Linkin Park — the Agoura Hills, California, band known for its edgy blend of rap, rock and metal, and dynamic collaborations with artists from Jay-Z to Steve Aoki — recently teamed with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to draw attention to the problem of suicide among troops and veterans.
As part of their "Carnivores" tour, the band displayed flags symbolizing the number of veterans — 22 — that Veterans Affairs Department estimates die by suicide each day; unveiled a music video for the song "Wastelands," featuring personal photos of post-9/11 service members; and gave shout-outs to troops during their concerts.
"It is an honor to meet with you guys, the men and women of the armed forces, who protect our freedom every day," lead singer Chester Bennington said Sept. 8 in Denver. "The greatest country in the world, and it's because of men and women who go out and risk their lives for all of us ... no matter who we are or what we believe in."
Military Times recently caught up with Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park's co-lead vocalist and producer, to discuss the band's appeal to service members and why the band decided to call attention to military and veteran suicides.
Q. What made you decide to participate in IAVA's 2014 campaign, "Convey to Combat Suicide," during your recent tour?
A. We've always had a special bond with the military; I've seen countless videos uploaded to YouTube by soldiers who've used our music as the soundtrack to their experiences. They've told us in person for years that our music was an evolving soundtrack to their experiences in the war and their transition home.
Q. Were you aware of the issue of veterans and military suicide before you got involved?
A. Of course. I knew the issue but hadn't considered the volume. Paul [Rieckhoff, IAVA founder and CEO] told me that there are 2.8 million soldiers who are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan who need physical and mental help. With so many people coming back, it's a big challenge.
Q. Why do you feel strongly about the subject of veterans suicide, and what do you hope your participation accomplished?
A. When Robin Williams passed away, I read a poignant piece on suicide by Elizabeth Hawksworth called "What Suicide Isn't." She commented that many people call suicide "a waste" and characterize the people who take their lives as "weak." In contrast, she urged people to consider that suicide is a difficult, albeit desperate, decision by a person who has run out of options, whose pain is so great they can no longer see any alternative. Our goal is to create connections so soldiers never reach that point.
Q. Have you ever struggled with thoughts of suicide? If so, what, or who, helped you get through them?
A. Like many teenagers, I had dark times when I didn't think anyone cared. As kids, our chemistry gets all messed up and our emotions fly out of control. Sometimes talking to friends and family helped, and in other scenarios, all I really needed was to "wait out the storm." Either way, I can safely say that nothing I was dealing with was as difficult as what our vets are going through. That's why their situation needs special attention. ... [If they are troubled,] there are so many people to talk to who will understand their problems and help.
Q. Many of your songs deal with depression, isolation, even suicide — "Breaking the Habit" comes to mind. What songs do military fans like, why, and what message do you hope they take away?
A. Our military fans tend to gravitate toward the loud stuff like "Wastelands" or "Castle Of Glass." Aside from the music and lyrics, maybe the connection has something to do with the fact that this isn't about politics. Our effort to help soldiers is a humanitarian one, about people. I hope the veterans feel our deep gratitude for their service and hope our efforts help give them the support they need to re-establish their lives.
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.