What’s perhaps the most lasting memory Mike Shinoda has of the fans who came out to support his new solo career this past summer — during which he performed more than two dozen concerts, mostly in Europe and Asia?
Hint: It didn’t even involve Mike Shinoda.
After one of three shows the Linkin Park co-founder headlined in China this past August, almost exactly a year after the suicide death of his friend and Linkin Park bandmate Chester Bennington, Shinoda hustled to a car and made an almost-immediate exit to get in front of anticipated gridlock traffic.
“Fifteen minutes later, I got a text from our production manager,” Shinoda says, “and he said, ‘About a third of the crowd is still in the venue. Clearly, the show’s over. This is not a plea for an encore. They’re just hanging out singing your songs because they’re enjoying it.’ I said, ‘Wow, that’s crazy.’ ... Fifteen minutes after that, he said, ‘OK, update: They’re still here. The gear has been taken off the stage. We’re packed up and ready to leave. What should we do?’ And I said, ‘Well, I guess just let them sing.’ ”
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The lingering fans wound up staying, Shinoda says he was told, until someone from the venue finally got on stage and politely asked them all to take it outside so the staff could close up.
“That’s the type of energy that’s at these shows,” says the 41-year-old singer/rapper, who kicks off his North American tour in Montreal Wednesday before winding his way to The Fillmore Charlotte seven days later (on Oct. 17). “It doesn’t always turn into exactly what happened there in China, but it’s there every night in some form. That’s the magic that’s at these shows. And clearly, from this example, it happens whether I’m there or not.”
Here’s more from a recent interview, during which Shinoda talked about the new musicians he’s working with, how they’re making sure fans have fun while also respecting their need to grieve, and why it drives him crazy when reporters ask him about Bennington’s death. (The conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.)
Q: So I know you’d done some shows initially as truly solo — that is, you’d be on stage by yourself. But you’ve put a band together for this tour, right?
Yeah, I’ve got two musicians out on the road with me, a drummer (Dan Mayo) and a multi-instrumentalist (Matthias Harris) — new guys that you probably haven’t heard of. And they started off as more hired guns. I mean, they’re friends now. But when I met them, I had been referred to them because of their talents. When I first saw Dan on Instagram, I was just like, “What the hell is this guy?” He’s insane. They’re both so talented. ... So, rehearsals are just easy and fun. Although I ask myself sometimes, when we’re rehearsing and sound-checking stuff, “Why are we even doing this?” Because I know when we get on stage, we’re gonna do something different.
Q: What do you mean by that?
Well, with Linkin Park, I was used to a type of show where you work up the show in rehearsals, and then you do your best to play the exact same show — the quote-unquote “perfect” show — every night. This show is really not that way. I’ve got a sketch for a show that is kind of a foundation, and before every show, I write a new version of that setlist. But then — in the meet-and-greet talking to fans, in the conversations on social media, and even from the stage on the night of the show — things just change. There are nights when the fans really want to hear more new stuff. There are nights when they really want to hear more Linkin Park stuff. There are nights when they want to hear more deep cuts, and B-sides. Fort Minor stuff. So on. So I kind of just roll with that, and I think it’s because of the context of the past year or so. It’s made the shows really unique. ... I mean, we’re all dealing with it (Bennington’s death), and the shows have been packed full of emotion one way or another. Sometimes they’re really, really emotional in the way that people are paying tribute, and there are other times when it’s just this, like, electric, fun, screaming, singing, jumping, dancing type of show. And I don’t know what it’s gonna be on any given night.
Q: I’m curious about that balance. On the one hand, I assume you want fans to come out and have a fun night, but on the other, there’s still sort of this ... I don’t know, sadness, I guess, that hangs over —
Yup, I know what you’re trying to say. That’s actually a fundamental focus of mine. ... In the beginning, touring this new music, I intentionally went out on stage by myself. I wanted it to be the most personal and, like, exposed version of the show. I did that for awhile, and I realized that that was — emotionally — exactly what it should be, that it really spoke to the most core fans who were feeling hit the hardest by Chester’s passing. (But eventually) I felt like I was ready to move on from that, so I added a couple guys to the stage and I added some production to the show, because I realized, “OK, now it’s time to take the energy of the show up, and have some fun.” ...
The moments of tribute still exist in the show, but they are part of the show; they’re not the defining DNA of the show. I mean, there are nights when I feel like the crowd needs more of that. For example, there was a show in Japan where I got to the meet-and-greet and the first 15 people in the meet-and-greet were all crying. They were deeply, deeply moved, and they needed something very cathartic. So we played a lot more Linkin Park songs that night. Not even a week later, I had a show where they wanted to hear B-sides and rarities, and they were so upbeat and so enthusiastic about it. We played a remix of a Fort Minor song that hasn’t been in the setlist for over 10 years, and it made the night wholly unique. ... Basically, because of the events of the last year, each show is a moment in time, and will probably never be created in the same way again.
Q: What’s it been like to constantly have to talk about all this, by the way? Warner Bros. Records sent over an FAQ sheet ahead of our chat, full of quotes from other publications about various topics related to Chester’s passing — and even still, you know that reporters are going to want to ask the questions.
What’s interesting to me is I’ve already said everything that there is to say — for me to say — about those subjects. And it’s unfortunate that people want to keep asking me about them, hoping that they catch something that I haven’t said. Because I’ve talked about it for a year. I mean, there’s no magical thing that I’m gonna come up with today that’s unique. So all they’re doing is torturing me. And the truth is, the fans have already heard those answers, too. ...
If you really want to have a conversation, let’s talk about what’s happening right now with our fans. Because that’s really, to me, where the magic is.
Q: Like what you saw — or what you heard about from your production manager, at least — after the show in China.
Exactly. And I know it’s happened before. Fans have gotten together in the thousands this past year and done that in a park. They’ve done that in a restaurant. They’ve done it at somebody’s house. They’ve done it on the side of a road. It (celebrating Bennington’s legacy and Linkin Park music) is not contained to a concert. ... And so one of the themes this year for me has just been gratitude. Obviously, I’m very grateful to be able to do this, I’m grateful for the fans that have supported me over the years, and one of the reasons I wanted to get on the road is just to say “thank you” in person.
With opening act Don Broco.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17.
Where: The Fillmore Charlotte, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.
Tickets: $25 for general admission; $125 for VIP.
Details: 704-916-8970; www.livenation.com.