Having albums debut at No. 1 is something of a habit for Linkin Park.
The group’s latest title, “A Thousand Suns,” bowed atop the Billboard 200 chart when it was released in September, marking the Los Angeles hard rock troupe’s third consecutive No. 1 debut following 2007’s double-platinum “Minutes to Midnight” and 2003’s quadruple-platinum “Meteora.” And “Hybrid Theory,” the group’s 2000 debut, hit No. 2 on its way to selling 24 million copies worldwide.
Co-founder Mike Shinoda says Linkin Park tries hard not to take those successes for granted, but the reception for “A Thousand Suns” was particularly sweet.
“This is a treat because this is a really different kind of record for us,” explains the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, who co-produced the album with Rick Rubin. “To feel the fan’s support on it is something we’re really grateful for.”
Chester Bennington, the group’s other lead vocalist, adds that, “I never thought about what people might think ... about the new direction. I know our fans, the die-hard fans of Linkin Park, are really open to what we do. Sometimes it takes people awhile to digest the new music, but ... I think people have really grown to appreciate what we’ve done here and seen it for what we meant it to be.”
“Different” is, in fact, the operative term for “A Thousand Suns.” While Linkin Park — which formed in 1996 and has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide, winning two Grammy Awards along the way — is no stranger to tinkering with its sound, its previous three albums largely followed an aggressive rock-rap hybrid mold, dominated by guitars, energy and angst. But this time out the sextet focuses on ambient, solemn soundscapes, relegating guitarist Brad Delson to the back burner — and barely even in the oven — in favor of keyboards, loops and samples over the course of nine songs and six interludes.
There are certainly rocking moments, including hip-hop styled throwdowns such as “When They Come For Me,” “Waiting for the End” and the Public Enemy homage “Wretches and Kings,” but those are laced amidst the hymn-like sensibilities of “Iridescent,” “Robot Boy” and the first single, “The Catalyst,” as well as the chilled-out aura of “Burning in the Skies.”
Linkin Park didn’t necessarily set out to reinvent its sound on “A Thousand Suns,” says Shinoda, who launched another band, Fort Minor, and several art shows between albums while Bennington started his own group, Dead By Sunrise. But, Shinoda explains, “we were just at a point where we were hearing a lot of things out there in the music world that was boring to us, and our own music that we were writing sounded like what Linkin Park would do — and that was kind of boring us, too. We wanted to really challenge ourselves to try something that felt fresh and exciting.”
Linkin Park fortunately “never got very far along” with the initial batch of material. Shinoda says the group’s working process — putting songs together in groups of two or three members, then meeting each Monday to review what they’d come up with, occasionally with Rubin — quickly steered the band in a different direction.
“When something would come in that was familiar,” Shinoda, 33, recalls, “it kind of just got shrugged shoulders and not very excited reactions. And when something would come in that sounded challenging or was something that you didn’t really know if you liked a lot, that would get everyone’s attention and we’d see where that would lead.”
Appropriately enough, one of the first of those latter tracks was “The Catalyst,” which came in a group that also included “Robot Boy” and “Burning in the Skies.” “That was one of the reasons ‘The Catalyst’ got its name,” Shinoda explains. But he adds that “Robot Boy,” which is “drastically different from any song we’ve done,” was the real catalyst for the adventurous direction Linkin Park ultimately took.
“That was, in our minds, definitely on the record a year and a half ago,” he says. “That was kind of the bar for how different we wanted the record to be. If things couldn’t match up to that, they weren’t going to work out.”
The change, Shinoda notes, represents a “challenge” for the band with its fan base. “I think everybody’s kind of getting older and growing up, and we want to make music that represents where we’re at right now,” he explains. “But the fact that we’ve made a record that sounds the way this one does is not in any way a message or directed to anyone who’s supported the band over the years. We’re not saying, ‘We’re going in a new direction, and ‘F’ everybody who likes the old stuff.’
“But we know it’s going to be more of a battle to get this into people’s hands and help people understand we’ve made a record that is going to kind of redefine the band in some regards. People are going to love it and people are going to hate it, but at least at this point people are really talking about it ... and that’s a fun conversation for us to have started.”
That said, Shinoda contends that “A Thousand Suns” is not necessarily foreign to those who have been following Linkin Park over the years.
“It’s really some of the same elements, just reshuffled,” he says. “You take the elements of our songs — the vocals, the heavy guitar, some hip-hop elements and electronic elements — 10 years ago we wanted to hear the live drums and the guitar and the screaming vocals right up front.
“Well, with this record I think we had more of a feeling of, ‘Let’s kind of spread everything out. Let’s not just stick those things up front by default. Let’s really give people a dense-sounding record and put things more on par with one another so you can actually hear all the other stuff. It’s always been there, now we’re just moving them more up front.”
Early reports indicated that “A Thousand Suns” would be a concept record, and Shinoda agrees that’s what the band — particularly he and Bennington — expected at the outset of recording. But without a specific narrative thread unifying the songs, they’ve since backed off of that and feels the album has “multiple concepts that show up on the record and kind of mix and match.”
“Chester and I would write often about fear and hope,” he says, “particularly fear of accountability, personally, or fear of accountability as a culture — of things we’re doing to each other and to the world around us. And fear of self-annihilation, that we’re just going to destroy the planet and blow ourselves up.
“It’s admittedly a broad-scope kind of album,” Shinoda adds with a laugh, “and it was a lot to take on. So we’re excited to see that some people are listening to the album and really walking away, with no help from us, with the same questions and the same themes on their minds, and they’re talking about it. At the end of the day that’s a real blessing for any band.”
As high as Linkin Park is on “A Thousand Suns,” Shinoda promises that fans will hear “songs from all our albums” at the group’s concerts, though he adds that “we take some of the old stuff and manipulate it and make it sound newer.” Meanwhile, the band is also planning to write some new material while on the road and will hopefully have a next album ready sooner rather than later — breaking the multi-year wait that’s become habitual between Linkin Park’s first four releases.
“Creatively I feel like the band is really energized,” Shinoda says. “It’s definitely a creative time for us; hopefully that means the next record is in the works.”
Bennington, meanwhile, adds that, “Honestly, anything goes. What we’re doing now in the studio, over the last two records, is completely fulfilling in every way. I feel like I could come in with a banjo piece and sing some honky tonk and we’ll probably figure out a way to make it work.”
Linkin Park, Pendulum and Does It Offend You, Yeah? perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25, at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $69.50 and $35. Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
Here are a couple things to know about your ticket:
* All ticketholders will be able to download a recording of the show within a few days of the concert. A special access code will be announced at the venue. Fans will also be able to buy recordings of other shows on the tour, though only the concert they attended will be available for free.
* $1 from each ticket is donated to Music For Relief, Linkin Park’s charity that helps victims of natural disasters. The group also re-launched its Download to Donate for Haiti on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake there, and bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell recently visited the country to see how the money was being used.
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