To Be a Member of a Club You Never Wanted to Join — Conversing with Mike Shinoda

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Studies suggest that mental illness just may be the new normal—with an overwhelming amount of the population suffering from depression, anxiety, or a deep rooted sadness at one point or another in their lives. While some may attempt to ignore symptoms, it’s important we don’t isolate ourselves and these feelings, but rather, remove the stigma attached to mental health by speaking openly. Mike Shinoda wants to promote this narrative, and ensure that we are checking in with ourselves, and others.

Interview, Narration, & Text by Samantha Goretski
Audio by Elphick Wo
Photos by Christina Choi

Studies suggest that mental illness just may be the new normal—with an overwhelming amount of the population suffering from depression, anxiety, or a deep rooted sadness at one point or another in their lives. While some may attempt to ignore symptoms, it’s important we don’t isolate ourselves and these feelings, but rather, remove the stigma attached to mental health by speaking openly. Mike Shinoda wants to promote this narrative, and ensure that we are checking in with ourselves, and others.

Interview, Narration, & Text by Samantha Goretski
Audio by Elphick Wo
Photos by Christina Choi

At MAEKAN, the story defines the medium. Some stories function best as written text, others hope to capture the emotion through an intimate audio experience. In cases such as this audio story, the transcripts we provide are done to the best of our ability through AI transcription services and human transcribers. We try our best, but this may contain small errors or non-traditional sentence structure. The imperfection of humans is what makes us perfect.

Samantha Goretski: I was sixteen years old when Linkin Park released their debut album Hybrid Theory in 2000, and I remember vividly, just how much that album resonated with me. A junior in high-school, I found solace in the sonically aggressive production, paired with the angst ridden and vulnerable lyrics. As a teenager, and like other fans at the time, I was learning how to both understand and process emotional awareness, while navigating adolescent complexities around what it meant to “fit in.” Despite being generally popular, I felt an overwhelming feeling of exclusion and misunderstanding. Linkin Park served as a means of escape, allowing me the comfort of camaraderie through euphonic comfort.

Mike Shinoda is a man of many talents, truly, but if you recognize the name, it’s likely due to your familiarity with the band Linkin Park. Mike Shinoda, Rob Bourdon, and Brad Delson were friends and bandmates while attending high-school in Agoura Hills, California, a Los Angeles suburb, but it was post-graduation when the group began to take their musical pursuits seriously.

Failing to land a record deal, growing pains, and frustration led to an amicable split with the band’s first vocalist and resulted in the band finding their critical missing link—Chester Bennington.

Bennington, originally from Arizona, went from being a group outlier to the band’s frontman, quickly developing a fresh synergy and choral dynamic with Shinoda. Linkin Park catapulted towards international recognition and fame with Hybrid Theory. The album sold more than five million copies in its debut year and was the top selling album of 2001. At the start of the new millennium, music television channels such as MTV and VH1 continued to be at the forefront of popular culture; introducing and universalizing the next generation of musical phenomena. Mainstream radio was dominated by boy bands like N* Sync and Backstreet Boys, plus the widely accepted presence of white male rappers expressing authority in hip-hop. Linkin Park added to these genre-bending classifications, synthesizing rock, rap, and metal. They topped the charts again with Meteora and Minutes to Midnight, establishing themselves as one of the most prolific and influential bands of the decade.

Linkin Park worked with iconic creative and musical contributors such as Rick Rubin, Hans Zimmer, Rakim, System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine and countless others, in bringing another three critically-acclaimed albums into fruition—A Thousand Suns, Living Things, and The Hunting Party. With a total of sixty-seven music awards, Linkin Park was perceived as a band that knew how to evolve and achieve continued success through genuine creative exploration, risk taking, and band unification.

We often find it surprising that within smashing career acclaim, one could harbor deeply rooted sadness. But on July 20th, 2017, the world learned that Chester Bennington took his own life at the age of forty-one. It was known that Chester channeled through his music, memories of sexual abuse and other childhood pain points that ultimately led to substance and alcohol use and addiction—but Shinoda and Linkin Park fans could have never braced themselves for such a tragic loss.

When I learned that I would be interviewing Mike Shinoda for this assignment, I was both excited and horrified—to meet someone who helped guide me through my formative years, was nothing short of intimidating and overwhelming. But interviews like these are heartbreakingly therapeutic, because what you share with your heroes is a mutual understanding of human suffering and sadness. And regardless of social status or position, mental health is universally felt.

Mike Shinoda discusses this importance, personally and profoundly.

It's never been about like, hey look at me, I'm famous. I could actually really do without that.

Samantha: In this day and age, celebrities are scrutinized way more than, five, ten years ago. So, in 2018, what does celebrity mean to you? And how do you think celebrity differs from the perception of a celebrity in the past?

Mike Shinoda: Just a little— by way of a little bit of a background on me, I guess first I should say I grew up drawing and painting and playing piano and those were all very, especially at the time, they were just nerdy things to do. I wasn’t playing music where a lot of friends or a lot of people at school would be like, “Yo, have you heard that guy?” It was more like I would play piano. They’d humor me, but it wasn’t cool. The art thing was more utilitarian. It’s like, “Will you draw a poster for our football game? Will you draw this so we can put it on a t-shirt or on the yearbook?” I went to school for design and art and the music just kind of took off. So, I ended up doing it because I loved it and it was like a winning lottery ticket. It was like, wow, I can’t believe I get the opportunity to do this, I’m so lucky.

So, I remember distinctly the first time when the band was really blowing up and we had a single that was on the radio, and I remember going to one of our shows and seeing people in the crowd that I wouldn’t be friends with. I would never… at one point actually, the most extreme example of it was I was outside one of our early, early shows and there was a skinhead kid who was like, “I love your band” and I was like “You’re a fucking skinhead, like what?!” I didn’t say anything, I just kind of moved on, but if it was me now, I would actually probably engage them and been like, “What is the deal, why?”

Samantha: Like, what is it about our music that’s resonating?!

Mike: Right, and what am I doing wrong? But I think where I was kind of going with this is a few years later I did a show, this is a long time ago now but I did a couple of art shows, a two-part theme that was about celebrity. It was about basically a faceless, nameless skeleton character who became famous for no other reason than being famous. It was around the time of the beginning of, like, Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie’s thing, and then Britney Spears shaved her head and eventually it went all the way to the point where as I was—the art was on the walls and the premiere for the second show was happening—just a few weeks before, I think it was like a week or two weeks before that Michael Jackson died and in the show already was stuff about Princess Diana and all this stuff about celebrity because it was really exploring the fact that I’ve gotten myself into this situation being known by all these people.

I’m in it for the art of it, for the fun of doing it. I mean, of course I appreciate being able to make an incredible, better than make a living doing it. But it was never for me. It’s never been about like, hey look at me, I’m famous. I could actually really do without that. For it to culminate in that way where Michael Jackson passes away and one of the greatest, one of the biggest celebrity death moments happens like right on top of the show.

Samantha: Did you feel like at that time, it was super gimmicky, what we were sort of considering popular culture?

Mike: What was crazy in that moment was, when he died he’d had a long career. He started as a child pop-star, so to have two, three decades of being the biggest R&B, pop singer in the world—that’s a lot of time for people to say that they’re either your friend or your co-collaborator.

So as soon as he passed away, every single radio station in the world, every single news publication, every single outlet you can think of had somebody on who is a friend of his, or worked with him and it took no time at all for C-list celebrities and garbage people to be on CNN. And that for me, that was like a big turning point that got us where we are today. Because you can see very quickly how the threshold at which they would say, “Oh, this person is worth putting on the air, and this person is not”, the threshold started to just kind of evaporate.

And these days now with being able to quantify a celebrity’s value in terms of followers on any individual social media platform, whether that’s because they are—they’re just funny and they make little Vine-style videos or they just wear bikinis and that’s all they do and they get free product, and that’s basically the routine—they have no problem putting those people on the news. It’s just gotten really… it’s an inch deep and a mile wide.

Samantha: And what do you think that says about us as we’re consuming and popularizing this sort of cultural behavior, and what we’re considering to be consumption worthy?  As an artist and someone who truly values the craft and the time spent and involved, does that infuriate you, or do you almost see that as an opportunity to continue to uphold…?

Mike: Well, that’s a good point. I definitely think that when I hear music that’s created by somebody that I know has the attention to craft and the skills, when it’s not just kids screwing around in their bedroom, like whatever the opposite of that is—by the way I’m not dissing that, I think that everybody’s got to start somewhere—but who’s going to get my respect, who do I listen to and go, “Wow, how did they do that?” To me, that is kind of one of the ways, one of the lenses through which I view something and maybe judge it.

Here’s a couple of things though. Number one, our brains are wired in such a way, that when we see somebody’s face enough times, our brain doesn’t just say, “Oh, I recognize that famous person.” Your brain on a primal level actually says “that is my friend”, and it’s built in from caveman times when you would be running around with other people, and with rocks and spears trying to kill tigers and whatever. You’re just trying to survive. And if you see other neanderthals who you recognize, the chances are, if you’ve seen them before and they didn’t kill you or attack you, then they were your friend, and your brain is hardwired in. In fact my second show which was called Glorious Excess Dies, I sold a book with it and I went into detail inside the book about that particular subject.

So fast forward to modern times, you see a celebrity’s face enough times whether you follow them and that’s—you’re seeing them in your feed all the time—or they just show up in the news that you read or the shows that you watch. they become part of your friend group, your family, etcetera.

Samantha: It’s like a kinship.

Mike: Yeah, exactly. And so you have this greater effect. I mean, how else would you describe somebody who, when Mac Miller passes away and you’ve never met Mac Miller, you don’t know him at all, and people are crying, right? Then some people even say that like, “I don’t even know why I’m crying, why does this bother me so much?” Part of it is that, because your brain is saying, “That’s your friend.”

I guess one other thing I would say, we do have a responsibility in the sense that on the whole, so many of us, we have more people listening than ever before.

Samantha: Yup.

Mike: We’ve made more connections and followers. I’ve got—I don’t know how many—like a million something followers on Instagram so it’s pretty obvious that I have a responsibility to those people if I’m going to talk about something that could potentially affect them or I just have to be responsible about the way I talk about things. But let’s say you’re a kid in high school, and you may not think of yourself as an influencer but you actually have a couple hundred followers. Maybe you have two hundred followers, maybe you have five hundred followers—can you imagine being on a stage in front of five hundred people, how differently you’d speak to them versus the kid who’s on their phone in the car behind their friend?

And they’re just like, you know, mental vomit, whatever pops into their head, “Oh, this is funny, this is whatever, I’m going to retweet this, I’m just going to troll this person.” They’re doing those things but they’re not really realizing the actual power they have, and the power is split into many facets of it; but one thing would be that they have the power to accidentally harm somebody or accidentally lift somebody up.

I think Twitter is a really particularly interesting platform, because their whole thing is built on retweets, right? It’s all built on, somebody else has said something and everybody else says, “Yea, me too” and they don’t… They don’t realize that your ability to push the button, and what you share, is actually generating money.

Samantha: Our current president knows all about—

Mike: Knows all about that.

Samantha: —about monetizing.

Mike: Ugh, I don’t even want to get into that.

Samantha: I opened the box.

Mike: If you’re an average sixteen year old, you are the one that every company wants. They want to get your attention. They want you to be retweeting and reposting, etcetera. They want your favorites. They want your likes. They want your money. And if you’re just haphazardly doing that, you’re literally spending virtual currency. Your attention is your currency. You’re just giving it away. Knock it off! Like you can’t just retweet everything, you’ve got to be more sensible. Like, you’re so powerful, stop being so careless with it!

Samantha: It’s like spontaneous behavior. Immediate. There’s no filter. To your point earlier, when you know you have a speech that you’re going to speak to an audience publicly, you’re prepared, you mentally prepare. You have your monologue, you know exactly what strategically, the message is going to be. When you have a little device in your hand, it’s just too immediate.

Mike: Oh, so I actually kind of glanced over it and I didn’t quite get to the point on this thing. If you’ve got two hundred followers and you, like I said, you imagine yourself in front of a crowd of two hundred people, how would you talk? You would talk much differently than people do online.

The other thing is, we’ve been talking about mental health, I just did, wasn’t really a collaboration in a traditional sense, but my friend is a TV writer named DJ, DJ Nash, and DJ did a new show called, A Million Little Things. It’s all about a cast of characters. The main hub of the friends, the guy who brought everybody together is the most successful, he’s the happiest, he’s the best guy, they all love him more than everybody. And in the very first episode, he basically locks in a business deal which secretly benefits one of his friends, and then he jumps off a building. And everybody’s like, “Wait, what, John was the happiest guy, he’s the best guy, of all of us, how could it possibly have been John?!”

So this is his show and DJ was like, “It’s based on some experiences with a real friend, it was inspired by something like that.” And he talked to me often about, “Am I getting the tone right on this?” like, “You understand this. Is it reading right, is it sounding right?”

So, I was really proud to be part of that and when I was doing it I was realizing man, you know, people are being more and more aware of using appropriate language and appropriate approaches when you’re talking about suicide. So, for example, a lot of mental health professionals would prefer that you say, “Died by suicide”, instead of saying “Committed suicide.” Because committed is always like, “committed a crime”, “committed adultery”, “committed bad things.”

Samantha: There’s a negative connotation, yeah.

Mike: Yeah and they suggest it’s more sensitive to say “Died by.” It’s a very small difference, but just choose the other one. And then there are other things like, if you do have a piece of news, a story where somebody died by suicide, then some guidelines are: don’t get into gory details, definitely don’t put pictures up and so on and so forth because, there could be somebody reading who actually is in the highest level of danger. And if they see that stuff, it can trigger them and they can just spiral and that could be the end of everything. So obviously the stakes are as high as they get.

If you’re a kid or a person with two hundred, three hundred, four, five hundred followers—if you’re just like a high school student or college student—you probably don’t know those guidelines. You probably never heard that stuff before, because they’re aiming that stuff at the press. But aren’t these young people powerful? If I’m following you, and you’re not thinking and you just say something really graphic or post something crazy, I didn’t get a warning! I didn’t get a chance to avoid it, and all of a sudden I opened up that social media app and I saw it, and who knows what could happen.

That was a thing that I realized this year, like, oh man. The same way you’d be conscious about how you speak about mental health, you wouldn’t want to offend your friends. People put filters in place so they don’t curse in front of their parents. Your brain just tells you, “Hey, FYI remember, there are consequences, you know, you say certain words in front of certain people, you get in big trouble. Just don’t do it.” And it’s easy to write it in. That was one of the things I realized this year.

 

My personal approach is generally to create. I usually don’t go in with an idea of what it’s for... if I’m making a song, I go in with whatever is the purest version of what’s it for.

Samantha: You were talking earlier just how easy and accessible it is for folks to be glamorized and for a small, simple talent to be honored and popularized. Why do you think as a society, we become fixated with celebrity status and life? What is it that we find so appealing and attractive? And conversely, how does that perception mislead us?

Mike: I feel like over time, the average level of noise keeps increasing. The amount of traffic and drama and the stories that go on, particularly in social media—there’s so many more stories. They’re so much more dramatic or offensive or crazy. There’d be no way five years ago that Kanye West would have to do the kind of insane things he’s doing right now just to make headlines. Maybe he’s just making bad choices, in my opinion he certainly is. But there’s no way that he would have to do the MAGA hat with the Kaepernick shirt, and then go and say the things about slavery and go say the things about this and that. It’s sad. It’s just sad.

Lil Wayne came out with his record. Personally, I’m sure there were some stories to be had about some of the drama with his label and lawsuits and some of his past. I’m sure that stuff was out there. I actually didn’t hear very much of it, but I heard the record came out, I think he’s great, I went and listened to the record and I’m like, “Wow, he’s just such a talent.” And it was a beautiful experience listening to the record, I was very excited about it, and I think he’s great. I really appreciate what he does. And I somehow feel, as we speak right now Kanye’s record’s not out, I somehow feel it’s not going to matter how great Kanye’s record is, it’s already ruined for me in my mind, because of the drama and the goofy stuff that’s going on.

Samantha: He’s alienating a large audience base of his.

Mike: But it’s not just him, like, back to your question, it’s so noisy. If you imagine yourself in a room full of a thousand people and everybody’s talking at a normal volume and then a couple of people start raising their voices, then everybody has to raise their voice, and then the one person who started it now has to get louder and it will escalate to the point of everybody screaming. And right now I feel like that’s where we’re at. We’re basically at this point of everybody on the internet is screaming and to cut through the noise, you need to just be completely the loudest, abrasive, aggressive thing. I mean, that’s politically that’s what’s going on , in entertainment that’s what’s going on. I don’t like it.

Actually, the funny thing is most of my friends who I think are probably the smartest people that I know, I’d say a lot of them are in more innovative industries, tech and business, in that sense. But also people who are great creators, from Kevin Rose and Chris Sacca to Rick Rubin, a lot of these people are really on a limited social media and internet diet. Kevin Rose actually posted a cool thing the other day. He simply took a rubber band and stuck it on his phone right around the middle. And he said, “Putting a rubber band on my phone has decreased my pickups.” His effort is, “I don’t want it to be second nature. I don’t want my phone to rule me all day. I want to look at that device and say, is it important that I pick it up right now? And then pick it up.” So the rubber band for him, helps him do that.

Samantha: But isn’t even the need for tactics like that, to eliminate how we are so inclined to pick up our phone, we are now trained instinctively do that. To pick up, to share, to engage, to participate.

To your point about the loudest one in the room and that just escalating—why are we so obsessed with that? Why are we allowing that narrative or lack thereof?

Mike: I’m sure we could all come up with our reasons why. For me the question is, what are we going to do about it? I’m not on my phone all day. I have certain rules in the house, basically we don’t allow devices at the dinner table. That’s one big thing.

Circling back to the mental health thing, If I wake up in the morning and I go, “Oh, I just don’t feel very good. For whatever reason, mentally I’m not feeling 100%. I just feel a little sad.” That’s a day where it’s more than a perfectly good idea, it’s actually a great idea, to say, “Oh yeah, My routine is if I feel less than 100% then I don’t go on Twitter.” It’s like the same thing as like, “Oh, I have a cold, I’m going to take a DayQuil.” “Today I’m not feeling 100%, so my prescription is I need to stay off of something that’s going to make me feel worse for sure.” There’s no way it’s not!

Samantha: Because we are so predisposed to only sharing our best selves, if we’re constantly seeing this highlights reel so to speak, is there a responsibility for aspirational entertainers and celebrities who do have such a mass following and can reach such a large audience almost do the exact opposite and say, “You know, I’m feeling down and that’s okay, let me engage with my audience.” Like, we could nurture ourselves and nurture this community.

Mike: It’s a complex world out there. But anyway, the bottom line is, I don’t think there are hard and fast rules. It’s just like a piece of music. You can do something that you make and you go, “Wow, I’ve really stretched myself. This is something I’ve never done. It’s really exciting to me. I put my heart and soul into this. The music is the best music I’ve written.” And you can put it out and people are like, “Boring, I don’t believe you and this song sucks.” And, so it’s in the eyes of the beholder.

Samantha: How do you stay true to your art, viewing it as a source of catharsis versus making something commercially viable?

Mike: Oh man, that’s the age old question isn’t it? That will be the struggle until the end of time.

Samantha: Do you go in with that mindset?

Mike: My personal approach is generally to create. I usually don’t go in with an idea of what it’s for. There are exceptions of course, like I’ve done movie scores and I’ve done songs for themes for people’s tv shows. Then you’re going in with an intention, but if I’m making a song, I go in with whatever the purest version of like what’s it for. As you’re working on it you listen back and, like I said, I grew up drawing and painting, when I was in art school, you’d sketch something and one of the things you had to do, there were different techniques to be able to see your own work. You could get up and walk across the room and look at it from far away. You could put a mirror up to it and look at it in reverse and surprisingly, that’s a big thing with a lot of animators, character designers and so on. There’s an option in the menu to flip your piece horizontally. So let’s say you’re drawing somebody’s face, you’ll be drawing it and be like, “Yeah, that looks great,” and then you’ll flip it horizontally and you’ll go, “Oh my god, this eye is too high, this nostril’s too big.” Like you notice all kinds of stuff all of a sudden. Musically, when you’re creating, I think we all have these little tools, little tricks to help us see or hear our thing better.

Samantha: When I view entertainment, often times it’s a form of escapism. Other times certain artists I’ll listen to that are going to serve a certain mood that I’m in. As an artist and in today’s consumption landscape, can an artist approach their work with that of symbiotic relationship? Apply this art form as a form of escapism while—

Mike: Yeah, for sure. To your point, whatever metrics you measure it by, whether it’s conscious or not. Let’s say consciously you go in and say, “Do I like this? Is this connecting with me? Is it fun to listen to? Is it meaningful to listen to?” There’s all these things your brain, in milliseconds, is gauging and constantly judging it. For some people too, they’ll come to the song and be like, “I don’t like this at all, this is fucking terrible.” And then they’ll listen to it a second time, and it’ll grow on them. I will say that for me it’s always like, I do start with more of a blank canvas and try to approach it as like, “What does the thing want to be?”

There is actually a really interesting old Ted talk. It’s like nine years old, I think, by Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, which I haven’t even read, by the way. I was just having this artistic, existential crisis where I was just like, “I’m garbage. It’s over. I’m the worst. I’ll never make anything good again.” And I mean I joke about it, but it’s a less extreme version of those same feelings. And my wife said, “You should listen to this, I heard this at some point and it talks about that.” And it really did actually help. So if anybody’s dealing with that thing, then go listen to it.

One thing that she really talked about was that she wrote this book, it was a freakish success, and then she was trying to follow it up. And it’s like, “Well what if that’s my greatest success and it’s behind me, and I will never write anything that popular or that good again?” Forget popular, I just may not write anything that good ever again, I just may suck from now on. And I will always measure myself to that and it won’t be as good and I’ll have performance anxiety and I’m just, yeah, I peaked early.

And so what she’s talking about is that in—I think it was the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans—the way they saw genius, the idea of genius, was that it was not you. It was not you. Socrates called them Daemons. The Romans thought of genius as actual gods or like deities that lived somewhere else. And when you had a good idea it was because a genius came to you and acted through you and you were chosen for the moment. And then if it didn’t happen the next time, you couldn’t beat yourself up because it wasn’t you in the first place and it lowers the pressure.

I don’t know if I’m kind of extrapolating. Would artists like Kurt Cobain have taken his life, like Chester, would they have taken their lives because they just had this pressure and this feeling of the best days are already over. Or they just can’t see where—you know, there’s a lot of pressure—and they can’t see where anything good is going to or great is going to happen again.

Samantha: It’s a very hard line to straddle as an artist because so much greatness comes from expression, when you’re at your lowest. Some of the greatest songs that are tried and true and classic stem from a place of discouragement.

Mike: For some people, for some people.

Samantha: Fair.

Mike: And by the way, growing up I was definitely one of those people. Most of the stuff I listened to was… It was all like senses of frustration, senses of injustice or depression or something. So I loved Nine Inch Nails. I loved Public Enemy. The point is that I do also realize now that Bill Withers. He’s just a genius. He had these amazing songs like Lean on Me. Seems to me that song has always just existed in the universe, and no human ever wrote it, but that was his song.

It’s one of those songs where when you hear it and you listen to the lyrics, it’s like, he’s not the one who’s broken, he’s reaching out to somebody else, and is like, “You can lean on me.” And it’s like there’s a way to do that.

Samantha: That’s still tapping into, like, a compassion. It’s a bit scary though, to be that vulnerable.

Mike: There are also a lot of artists who think that, “Oh no, I was super depressed when I made this song and it was popular, so now I have to be depressed to write good songs.” “Oh, I made this song while I was super duper high. I was just wasted and that was a hit so now every song I have to be like that.” That’s so scary.

 

If your reason for making it, is because you enjoyed making it or because you have something to say versus, “I’m making it so people will buy it”, then you’re going to be happy—by the time I put a record out, I’m already happy with the record. I’m already at the finish line because it’s done. If nobody buys the record, that’s fine because I did my part. That’s the goal.

Samantha: How do you define happiness? Do we overrate it?

The American Dream—there’s always a superficial, materialistic sort of value that that’s measured by. You achieve a certain size house, you achieve a car, you’ve obviously achieved success. Sort of going back to my earlier question like we said why are so fixated. General audiences become obsessed with this idea of celebrity and entertainment because they’re holding that as being a more valuable person to society because you’ve achieved a certain level of success and now you own “x” amount of things that serve as a status symbol and that automatically equals happiness. Which then in turn, creates ridiculous expectations for an artist.

So, as someone who’s been low, high, low, high, and sort of gone through all those waves and successes and downfalls, how do you measure success? You are this arbiter of cool that now everyone’s looking up to. How are you different because of that and how do you measure happiness today versus the less successful Mike?

Mike: I think one thing that I’m really grateful for is that when the band really started, like I said, we were chasing an artistic goal, more than having stuff or getting people’s attention. We always tried to do magazine covers with all six of us if they would do it. They were trying to sell Chester’s face, number one, my face, number two. We still had to cave occasionally and, like, “Well, okay. If you want the cover of this magazine, then you’ve got to do it with you and Chester.”

So yeah, back to what makes you happy. Early on, the band got popular very fast. We got famous before we got money. That’s the way the music industry works. The money is always quote unquote, the term is, “in the pipeline”, so meaning we had sold fifteen million records before I had really enough money to buy a new car. Chester was literally driving around a PT cruiser. It was pretty hysterical. And we had three number one rock songs at that point. We gave him crap for that car.

Samantha: What color was it out of curiosity?

Mike: It was sparkling purple with flames on the front. He had a friend who customized cars. He got the rims done. He got it lowered. He got flames on the front. It was glitter purple.

Samantha: I am so glad I asked that question.

Mike: It was amazing.

Samantha: So it wasn’t just your average PT Cruiser…

Mike: Oh, it was hysterical and the funny thing is too, think about the timing, when he first got it, it was like, “That’s a really nice car!” And then very quickly it was like, “Why does that guy not have like a Range Rover or a Mercedes? What is he driving that car for? I hear his song on the pop radio station all the time now and he’s driving around that piece of shit?!”

Samantha: A very modest decision.

Mike: No, it was not a modest decision. The money was in the pipeline. So, we were famous and eventually the record did what it did and we went straight into the next record. The public perception of the band was ahead of the band’s reality by a long shot, the whole way through the first two records. So four years later, four years into our career, we finally wrapped up touring, came home, and took a break. We looked around and we were like, “Whoa, what the fuck, like everything has changed. I can buy a house. I can buy like a nice house. This is crazy.” And that was a point when all of the guys—we had a lot of really cool, personal conversations about happiness—none of us bought a Ferrari, none of us went crazy with spending and whatever.

I think this is the most important thing that I figured out around that time—that most of my worst human experiences, they happen because of lack of control. The bad feelings you feel when somebody doesn’t want to be your friend, doesn’t want to date you, or you break up with somebody, or your relationship with your parents, or someone gets sick, or somebody dies, or accident happens—no control, it’s always, it’s always no control!

It’s like, “Oh, I’m stressed out because I went to the doctor and they did tests and they have to get back to me in a week.” I want to know. I can’t know. You can’t know. You have no control. And that feeling of not being able to do anything about stuff is like one of the worst human feelings. So I apply that to the music. I apply that to the way I do things. Either I try to do things that I kind of have some control over, or I accept the fact that I don’t actually have control and I make my purpose about something else. So in other words, if you go into an album, you’ve put nine months into a record and somebody will ask you, “Aren’t you nervous that it’s a very different record? Aren’t you nervous that people won’t buy it?” If your reason for making it, is because you enjoyed making it or because you have something to say versus, “I’m making it so people will buy it”, then you’re going to be happy—by the time I put a record out, I’m already happy with the record. I’m already at the finish line because it’s done. If nobody buys the record, that’s fine because I did my part. That’s the goal.

Samantha: Do you feel like due to circumstances that you’ve become this ambassador and are you happy to do so or is that just awfully uncomfortable?

Mike: Oh, that’s a great question. I often tell people that I’m a member of a club I never wanted to be a part of. That’s obviously a really weird feeling.

Chester’s widow, our friend Talinda, she works with a woman named Barbara. She runs an organization called Change Direction. 320 is Talinda’s offshoot of it and Barbara oftentimes will talk to us in that circle. Because she’s a doctor, like, she’s been doing mental health and suicide prevention and awareness for her whole career and knows that oftentimes the inclination is to feel like we don’t have the kind of expertise she does, so why should we be speaking about it? And she has reminded us that we have an experience, regardless of education and academics, we have an experience that is unfortunately kind of prevalent. And we have a platform to talk about it and let other people know that like them, we’ve gone through this too, and these are some things that we’ve learned, and she has been giving us tools.

I do a fair bit of reading. I’m not hunting down psychological papers and analysis on mental health. However, I know that I’ve got that platform. I’ve got the responsibility. There are fans who follow me who deal with depression, who have always dealt with depression. That was always part of the kind of signature element of the lyrics that Chester and I both wrote. So yes, so we’ve taken on that responsibility and that’s part of our reality.

You know, oftentimes, when we wake up with a physical ailment or like we’re not feeling a hundred percent, whether it’s like, “My back hurts,” or “My leg hurts,” or “I have a cold.” Nobody’s ever ashamed of that. It’s like, “Oh, my back hurts, I’ve got to take it easy.” “Oh, my back really hurts, I’ve got to go to my doctor.” “Oh my back is not going to get better unless I take medication.” You know, there’s levels.

Now we’re starting to realize that mental health is actually the same way. What it requires on your part is to to ask yourself, “How do I feel?” That’s the only part that’s kind of missing, is people kind of forget to take stock. Pain is something that will hit you over the head. Mental health, you have to check in with it. Once you do that you go, “Oh, wait. I actually don’t feel good and maybe I need to take it easy, maybe I need to see a doctor, maybe I need to take some medication.”

Samantha: When you experience physical pain, you can’t control that, it’s involuntary, it sort of happens to you. Whereas mental health, there’s a stigma attached because the perception is, it’s learned behavior, it’s self-created behavior.

Mike: That’s such BS.

Samantha: Oh, completely!

Mike: Yeah, and at this point it starts to dovetail with gender equality and perception issues. The reason I say that is, if you say, “I can’t come into work today because my back went out,” your boss will say, “Ok.” Man or woman, they’ll say ok. But if you call into work and say, “I am depressed,” they will say bullshit, basically.

On one hand, they can be like, “I’m sorry, I don’t care if you’re sad, you need to come to work.” Another option would be that they would say, “Uh, okay,” and hang up the phone and then go talk to everybody else about you, which is unacceptable. And then compound that with the fact that is it a man or is it a woman calling in, like then it gets even more tricky. I saw something I retweeted the other day. This woman asked a question for my female followers, “What would you do if men had a 9pm curfew? If there were no men on the streets after 8 or 9pm, what would you do?” And then she added at the end, “Men, please pay attention to these responses.” And it was powerful. Some people didn’t get it, of course. There were so many responses saying, the format was, “I would do (fill in the blank), and the context was, “Because I wasn’t afraid to get raped.”

I think sometimes we live in our little personal comfort zones and bubbles, and it takes conversations like those to help us get out of them and go, “Wow, that really made me think. I’m going to be a lot more sensitive to that.”

We talked a lot of shit about the internet and social media, but that was a moment for me where I went, “Thank god for social media.” There wouldn’t really be another format for you to ask that question, get those responses, and for it to be as powerful, except for twitter.

Samantha: Given the current political and social landscape, #MeToo movement, etcetera, we’re seeing that shift and we’re seeing that change. Part of my question was, “What can we do?”,  and I think we are actually doing that currently. We’re engaging, we’re sort of changing the narrative. Would you like to see more of that?

Mike: You know what I’m proud of. I agree that the narrative’s changing and I’m actually really happy that it’s coming mostly from young people. It’s not exclusive, but I think young people need to own it. Young people, high school, college age, maybe a little bit older are really the ones fuelling it all. Truth be told, to just bring it way back full circle, as soon as those people realize that they’ve got all the power—they’ve so much power—they have the power of their attention which is the power of corporate money. Who are you advertising to? You’re advertising to college and high school kids. Whose attention do you want when it comes to your music, your commercials, your fashion, your product and so on? If it’s not young people championing it, then it’s probably not going to work.

And when the young people say like, “This is the way we want the world to be,” everyone else is going to have to just bend to that eventually, because they’re the ones who have all the power. And by the way, they’re also the ones who are going to be around longer. These seventy, eighty year-old people running these corporations and sitting in public office are going to die, to be blunt.

What I’m curious about is, I grew up at a time where there was a lot of very rebellious art that was anti—just anti-what old people would be wanting or what they would do. But there was a big difference between Public Enemy and 2 Live Crew, and right now, I don’t even know, what is the Public Enemy now? That’s the thing I’m missing now.

Samantha: I think Kendrick’s doing that.

Mike: Oh yeah, yeah, good point, good point. What I like about how they do it is it’s in the music but it’s not all the music. They know to balance it out with other things and they live it and they go and make efforts in real life and those make their way around in our news cycle.

Samantha: But that should be a call to action to entertainers.

Mike: Yeah, but that’s only as a function of musicians and artists being part of the culture. I think sometimes they lead the culture and other times they’re just part of the culture. Because sometimes it’s just a kid from a high school who said I’ve had enough. They give an impassioned speech and become Emma Gonzalez, you know?

Samantha: Oh, Emma!

Mike: Right? Yeah.

Samantha: Any questions that I did not ask that did not trigger a response to conclude this interview with?

Mike: Nah, man, I’m just… This has been really fun and I think talking about substance, substantive things is always really engaging for me, but also I feel like what’s nice is sometimes people come to listen to stuff because they just see a name and it goes back to the beginning of the conversation. It’s because of the fame thing. If we can give them some information and inspire along the way then that’s the bonus isn’t it?

Samantha: Absolutely. What a beautiful last statement. Thank you!

Samantha: It is said, that today we are more connected than ever before. We are a globalized community with an almost ubiquitous ability to broadcast and consume, as much digital information and content our eyes (and brains) can comfortably stomach.

We are swimming through pools of social networks appearing remarkably content, but we should sometimes wonder if a floating device is necessary. With an ability to harness camaraderie as instantaneously as our devices allow, we could be just as sensitive to self-criticism, as we are to self-promotion. As open to self-preservation, as we are self-gratification.

We are no longer living in a time where topics of mental illness and depression are considered taboo. In fact, we have an innumerable amount of social resources that allow for not only a communal understanding, but support.

You know what I’m proud of. I agree that the narrative’s changing and I’m actually really happy that it’s coming mostly from young people. It’s not exclusive, but I think young people need to own it.
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