Mike Shinoda is a songwriter, performer, record producer and visual artist, best known for his vocal and musical endeavors with the two-time Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum band Linkin Park. Joe Trapanese is a composer, arranger, orchestrator and producer of music for film, television, multi-media, theater and concerts. Together, they co-composed and re-scored the insanely high-octane action film The Raid: Redemption – about a covert mission involving the extraction of a brutal crime lord from a rundown 15-story apartment block – for its North American release.
At the film’s press day, Collider sat down with both Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese (who also partnered with Daft Punk on the awesome score for Tron: Legacy) for this exclusive interview about their initial response when they first saw the film, whether this is the type of movie they would typically go see, what drew them each to composing music, how their collaboration came about, putting different musical themes and sounds together for different characters, and maintaining your creative freedom as an artist. Trapanese also talked about what he learned from his collaboration with Daft Punk, while Shinoda talked about how this experience has changed the way he approaches things with Linkin Park, who have a record set to come out later this year. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Collider: How did each of you first see this film, and what was your initial response to seeing it?
JOE TRAPANESE: We got pumped up! We first saw some scenes. They weren’t quite done with the editing, so we saw some scenes and, just right off the bat, we both said, “Okay!”
MIKE SHINODA: Initially, when they asked if I wanted to get involved, they just had a redband trailer thing. They had put together a couple minutes of footage and had put some songs in there. They knew that I had done a little bit of scoring stuff. I got involved, with my bandmates, when we did the second Transformers movie. We did a little bit of the score in that, but I had never done a full-length score before. The guys from Sony said, “With this movie, The Raid, we’re interested in you scoring it. We really love the Fort Minor stuff you did, and we love these few remixes you did.” And, I thought back about those and they were all stuff that was really enjoyable to make. They were really asking me to do stuff that I do naturally and that I do for fun. So, it seemed like a good opportunity to do that and get some more experience scoring.
Is this the type of movie you would typically go see and respond to?
SHINODA: It is the kind of movie that I will go see. My wife and my family won’t, so if I go, I’ll either go by myself or with other people. If I’m on the road, it’s easier to do that. But, that’s me. I tend to like darker stuff, anyway.
TRAPANESE: Yeah, my girlfriend would definitely tell you that this is a film I would love to go see.
What drew each of you to composing music for film?
TRAPANESE: Personally, when I got into classical music, it was uncomfortable for me to see myself as the center of attention. When I was writing a piece, it was like, “Okay, I need to define this piece and the listener needs to be fully absorbed in it.” I still have a great respect for that art, but I’m very interested in Baroque music and early music. If you go back far enough, composers weren’t even named on the music. We have no idea who wrote some of that music. If you look at someone like Bach, he was a blue collar guy, working day in and day out. He had to write a cantata every week, for the church he was employed by, or else he was fired. And so, that idea of being a musician and a composer, not just for your own sake, but for the sake of providing music as a function and to effect people in that way, was really inspiring to me. It’s funny ‘cause I got into classical music because I loved film scores. I started listening to John Williams and Star Wars and orchestral music, and that got me into classical music. But, when I was wrapping up my classical studies in New York, I said, “What do I really want to do?” And I said, “Okay, I’m moving to L.A. and I’m going to do this.”
SHINODA: For me, this type of thing is something I remember, back when I was a little kid. We had an upright piano in the living room, and my brother and some of our neighbors would be in the room and they’d be playing around, and I’d be playing something on the piano to match what they were doing in the room. It’s really the same idea. I think a lot of us who grew up playing instruments may have played around with that, especially piano ‘cause it just lends itself to that kind of thing so well. I had always imagined myself as an illustrator or a painter, of some kind. By miraculous coincidence, as soon as I was finishing my Bachelor’s in illustration, the band took off. I’d be silly to not completely follow through with Linkin Park, with everything that we do. However, I’m the type of person that has a lot of different interests. And so, whenever I get a moment to switch gears and do something else, I try to seize those moments. The film scoring thing is definitely not a one-off thing for me. It’s something that I really enjoyed doing this time, and I hope that I get other opportunities to do something like this, in the future.
You guys are much more all-around artists than just musicians. Is that something you think is important nowadays, in order to stay relevant and maintain success?
TRAPANESE: Extremely. For both Mike and I, it’s a very personal thing. Being voracious about our art and being voracious about other art is very inspirational. But, even if you look at it just from a purely functional standpoint, films are no longer the market where it’s like, “We need a John Williams type of score.” If I came into The Raid and said, “All I’m going to do is write for orchestra,” I’d be laughed out of the room. Even though I have that training, I have to be able to understand. I’ve been playing with synthesizers since high school. There’s a big hip-hop element in this picture. I grew up listening to hip-hop, but I had to get reacquainted with some specific ideas from hip-hop to score this film. Having that varied background is not only something that is personally satisfying for me, but also very functional.
SHINODA: I feel like there are certain things that I do naturally and that I’m just naturally interested in. When those things can line up with the task at hand, that’s when some really great art can come out. Basically, what this film was demanding was the kind of sound we ended up with. Joe and I really had a good time making that, and it came naturally. There was never a point at which we doubted each other’s ability to achieve the sound that the cue was asking for. In my opinion, there’s a good deal of variety in the score. Since there’s so much fighting and so much action, it does have to switch gears, at certain points. It needs to be upbeat. If you started to do the ironic approach, where it’s not in your face, then you’d need to do that all the time, and this is not that kind of movie. It demanded an upbeat, energetic, punch-in-the-gut score, and you needed to have 10 different types of energetic, punch-you-in-the-gut kind of score. That’s what we tried to discover in the process of making the score.
How did you guys end up collaborating together? Was one of you attached before the other?
SHINODA: Sony called me ad asked me to do it. [I wanted to collaborate] partially based on the reality of my work schedule with Linkin Park, because we were about to go on tour in Asia for a month, but I really wanted to do it. Plus, I felt like, at the time, I had a lot to learn about the work flow, with simple things like how to lay out the tracks. I’m used to working in stereo, as opposed to 5.1, for example. So, I wanted to have somebody on board to contribute, in that sense. I actually interviewed a few different people and it ranged from somebody who was essentially the music version of an assistant, to people on Joe’s level who are composers and can handle a score on their own, outright. Joe stood out to me because he had already collaborated with Daft Punk on the Tron: Legacy soundtrack. It’s not a knock against the movie, but I thought the score was better than the movie. I thought Joe’s work was excellent and I really loved it, so when I talked to him and we hit it off and we saw eye to eye on a lot of it, I didn’t even think twice about committing to working together, if he was cool with it, which he was. We just got started right away.
TRAPANESE: When I got the call from Mike, it was really exciting ‘cause I remember listening to Linkin Park at the very beginning of their career, and really enjoying that. They had such strong melodies that were very unique. I kept up with their career, and a friend passed along the Fort Minor stuff to me, at one point. So, when Mike personally got in touch, I said, “Okay, where do we begin? I want to do this.”
Did you intentionally also want to create layers of emotion with the score, since there wasn’t a lot of dialogue during those fight scenes?
SHINODA: We put different themes together for different characters and used different sounds for different characters. It’s part score, part sound design. There are definitely moments in the thing where you just get a little one-second of a sound, and you know who that’s about and who that’s referencing and that that character is present in the room, whether or not they’re there on the screen.
Did Gareth Evans give you any sort of direction with what he wanted, or was he just really open to seeing what you wanted to bring to the film?
SHINODA: For the most part, Gareth was very open. He told us later that he intentionally held back on giving too much direction on the music because he had just done that with the score that they originally had in the movie when they shoed it in Indonesia. Since he had done that, he wanted us to go with our artistic gut and see what we came up with. And then, he would talk to us, after we had come up with something, and mold it into the thing that he saw it being. But, as the timeline progressed, we just kept making stuff and he kept loving it. There weren’t a lot of comments. I joke that the most comments we ever got were a three page email where half the comments were, “This is fucking awesome!” That’s a dream scenario for everybody.
Did you guys have a moment where you both thought, “Okay, this is actually working,” and you knew that the collaboration was going well?
TRAPANESE: It’s a blur, these processes because you have to put so much music together, in so little time.
SHINODA: You look back at the end and go, “There wasn’t a hiccup!”
TRAPANESE: Yeah, it just went really smoothly. If I were to point to a moment, maybe not a realization moment, but a moment that was like, “Wow, this collaboration is pretty cool,” was that really long cue that was 10 minutes long, where the explosion just happens and they’re waking up, and the strings start coming in.
SHINODA: That was a different kind of scene for this film. We don’t have a lot of cues like that one.
TRAPANESE: So, it was challenging. I look at a scene like that and I think of what I would have done on my own, and I think of what Mike would have maybe done on his own, and I look at what we did together and I’m like, “What we did together, far surpasses anything else that I think we would have done on our own, apart from each other,” and that was a really cool moment for me.
Joe, were there things that you learned from the collaboration you did with Daft Punk for the Tron: Legacy soundtrack that have really helped you since then?
TRAPANESE: Definitely! One important thing, just being a film composer in general, is to have a great respect for the art that you’re working on – a great respect for the film and a great respect for the filmmakers. When I get to collaborate with other artists, I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world ‘cause I get to learn from them and their experience, and I hope they feel the same way about me and the history that I have scoring films. I come in having a great respect for their art. I’ve been really lucky that, whether it’s Daft Punk or the collaboration I had with M83 on his record or this collaboration with Mike Shinoda, the artist brings to the table that respect as well, for the art of the film and they really dedicate themselves to the task at hand, rather than being like, “Okay, here are some beats. I’m going to go party.” Mike was extremely focused, as was Daft Punk and as have been other artists that I’ve worked with. To understand the art of film scoring is extraordinarily important when undertaking something like this, and Mike understood it completely.
Mike, did things about this experience change how you approach things now, when you’re working with Linkin Park?
SHINODA: There was definitely an, “Ah-ha!,” moment when we were sitting in the room, reviewing what we had done so far. I think we had music for almost every cue. We sat in the room with the music guys from Sony, and Joe and I played them stuff for the first time, and we tweaked some things together, to suit our collective ideas. It was as easy as that, and we left. I realized, “Wow, we really haven’t gotten together that many times to get this far, and everybody’s really happy.” I think what got us there so quickly and to such great results is that, in those situations where you go off into your own little cave for long enough, you go down the rabbit hole. You have a creative idea and that leads to another creative idea and, all of a sudden, you’re at this place where you’re really deep into the ideas that you have and you have a very clear picture of where you’re at, and it hasn’t been interrupted by criticism or side-tracking. I brought that back to the band, after this process. As we were working in the studio on our record, which is going to come out later this year, I said to the guys, “It really benefitted me, doing the score that I just did, to be able to get further on something before I really start picking on it at all.” And so, I brought that back to the band and we actually implemented that on this new Linkin Park record.
For both of you, as you achieve more success, do you find it difficult to maintain your creative freedom, or does it get easier because people trust in you more?
SHINODA: I feel very, very lucky to have the creative freedom that I’ve enjoyed since record one. Hybrid Theory, our first Linkin Park record, was an absolute nightmare to make. We had a large chunk of the music done when we first walked into the studio, and day after day, people were beating us down to change things. It was so difficult to fight them away and tell them, “No, we’re going to do our own thing. If you don’t like it, you can shelve us. You can kick us off the label. You can do whatever you want. But, we are not going to be any band except the band that we came in here as, on day one.” And, I feel totally fortunate that that record was a success. Since then, they feel like, “Okay, these guys know what they’re doing. We’re comfortable leaving them alone because they’re going to come out with something that we love.” If that ever stopped being the case and making music stopped being fun, I would still do it every single day, I just wouldn’t do it with the people that were making it no fun.
TRAPANESE: What’s extraordinarily unique about film scoring is the amount of people and collaboration involved. We were very lucky on The Raid that everyone was on the same page. When Sony executives would come over, they were very happy with what we were doing. There were very minor notes. There are times in film scoring when that’s not the case, and there’s a producer saying one thing, a director saying another thing and an executive saying another thing, and you feel torn apart. What’s interesting, though, is that my old composition teacher used to tell me, “In every problem you encounter, you’re going to come out with a solution that’s going to make it better than what was there previously.” I’m a firm believer in that. One of the greatest challenges that I love about what I do is finding those solutions, finding ways to rethink things, and finding ways to think about things that get everyone over onto your side. It’s not easy, all the time. Most of the time, it’s very difficult, but it’s what gets me into the studio every day.