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Front Row Features and Examiner.com interviewed Mike about how he went about scoring the film with Joe Trapanese.
Front Row Features: This film marks your first major film score?
Shinoda: I’ve done some scoring in the past in some things people would have never seen. When band did the song for the second set of the “Transformers” movie, we got to get and do a little scoring in it as well. That’s when I felt like maybe I got more interested in that. I always had an interest in it but having the band take such a major role in my life, I kind of forget. I got a little bit of interest back (after “Transformers.”)
Front Row Features: Before you were in the band, did you think about scoring or composing?
Shinoda: I grew up painting and playing piano so when I was a little kid I thought I was going to be an artist or a painter but my mom had me taking piano lessons for about 10-12 years as a young kid. I may have started as young as three. At some point listening to hip hop as I did, I started playing hip hop loops that had piano lyrics in the hip hop songs I was listening to – Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and even at a certain point Dr. Dre. It was keyboard but still you know. I bought a keyboard. I started toying around with making beats and stuff like that and that’s when my piano lessons stopped because they were classical lessons that really didn’t have anything to do with the stuff I was getting into. My teacher was actually excellent about that. I asked her to help me learn that stuff and she actually said no. She knew that meant she was going to lose me as a student but she said, “Truly if you want to do this and you want to get good at it, I suggest you work on it on your own first and get familiar the stuff and see if you love it and if you do then you’ll want to take classes on the production aspect and other for Shinoda of writing and recording the stuff, which I did.
Front Row Features: Were you the type of kid that didn’t want to take piano classes in the beginning?
Shinoda: Of course. I liked the piano. I always liked playing. I just hated homework. They made me go home with classical pieces to learn in a course of a week and I’d come back and I remember one time my teacher told me to learn this piece and I asked her to play it for me. I normally didn’t do that. But, I asked her to play it before I went home. I came back the next week and I played the piece. I forgot to mention, we were working on sight reading and she had me go home and learn it. She said, “Ok, that was great but next time can you read the piece because you transposed it up three steps.” I was playing off the page at all. I was playing based on what she had played for me prior. I remember what it sounded like and from memory, I basically picked it out on the piano and I played it back for her. I didn’t remember it right, That was really an important moment in the evolution of what I started doing on piano and we both realized that I had a good memory for melody and good ear to pick something I heard and play it but I was actually slow at sight reading. Since I hated sight reading, I started using my ear and she eventually got me enrolled in a couple of songwriting competitions. I won a bunch of them as a young kid and that set me off on a path that eventually led to Linkin Park.
Front Row Features: Now that you’re doing more composing and scoring, do you see that having your teacher take sight reading/songwriting classes has also helped you in that portion of your career aside from Linkin Park?
Shinoda: The classical background is definitely a major part of this. That’s one of the places that my partner on this score, Joe Trapanese that were our backgrounds overlap. We both come a piano and classical background. But he went to school for music composition. He learned the traditional style of scoring for film and working with an orchestra. Obviously mine is more writing for rock music – rock, pop, hip hop recording engineering and things like that. At this point I obviously have more experience in the song and album background and he’s more experience in scoring and that’s why when the folks at Sony called me about this score, I agreed to do it. I’ve actually been approached before to do scores but I’ve turned them down because I didn’t like the projects being proposed or I wasn’t a big fan what ever it was. Occasionally something good would come along but I wasn’t available because I didn’t have the time. I figured on this one (The Raid: Redemption) what I would do, I would bring someone on I felt was capable of supplementing the workload and teaching me how it flowed from beginning and end on a film and I loved Joe’s score for “Tron” with Daft Punk. I got a sense of what he did and what they (Daft Punk) do and I invited him on board. He was stoked and was happy to be on board. We really hit it off. We’re similar in many was that compliment the film and dissimilar in many ways in that our smashing the difference together, that added to the aesthetics to the film.
Front Row Features: You mentioned you decided not to do some projects, what was the factor that wanted you to take on the scoring for “The Raid: Redemption?”
Shinoda: The main thing was the guy who called and emailed about this, he didn’t say what everybody else says. Everyone else says, “Hey man! We love Linkin Park! We want to get you involved with our composer and you can make this soundtrack rock.” These guys called and said, “We love your “Fort Miner” stuff. We love…” and they named a couple of remixes I did. “We think that the director is looking for something like this and we’d like for you to do it.” They weren’t asking me to pair up with someone else. They were asking me to do it. Second, the things that they were naming were things I did for fun. Those weren’t supposed to be studio records when I made them. There was no deadline. There was no record labels. I was just sitting in my house in an afternoon playing around with something and it turned into a song. I figured these guys were asking me to do something I did for fun but do it for this movie. I thought it could be a fun project to do and it actually did end up being exactly that.
Front Row Features: When you sign up to do a film project, I’m sure you’d like them not to be hyped because you’re in Linkin Park.
Shinoda: You can see through that stuff. I mean now telling you and I’ve said this to others, it’s out there in the world, I’m sure I’ll get more calls saying, “I love what you did on remixes and I love “The Raid” – and I’m going to be like, “No buddy, that’s only because you heard me say it.” Truly, I know when we click and when it makes sense. Besides, I”m super busy with the band. This to me felt like it’s a smallish budget film out of Indonesia. It is very unlikely that this would be a cult film and I knew that. These guys were willing to take a chances and mess around that kind of breaks rules. We can go a little crazy with it and I liked that about it. I liked the idea of potentially do stuff that was unconventionally and make mistakes and prepare myself for the next step. By the way, finding out if I liked scoring a full length film at all because maybe I’d think that doing it became a chore and not liking it. I had a great time doing it. I’m excited to doing more scoring work in the future. I don’t think the next thing I score will be something like “The Raid.” For example, I’d be interested in something that would be emotionally complex and emotionally driven. I’m happy to do exciting stuff. We’ll see what happens.
Front Row Features: What was the process like working with Joe on this film? Was there any difficulties or butting heads or felt the excitement after scoring each scene?
Shinoda: It was very fast. That was one thing that was interesting to me. As soon as we started working together, we launched into it and it was almost like looking back, it was very smooth that we got so much done so quickly. We almost didn’t have time to think. I say that, but on the contrary, there were moments where we paused and made decisions that were defining in the score. The nice thing of those conversations and those moments we were the right team for this film because for example when we first started talking about it, we were talking about how nice it would be to do it if you think about making a painting, if you use that as a metaphor, what we were talking about is creating a palette of colors that you paint from. You choose your colors then you paint. I said, “As far as what colors to use, what do you think about not using any guitar?” He said, “That’s a great idea. I love that.” I was, “Good, I love that too! What do you think about going with more fewer strings and piano, using that sparingly?” “Great let’s use that.” Joe said. “Where should we use them?” “Let’s use them when the family theme comes up. When he’s talking about his wife or his brother, that’s where we use it. Everywhere else we don’t use it.” So those types of things, we made simple decisions in the beginning and created some rules so now we can go crazy.
Front Row Features: Was it exciting to go crazy on the scoring? Just watching those fight scenes, the scoring brought so much excitement to them..
Shinoda: There’s so many fight scenes. There were some that were designed to be the core sound of the movie. There are a number of other fight scenes that carry very specific sonic elements and musical themes that show up once and again to tie it all together. If every fight scene had the same music element, you’d get bored. We knew which fight scenes where we were going to go off the reservation. We got experiment with some electronic music and some stuff that was more like traditional sounding instruments, almost like taiko dru Shinoda and mash that up with some really digital sounding instruments. So both of those together in a way hopefully gives character to that specific fight.
Front Row Features: Were there points when you and Joe felt you nailed the score in various scenes, you had those high five moments?
Shinoda: I think so. We did a bunch of scenes on individual basis. I did some and he did some. We also did scenes where I would start or he would start and leave a blank spot. I remember one spot, I sent it to him in an email it said, “From one minute in to two and half minutes in, I’ve got a kick and a bass and you could remove those if you want because all I want is you to do that section because everything before that and after that will have my sound and in the middle I want it to leave with another sound and I want you to go in there and do something like some vintage synths and stuff like that.” When he sent it back, it was exactly that. The first movement of the fight happened and ended then the second movement of the fight started and it would sound brand new but it was all one piece.
Front Row Features: Was there a point that you didn’t want the score to sound like people would say, “Oh that’s Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park?”
Shinoda: Definitely. Naturally, when it’s coming from the same guy, it’s going to sound similar. I think Linkin Park fans will enjoy the sound of film’s score. I didn’t think too much to make it more or less similar. All I was doing was trying to look at the film and do what was right for the scene and in many cases it required a great deal of restraint to not make something too catchy because if you’re in the middle of most of these scenes, if I was to write something that grabbed you too hard, it would distract you and pull you right out of the scene and you’d be listening to the music instead of watching the movie anymore. I think (director) Gareth Evans appreciated it.