Brad Delson talks about the band’s approach to their new album
Linkin Park took a completely different approach to their new album, One More Light. Long known as innovators of sound, the band found themselves digging deeper into themselves to perfect their songwriting this time around.
Rick Rubin, the catalyst of so many great ideas in the music industry, was the first to challenge the band to change the way in which they undertook writing songs and albums, but it was a long-burning concept – one that took until now for the band to fully appreciate. In order to do so, the band reached out to help look deeper inside. A plethora of songwriters and artists from Los Angeles to New York to Nashville and London joined the band in the studio, creating a kind of experience guitarist Brad Delson would have “paid to have.”
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Brad to discuss that eclectic group of collaborators, to find out what made creating One More Light so different from their past records, and to learn about the guitarist’s passions outside of the music world.
Christopher Friedmann: We are talking because you are about to release your new album, One More Light. Just to start, how is the mood in camp?
Brad Delson: Really excited. We started working on these songs in November of 2015, so you can imagine we are really eager to be able to share all 10 songs with the the world…
We had a really long process. We basically figured out how to write songs in a completely foreign way for us. There was a huge learning curve and ultimately it proved really really fruitful and inspired creatively. We ended up writing about 70 songs and we whittled them down to the 10 that are coming out in May.
CF: This new album seems more human than ever. Can you speak a little on your choice to focus on the more vulnerable and brave elements of your subjects rather than simply toying with sounds?
BD: I think it’s a human record because of the way that we made the music. Typically we would start with sounds, whether it is guitars or a beat or drums, and the vocals would follow at the end of the process. Rick Rubin challenged us years ago to try it the other way and we completely ignored that advice for albums, and for whatever reason we woke up on the outset of this one and thought, “Hey remember that idea about writing songs? What if we did that?” It was really out of our comfort zone obviously, we just jumped in head first.
We worked with a really eclectic array of collaborators, many of whom just really write songs, and instead of tinkering with sound as a jumping off point, it would be like Mike or me or Chester – whoever was in the room – saying, “This is what’s on my mind, what I got to get off my chest today”. I’m having a problem with a close friend. I’m pissed off. I’m scared. I’m sad this is going on…
That’s what we wrote from, and we write words and melodies first. And that’s how we got all those songs written because they were all very barebones, vocally driven. There would be a lot of times just a piano or guitar and once we figured out which our favorite ones were, then we had the fun experiment of all the instrumentation and the tinkering of the music came kind of at the end of the process.
CF: Speaking of instrumentation, you put a lot of guitar on this album, but it doesn’t come off with those heavy feelings. Why did you decide to make the album less guitar-oriented and how did that change the way you thought about constructing songs?
BD: The challenge of the arrangement of these songs was to faithfully unearth what we felt to be the inherent natural styles of the songs once we wrote the actual melodies word for word. One of the goals we had was “no genre”, destroying the notion of genre, and endeavoring to do that – really bringing to bear all the eclectic patchwork of influences that we do share or bringing to bear the process of [being] music fans.
Me as a guitar player, I approached this, as far as the guitar work goes, the guitar work for me on this album was just as important as on any other album. It is just that the guitar is much more tender and subtle and layered and complementary of the vocal, than it is loud per se or even in the foreground per se – a lot of the guitar is nuanced and again mixed in with the patchwork of sounds that we love.
CF: As a band, it’s always been hard to pin you down within a singular genre – can you speak a little on the songwriting process?
BD: I think that the through line for us from album to album is a commitment to try and make the greatest thing we can make. And that means having the courage to really challenge ourselves as musicians. Every time we go into the studio we always want to push the envelope as artists – and that means that the journey is never predictable.
CF: Even though you have a history of working with collaborators, you’d never worked with a female vocalist before. What does Kiiara bring to the studio that is unique and made you need her on the record?
BD: I will confirm that more of our collaborators have been male. I think there might have been one or two female collaborators on Reanimation, however you’re right – our group is six guys and a lot of the collaborators we have worked with in the past have been guys…
One thing we wanted to do in making this album was really surround ourselves with an eclectic and diverse range of musicians of whom we’re fans, and learn and grow from them, and just really be wide open to where that takes us.
I think with “Heavy”, a song we love, there was a female composer on that as well with us. We always had that notion of a female voice on that song and we had her sing like a reference before she left that day when we wrote that song together. We have a version with Chester singing the whole song and we thought it would be amazing to have a female voice on it.
Kiiara came in, she’s friends with Mike, he played her a bunch of stuff that we were working on and she really gravitated toward that. She went in the booth, we threw her on it, we heard it soon after that, and everyone was really blown away by the dimension she added to the song, and I just really love how it turned out.
CF: You’ve worked with a range of artists as you were saying: Can you speak a little on the value of calling in collaborators, and expand that by talking about from which artists you’ve learned the most?
BD: There is so much great music being made today, and we are first and foremost fans of music. The reason that we got into music was because we love listening to music, we love playing music, and being able to be in the room with other talented people is a gift.
We certainly learn so much… whether it was early sessions with Eg White who is a genius and rarely comes out to the States, we are very lucky to have spent almost a week with him… to working with blackbear and Andrew Goldstein on a bunch of co-productions, we had Emily Wright and Andrew Bolooki in with us on almost all the vocals we tracked and they just… gave Mike and Chester a chance to really hone in and just focus on their performances, because it’s one thing to say the album is going to be vocally driven, it’s another thing to actually deliver that.
I’m really proud of the work Mike and Chester did vocally on this record and I give a lot of credit to our collaborators in helping allow those performances to unfold. There is such a long list of people that we worked with – Ross Golan, amazing songwriter and collaborator, Justin Tranter, Julia Michaels who worked on “Heavy” with us. I’m obviously going to leave out a million people… we obviously had such an eclectic collective of people.
It was funny because all the collaborators basically came in through the process of, we’re fans of something, we peeked behind the curtain and see who worked on it, and we just called those people up and said, “Do you want to come in and work?” And got to meet such a great group of creative people, many of whom are based in L.A. Some of them are based in Nashville or New York or London, but a lot of folks are here in L.A. It just made the whole process so much fun. We had Jon Green from London, so talented, amazing talent.
CF: It sounds like you had a fun studio experience…
BD: … I would have paid to have to have those experiences, and I certainly think our trajectory as songwriters owes a great debt to all those people for teaching us how to approach songs from different ways.
CF: Can you talk a little about “Music For Relief” – the non-profit that the band launched to help areas hit by natural disaster? When the world is filled with such a variety of good causes – what was it about this particular cause that resonated with the band?
BD: We helped with relief after the South Asian tsunami in 2006. We had actually just finished touring South Asia when that natural disaster struck, so we were watching the images on TV and what might seem like a world away for most people was very close to home…
I made a lot of friends there and was really just devastated by all of the destruction, wanted to do something to respond, and had amazing partnership from other artists. We have been able to kind of set Music For Relief on its own footing where the organization now responds to disasters globally, and has been doing great work with great partners for over a decade and it’s really central to everything we do and our thinking. We are really grateful to play music and I feel blessed to play music, and I also feel like that platform is a huge opportunity for us to help people.
One way that we do that is making connections between people in the music community and great partners like organizations on the ground like International Medical Corps, for example, whose volunteer doctors help stopped the ebola outbreak a couple years back… and are now addressing the desperate food shortage and crisis in Eastern Africa. We just had an event, a really successful poker night, to raise money for that cause in between the two Coachella weekends and had an incredible turnout with great artist partners and music community partners and raised a bunch of money and that’s something we are proud of – at the top of the list.
CF: Over the course of your career you’ve have had a fair breadth of experiences, but I was wondering if you could tell us of the most grounding moment that you’ve had so far, a moment that reminds you why you do all this?
BD: We’ve had instances whether it’s through the Make-A-Wish Foundation or similar organization where a kid who is dealing with a life threatening crisis might choose to want to spend time with our group of guys and it’s really humbling and it just reminds us that what we do musically really does matter to people and touches their lives.
It’s just a huge honor that someone might use that wish to spend time with us or come to a show and we do take what we do seriously in the sense that it is a privilege to play music for a living and share that with people and something we are really grateful to do. Those moments have certainly been grounding for me.