Linkin Park makes time to experiment with new sounds.
February 14, 2008
Though initially inspired by a symbolic clock that counts down the likelihood of global nuclear disaster, Linkin Park’s latest CD, “Minutes to Midnight,” also heralds the arrival of a more positive future for a band celebrating a new approach to the music-making process.
“The music industry is changing a lot right now in terms of how fans listen to music, buy music and experience music, as opposed to the way people did even five or 10 years ago,” said the blockbuster rock band’s drummer Rob Bourdon. “And as a band we are really changing our sound, trying some new things with our music and the way we write songs together. It’s a new beginning.”
Still, it’s fitting that Linkin Park, whose thought-provoking lyrics and vivid music videos are rife with images of potentially dire environmental, political and social implications, draws a parallel to an analogy of impending doom as a way to channel movement toward change for the better.
The Doomsday Clock was an abstract time piece created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago. Its purpose was to portray at any given moment how close (in imaginary “minutes”) the world is to nuclear destruction (“midnight”). The clock’s hands originally were set to seven minutes to midnight at the start of the cold war, but in the ensuing decades have been pushed forward or backward several times in line with the perceived threat not only of global nuclear war but, in recent years, climate-altering technologies. As of Jan. 17, 2007, the clock stands at five minutes to midnight.
“The title of the CD isn’t derived directly from the Doomsday Clock but inspired by it,” said Bourbon, in a recent interview with NH Weekend. “Our singer Chester (Bennington) was watching a special on the Discovery Channel on the Doomsday Clock and thought that it had a lot of relevance to a few different things in the music industry and, in particular, our band.”
As such, the CD title, “Minutes to Midnight,” represented “a countdown to the release of the album and the fans experiencing a new version of Linkin Park,” Bourdon said.
Linkin Park will perform tunes from the project, the third studio album for the two-time Grammy Award winners, at a performance along with opening act Coheed and Cambria at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, at the Verizon Wireless Arena in downtown Manchester.
Released last spring, “Minutes to Midnight” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200, went platinum just four weeks after hitting store shelves, and ticked off the top singles “What I’ve Done,” “Bleed It Out” and “Shadow of the Day.”
“Minutes to Midnight” follows the California band’s meteoric 2003 CD, “Meteora,” which featured the singles “Somewhere I Belong,” “Faint,” “Breaking the Habit” and “Lying From You,” and 2000’s “Hybrid Theory,” which included the band’s first chart-topping rock tunes, “In the End” and “Crawling.”
But despite Linkin Park’s commercial success in the past eight years, band members were eager to explore new creative paths on their latest project and decided to step outside of their musical comfort zones to try new approaches to songwriting.
“Traditionally, when we start working on a record, most of us would stick to our instruments,” Bourdon said of the group, which features Bennington on lead vocals, Brad Delson on lead guitar, Dave “Phoenix” Farrell on bass guitar and backing vocals, Joe Hahn on turntables, programming and samples and Mike Shinoda on vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboard and piano as well as emcee duties.
“For me, I would focus on what drum parts can I write and work on the rhythm section and that element of the music,” he said. (But for ‘Minutes to Midnight’) I was writing on piano and working on programming drums and arranging different strings and other elements of the songs.
“And the other guys did the same,” Bourdon said. “Brad, who plays guitar, spent a lot of time playing the piano and writing on organ and other instruments. It kind of opened up our eyes to new avenues of songwriting and really helped us when we did eventually move back to our instruments. It really helped us creatively.”
For example, for the single “Shadows of the Day,” the prominent keyboard loop that appears on the CD was just one of many variations explored during the record-making process. Dozens of other options were created on piano, acoustic guitar, marimba, xylophone and electric banjo.
The spirit of experimentation throughout the 14-month record-making process also extended to the use of unlikely objects for sound effects. On “Given Up,” industrial guitar runs are merged with clapping and tracks of jangling car keys.
“We did a lot of random stuff in the studio,” Bourdon, 29, said. One of the really fun parts (of making this album) was actually writing in the recording studio. So when we tried random things in front of the vocal mike, some of that was actually part of the final recording.”
Normally, the band works out musical details in outside sessions and then attempts to recreate those sounds and elements once in the studio.
Still, despite the positive overtones to Linkin Park’s current musical direction, there is no doubt the tracks are meant to inspire some serious thought about some serious issues.
Its music video for “Shadow of the Day” paints a bleak world in which a war zone rages outside his apartment door. Screams compete with police sirens and machine-gun fire as explosions rock the night. Bennington, in palpable despair, sings of a life shrouded in gray, where “sometimes solutions aren’t so simple, sometimes goodbye’s the only way.”
“If you take any of our songs’ lyrics, they can be interpreted in many ways, pessimistic or optimistic, depending on what’s going on in fans’ lives,” Bourdon contends. “We pride ourselves in coming up with lyrics that people can relate to emotionally and apply to their own lives. We don’t like to talk about our own inspiration for songs (for that reason). Videos are one interpretation of how the lyrics of the songs can make someone feel at that moment. Joe (Hahn, Linkin Park turntablist and video director), created a visually great video. I’m not sure what his inspiration was but it does connect with people.”
The CD liner notes for the tune “What I’ve Done” suggest the band hoped that song, too, would inspire many interpretations, “including freedom, art and death metaphors.” Linkin Park’s video for the song is a lightning-quick collage of environmental, political and social decay. Juxtaposed against images of natural disasters and detrimental climate changes are snapshots of racism, bloody dictatorships and starvation. There are brief glimpses of hope – a newborn, a blooming flower, and historic sites, all standing as testaments to time, tradition and endurance.
But viewers are left with the overriding sense that while anyone can start anew, the choice is up to each person as to whether it will be for the good of the world.