Interview: Linkin Park Discusses "The Catalyst" and "A Thousand Suns"
Wed, 01 Sep 2010 10:08:14
Linkin Park's A Thousand Suns is the sonic equivalent of Inception.
It's a trip through a dreamscape that's simultaneously dangerous and delicate. Sounds morph from fragile keyboard tones into looped riff violence—then they circle back again. Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda lyrically conjure images of the past, present and future, painting a dystopian, yet hopeful picture of a space age overwhelmed with information. Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan would be proud and they should be calling the band for a sequel soundtrack…
The album's first single, "The Catalyst," is the perfect gateway into this visceral vision. However, listening to the album from start-to-finish is key to unlocking the secrets behind A Thousand Suns. If you buy one record this year, make it A Thousand Suns….
"Hopefully everything we do informs that immersive experience that A Thousand Suns is intended to be," exclaims Linkin Park bassist Dave "Phoenix" Farrell.
Linkin Park have made the ultimate album because it's even way more than that "immersive experience" that Phoenix so eloquently references. Phoenix sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about A Thousand Suns, some concepts in "The Catalyst" and so much more.
Be sure to pick up A Thousand Suns on September 14, 2010…
How do you view the band's evolution on A Thousand Suns?
That's a big question [Laughs]. For me, the process of our sound and the idea of it changing only come from us trying not to repeat ourselves. We're essentially trying to stay excited about the creative process in the studio. At the end of the process, we got all different types of results.
Would you say this is a natural evolution from Minutes to Midnight?
For us, I think Minutes to Midnight was a great opportunity to throw out what we thought Linkin Park sounded like. We took the gloves off a little bit and got out of our own heads as far as what we thought a song needed to be in order to be on a Linkin Park record. In the process of that, it opened us to be able to make a Linkin Park song whatever the six of us are most excited about. It opened up the world of music and creativity that much more. At the time Mike did the Fort Minor side project, he said a part of him was outletting creative energy that he liked but wouldn't necessarily be at home on a Linkin Park record. Now, everybody feels like if we love something it can be on the record—no matter what it is. It doesn't have as strict of a rule book.
As a band, you have these unique personalities and styles, but they all converge into one cohesive vision.
From the Hybrid Theory days, the goal was to blend these different sounds in ways we weren't hearing anybody do. Now, it's like that process has continued, but the musical influences and references we're drawing from are that much larger and broader. You've got six guys who listen to a lot of different music and are pulling from a lot of places in an attempt to figure out how they can all fit together. The spirit of it is the exact same as it was ten years ago.
"The Catalyst" is unlike anything out there—past or present.
That's a good thing to hear [Laughs]. Ideally for me, I don't like genres when it comes to our music. I don't function really well in that mindset. Early on, we felt like we may have gotten placed in a genre that we didn't feel comfortable in. It's nice to be at a point where hopefully the music is just Linkin Park. It doesn't have to be categorized.
This song does that. It's got elements of different styles, but it's unequivocally Linkin Park. How did it come together? What does it mean to you?
We were in the process of narrowing down tracks in the studio, and "The Catalyst" in particular—even as a working track—was something we felt would be very important to the record. You can hear the lyric "A thousand suns" in the song a couple of times. Obviously, we loved the idea of that and the imagery behind it. A Thousand Suns ended up becoming the album title. In "The Catalyst," people will draw different themes from it lyrically that continue in the record as a whole. That's one of the things we did a bit differently with this process. The intention was to create a 45-minute immersive 3-D world with the entire album. Things you begin to pick up on or questions that start to be raised when people listen to "The Catalyst" come back. That conversation continues with the entire record. The songs interplay off of one other. The album intentionally hearkens back to what an album was meant to be in the '70s or the '80s. It's not a concept an album in the sense of Tommy, but there are concepts throughout the record that do carry a through line.
Pink Floyd never made "proper" concept albums either. Their stories were always very abstract. There's a boundless mentality to A Thousand Suns, but there's a thread.
As an example, The Wall is on one side and other things they did are another, potentially. There's no experience out there anymore that's similar to vinyl. You place the needle, and you're in that world for however long that record is. Now, it's more track-driven. You're skipping around. We wanted to make an effort to create a record you can listen to in individual chunks but if you do have the time and interest, you can sit down and get a rounded full experience with the record as a whole. Hopefully, people listen to it from front to back. We do realize that's a big "ask" in this day and age.
It seems like the music and lyrics are more intertwined than ever.
Working on A Thousand Suns, Chester and Mike worked more closely on writing lyrics and melodies than they have in the past. At a certain point, you can hear a lot of layering in the vocals on the record. There's a lot of Mike singing. There are moments where you won't necessarily know who's singing what part. I feel like they did a great job on the integration of what they're doing melody-wise and lyrically.
Did you view A Thousand Suns as a whole piece from the get-go?
More than anything, what dictated how the album turned out was the process. In the studio, there were moments when Mike would bring in a demo idea. I'd listen to it, and I wouldn't know if I liked it or not on that first listen. I'd need to hear it again in order to figure out what was going on and if I liked it. That was the music that was exciting. If there were sounds we'd never heard before or structures you couldn't necessarily figure out, they were inspirational. We gravitated towards the songs that felt different from anything we'd done before or heard anyone else do before. There are ties thematically between every track on the record, and there's synergy sonically with what's going on. Some of the songs are very different. Each song pulls the album in a different direction. The intention is to really round out the experience and create that immersive 3-D feel when you sit down and listen to the whole thing. Different songs accomplish different things. "Blackout" has a vocal style that's really aggressive and heavy with music that's really delicate at points. There are songs set up more traditionally in structure. Then there are songs set up with almost three different movements.
"The Catalyst" is serene and visceral at the same time.
For us, it was definitely a different first single! We didn't want to sit on those things we know how to do. When it came time to pick a first single, we wanted to choose something that properly represented the journey the record is. "The Catalyst" points people in the direction of where the album is going.
What's the story behind "The Messenger?"
It's a really stripped down acoustic track. Chester's vocal performance is one of my favorites that he's ever done. His performance is pretty powerful and moving. For the entire album, you get this barrage of sounds and information. It's almost analogous to the technology and the world we live in. You're getting pounded on with what you're hearing and you're not sure of what's going on. The end is just a breath of movement and a step away from that. It's really stripped back and more personal.
What do you think of "The Catalyst"? Are you excited for A Thousand Suns?
Watch "The Catalyst" video and our exclusive behind the scenes clip here!