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The nu biggest metal band in the world
They may not be that just yet but if current plans for global domination go according to the script Linkin Park will be very soon. Stuart Clark travels to London to hear the band’s new album Meteora and finds that American rock’s hottest property are surrounded by the kind of security normally reserved for Michael Jackson
Stuart Clark, 04 Apr 2003
There aren’t many things in life I object to but having my bum cheeks parted by a Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair lookalike is one of them.
"Flipping heck," I hear you ask, "has Clark started frequenting Shankhill Road bath houses?" Nope, the reason for the fondling is that I’m about to go into a playback of Linkin Park’s Meteora album and the tatooed pitbull in question is worried that I might have a tape machine hidden up my tradesmen’s entrance. Having sold 17 million copies of their Hybrid Theory debut, the Americans are paranoid that the follow-up will be bootlegged ahead of its late March release.
So much so that the copy we’re about to listen to at Warner International’s London HQ has been assigned its own around the clock security team. Bad news for journalistic nether regions but an indication of just how colossally big these nu metal men have become. Record suitably ooh-ed and aah-ed over – the HMV buyer bloke reckons it’ll be just as mega as its predecessor – it’s off to tonight’s intimate gig at the Brixton Academy.
"Intimate" in this case being a 5,000-capacity jobbie that sold-out in nanoseconds. It’s only 6 o’clock but there are already hundreds of liberally pierced kids hanging around outside, and a motley assortment of touts asking for – and getting – up to £100 a ticket. Inside, the headliners are indulging in the sort of brain-numbingly meticullous soundcheck that was thought to have died out with Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Other bands might arrive at venues so bombed they don’t know their hi-hats from their floor-toms, but not Linkin Park who positively radiate good eight-hours-kip-a-night health.
It wasn’t always that way with singer Chester Bennington recently ‘fessing up to a past flirtation with cocaine and methamphetamine. Admirable honesty or an attempt to nail daft but persistent rumours that they were manufactured by Backstreet Boys and N’Sync string-puller Lou Pearlman? Let’s ask him.
"Man, that’s the dumbest story," Bennington says wearily inbetween sips of mineral water. There’s no booze on the Linkin Park rider and the band would prefer it if you didn’t smoke backstage, thank you very much.
"One of the reasons it got started," he resumes, "is that there was no ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker on Hybrid Theory. ‘You don’t cuss or go on about violence all the time? You must be trying to get on to top 40 radio!’ The answer to that is, ‘No, we don’t cuss or go on about violence all the time because it’s too easy.’ There are a thousand bands singing, ‘I’m gonna shoot you in the head you motherfuckin’ fuck’, so why be number one thousand and one? If other people want to do the parody thing, fine, but we just want to be ourselves."
So we’re not going to meet Lou Pearlman later?
"Unless he queued and bought a ticket, no."
Well, there’s me Smash Hits exclusive out the window. Doubling up for this tête-á-tête with rapper Mike Shinoda, the 24-year-old is polite but wary when the conversation turns to units shifted and millions banked.
"We don’t think that way," he insists. "I’m not going to lie and say that things are exactly the same as they were before Hybrid Theory came out, but we don’t stay home nights counting our money. There’s still a hunger in this band to make great records and play great shows."
Suspicions that Linkin Park aren’t entirely comfortable with their success are confirmed when I describe the 18 months of global activity they’re about to embark on as "promotion".
"Hey, rewind!" yells Shinoda, looking as if he’s about to lay an egg. "You’re making it sound like a chore which it’s absolutely not. We’d be nothing without our fans. Playing to them is the single most important thing about being in this band. It’s us connecting with them and vice versa."
"We’ll never be able to explain or justify the trajectory that we’ve been put into," his bandmate interjects. "If there was a formula for success, then everybody would be on the charts. There isn’t. Success when we started was being able to record a record and get it into the shops. Anything else was way over the horizon."
If it seems like I’m having a go at Linkin Park, I’m not. They’re just a classic example of a once underground band being absorbed into the mainstream and feeling guilty about it. At what point did Chester Bennington realise that superstardom was unavoidable?
"Turning up in a town we’d never played before and realising that every single person was singing along to every single song," he says with a genuine sense of awe. "Not just the ones that were on the album, but B-sides and stuff that had only ever made it out on demo. That’s when I knew we’d done something good and that mattered to people. I got the same feeling when we were doing the first date of this tour and, even though it had only been out for one day, the entire crowd knew our single, ‘Somewhere I Belong’. They’d immediately gone out and bought it. That kind of dedication from fans is very humbling."
If that was Mariah Carey talking I’d be chundering up in the nearest bucket, but I really think he means it. As does Shinoda when he says that his best Linkin Park moment so far was being recognised by one of his hip hop heroes
"The day after we’d done Conan O’Brien – which was a pretty big deal in itself – we were out at the airport and saw this black guy with a patch over his eye and gold teeth. We weren’t sure but then he put his fur coat on and we knew it was Slick Rick. I mean, I worshipped this guy growing up. Anyway, we walk past him and he says to us, ‘You guys are Linkin Park? I really like your shit!’ Woooaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrggghhhhhhhh! We were like schoolkids who’d got a pat on the head from teacher. We’re not a hip hip group, but there are elements of it in what we do and to be recognised by one of the all-time greats...I’m still floating, man!"
I was going to ask this later, but seeing as we’re on the subject – why is rock ‘n’ roll’s love affair with hip hop so one-sided?
"You can’t say that!" Shinoda hisses.
Well, you’ve got hugely successful acts like Eminem, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Bloodhound Gang etc. etc. drawing heavily on rap culture, but not much traffic going in the opposite direction.
"(Decidedly unimpressed) That’s not a generalisation we could make."
Let me put it another way. Is it disappointing that with all the cross-pollination that’s been going on, rock gigs are still predominantly white affairs?
"(Getting more agitated) I don’t think anybody can say what type of people listen to what kind of music."
Well, you can say what type of people go to what kind of gig.
"(About to lose it big time) No, that’s another total generalisation."
Okay, let me give a specific example. The crowd at Jurassic 5’s last Brixton gig was completely multiracial. I’ve just walked through a big crowd of Linkin Park fans and not seen a single non-white face. There’s no implied criticism or conclusion, I just want to know their take on that.
"(Calming down a bit but still miffed) You could see me out with my tattoos and shit and assume I’m a certain type of person, but most likely you’d be wrong. Anybody can be into anything."
I think we’re agreeing with each other, albeit from spectacularly different angles.
"(Suddenly reconciliatory) I guess labeling is a necessary evil when it comes to talking about music. We hear the term ‘nu metal’ a lot in Europe, but we don’t have those words in America. Nobody knows what they mean. Hybrid Theory, Reanimation and Meteora are the same in that, making ‘em, we didn’t think in term of genres or pigeonholes. We’re just making music that we enjoy and aren’t hearing anywhere."
As any self-respecting heavy metal fan – nu or old – will be aware, Linkin Park have been co-opted onto Metallica’s Summer Sanatorium extravaganza which stops off at the RDS on August 20.
"Us, them and The Deftones…there’s no other tour like it!" Bennington gushes. "I’m not sure if Limp Bizkit are doing the Ireland show as well, but with or without ‘em, it’s going to be so cool. Metallica are always a band I’ve really admired and loved, so it’s another milestone for us."
The group are no strangers to the mud-and-portaloo circuit having circumnavigated the globe in 2001 with the Ozzfest.
"I woke every morning on that tour thinking it was Christmas Day. Which for someone who’d grown up idolising Black Sabbath, it was. The influence they’ve had on the past 30 years of music is enormous. Do you think Nirvana would’ve sounded the way they did without Sabbath Bloody Sabbath? Being on the road with those guys was awesome."
Linkin Park haven’t been in Ireland before, but come August will know exactly what to expect courtesy of close drinking buddies Cyclefly. Indeed, the two camps are so tight that Chester Bennington not only guested on the Cork metallers’ Crave album but contributed this testimonial to their press blurb: "Cyclefly are one of my favourite bands and their new record is the best I’ve heard in a long time. And if you don’t like it, you suck!"
Seamus Heaney, eat your heart out!
"I met Cyclefly through a label (Radioactive) that wanted to sign us, fell in love with their record and made a point of going to see them when they were in LA," he explains. "We hung out, discovered that we had the same dubious sense of humour and became friends. They were the ones with the deal at the time, so any using was done by us!
"They’re a really, really great live band. The singer, Declan O’Shea, wears these skintight plastic jumpsuits that his mother makes him. She’s really talented. Every time I listen to their records I think, ‘God, these guys ought to be huge!’"
The praise for other bands’ albums is touching, but Linkin Park have their own 13-tracker to extol. A painstaking two years in the making – the band had a studio put in their bus so they could work on it 24/7 – Meteora picks up pretty much where Hybrid Theory and its blend of beats and granite hard riffs left off. I doubt if they’ll appreciate my use of the P-word, but on tracks like ‘Lying From You’, ‘From The Inside’ and ‘Numb’ there’s a definite pop sensibility at work. Bennington still sounds like he’s having a nail hammered through his scrotum for half the record, but when the screams subside Linkin Park almost stray into Bruce Springsteen/Dave Matthews territory.
"It’s funny you say that because Rob, our drummer, is a huge fan of Carter from the Dave Matthews Band," Mike Shinoda divulges. "He’s very technical yet totally natural sounding. It’s the same deal that you get with top athletes like Michael Jordan. What they’re doing might look effortless, but you know years of hard work and training has gone into it."
I suspect this is leading somewhere.
"You suspect right," he laughs. "There’s a song on Meteora, ‘Easier To Run’, which sounds fairly straightforward at first, but when you go back you realise Rob is playing some very intricate things."
"It sums up all of our attitudes to this album," Chester Bennington expands. "Everybody in the band is really, really hard on themselves and each other! I want Brad to play the guitar the way I know Brad (Delson) can play the guitar. You know what I mean? He may be giving it 99.9% but I want the other 0.1% as well. I’ll have no problem telling him that and vice versa."
"Yeah," Shinoda resumes, "I’ve heard Brad tell Chester, ‘That chorus is good, it’s passable, but I know your A-minus can be an A-plus’."
I’ve always been intrigued as to how the Linkin Park everything including the kitchen-sink approach to songwriting works. Could Mike talk us through the assembly process?
"Okay, the new single, ‘Somewhere I Belong’. Chester came up with the original guitar part on an acoustic, which Brad and myself liked but thought was a bit too folky. So Joe (Hahn, samples man) and I got together, reversed it, cut it up in pieces, effected it… It’s now at the start of the song and sounds like a keyboard but that’s how it came about!"
Meteora mightn’t win them any new fans, but with 17 million existing ones that’s hardly a problem. The 5,000 lucky enough to be shoehorned into the Academy tonight are treated to one of the most frenetic live shows I’ve seen since Andrew WK touched down at the Dublin Ambassador. The MO is straightforward – soften them up with four or five songs from the new album, and then go in for the mosh-pit kill with ‘Papercut’, ‘Crawling’ and ‘One Step Closer’. Needless to say, it works a charm with the aforementioned triumvirate of hits sending everyone home hyperventilating.
"You know what?" Bennington reflects afterwards. "I need this band, I need this music, I need these fans. Without ’em, there’d be a huge hole in my life."