It’s conference call time.
On one end of the line, waiting for the telephone festivities to start, are the two frontmen for the multi-platinum, rap-rock, nu-metal, what-have-you band Linkin Park: singer Chester Bennington and rapper/emcee Mike Shinoda.
On the other are a pack of ravenous journalists, selfish predators that we are, each hoping to get in at least one question during the mass interview’s allotted time frame of 30 minutes.
Not exactly the ideal setting for a talk – and Linkin Park has a ton to chat about (or not) of late, from a massively publicized squabble and potential lawsuit with its record label, Warner Brothers, to a collaboration with Rick Rubin, the star producer who has overseen records for Johnny Cash, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Dixie Chicks, Neil Diamond and a dozen or so other stylistically diverse notables.
The setting has all the potential of a scrappy bar fight, except that nobody can see one another. When the session turns out to be orderly, the Linkin Park men seem almost disappointed.
“I thought it was going to be a free for all with everybody talking at the same time,” Bennington said.
“That’s what I was hoping,” Shinoda added.
The first half of the conference call proceeds with few hurdles and even fewer revelations. Bennington and Shinoda are posed questions about everything except their music. How do you select your opening acts? What do you think of the new digital/downloading musical age? Are you giving tickets away again for military personnel and their families?
Finally, a reporter from Minneapolis brings up the dreaded words: Warner Brothers. The air over the telephone lines – if there is such a thing – tightens. The promotional stance the vocalists had been taking retreats and the overall mood becomes slightly more tentative.
“We voiced our concerns back then,” Bennington said in a still polite but affirmative tone. “I don’t want to get back into it at all.”
Get back into what? Well, here’s the deal. Since 2000, Linkin Park has sold somewhere along the lines of 50 million records worldwide. The band’s first two studio albums, Hybrid Theory and Meteora, were loud, angst filled affairs that mixed arena rock bravado, metal and rap with an accessibility that, at times, was downright poppish. Then when cost cutting measures were implemented at Warner Brothers – specifically, the Warner Music Group – Linkin Park sought release from its contract. Litigation seemed all but inevitable.
“Linkin Park has become increasingly concerned that WMG’s diminished resources will leave it unable to compete in today’s global music marketplace, resulting in a failure to live up to WMG’s fiduciary responsibility to market and promote Linkin Park,” the band said in a May 2005 statement.
But by year’s end, peace was declared. No real terms of the treaty were disclosed. But Linkin Park remained with Warners as work on a third studio album commenced.
Luckily, that was something Bennington was in the mood to discuss when my telephone time with him rolled around.
“I think where we were at was we were really hungry to make a record,” he said. “As much as we talk about how much time we like to be with our families and take off, it’s important for us to have a balance. The reality is that if we take even a week longer than we expected, it becomes uncomfortable.
“As much as a vacation sounds good or taking time to work through some issues, like we had with Warner Brothers, it was also difficult for us. Once we got ready to make a record, we were very ready to make a record.”
The questions Linkin Park then faced were these: what musical direction should the new record take and what producer should be enlisted to guide it? Once Rubin was brought on board, an answer to the first question became even more vital.
“Rick asked us, ‘What kind of record do you want to make?’ recalled Shinoda. “All six of us were like, ‘Pretty much something totally different.’ He was like, ‘Good, because that was what I was thinking.'”
So the members of Linkin Park – Bennington, Shinoda, guitarist Brad Delson, bassist David “Phoenix” Farrell, drummer Rob Bourdon and turntablist Joe Hahn – wrote. And wrote. And wrote. When they had what Bennington termed as “100 bazillion songs,” Rubin went to work. What resulted was a more streamlined, less-rap savvy album called Minutes to Midnight.
The change of musical tactics was pronounced. Songs like Valentine’s Day and Leave Out All the Rest came off as radio-ready ballads while crunchier rockers like No More Sorrow and especially Bleed It Out that were more in keeping with Hybrid Theory and Meteora were wrapped in plentiful melodic hooks. Shoot, you could almost dance to them.
David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine, in a four star review of Minutes to Midnight, summed up the album and the pop age surrounding it in two sentences: “Rap rock is dead. Linkin Park are not because they were always more than the meager sum of that combination.”
“We knew in our hearts that we wanted to make a record that was going to be a turning point for us,” Bennington said, “a kind of revamping (of) the band creatively and intellectually.
“We went in and did it. We took our time and we exhausted every avenue. We blazed new paths and tried new things. It was great. It was a great experience and I think Minutes to Midnight speaks for itself because of that.”
(above photo of Linkin Park by James Minchon)
Linkin Park, Coheed & Cambria and Chiodos perform at 7 p.m. tonight at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $36.50, $46.50. Call (859) 281-6644, (859) 233-3535.