Most bands with a winning track record eventually hit a creative wall, where the fork in the road to the future leads either to reinvention or a rehashing of their old hits. Linkin Park’s The Hunting Party is clearly an example of the first approach, as it finds the multiplatinum group shedding its commercial skin for a raging rock fest that includes forays into punk and grindcore and some serious shredding.
No one is happier about the change than Rob Bourdon. “Being in a successful band, we have our hits to play and draw from, so it’s really easy to become comfortable,” the thirty-five-year- old drummer says from his home base in Los Angeles. “It’s like finding the time to play drums went away for a while. Now, with The Hunting Party, it’s like we’re starting all over again. I got back that inspiration that made me want to be a drummer in the first place—spending hours locked away in the practice room in my studio, finding those moments where you discover something new or play something that surprises you. Every musician really needs that to keep going.”
The Hunting Party may alienate fans who are fond of the band’s more electronic-infused songs and studio-slick productions. But for those who like their rock raw and rebellious, the album is a welcome return to form. Sure, Bourdon and Co. went aggro on the dream-scape-meets- doomsday single “Somewhere I Belong” (from 2003’s Meteora), the flagellating military smack down of “No More Sorrow” (2007’s Minutes to Midnight), and even the electronic-friendly “The Catalyst” (2010’s A Thousand Suns). But The Hunting Party is a mad beast compared to those puppies.
From the opening, growling, spasmodic shouts of “Keys to the Kingdom,” Linkin Park sounds like a band that has gone through forty days and forty nights of hell on earth and survived to report the bloodletting. Guitars thunder, vocals spew like apocalyptic messages, and Bourdon levels his rhythms so hard and heavy, you hope his health insurance is paid up.
Recorded entirely to tape for a meaty analog sound and with less dependence on Pro Tools grids or programmed DJ beats, Bourdon’s rhythms pummel, his ideas soar; the drumming is a thing of beauty smashing against a wall of grinding metal intent. The knock-kneed beat of “All for Nothing” is both funky and smart, with the song’s metal-pipe-rattling bridge resounding like a war chant. Bourdon is front and center throughout The Hunting Party, from the progressive drum corps fantasia of “Guilty All the Same” and the Zigabooon-steroids funk of “Wastelands” to the sweetly anthemic, low-slung thrash of “Rebellion.” You can hear it in his voice, and you can definitely feel it in his drumming: Rob Bourdon is one bad…shut your mouth!
MD: Linkin Park reinvents itself on The Hunting Party. It sounds like a rock band in love with music again.
Rob: Yeah, that’s the main headline. As a drummer I’m very excited about the new record. Our last couple records were more electronic heavy, especially with the live drums playing more of a supplemental role in the way that we created and recorded the parts. The new album is exactly the opposite. It’s all about the live performances.
MD: Why did the band change direction to a more live approach?
Rob: It just felt like the right thing to do. One of the things about our band is that we like to change what we’re doing from album to album. There have been different phases. There was live recording on Minutes to Midnight; that album involved a couple years in the studio renting all different types of gear and really experimenting. Then after finishing the last album [2012’s Living Things] and touring, we really had this desire to go into the studio and play our instruments together. We missed hearing rock music out in the world.
When the band began, we were hearing a kind of music in our heads and imagining this music that didn’t exist at the time. The mainstream trends are very different now; rock has taken a backseat. We wanted to invigorate that music, and it felt like a really fun thing for us to do. It was also really challenging, guitar-wise and with the drumming. I spent a lot of time practicing. I hadn’t done this kind of daily practice regimen in a while, and it felt really good to get back in there and push myself.
MD: The drums and the drumming sound great on the new album. Where does the electronic element fit now?
Rob: I’ve always had sample pads and triggers, but we also added a whole electronic section to the live kit: six pads to my left to replicate electronic parts, and also DJ Joe [Hahn] is playing parts on pads. In a live setting, if a breakdown that has electronic elements comes in, we might play it differently so that it comes across more powerfully. That’s one of the inspirations for me, translating electronic rhythms on the album to the live setting, which is more geared toward a rock band playing together. One of the goals was to capture more of that on record.
MD: “Guilty All the Same” begins with what sounds like a guitarist and a drummer jamming, recorded with very lo-fi equipment, and then the track blasts into the full studio version.
Rob: [Rapper/multi-instrumentalist] Mike Shinoda and I recorded that. We set up with the idea of trying to get the sound of a garage band, and we recorded in a tiny room off the control room. We put a couple mics over the drums, and the amp was in the room with me. We asked the tech not to tune the drums, so that they sounded like they’d been sitting in a garage for a long time. And we only used three mics in that small room.
All the drums were recorded live to tape, which was really exciting for me, and a lot of love and care went into the drums on this record. I’m playing a full take per song, beginning to end, recorded to tape to get a really great drum sound. That forced me to come into the studio so prepared that I could actually go on stage and play the songs. In the past we’d usually write the drum parts in the studio and then record them. Then we’d do a lot of editing to put the pieces together. But on this one it was more like playing the album live in front of an audience in the way it was captured.
MD: Was that true for the entire band or just the drums?
Rob: We recorded most of the vocals and guitars at Larrabee Sound Studios, and then we had a room at EastWest Recording Studios in Hollywood purely for drums. We wanted to have a really big room sound. Our engineer did some cool miking setups that gave the drums so many different options, from close miking and overheads to mics that were kind of staggered back through the room. It gave mixer Andy Wallace [Slayer, Nirvana, Foo Fighters] so many options. He’s a legendary mixer, and he really complemented our engineer. [Studio drum tech] Jerry Johnson brought in his drums, and we chose a specific snare and other drums for each song.
MD: What were the different drumsets that you used?
Rob: We used all kinds of vintage gear, including late-’70s and early-’80s Gretsch and Ludwig kits. And we had thirty different snare drums [to choose from], as well as both 1960s-era and contemporary Zildjian cymbals. Then it was down to tuning and mic placement. I played a lot of snare drums, including a 1970s Ludwig marching snare, a super-deep model.
MD: You’re very adept at recording yourself. Did you create Pro Tools templates for learning the songs?
Rob: I rely heavily on Pro Tools when I’m learning a song. By the time we record, everything is memorized. I take the song in chunks—the intro, the first verse, the bridge—and hammer that down for a while until it feels solid. Then I move on to the next section. Mike programmed drums for some of the early demos—he’s an excellent drum programmer—and I used ideas from his parts for some songs. Other times I’d take the general idea of what the band was hearing and add my own flavor to it. But as far as playing in the studio, it’s all memorization and repetition: locking down a part, then playing it until it becomes second nature.
MD: How do you write in Pro Tools?
Rob: In my home studio I have everything miked and set up to record. If I’m working on a section I’ll loop it in Pro Tools and keep trying different things. For every new idea I’ll create a playlist in Pro Tools. I went up to fifty different playlists for some of the new tracks. I like to get in the flow of writing without thinking about whether the part sounds cool or what style I’m playing. I go totally all over the place, from playing a heavy punk pattern to a samba, depending on the song, literally all over the map. I’ll come back to what I’ve tracked the next day with fresh ears and listen through. Usually the right thing jumps out at me—the part that makes it sound like a song versus a drum part over a song.
MD: Once in the studio, what instruments did you record to? A basic scratch track?
Rob: Even on this record we had vocals early on, so I’m pretty much tracking to everything in the studio: guitars, bass, all the sampled drum sounds if there are supplemental sounds. The songs were in demo form, but we really knew what they would sound like pretty early. We have to set deadlines. Otherwise we’ll keep editing and arranging. Once the final drums were laid down, then the guys would retrack their parts.
MD: Do the members of Linkin Park trade a lot of computer files? Is that part of the band’s songwriting process?
Rob: We definitely do that. We aren’t the kind of band to get in a room and jam together. We work in pairs and individually, and then we get together every Monday to listen to all the ideas. Then we pair up and work on different aspects of the tune together. We like writing in teams. On this record we did do some jamming in the studio, which was really fun. Some of the interludes on the record are moments of us jamming.
MD: You mentioned returning to a rigorous practice routine. What did that entail?
Rob: On “Guilty All the Same,” for instance, that tempo was definitely faster than I’m used to playing. The snare fill that ends the intro part was fast and I wanted to play it cleanly, so I spent a lot of time practicing single-stroke rolls, starting with a slow tempo and ramping it up. I’d go for twenty minutes playing single strokes on a practice pad before getting behind the kit. That was my warm-up routine. Also, I like to be able to play everything faster than the actual song I’m working on so that when I’m recording the song I can lock into the pocket and not push to reach the tempo. I like to practice 20 to 30 percent faster than the song’s actual tempo so I can nail it when we record. I also practiced a lot of other rudiments.
Another big thing for me was bringing back the double kick pedal. I used a Gibraltar pedal, but mostly the DW kick pedal that I received from Joey Kramer for my thirteenth birthday.
MD: How did you practice double kick?
Rob: I hadn’t played double kick in a long time, and I was never super-fast to begin with. When I heard John Bonham doing so much with one kick, that became my goal. But I was always good at doing twos and fours with the double kick: two on the hands and four on the feet, then mixing that up. [I’d do] a variation on a 16th-note pattern on the kick and then add different stickings above it using paradiddles. Or I might mix groups of six between my hands and feet. Someone gave me some double kick rudiments too. That helped shake up my left foot and get those cobwebs out. When I first began practicing, I could hear my left foot was a tiny bit slower; it didn’t have the right feel. Once that got up to speed, it became really fun. A double kick in the middle of a drum fill can fill in all the gaps and sound great.
MD: So you’re playing single-stroke snare rolls on “Guilty All the Same”?
Rob: Yes, on the big Ludwig marching snare drum.
MD: “Keys to the Kingdom” is like a band of punks bashing in a garage. The drums sound really fat, and you can hear their natural ring. How did you track that song?
Rob: There are a couple exceptions, but I’m not playing along with the guys in the studio live. All the temp tracks were outlined in Pro Tools, which I played to. We recorded drums from beginning to end on tape. Tracking went fairly quickly for “Keys to the Kingdom.” We recorded a handful of takes. It takes me a couple passes to warm up, and the last four passes were really good. Once we get those strong passes down, we’ll go through certain sections and I’ll play some options for different fills. We’ll go through different transitions, and I’ll punch in up to ten options for fills. I tend to be ambitious, so a lot of the fills are too crazy, too distracting for the song, but at least we have all these options. Then it all gets edited together.
I listen back once the edit is done. We’ll usually use the majority of one of the passes that has a really good feel or something special about it. And if there are mistakes or fills we want to replace, we do it then. As the songs are progressing, we’re always listening to everything being tracked.
MD: You add the final fills once you’ve found something you like?
Rob: I’d have fills that I knew I would play. A lot of those probably ended up on the record. But just for fun, to see if we could write something better than what’s on the track, I would punch in some crazy fills to see if they’d sound more exciting.
MD: Also on “Keys to the Kingdom,” you play three-against-two snare accents, which sound sampled, as if you’re intentionally going for an electronic sound.
Rob: There are a couple spots in that song where we did some sampling. We sampled my live drums and chopped them up in Pro Tools on the grid. There are some other sampled sounds added to the live snare so that it punches through even more. They’re all created from the snare drum used in the song.
MD: The drums on “All for Nothing” are boxier, more programmed-sounding than on the rest of the album. And the cymbals are very flat tonally.
Rob: We wanted to have more of a sampled sound overall in that track. The verses have a sampled electronic sound. In that case we edited the live drums to sound more [rigid] on the grid, so that when we’re hitting the verse [from the chorus] it doesn’t sound too different. We want to have a similar aesthetic throughout the song. If the drums go from electronic and raw to garage-band sounding, it won’t sound cohesive. We actually recorded that song quickly. There wasn’t as much attention paid to the feel, because we knew we’d work with sampled sounds. It’s live but electronic at the same time.
MD: The breakdown in “Keys to the Kingdom” sounds programmed, but it’s hard to tell.
Rob: That’s exactly what we aim for as a band—for someone with a trained ear not to be able to tell if it’s live or sampled. [laughs] That’s a spot-on goal of the band, to make something that sounds so unique that it’s hard to tell exactly what the source is.
MD: There’s much less electronic or DJ-oriented production on this album; you can really hear the band stomp.
Rob: We do still use sampled elements. One cool thing on this record is that we recorded the MIDI information from the drums as I played. We had an Ableton Live setup that captured my kick and snare and toms. So if we wanted to add those electronic sounds, we didn’t have to grid my live drums to the electronics; we could actually place the electronics on top of the live drum feel that was captured, so we’re bringing those two worlds together. On past records, if we had a live sample, we’d place the drums on top of it. You can’t have flamming between the drum sounds, so we’d end up gridding a lot of the drums to the samples. It was fun to keep the human element alive this time.
MD: It sounds like an aggressive rock band now.
Rob: “War” is one song that’s live all the way through, pure punk rock. It’s raw drumming with nothing added, nothing edited. That’s really new for us, almost one take all the way through. Completely live and untouched. I think I used the ending from a different take, but that’s it.
MD: How did you create the intro to “Wastelands”?
Rob: Mike Shinoda made that loop. He does a lot of the drum programming and creates a lot of the loops. He sampled a live drum track and added e_ ects to it. The sound was very manipulated. Mike spent a long time just producing it and getting the feel. That loop is the driver of that song.
MD: The drum sound on “Wastelands” is distorted and trashy. It’s very John Bonham-ish, and the beat is unusual, almost shuffle/hip-hop. Are you playing off Mike’s loop there?
Rob: Yes. I love working on the drums with Mike, because he brings so much stuff in that as a drummer I wouldn’t even think of or naturally sit down to play. He brings in certain things and writes drum parts that force me to play things I wouldn’t normally play, and it opens up the creative collaboration between the two of us. We end up somewhere very different from where either one of us would go on our own.
MD: It sounds like live drums for most of “Wasteland,” not loops.
Rob: I’m playing what the loop is playing, so it’s a combination of the loop and live drums. The chorus is entirely live drums.
MD: And do you know how the drums are treated there? They sound wild—trashy and menacing.
Rob: They set up a ton of mics, so there was the ability to change the sound. There was so much flexibility within all the different miking setups. Mike also has a lot of experience producing, engineering, and mixing.
MD: “Rebellion” has a prog-metal groove. And you switch up the rhythms on the cymbals a lot, from “&” on the hi-hat to freer playing on the bell of the ride cymbal.
Rob: It’s a triplet feel primarily, and ghost notes on the snare drum. It’s 8th notes happening between my right and left hand. There are some sections with a syncopated ride pattern as well. Listening back, I’m not sure how that one fit in there. The hi-hat on “&” was Mike’s idea. It took some work to get the right feel, where I’m playing the downbeats on the hi-hat and ghosting the “&” on the snare and hitting the accents. When it changes to the syncopated hi-hat groove, it was hard to keep the triplet groove going. That section took some work.
MD: How did you work on it?
Rob: I had to play it over and over until it grooved. For me to really be able to play something well that has the right feel, I have to almost be out of my head. It’s really a feel thing for me. So I put a lot of time in. It’s about playing the part over and over until it almost feels like I’m observing myself playing the part. Then I can actually adjust the feel of it. Because I’m not formally trained—I learned to read music but I didn’t pursue it—I was always so excited about playing by ear that now I do everything by ear. I don’t think that analytically about the parts. It’s more knowing if I like it and whether it sounds great.
MD: What was the hardest or most challenging track to record?
Rob: “Guilty All the Same,” because it was the first track we recorded for the album. Up until that point we’d tracked “Until It’s Gone,” which is definitely a more straightforward drum part, and it’s similar to things I’ve played on previous records. Whereas “Guilty All the Same” is faster than I’m used to playing. It took a bit to get my head around it, to realize we were making a heavy rock record. It took weeks of four- to six-hour days hitting single strokes, paradiddles, and various rudiments, getting my hands and feet going. It was really cool.
MD: Were there particular drummers that inspired you during this period?
Rob: Yeah, for one, I was listening to Kristofer Steen with Refused on the track “Deadly Rhythm” [from The Shape of Punk to Come: A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts]; that’s really cool. And we just played a show for our charity, Music for Relief, with Bad Religion. Their songs were some of the first ones I learned as a drummer—those fast, up-tempo songs. Their drummer, Brooks Wackerman, is awesome. I was also inspired by Travis Barker, who joined us on stage for the charity show. We did a little drum duet together—he kills it. A very inspirational guy. I was also listening to Stewart Copeland.
MD: How long did you maintain a four-to six-hour practice regimen?
Rob: Between writing and practicing, it lasted three or four months.
MD: That explains why your drumming is off the hook on this album. It’s unusual for a band to attempt reinvention after so much success.
Rob: Thanks. We definitely wanted to challenge ourselves. We wanted our fans and other musicians to say, “Wow! I want to play that song!” When I was beginning I always learned to play the difficult music, the stuff that pushed me. We wanted to do that with this record—really think outside the box. It took a lot of hours of putting sawdust on the floor.
MD: What else brought the band to this point, to make a bare-bones record?
Rob: This was originally a different kind of record, more like radio material. Mike brought a first batch of songs to the table, and they were good songs, but they weren’t inspiring. We weren’t pushing ourselves. So Mike threw those songs away and we started from scratch. And then we went in the opposite direction. “Guilty All the Same” was the first single, because it really represents the whole vibe of the record. But it was also the first demo that Mike played for us that got the whole band inspired. Some of us were quicker to jump on it than others, but it did get everyone inspired about playing something that was musically challenging, that was aggressive, visceral, and had this energy behind it. And it felt good to do that.
MD: Why did you call the album The Hunting Party?
Rob: It represents this energy of going after what you want to do and what you want in life. It was about really proactively moving forward, as opposed to some music we’ve made in the past that was more introspective. This is an extroverted, pushing-forward project. The band is playing music together better, and we’re closer than we’ve ever been. It’s not that we weren’t close before—we’re always touring and doing things together. But everyone was involved in the actual recording process of this record. It was really fun and inspiring.
MD: Did the other band members practice a lot as well for this record?
Rob: Yes. Brad [Delson] has always played great, then the last couple records he took more of an interest in learning Pro Tools, engineering, and keyboard sounds and sampling. He wasn’t playing guitar as much. Mike really encouraged him to play more guitar, and when he brought the first song in everyone got inspired. Then Brad spent a ton of time working on his chops. There’s a lot of shredding on this album.
MD: I didn’t expect this record.
Rob: I didn’t expect it either! [laughs] I didn’t know the guys could do this. It’s incredible.
MD: People are always curious about the pitfalls of artistic fame and success, and it sounds as though Linkin Park addresses those concerns on this album.
Rob: Whenever you have a lot of success, the number-one pitfall is staying in a comfort zone and not growing—especially if you combine being successful and comfortable at the same time. We take the record-making process very seriously. We’ve never slacked in the effort we’ve put into an album. But on this one we demanded more of ourselves as musicians, and I’m more excited about the drumming on this record than most of what I’ve recorded in the past. On some past records we spent a lot of time on the sessions, but it was more about songwriting and production. We typically approached records more as a writing team, but this time we had to play our instruments as musicians, and there was no faking it. We had to hammer down and hit it for those four to six hours a day, just playing our instruments. I’m really excited for what this is going to do for our live shows. We’re at the top of our game now, and I’m the best drummer that I’ve ever been.
“A Line in the Sand,” “Mark the Graves,” “Rebellion,” and “Guilty All the Same” from The Hunting Party /// “A Place for My Head” from Live in Texas (DVD) /// “Somewhere I Belong” from Meteora /// “The Little Things Give You Away,” “No More Sorrow,” and “In Pieces” from Minutes to Midnight /// “The Catalyst” from A Thousand Suns
Led Zeppelin “Good Times Bad Times” from Led Zeppelin and “Fool in the Rain” from In Through the Out Door (John Bonham) /// Tower of Power “Get Yo’ Feet Back on the Ground” from Tower of Power (David Garibaldi) /// Aerosmith “Walk This Way” from Toys in the Attic (Joey Kramer) /// The Police “Walking on the Moon” from Reggatta de Blanc (Stewart Copeland) /// Bad Religion “Do What You Want”
from Suffer (Pete Finestone) /// Steely Dan “Josie” from Alive in America (Dennis Chambers) /// System of a Down “Know” from System of a Down (John Dolmayan) /// Incubus “Pardon Me” from Make Yourself (Jose Pasillas) /// Dave Matthews Band “Say Goodbye” from Crash and “Dive In” from Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King (Carter Beauford)
Rob’s Hunting Party Setup
As Bourdon suggests in his interview, the recording of The Hunting Party involved a number of different drumset configurations and various snares and cymbals. Jerry Johnson, Rob’s studio drum tech for the past four Linkin Park albums, describes the kit pictured here as the main recording rig for the session and provides us with its details.
Drums: Gretsch late-’70s/early-’80s “drop G badge” in natural maple finish
A. 1970s 5×14 chrome-over-brass snare
B. 16×18 floor tom
C. 9×13 tom
D. 16×16 floor tom
E. 16×22 bass drum
1. 14″ New Beat hi-hats
2. 20″ A Medium Thin crash
3. 24″ K Light ride
4. 19″ A Custom China
Heads: Remo Controlled Sound snare batter, Coated Ambassador tom batters and Smooth White Ambassador bottoms, and Powerstroke 3 bass drum batter and Smooth White Ambassador front head
Sticks: Vater 5B
Hardware: Gibraltar (pictured) or DW 9000 double bass pedal
Electronics: Roland triggers, Ableton Live
Accessories: ButtKicker bass shaker