Mike Shinoda on writing an album on Twitch, 20 years of ‘Hybrid Theory’ and Chester Bennington’s voice
“My livestreaming thing and the music that’s come from it have really helped me to stay sane through this whole thing,” Mike Shinoda tells NME of how passing time on Twitch in lockdown led to his latest ambitious solo album, ‘Dropped Frames Vol. 1‘.
Having taken suggestions and feedback on the direction of the music from fans who tuned into his Twitch livestreams, the Linkin Park musician ended up creating a project based on pure collaboration. It’s a piece of work that’s “just as much about the live channel as it is about the ‘album‘”. After originally asking fans to guide him through the best way to finish off some demos on Instagram, he soon found himself asking them to submit vocals for the track ‘Open Door’, before taking to Twitch each and every morning to work with his followers on a constant flow of music.
“There are a number of different things that I get out of it,” says Shinoda. “It’s a nice anchor for my day and my week – in that I can tell what time and what day it is, which isn’t easy in lockdown! I can make so much cool stuff.”
We were about to say that it beats wasting hours on Animal Crossing, but even that made its way into the record somehow. To celebrate the release of ‘Dropped Frames Vol. 1’ this week, we Facetimed Shinoda for a quick chat about people power, listening habits, the upcoming 20th anniversary of Linkin Park’s seminal debut ‘Hybrid Theory’, and the recent release from Chester Bennington’s former band Grey Daze.
Tell us about your fans’ contribution to this record
“We came up with a way to do fan recommendations where they challenge me. They earn points through watching the channel, then they can redeem them with things like choosing the style of the song from what we call ‘The Bowl Of Destiny’. I’ll pick out more than one style, like mashing up a Red Hot Chili Peppers-style song, a Prince/Morris Day And The Time-style song, and the sound of a wombat. Or something crazy like Final Fantasy style video game music, mixed with horror hip-hop, Mariachi and N-Sync early ‘00s pop.”
Does it always work out?
“Some days I’ll be at odds with what the fans want to do. Sometimes there’s a friction, and sometimes that makes it worse and sometimes that makes it better. It’s OK that some of these experiments fail. The last song on this album is a joke. It’s called ‘Booty Down’ and it has these vocal samples in it. The fans challenged me to make a song in the style of Panic! At The Disco. I tried, I hated it, it was boring, it was stupid, so I basically said, ‘This is a failed experiment and we need to do something else to clear our palette’. I started jokingly picking through these vocal samples called ‘Booty Up’ and ‘Booty Down’, so I made a Miami bass dance track out of it.”
How would you describe the overall vibe and feel of music you made together?
“It’s spontaneous. A lot of the time with music I feel like I channel what’s happening in the moment. This stuff sonically comes from when it’s being created. We archived all of the Twitch episodes on Youtube so you can go back and see where it came from. I know that when the Black Lives Matter protests were starting, the track we made that day was sombre and soulful. It was sonically appropriate for the kind of day that it was. That track didn’t make it onto this album, but it will be on a future volume.
You said that ‘Post Traumatic’ was like a diary of the dark times dealing with the death of Chester. Does this album feel like a diary of your lockdown months?
“Maybe! When I was in college I listened to a lot of instrumental music like DJ Shadow’s first couple of albums, Aphex Twin, UNKLE, Massive Attack. I love records by J Dilla, Flume and Flying Lotus. There’s a poetry to putting music out with no words. I like that, I’ve never done that with my whole focus. It’s a lot of fun.”
So we can expect some surprising and weird sounds?
“Yeah, I love that. Once in a while on my stream, I’ll play Animal Crossing. It’s relaxing, like meditation. The fans and I named my turtle, it was nice. The mayor of your island on Animal Crossing is a guy called Tom Nook. All the voices are very similar and weird, and I found a plug-in on my keyboard where it will play Tom Nook vocal sounds. The fans still ask for it every day.”
Were you working on the follow-up to ‘Post Traumatic’ before this project took hold?
“I was working on really random stuff. I still am, because I’m a little slower in quarantine. There’s a song for myself here, a song for someone else there. I’m still experimenting and trying to figure out what I’m trying to do next. I feel like I’m going down 20 different roads at once. If there’s ever anything to talk about, I’ll talk about it on my stream.”
You recently did a great remix for Renforshort. What led you to work with her?
“It’s really fun to work with new artists because of the variety that it brings into the creative situation. She’s super young, but knows what she’s doing with her music. This would be the moment where she throws in a self-deprecating comment, but my instinct is that she’s got a tonne of raw talent and I’d love to see where she takes that. The biggest challenge for any artist in her position is to really unlock her voice and a unique way to communicate their intention. I’ve been listening to her a lot.”
It was recently revealed that Linkin Park had unheard tracks featuring Chester. Have you spent much time in recent years going through the vaults?
“No, I haven’t. For every record I’ve done, there are tracks in varying degrees of completion with vocals on them. Releasing them isn’t on the schedule.”
You also recently shared unseen gig footage from 2001. Can fans expect from archive gig stuff?
“We’re all aware that this year is the 20th anniversary of ‘Hybrid Theory’, so we’re planning to do something for that. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just leave it there.”
Chester’s former Grey Daze recently released the album ‘Amends‘ featuring his vocals. Was that a surreal experience, being outside of the project?
“I haven’t heard it. They did it on their own. I can’t listen to it. I don’t want to hear his voice. It’s hard enough for me to listen to Linkin Park albums. It has to be on the right day. I did watch some of his son Jaime’s video, though. I got through two minutes of it before it became a little too much for me.”
What else have you been listening to during lockdown?
“Everything! Griselda, Hayley Williams, Joji, Denzel Curry, Caribou, Jay Electronica, Renforshort, Jessie Reyez, RAC, 99 Neighbors, the new Jack Garratt, Run The Jewels, that Trash Talk record that Kenny Beats produced. There’s so much good new music.”
Mike Shinoda releases ‘Dropped Frames Vol. 1’ on Friday July 10.