as befits a band that was one of the pioneers in integrating hip-hop and rap elements into heavy rock. From the down-tuned guitar heaviness of the millennial Hybrid Theory to the more-orchestrated but equally dense 2012 release, Living Things, they've remained a moving target, always pushing to grow creatively and find the next space from which to create.
As vocalist Chester Bennington reminisces about the band's beginnings, "We were fortunate to have guys in the band who were very tech savvy and kind of into collecting gear. We had our own PA that we would take to shows and we would have our own mixing board." An enduring part of Linkin Park's setup through the years has been gear from the Harman Professional family of brands. "I remember the second microphone I ever bought was a D12 by AKG," says multi-instrumentalist/producer Mike Shinoda, "and we bought it because we were just starting to record drums. We had no experience doing anything other than playing together, and then we'd gotten some digital recording software and were starting to play around with that. Still, to this day, we basically use that same microphone in the studio, on stage. I mean it's not an expensive piece of gear, but it's nice to know, from a beginning musician point of view, that you can buy something that's just going to last you forever at any level that you play."
The combination of limited resources and technical curiosity inevitably led to experimentation. "Since we only had like two microphones, at that point, I was using it on everything," says Shinoda. "It's really fun to be able to experiment with choosing that microphone on things, for example guitar, that you might not normally use it forâ€”choosing different placements and stuff. I thought we got some really unique sounds.
It's obviously great for bass and kick, but using it on some other thingsâ€”I know that we used it on some guitars early on and it was [a] really interesting, really cool sound."
Bennington adds, "The D12 was always on board, as well as Lexicon. We have always used Lexicon to add effects live, for as long as I can remember. Every studio I've ever been in has them. Every live rig has them, and JBL speakers as well. They are in every single venue you can possibly imagine. So, for us, these have always been solid products, not only at a professional level, but on an amateur level, tooâ€”and they're accessible. It's not like you have to be U2 or Linkin Park in order to have access to these pieces of equipment, especially with the mics and the Lexicon gear. They're relatively affordable for all levels and they perform really, really well."
Another Harman brand, JBL, has become a major part of their live show, at the urging of their front-of-house mixer, Grammy-nominated engineer "Pooch" Van Druten, who (as the band freely admits) is much more than just a hired hand. "He's just awesome and not just as a mixerâ€”he's a great dude. To give you an idea of our relationship with him, before every show he comes inâ€”and this is something we asked him to doâ€” he comes in like a coach would to a basketball team and gives them the pep talk and marching orders; says these are the plays, this is what we're working on. For example, he will come in and say, 'Okay, last night we had some trouble with this or this. Careful of those things tonight. You guys nailed it on these things. Keep that up.' He'll tell us the venue sounds this way or the crowd is like this. Be prepared for that. Then he'll give us like a quote of the day, some inspiring words. I'm serious. It's like we have a very tight family on the road."
When Van Druten came to them after doing an iHeartRadio show and told them they had to start using JBL's VTX line arrays in their live shows, the band was all ears. "I remember our sound guy telling us, 'We're switching to those speakers. Those sounded amazing,'" Shinoda recalls. "He doesn't usually do that, because he wants to be careful about if we have a preference; he doesn't want to step on it. But we respect his word." Bennington adds, "Everybody that I talked to after the show was commenting on how great the sound was in that venue. A lot of that has to do with the Line Array series in that they just distribute the sound so amazingly well. The low ends, the high ends, everything's so clean. It works indoors, outdoors. That's kind of also tricky, too, when you go from playing in an arena and then you go to play outside in an amphitheater. Sometimes you have to use different systems because some systems just can't handle doing one or the other. The VTX series really handles both very well."
An unexpected advantage was the VTX's ability to keep the onstage sound more balanced. "One of the great things that it does for me on stage," Bennington clarifies, "is it eliminates a lot of the low-end noise that happens. We don't really have a lot of monitors blasting our vocal or the guitars or anything back at usâ€”it's pretty quiet on stage. Most people probably don't understand that low-end frequencies travel equally in all directions, where the other frequencies are kind of directed; they kind of go wherever they're pointed. So often, without that system [the VTX], we can get into situations where that really low-end buzz that rattles the stage overpowers everything else, and makes it more difficult for me to hear notes or sing on key, which is kind of important."
Linkin Park's interest in keeping up with technology naturally extends to the studio, where they started doing 5.1 surround remixes of their recordings pretty much from the beginning, with Lexicon's 960L and 480L. Bennington notes, "There have been some really standout moments for me getting in the room and mixing in surround. One of them was doing our remix album of Hybrid Theory, which is called Reanimation. At the time we did a 5.1 mix of the album. Such an interesting experience mixing a record for 5.1. Clearly you have to use certain gear that works great in that environment. When it comes to the surround mix, those are two units we do lean on."
Their interest in tech goes far beyond music, though. Following the Christmas Eve tsunami that swept South Asia, the band started Music for Relief, a charity that was initially aimed at getting relief to victims of natural disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes, like Hurricane Sandy, for which Music for Relief continues to raise funds. Over the years, though, their interest has expanded towards bringing essential life-saving technology to the less-developed world. One current effort is centered around the Solar Suitcase, a portable power unit designed to provide light and power to medical facilities in remote areas, and Soccket, a kinetic generator in the form of a soccer ball that turns kids' playtime into power for lighting. "These items are really inexpensive," says Bennington. "They're very useful and they change people's lives. When you don't have to cut down all the trees and bushes in an area around a village because these solar-powered light bulbs are providing light, when these natural disasters hit, that one small effect is going to make a huge difference in the ability for these people to make it through these types of disasters."
As for what's on the horizon musically, Shinoda and Bennington say that they're committed to turning out records more frequently and continuing to advance the sound of the band, an ongoing project. "We kind of never stop the creative process," Bennington says. "In one way or another, there's always somebody in the band writing. I think Mike even writes music in his sleep. But yes, we've begun that process. We want to stick to our plan of turning out records faster than we used to in the past, so we're going to be spending a lot of time this year focusing on recording some new music." Judging from the evolution of the band over the past few years, that new music is sure to be worth the wait.
Written by George Van Wagner / Photography by Ryan Hunter