Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda Rocks on to New Challenge: 'The Raid: Redemption' Film Score (Q&A)
The songwriter and keyboardist talks about tackling Asian stereotypes and taking advantage of serendipitous career choices as he premieres his first film score.
In a little more than a decade, Linkin Park has racked up more than 30 credits contributing songs or other pieces of music to a variety of movies and television programs. But frontman Mike Shinoda has never been satisfied with just one outlet for his creativity, and his solo work on the Fort Minor album, along with an assortment of remixes and productions for other artists, has led perhaps inevitably back to another medium in which the band has experienced so much success: movies.
Working with Tron: Legacy orchestrator Joe Trapanese, Shinoda created not just a soundtrack but a full-blown score for The Raid: Redemption, writer-director Gareth Evans’ epic action thriller about an Indonesian SWAT team that gets trapped in a drug dealer’s fortresslike tenement building. As the musician continues to expand his repertoire, Shinoda talked with The Hollywood Reporter about making the transition into scoring movies and taking on new challenges.
The Hollywood Reporter: How did you initially get involved with this project, and how much did you know about the movie beforehand?
Mike Shinoda: With Linkin Park being placed in so many films, I've gotten a few offers to get involved in scoring before. A lot of the stuff really hasn't been my cup of tea; generally it's like: "Hey, we love Linkin Park. We've got this composer on board, but we want to put your name on the poster, and we want you to put heavy rock guitars on the score." That's really not very inspiring for me, and I'm not at a place in my career where I feel like doing that kind of thing gets me anywhere. But I got approached by Sony, and the guy basically said, "We’re fans of your Fort Minor stuff [and] some of the remixes you've done -- would you want to score this film?" They basically were saying they were going to trust me with the whole thing. What they were talking about is a couple of pieces of work that I did for fun – the Fort Minor album and the remixes, I basically did those on afternoons hanging out in my studio and started messing around with something and turned it into something that I ended up putting out. So I figured if I could do that and get some experience with a film, then it'd be a great opportunity -- and it did end up being exactly that.
THR: Coming into an Indonesian film, and you being Japanese-American, was there any conscious thought about the idea of being an Asian-American working on an Asian action film?
Shinoda: That's funny. I know there was a conversation at one point where we said for the most part we're going to try to avoid traditional instruments, because I'm not that familiar with them and even if I read on Wikipedia that this particular instrument is the most popular traditional Indonesian instrument, it's still like I don't have an expertise in that instrument and I'm not going to try and use it in a clunky way. So we basically tried to stay away from that for the most part. There's a couple of scenes in the film where we went with some very traditional sounding or organic sounding drums, I think those reference points do have a kind of Taiko [drumming] kind of feel. But in no way did I try and bring some kind of Indonesian musical sound; in fact, I avoided it. Joe and I both avoided it because it's not us. It was out of respect for the people. But I feel like for me, we tour all over the world and we have actually a really fantastic fan base in Indonesia and I know it's pretty clear to them that I'm not Indonesian.
THR: Sure, but it seems like Hollywood isn't always sensitive to the differences between Asian cultures.
Shinoda: I feel like people who make that mistake might benefit from an awareness of the website Disgrasian. It’s one of my favorite Asian-centric American websites, and they constantly make fun of Hollywood's tendency to kind of mix and match Asian culture.
THR: How challenging was it to make the transition from realizing that certain pieces of music you had created were good for certain kinds of sequences to actually creating them specifically for those kinds of sequences?
Shinoda: I did a little piece of scoring for an independent that Rob Dyrdek put together called Street Dreams, and I did some other things that nobody will ever see. And then eventually when Linkin Park did the Transformers movies, on the second one we got to get involved on the score in that one, and I think that got me excited -- it was a little taste of what it could be like. And so when I first got involved, I told Gareth that I wanted to approach it more like a score; I didn't want to try and just make songs and have somebody else edit them together, which I know is a possibility. He seemed to be really receptive to that, and in fact at the end of the process he said that was one of the moments when he got the most confidence about the relationship because I intended to approach it in a way that was complementary to what he had done. I brought Joe Trapanese on board, who was Daft Punk's scoring partner on the TRON soundtrack, because I love what he did on that movie and I really thought that bringing somebody with a more traditional background would be an educational opportunity for me. He not only [taught] me about simple technical stuff like the workflow, but also just we could provide a point of reference for one another -- like are we being true enough to scoring the film without getting too distracting in the music, are we being bold enough with the music that it's not just a boring generic score, stuff like that. I think that the collaboration really benefitted all of us.
THR: Did you have any concerns about joining the film with another score already created?
Shinoda: Absolutely. I think that was the scariest moment, going to Sundance when the film debuted with my score in it, because I knew that it had already won awards, there was a ton of buzz about the movie, and people were going to Sundance just to see this movie. Some of them had already seen it with the other score and it would be awful if people had written reviews saying "this movie is great, we've seen it for the second or third time, they ruined the score though." Luckily I haven't seen anybody say that. It may be out there, but I haven't seen it. But I didn't go into it trying to compare what I was going to do with their thing; we basically started from a clean slate, got a few notes from the music supervisor at Sony that were basic ideas that Gareth wanted to make sure happened, but for the most part he was very open to what we wanted to come with. I mean he was a dream scenario in the sense that we had a lot of artistic freedom to come up with what should go on in each scene.
THR: how did you look at this in terms of what people might be expecting?
Shinoda: I have a background in piano -- in fact, that's where I started out. I spent ten years playing classical piano, and that was what led to keyboards and eventually to production and to Linkin Park. I remember transitioning out of piano after about 12 years of doing it and I had told my piano teacher I loved playing piano but I hate playing these classical pieces – “I hate homework, having to take home these things and learn them.” They were not my favorite kind of music, and all I saw myself doing was basically learning all the loops on my favorite rap songs and playing that on the piano for my friends. And my piano teacher was a saint; she was so sweet about it and said "I honestly can't teach you that, and it's okay if you want to quit lessons. But here's what you should do -- buy a keyboard and learn what that's about and I can try and help you find another teacher if you want." Jumping forward, there's a balance to be aware of in this movie where I wanted it to sound like me, to sound what they probably expected, and also to surprise people, just to keep it fresh and keep people on their toes. So as we went along there are definitely moments where sounds that I think you would expect to pop up, and there are these other moments that just provides variety in the score and keeps people guessing.
THR: Now natural was your movement towards this opportunity? Was it sort of a serendipitous convergence of events, or did it sort of come out of the blue?
Shinoda: It's a little bit of all of that. On one hand I've always loved the exercise of making music to fit something visual, and we joked about this score [being] almost like reverse engineering of a music video. You've got the dance on the screen -- the fight scene is a carefully choreographed number and we've got to make music that they're dancing to. And we found that there is actually a rhythm to a lot of the scenes that would ebb and flow. And once we found that rhythm, the score really locked into the action. For me it's just always something that's kind of lingered in the back of my head. I remember being a little kid sitting in the living room with my brother and some friends from around the neighborhood, and I would sit at the piano and as they were running around the room doing different things and being silly, acting out, I would actually play the score for it -- the music that went along with it. So if they're creeping along the side of the wall, I'm making this mysterious detective music or whatever it may be. And I think it just kind of sits there in the back of your head and when the moment arrives then we might be able to seize it and do something with it, then you jump. For me with this score too it's the right kind of movie -- I felt like I wanted to go into it and give it 100%. I'm not just going to say yes to this and then just kind of half-ass it, but at the same time if I make some mistakes along the way, this is the place to do it. And I found that I would love to do some more scoring and I really do enjoy the process and I enjoy what happened here. But I think that, to be fair, the next thing that I do probably won't be an action film.
THR: Have you lined up any participation in the sequel to The Raid, Berandal?
Shinoda: I'm actually not aware of how far through he is, so we haven't really talked about it. The answer at this point would be no.
THR: Where do you feel like you're at in your career now – is this a fully new direction to go into, or do you look at this as a digression from your Linkin Park and Fort Minor efforts?
Shinoda: I don't think this is a sign of any kind of infidelity; this isn't like I'm restless with Linkin Park and I needed to stretch out and do something else. We have moments with the band where I have an opportunity to dive into something else and I enjoy having my hands in a lot of different things, as evidenced by all the other random weird stuff that I've done along the way from art shows to projects with other artists. As a creative person you just get an idea in your head, and sometimes you just can't shake it off. When it comes to the scoring, I intend to have a healthy balance between that and the stuff that I do with Linkin Park. We're in the studio right now with the band making a record which I'm really really happy with, and I feel like the best part about it is the things that I do that are not Linkin Park, they all complement one another. As I finished up the score for The Raid I realized some things about the working process that were so useful and they were great tools that I then took to the studio with the band and I loosened up our workflow. With The Raid, you just kind of go down the rabbit hole and you don't really check in as often. With our band we tend to check in every week or even more often, and sometimes that disrupts the creative process. So I told the guys about that and we started putting it in place, and it has great results. I think it's healthy, at least for me.