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For Linkin Park vocalist, aid for Japan is personal

By Denise Quan, CNN
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Linkin Park's T-shirts for Japan relief
  • Linkin Park's Michael Shinoda is half Japanese-American
  • The band is selling T-shirts to raise funds for relief efforts in Japan
  • Proceeds from Music for Relief will go directly to Japan and Save the Children
  • Shinoda: "I have a lot of friends who are out there, especially the folks at our label in Japan"

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Los Angeles (CNN) -- Mike Shinoda saw images of the devastation in Japan and knew he had to do something.

The co-frontman of Linkin Park immediately took to Twitter and asked his fans to brainstorm ideas for a T-shirt to benefit victims of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that has claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people with 17,000 more missing.

Someone suggested an origami crane. Shinoda, a graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, thought an origami butterfly would be more appropriate.

"That's more a symbol of rebirth -- you know, the caterpillar turning into the butterfly," he said.

The black and white butterfly tee and a second T-shirt design with the words "Not Alone" emblazoned on the front are available on the group's Music for Relief website (, with all proceeds going to benefit Save the Children's relief efforts in Japan.

There's also a Download to Donate initiative, where fans can pledge a minimum of $10 to access a digital album featuring unreleased tracks by a growing number of artists -- including R.E.M., Angels & Airwaves, Sara Bareilles, The Ting Tings, Talib Kweli and Slash. The last track is a Linkin Park instrumental inspired by the tsunami called "Issho Ni."

"Music for Relief is not Linkin Park for Relief," says Shinoda. "Right now, we've got folks on the Board of Music for Relief from MTV, from Fuse, from other bands. We hope that other artists will feel welcome to jump on board and contribute in some way."

Linkin Park founded Music for Relief in 2005 in the aftermath of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean that caused mass destruction and loss of life from Sri Lanka to Indonesia.

"We had just toured in Southeast Asia, and when we got home, we were seeing the images of the devastation on the news -- and these were happening in places we had just visited," Shinoda said. "I think first and foremost, we tend to get involved in endeavors that are closest to our hearts."

Since then, Music for Relief says that it has raised more than $3.9 million for victims of natural disasters around the world, including Hurricane Katrina, wildfires in Southern California and Australia and monsoon flooding in Pakistan. Shinoda says the organization's Download to Donate program for Haiti has raised more than $270,000.

CNN spoke with Shinoda at Music for Relief headquarters in Beverly Hills, California.

Michael Kenji Shinoda is half Japanese-American. His paternal grandparents were uprooted from their homes and sent to an internment camp during World War II with their 12 children.

CNN: Do you have any friends or relatives who were affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan?

Mike Shinoda: I have a lot of friends who are out there, especially the folks at our label in Japan. I immediately got in touch with our production manager, and he helped me send out e-mails and investigate how everyone's doing out there. Luckily for us, all our friends are accounted for.

But there were some scares. The sister of one of my really good friends was staying in Sendai. It took over a week to find her. That was really, really frightening.

CNN: Has the disaster inspired you to write music?

Shinoda: I did write a song based on what I was seeing on the news about Japan, which is included on Download to Donate. We decided to call it "Issho Ni." Basically, the rough translation is, "We're in this together." The song doesn't have any lyrics. Once I wrote the music, I didn't feel like words were going to make it better. It didn't feel as universal with words. Hopefully, even more of our Japanese fans can relate to the music and understand that song.

CNN: A lot of Linkin Park's music is kind of apocalyptic in feel. It almost goes hand-in-hand with the backdrop here.

Shinoda: Our DJ, Joe Hahn, has directed a lot of our videos. I think on the last video, I joked with him, "Can we stop doing post-apocalyptic or mid-apocalyptic videos after this one? Can we take a break?"

I think we can look to Joe for answers about why that imagery keeps showing up. I know that it does fit with the conceptual nature of our new album, "A Thousand Suns," and that's just stuff that's on our collective minds.

A lot of this record was written in a very loose, kind of subconscious way. It was like the writing equivalent of what you do when you sit down at the telephone and doodle on a note pad. It's kind of a stream of consciousness.

CNN: Perhaps this is the kind of stuff this generation thinks about. The world has become a very dramatic place, in terms of extreme weather and natural disasters.

Shinoda: In the last two records, "Minutes to Midnight" and "A Thousand Suns," we've become very aware of our place on this planet, our influence on this planet -- not meaning our band, but human beings' influence on the places in which we live.

That's partially a function of getting older. It's partially a function of us traveling so much, and touring in so many different places. I mean, just to give you an idea, at one point on this current record cycle, for every one album we sold in the United States, I think we were selling six, seven or eight outside the States.

CNN: Because your fan base is so large online, you can mobilize it very quickly.

Shinoda: This generation's very in-tune to what's going on in our online world. We really saw it with Haiti. We saw a new form of simple ways to contribute in the form of text-to-donate campaigns. We did our own with Music for Relief for Haiti. We have another one going on right now for Japan. Basically, you text "MFR" to 85944 to make a $10 donation using your mobile phone. So much is going on in people's lives that they want to do it easily and quickly.

One hundred percent of the donations to Music for Relief flow directly through to Japan, and our partner, Save the Children. One hundred percent -- I think that's a pretty good number.

CNN: Do you have plans to tour Japan?

Shinoda: We're going to be in Japan touring towards the end of the year. It's going to be an ongoing process. We'll see what we can do while we're out there to help out, as well.

CNN: Did the guys in Linkin Park always have this kind of consciousness, or is this something that came about as the band became more successful?

Shinoda: I think with the success of the band came an interest in charity. We've been so blessed, and we wanted to share that with other people. Music for Relief is an organization that provides relief to those who are victims of a natural disaster.

But we don't want to just play clean-up. We also have efforts that are ongoing that are geared towards mitigating the effects of climate change, for example. Planting trees. We give a dollar of every concert ticket to Music for Relief for those efforts. I think by the end of this tour, we will have planted a million trees. That's one of those places where our hearts are, and we feel we're lucky to be in the position to do something about it.

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