Linkin Park: Burning It Down
You could have been forgiven for thinking that Linkin Park were going to burn brightly and then vanish after they hit big in 2000 with their debut album Hybrid Theory. However, while contemporaries like Papa Roach, Staind and Limp Bizkit struggled to develop their sound or maintain their audience, Linkin Park went from strength to strength, culminating in the release of their nuclear paranoia concept album A Thousand Suns in 2010.
The album spawned the hits “The Catalyst” and “Wating For The End” and proved that the band were more than a drop-tuned late ‘90s throwback. You could forgive them for choosing to rest on their laurels and carefully plan their next move.
Except they didn’t.
Within weeks of finishing their tour the band were already in the studio working up songs for their next album: a rock album, without any overarching themes.
“I think for us, with A Thousand Suns, we knew we had done something great so were like ‘let’s just keep the ball rolling,’” explains frontman Chester Bennington. “I think it was definitely our best record to date. A Thousand Suns was a great representation of everything the band could achieve musically and artistically.”
He shrugs off the suggestion that there was any concern about following up their success: after all, they’d done it before.
“See, we had both the privilege and the disservice of having a monster first album. Hybrid Theory was such a huge success that nothing we ever do will sell as many or be as big. So depending on your perspective it’s like, ‘Well fuck; what do we do now?’ – or it’s like, ‘Well great! Now we can just go out and have fun for the rest of our careers!’” he laughs. “As long as we make good music we’ve kind of got that out of the way.”
And it’s that spirit that infects Living Things, which started life at the end of the year-long tour for A Thousand Suns.
“We went right off the road straight in to the studio and just continued to make songs that we though were great,” Bennington enthuses. “And I think by doing that we just continued this creative path that we’ve been going on for the last four or five years, and I think we’ve made a really great record with a lot of high energy songs and there are some interesting moments, artistically.”
There was no temptation to make it another narratively-linked series of songs?
“No: to go back and make another concept
record would have been kinda boring and so we just went back in and did what we do best and make songs that we feel are good songs and pushed ourselves creatively.”
Given that A Thousand Suns was such a specific group of songs, it’s tempting to wonder whether the initial ideas for Living Things had been material that hadn’t fit into the Suns template.
“No, we only started working on all of this stuff as were coming near the end of our world tour,” Bennington explains.
“We set up our touring cycles where we go on tour for about three or four weeks and then come home for about a month, and then we go back out. During that downtime on the last few legs of the world tour is when things really started kicking into gear, and we carried that creative energy in to this new record.”
And that was the principal reason for the schedule: the band had found the record-tour-record cycle meant there were frustratingly long gaps between albums.
So this time we took longer breaks between legs of tours which allowed us to be creative and more energised, so when were done we had a bunch of fresh ideas and we weren’t burned out. And that meant we just went right in to the studio and started working. Things picked up really quickly so we were able to turn a record around faster which is what we’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
He’s not kidding: the band’s extensive touring schedule meant that there’s been, on average, three years between releases for each of their five albums to date (and four between 2003’s Meteora and 2007’s Minutes To Midnight).
Despite his insistence that the songs dictated the shape of the album, Bennington concedes that the tour did have one important influence on the new album: every song on Living Things had to have “…energy, but when I say we wanted to bring the energy, that doesn’t mean that we just wanted to plug in our instruments and play it live.”
Well, the first half of the album is pretty guitar-heavy – it’s tempting to assume that after months of touring, it was a matter of wanting to maintain a certain simplicity rather than labour over computers and keyboards…
“Um, no,” he laughs. “There really isn’t that much premeditation into making an album. We don’t sit down and go, ‘OK, we just made these kinds of songs, so let’s make some of those kinds of songs.’ It’s whatever we’re inspired to do.
But if you’re playing live a lot, surely the mere fact you’re playing colours the songs you write?
“No, it always starts with the song, not the instrument. We just get inspired to work with a guitar or with a keyboard. Some songs make us want to pick up a guitar and some songs make us wanna go and create sounds and smash things and make dope beats. It just depends on what we’re inspired to do for that track. And it just so happens that on this record a lot of songs were going more toward the guitar vibe.”
Warming to his theme, he barrels on. “That said, I think the one thing we wanted to do with this record was no matter what song we took off this album and put in the live set, it would add energy and I’m really proud of this record I knew when we finished it and I listened to it in its entirety; the first six songs are just a fucking one-two punch to the face!”
Well, he makes a valid point.
“The second half of the record gets more artistic and starts to bring around the elements of the electronic vibe and more unexpected stuff that people have been accustomed to in the last couple of records. I feel like we have dipped in to all the things that we do well and put it all together on this record.”
“Energy” and “vibe” were clearly the watchwords with Living Things, and Bennington can’t stop using them as he explains that “we really wanted to make a record where everything’s really strong, whether it was a song like “Victimised”, which is just in-your-face, let’s scream and punch and kick each other, or a song like “Burn It Down” or “Castle Of Glass”. Those songs are all very different from one another but they all have a really good energy and a good vibe.
“And when you’re done listening to it, you wanna listen to it again – and if we put it in the live set,
it’s gonna be fucking awesome to play. That’s what
we wanted to achieve, and that’s the only thing
He gets a little coy when asked why.
“Well, because… see, it’s just…” he sighs before admitting, “on the last two albums, A Thousand Suns and Minutes To Midnight, a lot of the songs that turned into singles off those records were these mid-tempo ballads. And so we had to incorporate a lot of those songs into our set.”
Ah. That’d be a challenge for a band known for rockin’ out.
“Yeah, exactly: and so all of a sudden, out of an hour and a half of music there’s like, 40 minutes of mid-tempo,” he barks. “And like, the songs are beautiful, but let’s get fuckin’ real: we’re at a Linkin Park show, not a fuckin’ Sheryl Crow show. We want to bring the fuckin’ energy! So Mike [Shinoda, co-frontman] and I had a discussion that no matter what vibe the song is, it has to have an energy and an excitement to it.”
Hence more guitars?
“No, it’s not that simple: no matter if it’s an electronic song or maybe a song that’s not so heavy, like “Castle Of Glass” or “Skin To Bone”, those songs aren’t like heavy guitar-driven songs, but they have a fuckin’ vibe and they’ll be fun to insert into a set. They won’t bring a lull to the show. That’s what I mean by that.”
He’s also aware that much of the last album didn’t really lend itself to being plonked into the middle of a set, although he’d love the chance to present it as a piece. “I would love to play it in a way that would present it as a show.”
What, as a complete performance?
“Yeah, the whole night: ‘Linkin Park performs A Thousand Suns.’ If you’re going do most of the songs off that record, it should be that whole vibe on stage aesthetically, artistically, where we play that album from beginning to end as it is on the record, that would be great.”
It’d be a challenge, surely?
“Well, yeah. There are some songs we’d need extra people to pull of. For example, the reality is that “Robot Boy” was never intended to play live. There’s too much going on,” he chuckles. “We don’t have six guys who can sing that song at the same time.”
The band are on the road through the northern hemisphere for most of 2012, but are they heading down our way?
“I don’t really know the schedule very well. I’ve learned over the last 10 years that when I start to pay attention to where I’m gonna be too far in advance, it kinda bums me out.”
Cheers, Bennington. Thanks a bunch.
“No, not like that! Just because I go, ‘Fuck dude, I’m gonna be gone from home for all this time.’ Like, ‘Oh, my son’s just started school and the next time I’ll be home for any length of time is after they finished this school year,’” he says with a sigh.
“That bums me out, so I’ve learned to enjoy touring more when I don’t pay attention to what we’re doing. I usually don’t even know where we are until we get there: ‘Where are we today? We’re in Stuttgart? Fuck yeah!’” he laughs. “But I imagine early next year would be a good time to get out to Australia and Asia. In my mind, if I’m forseeing correctly, that seems like that would be time we would be out there.”
Living Things is out now on Warner.