Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda on life after Chester Bennington: 'I cope by staying in motion'

The rapper lost his bandmate to suicide last year. But his solo tour has been a place for fans – and him – to process their grief

The last time Mike Shinoda played Reading and Leeds festival it was 2003 – circa Von Dutch caps, wallet chains and buzz cut-era Britney ­– and his band, nu-metal titans Linkin Park, were headlining. “I remember the show pretty distinctly,” he says, “because it was the most rugged-looking fest I’d ever seen. Back then, being from the States, I thought music festivals were all like Lollapalooza – you go for the day, and then you go home. This was totally different, real down and dirty. There were tents everywhere, everything’s muddy, and the fans were just filthy and stinky and having the best time.”

This weekend, after a lengthy absence, Shinoda will return to the main stage of this loamy and hallowed institution to play songs from his recently released solo debut, Post Traumatic. The sets will be his first UK dates since the suicide of his friend and Linkin Park co-frontman, Chester Bennington, last July. That loss is writ large on Post Traumatic, a moody, articulate work of minor-key electronica. Does it get easier to play these songs live? “Yeah, it does, actually. Part of it might be the repetition, but part of it is definitely the crowd response.”

Following a short string of solo US dates, Shinoda took Post Traumatic on a whistle-stop tour of Asia, passing through China, Japan, Korea and Singapore, from where he speaks to me. “Each night we’ve been creating this forum for people to get together. I think mostly its a fun show; its upbeat and enjoyable.” There are moments of tribute; the fan singalong to Bennington’s part on Linkin Park’s In the End is always a bittersweet part of the set, for example, but one Shinoda has found himself looking forward to. Striking a balance between reflective and celebratory is important to him. “I wouldn’t want to go to a concert that was a downer, so I don’t want to play a concert that’s a downer.”

Shinoda performing with Chester Bennington at the O2 Arena, London, July 2017.
Shinoda performing with Chester Bennington at the O2 Arena, London, July 2017. Photograph: Burak Cingi/Redferns

Shinoda is evidently invested in honouring the grief of Linkin Park fans, diligently using his solo tour to offer a space for that. Even so, the strength of their feeling can still surprise him. A few nights ago in Beijing, the audience staged a post-concert vigil that went on for 40 minutes. Shinoda had long since left the venue, on strict instructions from the roadblock-weary promoter. But he got updates.

That concert – like the vigil – had been a joyful, cathartic event, Shinoda says, more smiles than tears. But mourning is a precarious business. “Two days later, we did a pre-show meet-and-greet in Shanghai. At this one, half of the fans were bawling their eyes out before we even spoke. So it’s an unpredictable situation.” Mostly, he says, fans are thankful he’s out there, within reach. “The sentiment is usually, ‘Thank you for the music, thank you for carrying on, the new album is helping me, seeing you on stage lets me know that I can carry on’. I did intend for that to be part of the message and the purpose of this [tour], so the fact that it is connecting is really rewarding.”

Post-gig Twitter searches have helped him gauge the fan response. While he’s committed to supporting his fans, this is as much about his process as theirs. “Different people deal in different ways. My coping style is staying in motion, through music and art. Plus I’m out on the road with crew members who were with me and Chester for many years, so I’m around family, people who get it.”

If there’s time after his Reading & Leeds sets, Shinoda is hoping to see Dua Lipa (“I haven’t managed to catch her live yet”) and this year’s crowd-dividing headliner, Kendrick Lamar. The furore that followed the rapper’s booking is trifling, says Shenoda. “If I saw him on like, a Hellfest bill or something, that might be a little weird,” he laughs. “But Kendrick is a unicorn. He’s not your typical rap artist. Every time I’ve seen him live it’s different – it’s poetry, it’s jazz, it’s rock, it’s rap. It’s everything.”

After all, rap and rock are longtime bedfellows, something Shinoda knows more than most. He has made a career mining that intersection, from the diamond-certified emo swagger of Hybrid Theory to his hip-hop side project Fort Minor. Even in unabashed pop mode, as Linkin Park were on 2017’s One More Light – the group’s final studio album with Bennington – they made a space for MCs American (Pusha T) and British (Stormzy) alike.

As to the future, Shinoda is keeping an open mind. “Who knows where this’ll end up, in six or 12 months from now? All I know is I’m having a great time now, on the road. I know there are a lot of fans who’re scared to come out and face [the grief], but I want them to experience these shows. There’s a lot of healing happening here.”


Charlotte Richardson Andrews

The GuardianTramp

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