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How Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda found peace after Chester Bennington’s death

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Mike Shinoda is steering clear of social media. For a minute, anyway.

When we catch up with the singer, the country was only hours into processing the details of the Thousand Oaks, Calif., mass shooting and simultaneously stumbling through the outcome of the midterm elections. All the while, Linkin Park's 2003 hit "Numb" had just surpassed 1 billion views on YouTube. For the 41-year-old artist, self-care is an ongoing effort and today it is about logging off.

"With the midterms, it was just people trying to fill a news cycle until there were actual results," he says. "It's just a day of speculation and heated emotional nonsense, just people screaming. Now, today, it's just really heavy. I'm not in the mood for it. It's not that I ignore the news. I just see what's going on and opt out of engaging too much in the back and forth."

Shinoda is just days away from wrapping the North American leg of his Post Traumatic tour, his first solo tour and his first time on the road since the 2017 suicide of Chester Bennington — Linkin Park's frontman and Shinoda's longtime friend and collaborator. What followed was a tribute show last October in Los Angeles, Shinoda's only time performing with the remaining Linkin Park members since Bennington's death, and a nine-month period dedicated to documenting his grief within his home studio. What surfaced was a 16-track journey of loss, discovery, and evidence that he could go it alone.

"That was just life," he says. "The record is basically a diary of the first nine months after Chester passed. It was life dictating what the music was supposed to be. Wherever the record leaves off, the story has continued on the road."

One of the challenges Shinoda faced during the recording was not so much confronting the changing tide of emotions (though he admits that, too, was difficult) as much as it was capturing the moment in its purest form, even if it's uncomfortable. The album's opener, "A Place to Start," chronicles the initial feelings of uncertainty, and is grounded by recordings of personal voicemail messages left by concerned friends Mark Fiore, Ted Stryker, and Phoenix, each one checking in on Shinoda following Bennington's death. Later, Shinoda sings, "The lights go down/Holding every memory close/ Tonight is for our ghosts," on "Ghosts," which serves as Post Traumatic's pop-infused centerpiece and the album's transition into clarity.

"My approach with this record, Linkin Park, or anything else I've done, is to keep the music honest. In terms of what you get out of it, the music is just 50 percent of the equation. It's not finished until you listen to it and apply your own life experiences to it," he says. "Part of that is me not wanting to control that."

What Shinoda has chosen to take control of is his live shows, which are a sharp contrast to those with Linkin Park. Whereas Linkin Park sets were rooted by a standard setlist with very few, if any, variations, Shinoda says every show on the tour has been unique and much of that is due to his willingness to improvise.

There's Linkin Park stuff on the set, as well as music from Shinoda's hip-hop side project, Fort Minor. "It all kind of blends together," he says. "I usually write the set list in the afternoon or sometimes even closer to the show. I will do it based on what I see online from fans. Other times, I'll meet some fans at the meet and greet and get a sense of what they want to see. I'll just kind of play it by ear. I might change the set while we're on stage."

Nearly 22 years after forming Linkin Park, Shinoda is having fun again. Looking ahead to 2019, Shinoda says he will continue to prioritize support for Post Traumatic with a healthy balance of family time and rejuvenation. As was true with Linkin Park, success for Shinoda is not defined by status, but by happiness. And for now, he's staying focused on just that.

"It's never been about being more famous or making more money," he says. "Obviously, as a function of being an artist, you want to make money so you can continue to make good art and to afford to put on the type of shows that you want. I'm always writing new music, always playing around with new ideas, and the primary focus from the very beginning was I want to make the best music I can make and play the best shows I can play. Keeping that in focus is what keeps the train on the tracks."

Mike Shinoda will perform at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 16 at the Fillmore; 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451; thefillmoredetroit.com; Tickets are $30.

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