The new Indonesian martial arts action flick, The Raid: Redemption, has taken over American shores. Audiences can’t get enough of the seamless action stunts and tense thrills of this gem from overseas. Linkin Park musician Mike Shinoda created a score for the U.S. release that premiered at Sundance 2012. The multi-talented artist not only DJs and raps, but is also a graphic artist. Izumi Hasegawa recently sat down with Shinoda to discuss the technical aspects of creating such a powerful score.
Izumi Hasegawa: How did you get the score to compliment the choreography that he's got going on visually?
Mike Shinoda: We weren't told that there was a rhythm to the fight. It's a very loose rhythm, and you have to interpret it. So we had to find the thing that felt like it was consistent with what was going on in the picture. One thing we did early on to really establish a tone, almost like a personality for the music as a whole, is to create a pallet of sound. Meaning, if you think of it in terms of a painting, you would chose use certain colors and you would chose to omit certain colors, right? So right off the bat, no guitars. We're not going to use guitars. If we're going to use organic instruments such as strings and piano, we're only going to use those when we're talking about the family element -- when we're talking about the brothers or the pregnancy, or things like that. You'll never find those anywhere else really.
And as we got further along, we started realizing, not only were we creating some musical themes that connected with different characters, but something that sat in between score and sound design. There were certain sounds that represented a character, so you'd use that sound in certain places. You'd manipulate that sound to create something musical, but regardless, even if you'd just press the "1" button on the keyboard of the sampler and hear that sound, we'd go, "Oh, we know exactly who that is." Because that's the way it was used in the score.
IH: At what stage did you start getting involved?
MS: The guys had a different score up until the point. And I got a call from Sony, and the gentleman told me about the film, and he said that Gareth and Sony would like me to score the entire thing, which is something I hadn't done before. I've participated in scores, but I haven't taken an entire film by myself. When Linkin Park did stuff for Transformers 2, I got involved in the score, but I got a little taste of it and I got excited. This one, the thing the guy cited when they talked to me about it were...they mentioned my solo record I did, called Fort Minor. And they mentioned two remixes that I had done. And all three of those things I did for fun. There was no label involved, no deadline involved. I was just screwing around in an afternoon, to be honest. So they told me, basically, "Hey, do you want to come screw around and have fun, and do it for this movie?" And for the first score, it sounded like a dream opportunity for me. And actually, it ended up being as fun, as I thought it would be.
IH: How does your Asian bloodline affect this film, and how did you introduce this project to Linkin Park fans?
MS: Maybe it was very subconscious. I didn't think about it consciously, at least. Some of the things that I used to watch and happened to me as a kid kind of, as they always do, they came into play when I was making stuff for this film. And in particular, there's a scene toward the end -- the big scene with Mad Dog in the room with the florescent light. It occurred to me today that, when I was growing up here in Los Angeles, in Little Tokyo, they have a New Year celebration every year where they showcase traditional music, traditional Japanese martial arts and, of course, food and celebration and everything. But there's one thing that happens when they do the martial arts demonstrations. If there is music, it happens right before or right after, where you can hear across the street going on. And I think somehow that influenced that piece -- that cue is the traditional elements going on in there, and probably came from something like that. It's almost something like taiko drums, but it's not. And of course, to make it true to the personality of the score we were making, we mash those up against the most grinding digital elements. And that's kind of the personality of the approach of this score. All of that is to say, when I make music, it comes out; it's very intuitive, it's very natural... If it sounds familiar, if it sounds like Linkin Park to you, then it's probably because the same guy is making it. [Laughs] And because of that, I think if Linkin Park fans, as long as they're into an action film like this one, they'll definitely be into The Raid.
IH: How did you enjoy working on this type of movie?
MS: It was really enjoyable making the music for this movie, because you got to have a sick sense of humor to get into it and see this kind of thing as many times as we did and enjoy it the whole way through. And the one thing we noticed as we're working on it, you watch the scenes over and over and over again. I'm sure Joe (Trapanese) more so than I, but just having done more films and more things like this, it's really reassuring to have watched these scenes in bits and pieces over and over, and for that to not get old, or for the magic to rub off really. Even as we were working out the cues at the very end of the process, it was still a very exciting thing, and I think we enjoyed it from the beginning to end.
It's very different from writing a song for an album. One thing that I do naturally, and I assume that our band is known for, is the hooks -- the stuff that you remember, even if you've heard the song once and you go away singing it. That is a massive asset when it comes to making songs for an album, and it can kill you when it comes to making a score because the moment when something cool is happening on screen and you write something really hooky behind it, people get distracted. And since that's what I do every day, the first few days of working on The Raid, I was kind of finding my balance and learning probably even more restraint than I would have guessed going into it. I really had to stop and say, "Okay, there are certain moments in this movie when that will be useful, that the music is going to be a character and it's going to step up front. And everywhere else, I need to play a supporting role and make sure Gareth's vision is intact and I'm not shouting over that at all."
IH: What was the dynamic between you and Joe?
MS: Definitely one of the major parts of the process, after we selected our pallet of sounds, was I unfortunately had to leave for tour. I went on tour, actually, in Asia at the time, and I knew I needed to get a lot of work done on this. And I actually ended up doing a tone of sketches and demos basically from memory, from my favorite scenes I remembered. And what that created -- it boils the scene down to a more abstract and simpler version. Because I'm not going to remember exactly what happened or how it plays out, but I can write a theme to that moment based on memory. And I would do that in the car on the way to the venue. And literally, in some cases, I might be sitting waiting for the plane to show up; I might be sitting in the hotel room; I might be driving in my car on my way back from having just played a concert, and just throw on my headphones and grab my laptop, and start putting something together. And by the end of that tour, we had demos for – pretty much – I mean, I'd say three-quarters of the film put together. They were the most simple versions of each cue, but at the same time, I got to send those back. And when I came home, I delivered them to Joe and we'd build each of those out to the cues they are now.
IH: What did you learn from Joe?
MS: It's surprising -- we come from similar musical backgrounds. We both started on piano. I did over ten years of music theory; my background is classical. Essentially, I loved hip hop, so I started doing hip hop production and learning how to record songs, and that's where our paths divide. From there, once I started getting into production and stuff, I started making beats, doing hip hop music, doing rock music, making up my own stuff that would match up my favorite types of music. To bring it full circle, though, at this point, with the band, we get requests all the time to put our music, our songs in a movie. And just occasionally, if somebody asks if I want to be involved in a score and I turned down maybe a dozen things, mostly because they don't fit into the schedule with Linkin Park or they just simply didn't make me that excited, it didn't seem that interesting or that fun. And clearly, as I said before, this was something, as soon as presented, it seemed like a good time and a good occasion to learn more about scoring, which that's why I brought Joe on board, more so than just the work flow. Although it's good to know how to set up the tracks and stuff like that. But more so, it was about the approach. There was an approach. And we both came at it from our different perspectives, and the fact that there's a difference there in the perspectives added a lot to what ended up being the score.
IH: What did you take away from this experience?
MS: I think I already tend toward darker music; I tend toward darker movies, not because I'm a dark person. In fact, I'm probably quite the opposite. One thing that people always joke about, more often than not, when we do tropic efforts with the band, with Music Relief, we have great relationships with the U.N. Foundation, done stuff for Habit for Humanity. And people are like, when we go to those events, they like to make jokes, like we're there to depress – like we bring the depressing element or something. [Laughs] One of my favorite things is we went to this event and we're talking about helping people in Haiti, bringing clean energy to people who don't have it, and the MC of the night basically started reading off Linkin Park lyrics to introduce us. Talking about, "No one's listening to me, I won't be ignored, I'm about to break." And all this stuff, like super negative stuff.
And I think one thing that's funny about it, it's just the kind of stuff I like to listen to, and maybe what works so well about it is it draws people in who have similar tastes or who may have conflicts to deal with. And there is something cathartic about doing that, whether it be the music or a film like this. I don't go to these things and watch or listen to albums like this because I want to mull in some negative energy. I go because it's enjoyable and it's fun. There's something cathartic about it, and in the process of doing this, it's very real; you can see it there in the film. It's fun. There's something that's fun about it that makes you kind of laugh at the end of the movie, or laugh at the end of the day. I don't know. I should also say, just because we're talking about all those things, one other thing I definitely take away is I should be saying thank you to Gareth (Evans) for giving me the opportunity to do a first score, because I really did enjoy it. It was a great experience. So for me, to do another one would be really fun, and I don't know where it'll go from here, but he gave us a lot of room to be really creative, and gave us a lot of room to make something hopefully that complimented the movie, and was unique and interesting.
IH: What's next for you?
MS: Right now, we're working on getting the soundtrack out for this film. Information for that will be on MikeShinoda.com and LinkinPark.com. And after that, there will be a new Linkin Park album out mid-year, this year. We'll be touring in support of that also.
Sony Pictures Classics' 'The Raid' is released in theaters on March 22, 2012.