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Linkin Park celebrates 20 years since blockbuster debut, "Hybrid Theory:" Q&A

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Linkin Park's 2000 debut album, "Hybrid Theory," was not expected to take over the world.

The Los Angeles sextet's 12-song set, produced by done Gilmore and released Oct. 24 that year, was a solid heavy rock record, waving in flavors of rap and electronic music. It had ambitions beyond its genre, which is not always a recipe for mass success.

But it proved to be just that in "Hybrid Theory's" case. Now certified 12-times platinum and with sales of more than 27 million worldwide, it's the best-selling debut album of the 21st century. It launched four singles -- "One Step Closer," "In the End," "Papercut" and "Crawling," which won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance. It was so popular that it spawned a remix album follow-up, 2002's "Reanimation," featuring reinterpretations by a variety of other artists.

"Hybrid Theory" also provided a launch pad for Linkin Park's career, which includes seven albums, world tours and more awards until singer Chester Bennington's 2017 suicide put the band on indefinite pause.

The group has come back to life for "Hybrid Theory's" anniversary, however. The celebration includes a selection of reissues -- including a lavishly jam-packed "Super Deluxe Box" -- all out Friday, Oct. 9, the same day the group sits for an online Q&A and vintage concert streamcast. It's also launched a pop-up Linkin Park Radio station on SiriusXM's Turbo (channel 41) that will be active through Oct. 18.

Twenty years later the album enjoys iconic status, but the Linkin Park members are still coming to grips with how its early career "Theory" became such a successful reality...

Does it feel like...20 years? 20 minutes? 200 years?

Mike Shinoda: Everything! (laughs) It definitely feels like a fairway time. There were so many things that were firsts. I remember when we mixed "Hybrid Theory" we were able to work with Andy Wallace, and he works in New York and I had never been to New York. So Brad (Delson) and I went out there and when I remember walking around, looking everywhere, just overwhelmed. My favorite type of music at the time was New York rap music, and it was blaring out of every car. Brad had to, like, elbow me and say, "Dude, you need to stop looking up at the buildings. You're so obviously a tourist. You're gonna get us mugged!" So that was weird, and then to imagine all the places we'd got that year and countries we'd visit and cultures we'd experience. It was a lot.

Did you have any inkling at the time that "Hybrid Theory" could blow up the way it did?

Shinoda: Oh, no way, of course not. You couldn't imagine it being that big. Even as bit as a lot of those nu metal bands were, Britney Spears still existed. I think we thought we made a really good album and were super proud of it and we were definitely doing something that other people weren't doing. WE figured when first week sales came back the highest prediction was around 15,000 copies, 'cause we knew "One Step Closer" was doing really well on the radio. So that would be a killer opening week. And we got the news that it was forty-something thousand. We had no concept of how big it was already becoming.

Was it fun to dive back into those days to put these reissues together?

Shinoda: Y'know, it's something that we couldn't have come up with on our own. I had a few things I knew the fans hadn't heard, and some pictures and things, and so did the other guys. But a good portion of what fans will find in this package is the work of the band's management and friends and team and families and folks at the label and stuff. A lot of people came together and contributed little bits and pieces to make this package -- and it's enormous, this thing. It's a boatload of stuff, and there's so much here that fans have never heard.

Delson: Listening to those old demos was really compelling and emotional. There's so much great energy in those demos. Someone asked me, "Were you nervous or apprehensive about releasing this stuff?" and, man, if it was terrible stuff, then for sure. Surprisingly some of the demos have magic that...represents the early energy of the band. So it's fun that treasure trove of content was discovered.

You released one of those songs, "She Couldn't," in advance. What's the story there?

Shinoda: That was one of the earliest demos we did when Chester joined the band (in 1999). We were a band called Xero and then when Chester joined the band we changed it to Hybrid Theory for awhile. When moved to L.A. and we started playing together and writing together, "She Couldn't" was one of the first tracks. And if you listen to it what's remarkable is that it doesn't have any heavy guitars; It's mostly sampled drums and keyboard sounds and the lyrics; You put all that stuff together and that started to draw out the blueprint for what the band would become. It was already in our DNA from day one, so it's remarkable to listen to this song with a different kind of scrutiny and a different kind of perspective, and I thought it was so cool to hear that a lot of the DNA was already there.

Another holy grail is "Pictureboard," which has become an unreleased legend over the past 20 years.

Shinoda: It's wild to me that fans have known about "Pictureboard" for 19 or 20 years -- the existence of it. They didn't know at all what it sounded like. It has a sample of a Barry White drumbeat (from "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby") and we finally cleared the sample and got everything ready. There's a clip out there of us playing it as an interlude at a rock festival in 2000 or 2001, and fans even made up their own name for it. We're very excited for them to hear it for real.

Delson: Unless my memory is super wrong, I think that was the first thing I heard Chester's voice on. I remember getting that (demo) and (Shinoda) saying, "What do you think of this guy. He just sent us this recording." I was...not crying with joy, but like, "Wow, I don't even know what that is! He's so tiny and vulnerable on the verse and you can hear all those timbres and harmonics on the vocal part." That just blew my hat off my head. I was like, "We've got to meet this guy!"

There's a real emphasis in the box set on the art and imagery of the band at the time. That was kind of part and parcel of the expression, wasn't it?

Joe Hahn: Y'know, (Shinoda) and I went to art school together. In the early days of knowing each other we had a lot of conversations about (music) but also a lot of conversations about art, and you see the theme of graffiti and stencil and propaganda-type imagery littered through all the sketches. For me it was fun to stroll down memory lane and look at all that.

It must be gratifying that "Hybrid Theory" not only gave the band a big start but has, as an album, had a real durability and sounds as relevant now as it did when it was released?

Delson: That was always kind of a goal or an idea we had, making the album, that it was timeless. Certainly we were inspired by timeless albums that influenced us, albums by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, nine inch nails, Metallica...that were still influential years and decades later. The fat that ("Hybrid Theory") is still relevant today is something we hoped for but never really anticipated or expected.

Dave Farrell: I was just talking with a friend a day or two ago and realizing that we had a trajectory that has continued through the 20 years that really started on "Hybrid Theory." And all of that was figuring out what we wanted to do as a band and then really sticking to our guns from that point forward. It wasn't all cupcakes and unicorns and rainbows and fairytales early. We had a lot of no's. We had a lot of people from the highest positions telling us we had to change what we were doing, telling certain people in the band to do other things than they were doing. In the process we figured out we wanted to do it how we wanted to do it, or we didn't want to do it at all. "Hybrid Theory" set that trajectory to believe in ourselves, bet on ourselves and what we were doing. Thankfully sticking to our guns kinda worked, and worked well.

Do you think you'll treat your other albums' anniversaries this way?

Shinoda: Oh God, this was a lot of work for a lot of people, so I don't know if we'll be doing the 20-year anniversary for everything. I feel like that would be a little weird, personally, but I thought this was a little bit of a stretch, and the fans obviously really love it. The reaction was, like, totally overwhelming. So if somebody wants something like this, if fans want a product that we can make and it works for everybody...we'll see.

Farrell: I don't know how far forward it might go, but I know there are people who enjoy the band or enjoy the music, and I have three of them in my household who weren't alive when "Hybrid Theory" came out. So selfishly, for them, it was really fun to put together this material and have them see things from 20 years ago and...Its been hilarious and a ton of fun. If there's other material that's that fun and that good, selfishly I'd be happy to see it and go through that process.

Besides the tribute concert (Oct. 27, 2018), this is the first major Linkin Park musical project since Chester's death. Does it all inspire anything for the band moving forward?

Shinoda: I think we'll let everybody know when there's a clear message. We still talk all the time, send emails back and forth. But there's nothing to talk about yet.

Meanwhile, Mike, you've been active on your own, with a solo album (2018's "Post Traumatic") and the three "Dropped Frames" volumes you did fan collaborations on Twitch. What else will we be hearing from you moving forward?

Shinoda: Well, I write every day. I'm constantly making stuff. so it kind of goes without saying that's part of what I do and will continue to do. The future of the (Twitch) channel, I don't know at this point what it'll be, but at this moment I'm having a great time doing it. I have some tracks I feel like have the potential to be songs that deserve further development. I just know I'll always be creating first and then figuring out what I want to do with it.

Linkin Park regroups at noon Friday, Oct. 9 for a Q&A with fans via watch.linkinpark.com, followed by the world premiere of footage from a 2002 Projekt Revolution Tour concert in Las Vegas. A second showing takes place at midnight. Tickets are available via linkinpark.com, with proceeds going to Crew Nation and the Natoinal Independent Venue Association.

Web Site: www.linkinpark.com

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