Linkin Park: How to survive nu-metal

By Scott Kara

Where others have failed, Linkin Park have moved past a musical fad to still be a stadium act today, writes Scott Kara.

Linkin Park credit their longevity to creative diversity. Photo / Supplied.
Linkin Park credit their longevity to creative diversity. Photo / Supplied.

When nu-metal exploded like an obnoxious mash-up of hip-hop and heavy riffing rock on to the mainstream in the late 90s it was Linkin Park who became the biggest band of the lot.

The thing was, the music the Los Angeles six-piece, and the many other bands who jumped on the rap rock bandwagon were making, was seemingly nothing more than a fleeting fad.

Well, for many of their contemporaries from that era it was. Most of the bands have faded away (good riddance Limp Bizkit), and some still hang in there with a slightly smaller but no less loyal fan base (like Slipknot and Disturbed).

But more than a decade on since the release of Linkin Park's debut, Hybrid Theory, which has sold more than 24 million copies (making it the best selling debut album of the 21st century), they remain a big band.

Although they only sell hundreds of thousands of copies of a new album these days, they continue to play sold-out world tours, including heading to New Zealand for a show at Vector Arena on February 21.

The reason Linkin Park have endured, says guitarist and co-founder Brad Delson, who sounds cheery and relaxed on the phone from Los Angeles, is the band's refusal to "put ourselves in one box creatively and stylistically".

And, Delson, a likeable, straight-shooting chap, is not scared to put the boot into some of the other less creative bands from the nu-metal scene - not that he mentions names.

"Back then there was an excitement about combining these seemingly disparate styles into one, and a lot of groups, unfortunately in that time, did it very crudely and I think a lot of people were turned off by that in retrospect.

"The only way to stay relevant is to push the envelope and take those risks and fortunately for us they have paid off."

He's talking about doing projects like 2004's Collision Course, a collaboration with rapper Jay-Z, and going off on more experimental sonic tangents on albums Minutes To Midnight (which followed the mega-selling and still nu-metal focused Meteora) and A Thousands Suns, which included heavy, mantra-like songs such as When They Come For Me.

"On the one hand it's a bold thing to do because the people who really love that initial sound were, I guess I'd use the word, surprised, by the changes," says Delson with a laugh. "But I think those changes allowed us to grow into what we always wanted to become, which was a career group."

It worked. Now, says Delson, there are young kids who are into the band who were barely born when Hybrid Theory came out and got into the band thanks to the Transformers films of recent years that feature Linkin Park songs.

He also gives much credit for their longevity to mega producer Rick Rubin - the man behind albums for everyone from Run DMC and Slayer to the Mars Volta and the Chili Peppers - who first worked with the group on Minutes to Midnight.

"He helped us create an environment in the recording studio that is very, very open. It has nothing to do with ego, and everything to do with our collective desire to make the best record we can make every time we go into the studio.

"So the challenge he posed for us [on Minutes to Midnight] was to do whatever felt organic to us in that moment in time. Ultimately that meant tearing down what we had built with Hybrid Theory and Meteora and starting over."

Then, on A Thousand Suns, which they also did with Rubin, they pushed the experimentation to its fullest.

"At least our version of that," offers Delson.

But on their latest album, Living Things, they sound more like the Linkin Park of old with the loud and quiet dynamic more prominent and a generally more aggressive approach.

"With this one I think the headspace was just different. We were at a point in time where it was less about what we wanted to move away from and more about being comfortable in our own skins and using all the tools in our tool box to convey the stories and the emotions of the songs that we wanted to write."

It was Delson, along with high school buddies Mike Shinoda (producer, rapper, keyboards) and Rob Bourdon (drums), who formed the band way back in 1996.

And these days the 34-year-old is chuffed that apart from a few line-up changes they have managed to hold it together as a band ever since.

"I can imagine for most groups it would be a challenge to stay working in harmony for a long time because any creative project or group poses it's own personal challenges. But I think we try to focus on our relationships as friends and our respect for each other as creative partners."

It helped that they came through the fame and fortune period following Hybrid Theory and Meteora mostly unscathed too. Though going from being in school and playing music for fun to travelling the world and headlining festivals was a big adjustment.

"But now that we are a little older, and maybe a little more mature, hopefully we're in a position to make the most of our opportunities," he laughs.

"For me, I think the thing that I appreciate most is the ability to be really creative and have total creative freedom, there is no one, in a commercial context, telling us what to do. We've found ourselves in this lucky position that we can make whatever music we want," he says sounding like a true nu-metal survivor.

"And at the moment I'm trying to focus on just enjoying the moment and appreciating what a unique opportunity we have and trying, even though it is hard work and can be really challenging at times, to not take anything for granted."

Who: Linkin Park
What: Rap rock survivors on tour
Where & when: Vector Arena, Auckland, February 21
Listen to: Hybrid Theory (2000); Meteora (2003); Minutes to Midnight (2008); A Thousand Suns (2010); Living Things (2012)

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