The sign of a real musician is when they’ve reached great success but they keep stretching musically --- not content to rest on their laurels. Mike Shinoda is one of those people. His band, Linkin Park, has scaled the heights of the rock world, selling millions of records and putting lots of butts in concert hall seats. While the band is gearing up for their next album in 2006, Shinoda put some down time to good use and put together a rap project called Fort Minor. Not just your regular trash-talking fare, however. The debut record has lyrics that run the gamut from WWII war-related stories to loneliness. Jay-Z was the executive producer (Mike produced the entire record himself) so you know the beats are bangin’. antiMusic spoke to Mike this week about Fort Minor and what made him start another group.
antiMusic: The obvious first question, why did you do this record? What was it about the material that you could not put those ideas forward in Linkin Park?
Shinoda: I just wanted to get back to my roots-to what I did before Linkin Park. And there were some songs, like "Kenji," which is about my family's experience in the Japanese Internment during WWII, that are just more appropriate on the Fort Minor album.
antiMusic: How long has this material been accumulating? Why this moment in time to put it out?
Shinoda: I started this thing about two years ago, doing demos and putting down ideas. But I think it came together in a matter of a few months.
antiMusic: There are too many tracks to go through in depth but can you go over a couple of songs and what they mean to you or the impetus behind them?
a. "Remember the Name" - Just breaking down the science of music, from my perspective. Plus, I thought it would be a great way to introduce the world to this project.
b. "Petrified" - that only word I can use to describe this song is "irresponsible." It's just a trash-talking battle track.
c. "Believe Me" - This is a pretty weird song, to me. Lots of strange dynamics: Big 90's NYC drums, classic rock chord progression, Latin percussion…I love how it all came together.
d. "Kenji" - I'm half Japanese, and the song "Kenji" is based on my family's story during WWII in an internment camp. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government began a period of racial profiling. They put all the Japanese-Americans (and some other Asian-Americans) in secluded camps for the duration of the war. My dad was three years old, and had twelve brothers and sisters. My oldest aunt was in her twenties, and had four kids. Her youngest was born in Camp. Her husband died in Camp. They stayed there for the duration of the war, captive. Once they were released, they returned to vandalized homes and racial tension. That's what the song "Kenji" is about.
e. "Where'd You Go" - A lot of people do songs about being on the road or on tour. I wanted to do a song from the opposite side, the other perspective. It was weird, I just came into the studio and sat down and played it. The words were there in a matter of probably two minutes. A few weeks later I decided I wanted Holly to sing it instead of me because I thought her voice would make the track so much more powerful. "Where'd You Go" makes my wife cry every time she hears it.
f. Cigarettes - It's about how I feel about hip hop right now. There's a funny similarity between the rap industry and the cigarette industry. We know they aren't telling us the complete truth, but we buy it anyway because we're just using it as an escape. It's like a good R-rated movie, like Scarface.
antiMusic: What's the significance of the band name, Fort Minor?
Shinoda: "Fort" represents the more aggressive side of the music. "Minor" can mean a few things: if you're talking about music theory, minor key is darker. I wanted to name the album rather than having my name on the cover, because I want people to focus on the music, not me.
antiMusic: What about the record name, "The Rising Tied"?
Shinoda: The album title, "The Rising Tied" is a play on words. This album is about a group of people who are "tied" together musically. They are "rising" up in the world of music together.
antiMusic: Is there a theme to the record or an overall prevailing sentiment that you were trying to get across?
Shinoda: Hip hop right now is mostly based on keyboard music. One of my goals of the Fort Minor album was to keep the big sound of a hip hop album, but make it using live instruments and hand-played keyboard parts. When you hear a tambourine, bass, or guitar, it's played by hand.
antiMusic: Tell us about working with Shawn Carter. What sort of producer is he? Were you a fan prior to your working with him in Linkin Park?
Shinoda: When MTV went to Jay about doing the mash-up project, they asked him who he wanted to do it with. He said "Linkin Park," so I assume he's a fan. Fast-forward to today, it was good to have Jay on board as executive producer on the Fort Minor album. People ask if he wrote any lyrics or music, and the answer is no. But he did something that was very important-he helped me pick through my songs and decide which ones we should put on the album, which we should not, and which had potential, but needed work.
antiMusic: What were some of his recording likes/dislikes/style? What sort of vibe did he create?
Shinoda: He wasn't in the studio. We would meet after I had some songs finished. In fact, if you check out the special-edition version of the Fort Minor album, the DVD shows one of the meetings with Jay, me, and my A&R and LP band-mate Brad Delson.
antiMusic: Why did you choose him as the producer? Who else were you considering?
Shinoda: I figured if Jay wouldn't do it, there wasn't anyone else. Go big or go home. I would have just taken on those responsibilities myself, and finished the album that way.
antiMusic: Tell us about the special guests on the record? Why did you include them and how did they come to be on their respective cuts?
Shinoda: As you can imagine, I could have gotten together with all the big names, like the Neptunes or Timbaland, and made the album that way, put "Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park" on the cover, with a big photo of me. But I didn't want to do that. As I was making the songs, I felt like I wanted to include my friends. If you look at all the artists on the album-Black Thought, Common, John Legend, Styles of Beyond, Holly Brook, Kenna, Jonah-I think there is a lot of diversity there. I basically looked at each song and thought about what would make it better. I respect these people musically, and I knew that if I asked them to work on a song, they would understand my vision for it.
antiMusic: What sort of stuff did you listen growing up?
Shinoda: Hip hop like Boogie Down Productions, N.W.A., Public Enemy, Run DMC…rock like Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice In Chains.
antiMusic: What's your opinion on the status of the rap scene today?
Shinoda: Hip hop right now is mostly based on keyboard music. One of my goals of the Fort Minor album was to keep the big sound of a hip hop album, but make it using live instruments and hand-played keyboard parts. It's an organic hip hop album. When you hear a tambourine, bass, or guitar, it's played by hand.
antiMusic: Anybody you particularly enjoy listening to?
Shinoda: There are some dope new artists. Styles Of Beyond, Demigodz, Lupe Fiasco, Sixx John, Bishop Lamont, Trek Life, Saigon, and a lot of others.
antiMusic: How have your bandmates in Linkin Park responded to your record?
Shinoda: I told them from the beginning that I wouldn't do it unless they wanted me to. They've been supportive from day one. In fact, Brad just did a chat on fortminor.com
antiMusic: Was this just a one-off or do you hope/envision future Fort Minor releases?
Shinoda: We'll have to wait and see. But I'm working on a new Linkin Park album right now, so it'll have to be after that.
antiMusic: How do you plan to work this around the schedule of your other band?
Shinoda: The next Linkin Park album will hopefully be out next year. Other than that, I'll just be trying to work on both things. It's a lot of work!
antiMusic: Anything else you want to tell us about the record?
Shinoda: I should just say thanks to the fans for their support. I've gotten a lot of great feedback from fans, some who never listen to hip hop, some who only listen to hip hop. The hip hop heads are saying that they like the uniqueness of the album, which to me is a huge success. The fans who don't usually listen to hip hop usually tell me that they like the lyrics on The Rising Tied because I'm not talking the same stuff most rappers talk about. In both cases, I am extremely happy with the response so far.
antiMusic and Morley Seaver would like
to thank Mike Shinoda for speaking to us about his new project. Thanks
also go to Myleik Teele for setting this up.