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Mike Shinoda On The Poetry Of The Instrumental, Trent Reznor, His Favorite Comedians And More

If there has been one silver lining for music fans in the pandemic of 2020 it’s getting a chance to see a different side of some of their favorite artists, who are exploring more creatively with their unexpected time off the road.

Take Mike Shinoda. The artist/producer, who became a superstar in the multi-platinum rock icons Linkin Park, started doing a daily live stream on Twitch. That unexpected detour, which he does Monday through Friday from 10 AM to 1 PM, had led to three albums to be released in the next three months.

The first, Dropped Frames, features the lead single, “Open Door” and 11 varying instrumentals. Shinoda tells me when we jumped on a Zoom call this week that Dropped Frames is the first of a trilogy of albums, with the goal being to release the second and third a month apart.

I spoke with Shinoda about a wide range of topics, from how he got started on Twitch to Trent Reznor and Shinoda’s favorite comedians.

Steve Baltin: How did you decide to do all of this on Twitch?

Mike Shinoda: The last two years had set me up to be very aware of mental health and what things I’m doing to keep myself in a good space and be positive, or productive or living life and feeling good about it. So one of those things was just live streaming this year. I think most of my friends, when I say, “This live streaming thing, I’m doing it five days a week, I go from 10 AM to one PM, feels great.” And the very first place they go is, “Why? What feels great about it?” And I still to this day don’t really have a great way of explaining it to them. “I don’t understand Twitch. Isn’t that a gaming platform? I don’t understand why getting into an extended live stream, which at face value seems boring, why that would be a smart thing to do, be a fun thing to do, be interesting to you or anybody else. What is the effing deal with this thing that you’re doing?” So let’s talk about it.

Baltin: So at what point did you realize how much you were enjoying it?

Shinoda: There is no part of starting on a channel on Twitch that, for me, is like, “Oh, this is good for your career or lucrative.” I was starting with zero followers; the max followers you get is not like a ton of followers. I’m looking at those numbers and I’m looking at Instagram and I’m going, “I should just do this on Instagram Live, I’ve already got all the followers, I’m starting at zero with Twitch, why would I do it on Twitch?” Then I started to do it. When quarantine started to happen, I remember there were a couple of days that week that stuck out to me. I went to dinner with Bobby Hundreds and Pete Wentz, they were already at dinner and they called me and said, “Okay, we are not sure we should be at dinner. Should we even be having dinner because of Coronavirus?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” And he’s like, “We’re already here, we already ordered food.” So we ended up just eating there and the whole time we stayed apart, washed our hands a hundred times. I started doing my normal routine at home and I immediately lost track of days, lost track of time, I was waking up later and later. Everything started to mush together. I decided to start putting some of the things I was doing in the studio live on Instagram and it felt really good. It felt like, “Oh there are people out there, we’re not afraid of everybody. We’re all afraid, but we’re all afraid. We have that in common and we want each other to be healthy, we want each other to be safe, we want to share good information and weed out bad information.” So it was like having a good community helps. So I fell into doing Twitch streams weekdays from 10 to one for a number of reasons. Number one, because I love the anchor that it put in my day. Number two, it was challenging and stimulating because a lot of the times my music streams are dictated by fan requests. So the way it works is if you hang out on the stream, you collect points. If you get enough points you can redeem them for a suggestion of a type of music that you want me to try and do. Or a type of drawing or art you want me to try and do. So those are all challenges. It turned my quarantine time from feeling like Groundhog Day to not only looking forward to the stream, but kind of being addicted to the stream. I love going in there at 10 and doing this thing and seeing where it goes. Some days it is hysterically bad and other days it’s super, super fun and goes really well.

Baltin: At what point did this evolve into an album?

Shinoda: When people’s tour schedules fell apart and they weren’t allowed to continue on as planned I watched a number of artists panic because the things they planned to do they weren’t getting to do. And also because the attention they were expecting to have from people was gonna go away. And all of a sudden they were scrambling to grab people’s attention in other ways. All of a sudden every single music artist in the universe had to live stream concerts from their bedroom. And I was so bored by that. I don’t know why I felt that way. I just didn’t like it. And that’s not a knock by the way.

Baltin: Were there any live streams you enjoyed?

Shinoda: Post Malone’s Nirvana one was dope. That was one of my favorite ones. I’ve caught some of the stuff that Questlove and the Roots have done. Quest is always spinning records and stuff, talking about his experience in the studio or bits and pieces of trivia about the artists that he’s playing. I love that. My favorite things have been random unknown singers on Instagram who sit down with a guitar and sing a thing. And Instagram’s algorithm is so good that it knows now that’s what I love. And it just shows me new singers with like 25,000 followers singing a song with a ukulele. That’s half my feed (laughs).

Baltin: So could these discoveries ever lead to collaborations?

Shinoda: When I hear people I think are really dope I reach out. That’s how I ended up doing a remix with Ren For Short. I heard her on a playlist and I was like, “What’s this girl all about?” She had like no followers. I put it on my playlist, I posted it on Instagram, she DM’ed me, we started talking and then I made a remix for her and we debuted it on my stream on Twitch.

Baltin: One of the interesting things about this time is seeing how people evolve and show different sides of themselves. I doubt you would have made an all-instrumental album at another time.

Shinoda: I fell into it. These albums, Dropped Frames is gonna be the first of at least three. I’ve got the second one done and the third one is in progress. And I say in progress, basically it’s just tightening up and mixing stuff that I made on the stream. But certainly it’s a thing I wouldn’t have done unless I was in this situation that I’m in right now. It’s also funny cause it’s clearly not for everybody. Instrumental music is not your way to the Billboard top five (laughs).  But anybody who knows my discography knows I’ve done instrumentals often, on every record, every couple of records there [are] instrumental tracks. A few different instrumental pieces that have gone to film and TV as well. I feel like there is a poetry to the instrumental that it leaves an openness to interpretation in terms of the content that is a lot of fun. And I haven’t ever done that before on a full-length album.

Baltin: As you got into doing more instrumental stuff were there people who influenced you?

Shinoda: I didn’t realize until this year how much instrumental music I actually grew up listening to. I think the biggest influences for me in terms of this release, DJ Shadow, Dilla, Flying Lotus, Trent Reznor and then maybe a little bit of Ratatat and Flume. And there are so many others that I really enjoy listening to. I would aspire to be as good at sound design as Amon Tobin. It’s so aggressively creative and different. I think one of the ways I always listened to instrumental music was when I was drawing. I grew up since I was three, as you know, I grew up drawing and painting and I went to school for art. A lot of times when I was doing homework instrumental music is a great companion to drawing and painting because it doesn’t lyrically lead you in a direction. Your mind is free to wander to other things. Maybe we need more of that these days.

Baltin: You mentioned Trent. I think he remains the benchmark for melding beautiful instrumentals with aggressive rock. Obviously you have done it in the past. But will we see even more of a sonic hybrid in the future?

Shinoda: That era of Nine Inch Nails was my favorite era. I loved The Downward Spiral, I love The Fragile too, which had some really good lush instrumental pieces. In terms of the effects of this moment on future work that remains to be seen. I’m letting this be a period of exploration, experimentation and learning cause I already have my 10,000 hours in the studio. I don’t need more experience turning knobs. I do get something out of the exercise and creative muscle building of doing it regularly and being basically tasked with coming up with creative solutions every single day.

Baltin: Are you a big standup comedy fan?

Shinoda: Yes.

Baltin: I talked with Eddie Izzard once about the similarities between improv in music and comedy. So are there comedians whose influence you can see in the improv you are doing on the stream?

Shinoda: I don’t know who it would remind me of. You know what’s funny is when it comes to comedy I really gravitate to like John Mulaney, Mike Birbiglia and like Hannibal Buress. It’s a scripted and rehearsed and meticulously crafted comedy. Like Mike is a Broadway one-man show of a comedy show. It is so meticulously written and performed. Every pause and every word is perfectly crafted and delivered to me. I’m no expert, but I love listening to it. I’ve seen him a few times in concert.

Baltin: Who would be your dream filmmaker to do a score with?

Shinoda: I’ve always been a David Fincher fan. Trent Reznor aside I always thought his work was so thoughtful and the tone he strikes with the tensions and the type of stories he likes to tell and the treatment of the visuals. Most of his work gets me. So in terms of a director stylistically that’s where I land. But I do love other things. I’ve always been an anime fan.

Baltin: What is the timeline for releasing the next two albums?

Shinoda: I’m trying to get them out a month apart from each other.

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