We Moved! WE MOVED

Mouther Interview with Mike and Joe

Friday, February 11, 2005

November  2004

Who by now does not know Linkin Park, the Grammy-winning six-man band hailing from Southern California, spurned many times over from every major record label — only to have their debut album Hybrid Theory go eight times platinum? The group's determination speaks as much as their music: undaunted by multiple rejections, the group launched a massive grass-roots promotions campaign about their band — which built a global fan base that major labels could no longer ignore. Their tremendous story speaks of self-fulfilled destiny and, for that reason, is uniquely American — for more reasons than one: historically speaking, there has never been an American rock-rap-metal band with an Asian-American element to win so much success or respect (the band has picked up both an American Music Award and a Grammy).  Linkin Park's MC, writer, guitarist, and producer Mike Shinoda (who, unlike other hip-hop artists, does not use a “black” inflection in his raps) and the band's DJ/producer, visual artist, and multiple MTV Video Music Award-winning video director Joseph Hahn sat down with Mouther to rap about music, race, and life.

Mouther: Let's check a few facts first. Mike: you are the MC/writer/guitarist/producer.  Joe: you are the DJ/video director/visual artist. Do I have that right?

Joe: Yeah.

Mike: Yeah, I'm kind of like multi-purpose guy.  Together, Joe and I are kind of the visual art team. Joe does more of the moving stuff – anything that has to do with TV, videos, or something, he's involved to some degree, both behind and in front of the camera.
Mouther: How old are both of you?

Mike: 27.

Joe: 16. Ok, 27. We're both 27.

Mouther: Now, obviously, you guys are world-renowned musicians and globally respected for your talent.  Can you talk a little bit about the kinds of things that you guys faced racially when the band was still coming up. -- For example, in the press, much is made about your getting passed over by Warner 3 times . -- How much of that do you think was having two Asian-Ams in the band?  I would imagine that when a record exec thinks of a metal band, they picture a white dude jumping around with long hair.

Mike: I don't think there was ever a time when anybody was crass enough to actually say that they were concerned that the band wasn't white. Because obviously, you've got 2 guys in the band who are Jewish, 1 ½ Asians, and it's the kind of thing where in a way, we represent the diversity in LA, but in a way, we're good friends – so none of that stuff ever came up.  So when we used to be called Hybrid Theory, our logo – which Joe and I designed – looked almost like a Japanese text character.  It was an “H” with two middle lines, and a “T” through the middle.  I thought it was really cool and the whole band loved it. – We had been using this logo on T-shirts and stuff.  I remember this guy who was helping us out at the time, kind of A&Ring the project, told us that we had to get rid of it, and that we couldn't be using that as our primary image for our street team – because it looked “too Asian.” We were like, What the hell does that mean? And he said, It looks like you should be on the back of Asian car club vehicles.  I know Joe and I were really offended.
Mouther: Was it a put-down?

Mike: Well, it was more like he was saying, You guys are a metal band, and I don't want you to be affiliated with Asian gangs or Asian car clubs. It's just the kind of comment that is so strange that it makes you feel bummed out – because it really confuses you. It's strange to hear race brought up in that kind of superficial manner, but in a musical context. When you're trying to think about music and someone brings up something like that, it can really knock you down.

Joe: One time in Antarctica , there were there anti-Korean people there and they were throwing these javelins at me. So I caught them and threw them back at them and killed them.

Mouther: You're kidding, right?

Mike: What do you think? [laughing]

Joe: Seriously though, I think speaking from an Asian-Am audience's point of view, I know that when I was growing up, there weren't too many Asian-Am musicians. James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins. For me, my Asian hero was Bruce Lee. ‘Cuz to me, he was bigger than Superman growing up. It's kinda cool seeing now, in the last couple of years, there seems to be more Asian-Ams comin' up in non-stereotypical roles that are really instrumental to shaping their fields. Like Chad Hugo. And DJs.

Mike: Yeah, Asian-Ams are kind of ruling the DJ scene now.

Mouther: You guys have experienced things that other creatively-minded Asian-Ams would likely face when trying to break into a field that isn't used to seeing Asian-Ams in their field. Would you mentor other Asian-Ams? Or have you done that before? – Like for example, would you guys ever mentor the Invisibl Skratch Piklz?
Joe: I think that one cool thing about us being Asian-American is that the music is not biased towards one specific racial groups or ethnicities. It's more a universal range of emotions. If you look at us visually, the diversity we have as a group is hopefully inspiring to some people. – I look at us as ordinary guys in jeans and T-shirts and baseball caps who found out a way to follow our dreams.

Mike: It's definitely a hard thing to put into words because we didn't go out with an agenda to be Asian-American role models. That wasn't on the list of things to do when we started the band. Especially with us being from LA, where in our groups of friends and in our own experiences, things are very diverse anyway. So that issue didn't even come up. Then all of a sudden, you're performing on a global scale, and people are saying, “That's weird. You guys are Asian.” And we're thinking, Nobody's really brought that up before. And with some people, that's something that they want to talk about. And that's totally cool with us. We love the fact that the band is diverse, the music is diverse, and the crowds are diverse.

Joe: The great thing is, we're both very proud of our Asian heritage. Mike and I went to art school together – and there's a lot of Asian influences in what we do musically, and visually too. I think that really comes across in subtle ways with what we do with Linkin Park .

Mouther: Mike: on Meteora , you specifically called out to people to “be active in breaking down divisions and stereotypes.” Can you share with us what kinds of adversities that you guys faced PERSONALLY, that came from other people's presumptions about you because of your race? Did you ever encounter anything racially adverse during your initial live performances? -- Mike: how do you think being Asian-American has affected people perceiving you as a rapper? Especially when comparing you to black or white rappers?

Mike: The guys totally make fun of my particular situation because for some reason, everybody thinks that I'm Latino. [laughing] A lot of people have made that mistake, especially when I was growing up. Again, in LA, there are a lot of Latino kids, and I kind of “blended” a little bit more. It was a little bit less difficult, being this weird mixed background that nobody else understood.

MOUTHER: What is your ethnicity?

Mike: I'm second-generation born in the US . My dad's Japanese. My mom's side of the family is Caucasian. Their family heritage traces back to the 13 colonies of white American people. My families totally get along now, but I still haven't been able to get a straight answer on whether that was an issue when they got married.

Mouther: So with your 13-colony family history, you're kind of like the ultimate definition of “Asian-American.”

Mike: It's kind of weird, yeah. My dad's family was interned, and my mom's family comes from back east.

Mouther: Can you share with us what your dad might have shared with you about his internment experience?

Mike: My dad was really young when they were interned. They were in Arizona – I think they were in Poston. He was like 3 or 4 at the time. But he's the 2 nd to youngest of 13. So the older aunts and uncles have a lot of memories, from stealing fruits from the victory gardens to watching movies on water towers. And that weird moment when young kids realized – you've heard the stories -- that the guards on top of the gun towers are not facing their guns outside, but inside – and that weird thing that goes on when they wonder why that was happening.

I don't know if it's in my family, or just a general thing, but they tend to not talk about that too much. They will just give you a couple of facts, but they don't ever want to get emotional about it. Because in their minds, it's just something that went on – and they actually met a lot of other great families during that time, and they keep a lot of the relationships they made at camp. So they only give me the short facts about it.

Mouther: My personal belief is that Asian America has a long way to go before we become recognized and respected as a meaningful collective, at least in the public eye. – Mike and Joe: what do you think is the most important thing that ASIAN AMS can do to both FOSTER that collectivity and also really try to CHANGE our current largely negative perceptions?

Joe: I guess I can speak in terms of examples. -- For me, the weird thing is that I get to make a living doing what we do. We all started trying to scrounge up $20 to rent a studio. And now we're here in NY and we've just won “Best Rock Video” at the MTV Video Music Awards for the second year in a row.

I think that particularly for Asian-Ams whose families come from an immigrant background, education is often focused upon because it's seen as a way to better your children's lives. This can lead to Asian-Am kids feeling like they shouldn't pursue things in the creative arts, and take “safer” routes. And to me, this is not just an Asian thing -- it's an issue for everyone: you should always, always try things out and then decide whether you “should” do it or not ?

Mike: Even if there isn't a role model to point at and say, That's what I want to do. To be creative about it and invent that thing in your head and figure out what you want to do.

Because obviously, for us, there wasn't that band that already existed that we were striving to be. We just had this idea in our heads of what we wanted to do, and we didn't have any reference points – we just kind of shot at it blindly, and through trial and error figured out a way to make it happen.

Joe: The other great thing is that I'm involved in film – I direct our videos, and I just got signed to an agency, so I take a lot of meetings in LA. During these meetings, I get to see a lot of Asian-Ams – behind the scenes. People who you don't see: like casting agents and producers. So for Asian-Ams out there: there is a great support system out there. A lot of people who are willing to help you. Even though it's not obvious, rest assured that it is there.

Mike: An important point about what Joe is talking about is that no matter what, your parents' preconceptions about what they think you should do, or what other people think you should do – you have got to figure out what you want to do. And that's true regardless of what your ethnic background is. Especially coming from art school, we know a lot of people in art school whose parents think that pursuing art is just the stupidest decision that you could have made. It's like they're thinking, there's no way you can make a living doing that. And you're gonna be poor your entire life. Parents want their kids to be comfortable.

Joe: And art school is very expensive.

Mike: [laughing[ Yeah, and then when you get out, it's very difficult to get a job. When you go to those schools, it's very inspiring to be surrounded by people who have willingly entered that environment, and said, Screw it, we are doing this because this is what we like to do – and we are going to make it something workable for us, however we have to do that.

Mouther: Because there hasn't been that band before you who has done this before, can you describe what it has felt like, being THE FIRST? Because clearly, it's never easy being “the first.” I'm sure it's had some uneasy moments?

Joe: It's true that we are very diverse. And different from what's out there. But I still think that at least musically, there were a lot of great examples out there for us. Our first album was called “Hybrid Theory” and the idea was to combine diverse musical elements, from hip-hop to rock and everything in between. For me personally, I looked to the hip-hop community because a lot of hip-hop artists make it in their own communities in a grass-roots way. Seeing those artists comin' up and spreading it in their own communities – that's very encouraging.

Mike: What's funny is that this happens with any minority group getting exposed to the media. Like at one point, there weren't any African-American actors or musicians in American mainstream culture. Then, it just kind of filtered in. Right now, you've got more Asian-Ams filtering in; just like you've got more gay characters filtering in; and other groups as well. That's a big deal. You get to see people who look like you in these shows and in the movies and in music enough times – and other people start to get used to it, too. The “uncomfortable” factor that people have becomes lessened, because they start getting used to it.

Joe: We've also learned from the greats about how to approach our music. Even for a band like Metallica that's been around for 20 years, it's always been about the fans for them. To this day, they're still signing autographs every day. Those things were really important to us when we started, because we started with the mentality of reaching out to our fans and retaining a great relationship with them. A big thing that's helped us with that has been the internet. That was a big reason we got signed: because not only did Warner Bros. reject us 3 times, but every label in town rejected us – multiple times. It was just a matter of taking matters into our own hands, and creating a street team, which is like our die-hard fans, and having those people go out and tell 10 people, and have those 10 people tell more people. Because of that, we were this little band in LA, but we had fans in Australia in Scotland and all around the world. Even if they were only 1 or 2 people in each country, it was getting out there. And after awhile, record companies can't ignore that.

Mike: There was a really memorable moment when we first went out on an east coast tour. We were in an RV – a really unsafe way to travel, too many of us were packed into this little thing – we showed up at a show in St. Petersburg , Florida . We weren't headlining; we were like, first of three or something. And there was this girl wearing one of our Hybrid Theory shirts. We were like, This is great! So we stopped to talk to her, and she was speaking with an accent – she was from Glasgow – and she was like, obviously from another country, and she said, My parents and I were here on vacation in the States, and I happened to see that you guys were playing, and I'm a big fan. Obviously, she ordered the shirt from the internet and she had come from Europe – and we couldn't believe it. This was before a song of ours was even on the radio or anything, and she's here at our show in Florida .

I think it's a good point that Joe made about the internet, because it's really a tool that helps people from around the world really be close together. When you go to the linkinpark.com messageboard, immediately you're talking with people who are from around the world.

Joe: As a filmmaker, I use the internet for inspiration. There's so many great filmmakers in Japan , Korea , and China ; and that's where I found out about films like Shaolin Soccer .

Mouther: Mike: musically, is it fair to call you an electronica freak, and if so, who are your electronic inspirations? The track “Session” sounds a LOT like Aphex Twin's first album, they're even in the same key and stuff.

Mouther: I really like Aphex Twin. Joe introduced me to Autechre and Aphex Twin and Squarepusher and groups like that. Obviously Aphex Twin being this awesome weird artistic force, I really like how different his music sounds and how cool his stuff looks visually. I'm not so much into current electronic stuff – I always liked Massive Attack and that Hive CD.

Joe: Portishead is great. So moody.

Mike: This is not really what you're asking about, but I really liked that Mr. Dibs mix CD – that was awesome. When you get into mixing different elements. Mixing metal riffs with beats of any tempo. I love stuff where people forget barriers and go for whatever sounds good.

Joe: X-cutioners and Scratch Pickls (who are Asian) are taking soundbytes and transforming those sound elements into something new.

Mouther: I was thinking that you guys are kind of like the ultimate revenge of stereotypes, because there's this stereotype of Asian men being unsexy . . .

Joe: That's totally untrue. Mike's very sexy!

Mike: And everybody's like, “Asians are skinny” – and you see Joe Hahn, and he's like, so . . .

Joe: Puffed!

Mike: He's like -- muscle man.

Mouther: . . . so you guys are like the ultimate revenge, ‘cuz you got the sexy thing going on, and the whole metal band/rock ‘n roll thing!

Mike: Well first of all, I wouldn't agree with the sexy thing at all. I think that Chad Hugo is much sexier than we are.

Joe: Just because we're on TV, the whole perception of us is different.

Mike: That is so true. If we weren't on TV, we wouldn't be considered good-looking at all. It's just because it's TV. TV confuses a lot of people.

Joe: [laughing] It's true!

Mouther: So -- what kind of female attention did you guys get before you were signed?

[together, loudly]: None!

Mouther: C'mon, you guys are young sexy things. No crazy stories with the ladies?

Mike: [pauses] Honestly, I think we stay so mellow that there just aren't any. Before our shows, maybe we have some dinner first, do our show, then come back to the bus and just chill out.

Joe: I thought this whole rock ‘n roll thing would change things . . . and I even became a director ‘cuz I thought that was a good career to like, you know, get chicks.

Mike: This doesn't apply to me ‘cuz I'm married. And we were dating from before the band even took off, so I've been like, completely oblivious to what's going on. All I know is that girls take their tops off at Ozzfest and Summer Sanitarium mainly because those are like, metal tours.

Joe: Do you know who Rick Yune is? He's an actor. I'm friends with him and every time I go out with him, all these girls are all over him.

Mouther: Well, why shouldn't they be?

Joe: [laughs] I don't know. But it never happens to me.

Mike: We all think that Joe's just hanging out with him because he's hoping some of that will rub off. -- But it's working in the opposite way because this Rick guy is taking all the attention and making Joe look bad.

Mouther: Any words of advice for Asian-Ams who are trying to do what they want to do, but maybe are encountering difficulty based on what they look like or strereotype that others might hold against them?

Joe: If you have a goal in life, there's more than one way to achieve that goal. As long as you're striving for something, you're accomplishing something.

Mike: In our case, each of the songs are built on potentially hundreds of screw-ups. We worked on “Somewhere I Belong” for 18 months. We tried out probably 40 different chorus ideas. Without those first 39, you couldn't have that 40 th one. So when we listen to it, we hear all those things that we had to get to, in order to be where we're at now.

Joe: If you look at our album booklet, with the credits of the songs, there's a brief description on what it took to get to that song.

Mike: I don't know if you heard these stories of the guy who wrote the Forrest Gump screenplay. He had been writing it and sitting on it and submitting it to people and trying to get it produced for a really long time. It's inspiring to see those things out there that you know are truly great, and you also know that people put a lot of work into – basically, no matter what the world around them was telling them to do, they kind of went with it anyway. That's what our take on it is. You'll figure out a way to do it – you've just gotta be persistent.

Joe: Creatively, you have to think: there IS an audience out there. You've just got to let your work find them. And be patient about it.

Mouther: Maybe up-and-coming Asian-Ams can take some comfort in the behind-the-scenes network that Joe mentioned. . .

Mike: . . . but don't rely on it. The main point is, it shouldn't matter whether it is there or not: as long as you feel strongly about what you're doing, you will find a way to make it happen. It wouldn't matter if there were people out there who “get it” right off the bat. You can make them get it. Because if you are really convinced that your thing is good, there's gotta be other people out there who understand that. Nobody is completely an island. Nobody's completely alone. If you're feeling one thing strongly . . . then someone else will, too.

Mouther: Do you really believe that?

Mike: [with alacrity] Absolutely! There's too many people living in our world for a person who feels certain emotions not to be able to figure out some way to connect with another person who's also feeling the same emotions. You just have to look for it. And if it's really complex, maybe you have to look really hard for it [laughing].

Maybe the reason I believe this is because of our experiences with our own music. When we write lyrics and we talk about things in a musical or visual form, we're communicating that to people – and people come up to us constantly and say things to the effect of, “Your song saved my life.” Or “your song helped me get through these really awful things.” You'd be surprised how many people truly connect with a mere song – who would be willing to let a song help them through a certain situation. I certainly didn't know that there were people out there who would really listen to one of our songs and lean on it when they needed it. That's incredibly cool. To me, that's a huge inspiration for doing what we do.

Joe: I also think that one of the biggest inspirations that people don't recognize – especially for Asian-Ams – is our parents. Most Asian-Ams haven't been in this country a really long time, so our parents have come from poverty-stricken areas or survived wars. It's only natural that the mentality of those immigrant parents is to create a better life for their children. If you look at every single thing that it took your parents to get from where they were to where they are now, and then look at where you're at -- including the clothes you wear and the most basic choices that you have – these are things that many people don't take notice of and should really be appreciative of.

Mouther: Thank you so much for all of your candor. Your words are gonna move a lot of people.

thanks to lptimes.com