Last year, on July 20, Bennington was found dead in his L.A. home; he was 41. The Grammy winner had struggled with depression and substance abuse for years before his death.
“He was a legendary rock singer, a great human being and a good friend,” says Shinoda, 41. “The stories and memories — we’ll always have those.”
Following the loss of his close friend, Shinoda turned to art therapy to mourn, painting as well as writing new music.
“I was anxious about going in the studio at first. Then, once I got in, it was a really cathartic thing. Music just started pouring out of me,” says Shinoda, who cofounded Linkin Park in 1996.
The result: Post Traumatic, Shinoda’s debut solo effort. The album, out now, doubles as an outlet for his grief and an homage to Bennington.
“I was writing all this stuff the way I was processing it,” says Shinoda of the autobiographical record, a sonic representation of the stages of grief. “I think that’s therapeutic, in the long run.”
Adds Shinoda: “On the first half of it, there’s really a palpable sense of grief, and then as it goes on, it brightens up and goes to other places.”
In addition to art therapy, Shinoda relied on his friends, bandmates and wife Anna for support after Bennington’s death. Now he’s hoping his new music will add to the growing conversation surrounding mental health.
“We can do some powerful things,” he says. “I think too many people are embarrassed and don’t want to [get help] because they feel weak. I hope we get to a point where that’s not really the norm.”
Shinoda says fans have already connected to the lyrics and message of Post Traumatic.
“I’ve already spoken to a bunch of different people who have listened to the music and come to the shows and said it helped them process things or it emboldened them to go get help for themselves,” he says. “Hearing stories like that is always inspiring for me and helps. It gives me a lot of energy to keep doing what I do.”
When Shinoda started developing the album, he was hesitant to tell his Linkin Park bandmates at first.
“I was nervous to tell the guys about it when I wanted to do it,” he says, but — “they’ve been awesome; they’ve been super supportive.”
Though the future of the band itself is uncertain, Shinoda maintains he and the alt-rock act will always be there for Bennington’s six children and wife Talinda.
“All the guys and her and the kids,” he says, “we’re all a big family.”
For more from Shinoda on his new project and picking up the pieces after a tough year, look for the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.