Joe Hahn: Man of the Hour

Words: Vanda Gyuris
Photo above: Vicki L DiAddezio

Joe Hahn: he’s someone you should know. Creating the foundation of beats and harmonies for Linkin Park is just one check mark on his laundry list of accomplishments and projects.

Two-time Grammy winning rock, alternative metal, experimental (the list goes on as to which genre they actually fall into) band Linkin Park owes a considerable amount of its success to a guy you’ve probably rarely heard about. He’s the unsung hero of the band – the quiet, soft-spoken George Harrison type that makes a lot of noise on the records but lies low when it comes to paparazzi and reporters. His name is Joe Hahn and he’s the man behind those electronic layers and manipulated beats you hear in the background of all six of the band’s albums. He is also the group’s visual storyteller, pivotal in defining the band’s brand expression.

Joe Hahn

Man of the Hour: Joe Hahn

© PHOTO: Bill Boyd

“He’s a guy who is always trying to push the envelope. He’s challenging everybody. There is something at the core of Joe that makes him want to f*ck with people. Which can be aggravating, but also very useful,” says original founding band member Mike Shinoda.

Hahn is much more than just a turntablist for one of the most successful bands of the early 2000’s. His beats have been featured in the soundtracks of Hollywood blockbuster franchises like Transformers and Twilight. From drawings, illustrations, and paintings to fashion and product design to his most recent project—his feature film debut, Mall—Hahn is a certifiable Renaissance man.

With Mall, Hahn takes the audience through a sensory experience of unnerving visuals and twisted soundscapes. A man’s killing spree puts into motion a chain of fateful events that bring together an unlikely crew of characters. “The premise of this movie is Kids meets Lord of the Flies. When rules go out the window, what do these f*cked up teenagers decide is okay to do?” says Shinoda who created a mixed media piece for Hahn’s film-inspired art exhibit that ran at Known Gallery in Los Angeles in early October. Mall will show in select theaters October 17.

THE RED BULLETIN: When did your creative pursuits begin?

JOE HAHN: I loved comic books. Some of the first books I bought were comics because the art was so cool and the covers were so dynamic. That’s what I wanted to do in my mind. It was all about being a comic book illustrator. I remember going to Comic Con when I was younger and bringing my little black case with pages that I did to get critiques and see if I could try to break into the industry; by doing that I got pretty good at drawing. I went to [Pasadena] Art Center College of Design and met Mike [Shinoda] there. Eventually that led into the music thing.

Did you always dream of making music for a living?

I never thought of myself as a musician, just a guy that liked music and was trying to learn things. Music as far as doing it professionally is something that I stumbled on. I think it’s a testament to if you allow life to take you where it wants to take you things can work out. In my film [Mall] that’s one of the underlying messages as well.

Mall is wild. It blows all conventions of cinematography, storytelling, character development out the window. It’s raw in its visuals and even more so in its soundtrack. What drew you to this story?

There is a soulfulness to it that’s really compelling to me. These are really compassionate characters that I felt I could translate into film and create dynamics visually to really accentuate what the story is.

“There is something at the core of Joe that makes him want to f*ck with people.”
Mike Shinoda
Joe Hahn

Hahn began DJing in high school. He met Mike Shinoda at Pasadena Art Center and would be recruited to join Shinoda’s band, that at the time was called Xero, as turntablist.

© PHOTO: Vicki L DiAddezio

How did you get into moviemaking?

I went to art school for about a year, but I had to stop going because it was too expensive. I ended up getting a job at a company called XFX that was doing movies and TV shows to be an illustrator basically. Through that experience I started learning more about the moviemaking business. And then when [Linkin Park] started doing music videos I started to assert myself in that process to the point where I started codirecting. Eventually I got enough mileage to want to do a feature film.

“I love the idea of just twisting sounds and manipulating beats.”
Joe Hahn

As a director you have to play the role of the leader of a massive project with a lot of moving parts. What was your role in the band?

I think where my role becomes important is really pushing the band out of convention. Whether it be encouraging them to be more experimental or to just get louder. To break outside of what we think we are.

Why turntablism and not the guitar or something?

Around high school I loved music, hip-hop and all the stuff going on in KROQ back when people listened to the radio. I was DJing and I got into scratching and all that. The idea of a sound wave on a record and being able to manipulate it with speed and turning the volume up and down and having that turn into something totally different was really new and experimental at the time. I love the idea of just twisting sounds and manipulating beats; the idea of distortion and where that can go and how powerful sounds can be.

According to band mate Mike Shinoda, Hahn’s videos “have the potential to make you uncomfortable.” Shinoda goes on to describe this Waiting for the End video, directed by Hahn, as “one of our best videos because the imagery [Hahn] chose is so edgy and beautiful.”

How is telling an auditory story different from telling a visual one?

You have a palette of sounds and you start slapping things together in different ways. It all starts from those little things. Kind of familiarizing yourself with all the ingredients that it takes to make a great dish. If you know how to break everything down then you can turn those same ingredients into something completely different.

You’ve been involved in so many different mediums and worked with so many different artists. How has your raison d’etre as an artist changed and evolved over the years?

One thing I told myself is if I ever get in a situation where I’m not completely happy, whether it be someone not treating me right or being in a job that’s not ideal then just don’t be part of it and eventually everything will be fine. And that was a really liberating moment for me because my instincts on that proved to be correct.

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