“I don’t even know where to start,” Mike Shinoda says as he settles into a reclining chair situated here in a penthouse suite overlooking Hollywood Blvd. He takes a deep breath and proceeds to try and make sense of how he’s survived the past year. “I don’t want anyone to ever think this was easy,” the musician and Linkin Park co-founder says of not only enduring the loss of his best friend and bandmate, Chester Bennington, to suicide last July, but then, even when it often felt as if his anxiety might consume him, somehow emerging with his first solo album. “It was fucking insane,” Shinoda says of staring down his immense grief, finding comfort in his creativity and winding up with Post Traumatic, now available. “It was unthinkable. But I feel like I’ve come a really long way.”
Previously, whenever a challenging or emotionally jarring situation in his life had presented itself, Shinoda turned to songwriting or painting as a coping mechanism. In the immediate aftermath of Bennington’s death, however, simply walking into his home studio became a seemingly insurmountable challenge. The days passed, and he slowly gained the courage to step into the studio. In short order, intense and highly personal songs began to arrive. Shinoda admits he often wondered if writing music so soon after a tragedy was disrespectful to Bennington. But, if only to “head off the anxiety” and make his “brain calm down,” he pressed on.
“There were people who were such fans of the band that they were devastated, to the extent that they were concerned about their own mental health,” he says with equal parts gratitude and awe. Creating his album then became as much a form of self-therapy as a signal to Linkin Park fans that, yes, things would get better.
In that way, the album is as much a love letter to Bennington as Shinoda reaching a hand out to his band’s younger fans. Loss—whether that of someone you idolize, or a close friend—“is really confusing and hard on people’s brains,” Shinoda says. “Especially on young people. My situation is different than yours, but the common thread is the same. We all feel the same way."
My situation is different than the fans', but the common thread is the same. We all feel the same way.
Conceived and assembled in only a few months, Post Traumatic is the fastest Shinoda has ever recorded an album. To that end, he admits he has almost zero distance yet from the project. Still, completing it has allowed him to regain a sense of control in his life. “I'm like, 'I [now] know what’s coming next,’” he says. In the weeks that followed Bennington’s death, “I had zero percent of that,” he offers. “And today,” after assembling an incredibly raw album, a eulogy to his friend, “I have a lot more than zero. I don’t have 100 percent,” he says. “Nobody is ever going to have that. But I do feel like I know what I want to do.”
For now, that includes heading out on a tour of Europe and Asia in August. After that? Shinoda is leaving his options open. He knows fans of Linkin Park are anxious to know whether the band continues on without Bennington. But Shinoda isn’t ready to go there yet.
“I’m figuring a bunch of things out slowly,” he says. “I don’t know if that means at some point we get back together with the band. I don’t know if that means I’m going to magically find another artist that I just click with, and we make some cool music together. I just dunno.”