much we have to show to all the fans around the world how fun it was. So, we included pictures of that show in our book called Linkin Park From The Inside.

"I really love that show and that trip. I’m hoping that my Fort Minor band would be able to have the same experience that we did. See the towers, see the people, go out and eat and not be stuck in the hotel. Hopefully we'll be able to do some of that,’’ he ended.

thanks to lptimes.com