Artist Direct spoke to Mike about Fort Minor’s comeback and other things, read the interview below;
Shinoda opens up about what he’s learned since The Rising Tied, the future of Fort Minor, new hip-hop he digs, and so much more.
Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda uncovered the first Fort Minor track in a decade last week, “Welcome.” The song stands out as a display of his cinematic, snappy rhyming and impeccable songwriting. It also illuminates a palpable progression since Fort Minor’s phenomenal 2005 debut, The Rising Tied. He’s taken all of this new wisdom accrued over the years and further carved out his own lane in rap music, bringing together big melodies, intriguing instrumentation, and spirited bars. Welcome to the next phase for Shinoda. He spoke to us in this exclusive interview about “Welcome,” the future of Fort Minor, new hip-hop he’s loving, and so much more.
“Welcome” picks up where you left off with The Rising Tied, but it also feels like you’re treading different territory too.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot of ways to make a song since then. My toolkit is a lot bigger now than it was when I did the first Fort Minor record. There’s even just the fact I feel like I can sing a little bit now. Back then, I was really uncomfortable singing. I could probably have done it, but I didn’t have as much practice as I do now. Even in the studio—if you think back to the Fort Minor album—we had just come off of Hybrid Theory and Meteora. I was thinking of everything in those terms. I was wondering if I had made a song outside of Hybrid Theory and Meteora—if that would even be acceptable to the fans, to myself, and what to do with it. A lot has changed.
Do you write all of your lyrics out, or do you tend to freestyle in the booth more?
I do a little bit of a mix. Everything is written. A lot of times though, as I go, I may let the track run and record. I call it, “traintracking it.” You lay a couple of traintracks out, and then you do those again. Mayne you try and get to the next one, and then you try to get two, three, or four more bars on it. I learned that actually watching Jay-Z. There are a lot of artists that do it. Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lupe Fiasco all do it that way. It works pretty well for me. I do that a little bit, but for my style, I definitely go back in, tweak words, and write everything out to make sure there’s that level of scrutiny that I put on the vocals.
What’s the story behind “Welcome”?
At the time, I was a little frustrated. It’s clearly an outsider song, feeling like I didn’t belong or whatever. I think back to what was going on. The band was at a point where not a lot was happening, which is relative, because everything is always crazy with the band. We were sort of in-between projects, and I don’t know exactly what the time period was. I was reflecting on how I ended up where I’m at. The more I looked at it, the more I felt like, “Being an outsider doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to feel bad about it.” There’s a sense of coming to terms with it on my own in the song. It’s funny because it was organic and fluid. It all popped out at once. That’s unusual for me. The song was done before I even knew it. I listened to it and went, “Oh my God, this is not a Linkin Park song.”
Releasing it as a surprise after being dormant for so long made “Welcome” really special.
This song had to be a certain type of song in order for it to be the first one in ten years. It couldn’t be just any song. I’ve made things before and gone, “I don’t know if this is Linkin Park.” Even if it was a Fort Minor song, I might think, “Do I really want to come back with this sort of niche thing after this much time?” It would be a weird way to come back. Some of those ideas ended up being different things. I had one where the music ended up being an interlude and stuff like that. When “Welcome” came together, it was done so fast. I knew if I had run it through the Linkin Park process, it would change a lot. I didn’t want it to change. Even if it didn’t change, just the idea of playing some version of this song on stage with all six of the guys in the band standing up there felt like it would send a different message. Imagine the difference between me doing this up there by myself and me doing it with Chester [Bennington]. It would be totally different.
You’ve carved out a singular identity for Fort Minor.
I know I’ve alluded to the things I’ve learned since Collision Course or Meteora, which is the time period that I made the first Fort Minor album. Think of Minutes to Midnight, A Thousand Suns, LIVING THINGS, the albums we did with Rick Rubin, The Hunting Party, which we did on our own, there were all of these writing techniques and creative approaches. The way we think and the way I think about getting into a song is much different than it used to be. For example, when we’re writing a song with Linkin Park, one exercise we’ll do is to think about what band the song we’re making sounds like and then what are those bands not capable of doing that we can do.
If we’re writing a song that sounds like U2, what can’t they do? Okay, they don’t really get into samples that much, they don’t get into rapping, and they won’t go heavy above a certain level. If we’re making a song that sounds like Radiohead, the same things might apply. They can do the electronic stuff, but no rapping. They’ll never get into hip-hop and so on. When I was doing “Welcome,” I was like, “Okay, what can I do on a rap song that just feels natural?” That’s when the singing parts and more melodic aspects came in. With the chord progressions and the way I put the music together, it felt very different from what I might usually do with Linkin Park. Once I got to the bridge, I realized, “Now, I’ve got a pretty solid hip-hop song. Let’s go left.” That’s when this big prog rock keyboard solo and live drums starting popping in.
What was the biggest lesson you took from Collision Course?
At that point, without realizing it, I was pointing all of the rap stuff I was doing at a certain type of listener. I was definitely writing from the heart. Sometimes, when you write, you imagine a certain type of audience or person listening to it. It’s the same thought process that goes on when people want to write a song and play it live to see what the crowd reaction is. That was different then from what happened in Collision Course and what came after, because a hardcore hip-hop head, like the sort of people I would’ve hung out with in high school, weren’t there. They weren’t at that show. They weren’t in that studio mindset. Once I brought that in and I said, “What would Mike from high school say about this verse?” all of a sudden, it went from “Nobody’s Listening” on Meteora to “Bleed It Out” and “Hands Held High” on Minutes To Midnight, which was the next album. Those verses were much more complex and true to the kind of hip-hop I listened to growing up.
What new hip-hop has been inspiring you?
I love what’s going on hip-hop right now. It’s one of the most exciting times for hip-hop lately, because it’s got so much variety. There are so many different artists approaching things differently. You’ve got what’s going on with Kendrick Lamar and the Top Dog Entertainment crew. Then, there’s A$AP Rocky and A$AP Mob. A$AP Ferg is dope too. Then, you’ve got Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$. I really think Drake’s new mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is great. That really got me into him. There’s all kinds of different stuff going on. Chance the Rapper is really cool. All of their styles and approaches stand out. To me, that’s exciting. When “Welcome” came out, a lot of fans were like, “This reminds me of Kid Cudi.” I think Kid Cudi is dope. I don’t feel like my song sounds like him, but maybe a little bit, especially because he’s so musical. There are a lot of newer artists killing it.
What’s your vision for Fort Minor now?
I’m playing it by ear. I’m barely scheduling any appearances or shows. We’ve got a Linkin Park tour in China and another tour in Europe. In between, I’m probably going to take a little bit of time off like a week just to regroup and recharge. Once we get into the swing of things with the band, it’s a lot of work. We’re busy. I’ll see how things go with Fort Minor. With that said, I’m always writing music, and there are times when I write something and I think it’s really great. However, it might not be for the other guys in the band. Now, that door’s open, I feel like I wouldn’t have a problem offering something up to the fans just because it’s there, it’s done, and it feels good. The songs don’t have to be singles and be big things all the time. For me, it’s turning into more of a passion or underground project.