Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb, and Jake Bowen of Periphery: The Heavy Blog Is Heavy Interview

periphery-interview-2015

On January 10th, 2015, progressive metal heavyweights Periphery came to Carrboro, NC to play at Cat’s Cradle in support of their upcoming double-album, Juggernaut: Alpha & Omega. This was the first date of their tour with support from Nothing More, Wovenwar, and Thank You Scientist, and was also the first time the band has begun performing new material like “The Bad Thing,” “The Scourge,” “Alpha,” and more. I got a chance to speak with the three guitarists of the band, Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb and Jake Bowen about the structuring of the album, the politics of picking tours, how album reviews should be done, and much more!

So this is the first night of touring in support of your new album Juggernaut, which I’m really hyped on after hearing it a bunch over the past week. Didn’t the album start off as a story and then the music came with it?

Misha: It’s all kind of together. Juggernaut to us was just the idea to do a concept, and it’s been many things throughout the years. At one point in time it was going to be our first album. “Icarus [Lives!]” was supposed to be on Juggernaut, and there were a bunch of themes going with that initially. It was this hyped thing, but I think we all got in a room after Clear and when we were touring. We were talking about what we envisioned it to be. I think we all were saying we want dark, epic, theatrical, ambient…that kind of stuff, which was a very different vibe from Periphery II. That was more notey and upbeat and playful.

I think that’s very apparent from listening to the new album right away.

Misha: I think that was just a natural reaction. I was just writing stuff that tended to be like that, but everyone else also had the same reaction to Periphery II. Let’s slow things down, let’s go for a different vibe altogether. It’s been-there-done-that.

That’s kind of the whole point of being a progressive band!

Misha: That made that original concept and story we were initially kicking around not really work. So Spencer then wrote a story that’s dark and more epic.

Once I had heard the whole album and started checking out old videos of you guys, I started noticing a few riffs scattered around. I remember hearing the “Four Lights” riff in a demo video and “The Bad Thing” from your programming videos. I just didn’t know how much music had been lying around before the story was done.

Mark: Those clips that you mentioned are kind of the exception. Those are two or three of the only real things that people have heard in any way, shape, or form.

Misha: Most of it’s brand new, and anything else was appropriated because it worked really well.

You had mentioned the album being dark and theatrical earlier. That was immediately what I got from the album. I definitely think it’s the heaviest album of the three. “Hell Below” is pretty upsetting. (Laughs)

Misha: (Laughs) That’s good! I like that adjective. It’s upsetting!

I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Misha: I’ll take it, dude!

But then you’ve also got other songs on the album like “Alpha” and “Heavy Heart” which are a lot lighter. Were you guys deliberately making a big push for dynamics?

Misha: Yes and no. Where it came from was a different place. On another album we’d be doing it to spread things out or not have too much of one sound. In this case it’s very much related to what happens in the story. Alpha is this two-faced beast which is very upbeat and very dark and evil towards the end. That’s because that fits with the concept very, very well. “Heavy Heart” is a more innocent time. I can’t say too much about the story, but all of these things relate. “Hell Below” is the way it is because of what’s happening in the story. On this album it’s much more of a flow in a certain direction. That’s why Omega tends to be angrier. Alpha is more optimistic, and Omega is pessimistic.

periphery 1 copy

You said you can’t comment on the story. Is that because you want people to figure it out for themselves?

Misha: First, yes. We will come out with a story that’s clear-cut. As much as it’s nice to send stuff out for reviews and all that, this album is really not well-suited to that. I’ve seen some reviews of the album which I think were well-intentioned, but even they say they have to wait until they can see the artwork and know what all the lyrics are. I kind of wish you hadn’t written a review because it’s really not a review when you have half the package. We spend a lot of time on the artwork and getting everything right. It’s one cohesive thing unlike the other albums. That’s something that’s very important, and because like you said, it’s very long and takes a lot of listens. These are the albums that we like to listen to, ones that you really have to spend some time with, and you may not even like it or get it at first. That’s normal! That’s to be expected. So I want people to spend like a month with this album and then let us know. I guarantee you; the review a few days in would be different than a month in. It might be better, it might be worse, but it’ll be more accurate.

(Laughs) I’ve also been given the task on top of this interview to review it, so I’ll see what I can come up with!

Misha: Maybe as a fun experiment you could do a “first thoughts” review and then a month later tell them I told you to do it again! (Laughs) It’s an album’s album. It’s not a collection of songs. Some people might consider it one song in some ways because there are no breaks and it’s extremely deliberate.

You may already be planning it, but at some point are you going to do the whole 80+ minutes live at one point?

Misha: I’d like to. The biggest logistical problem with that is being that it was a purely compositional effort; the problem we face is tunings. Every song is in a different tuning than the one before, which means we will need three guitars and a bass change for every song! (Laughs) So we’ll just need a really tight team. We have a good crew on this run and we’re sort of testing out how it works with these techs. If we can get it down to a quick thing, then it might be a possibility with the warning of knowing that we’ll change guitars every song. It’ll probably be a one-time tour.

Mark: I would personally like to see how Juggernaut is received, and if it’s received well and if people like it. We don’t know any of this, and it’s so far ahead of us. It still feels like our album and not anyone else’s. Who knows? People could fucking hate it!

Trust me; I think most people who have heard it so far have been really impressed with it.

Mark: But to answer your question, I just want to see what the legacy of Juggernaut is before we even start to talk about actually doing it. If it’s looked at as our weakest album, I don’t want to go out and get ahead of ourselves.

Misha: Right now what we’re concerned with is playing that the songs we’ve put out. That way everyone will know them. It’s always a bit difficult putting songs out there that people don’t know because they don’t know how to react to it. They’re taking it in rather than enjoying it. I think that’s the focus of this tour, to announce it. If it goes well, then I think that’s something we can talk about. The guitar changes are the only thing, but when there’s a will there’s a way. It’s something I think we’re all open to.

Just knowing your fanbase, I think it’s something that people will want to see. Maybe even just on a DVD if guitar changes are an issue. But back to the new songs on this tour being the ones you’ve put out…

Misha: Well that and “Psychosphere.” We’re playing just because we introduced that as a live song earlier. That’s a song that goes over so well live. There’s not a lot getting lost in translation over the PA.

Did you guys have any hand in picking the bands that are opening tonight?

Mark: Oh yeah. We always do on our own tours.

Misha: We always have a say. It’s not always clear-cut, because it has to make sense on many levels. What a lot of people don’t understand is what goes into selecting bands, whether it’s when we get selected or pick bands to take out. There’s a lot criteria, the obvious ones being scheduling and money. Beyond that, there are a lot of other things. There have been bands we wanted to take out, but it was the wrong time in their album cycle, and we need someone who’s fresh in their album cycle for what we’re doing. Management’s always thinking in terms of six months or twelve months and they have a lot of plans. Sometimes it’s politics.

Mark: Tons of politics.

Misha: I will say, we’re really stoked for the lineup!

It’s probably the most diverse of any headlining tour I’ve seen you do so far.

Misha: That’s what we were going for. Sometimes you get a lineup that you’re really stoked on, and sometimes you don’t! But at least we won this one.

I’m sure that you’ve got a good 18 months or two years of touring ahead of you now, and you’ve toured with so many great bands already, but is there anyone left that you still want to play with? I know you’ve done big shows with bands like Meshuggah and Devin Townsend, stuff like that…

Misha: Well there are the huge ones like Tool and Metallica, or A Perfect Circle would be amazing. Slipknot too…

Mark: Bring Me the Fuckin’ Horizon, too!

Jake: Nine Inch Nails.

Misha: I think what Bring Me the Horizon’s been doing lately has been really cool.

See, I don’t think I’ve listened to them since I was in high school…

Jake: It’s way different!

Misha: Some of our best tours have been when we’re playing to people who have no idea who we are, like the Deftones. Deftones doesn’t even need to take out an opening band. They just took us out because they liked us, I guess.

Jake: That tour was already mostly sold out before we were even announced.

Misha: So the biggest complaint was that our own fans couldn’t come to the shows and it meant that were playing to a crowd that pretty much didn’t know us and we’d have to win them over to the best of our ability. Most nights we were actually really lucky, some nights not so much.  You can’t win them all, but the opportunity to play to fans that don’t know who you are is huge for growth. So like the bands we named earlier would be huge for us. Meshuggah is great, and obviously for me that’s a huge thing. But from a managerial standpoint, they’re not that stoked on it, because you’re playing to the same fans. It doesn’t really do that much for the growth of the band. If you think you can impress a fan base that has no idea who you are, that’s a really important thing to do. Fans look at these things a little one-dimensionally.

Mark: “Take out djent band X, Y, and Z!” It’s always like that.

Misha: And we’ll still do those tours because it’s good to cater to our fanbase, but it’s just important to have a balance. But you should seriously do two reviews. I’d be interested to see how it changes. It might even work against us. But I do think that it would be a more genuine take on the album.

I’ll try and send it to you just to see what you think about it.

Misha: I’ll review your review! And I’ll review your review a month later, after I’ve had time to digest your review. Reviewception.


Catch Periphery on tour at the following dates:

01/12 Masquerade – Atlanta, GA
01/13 Orpheum – Tampa, FL
01/14 Revolution – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
01/16 House of Blues – New Orleans, LA
01/17 House of Blues – Houston, TX
01/18 House of Blues – Dallas, TX
01/20 Sunshine Theater – Albuquerque, NM
01/21 Club Red – Phoenix, AZ
01/22 House of Blues – Los Angeles, CA
01/23 Yost Theater – Anaheim, CA
01/26 The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
01/27 Hawthorne Theatre– Portland, OR
01/28 El Corazon – Seattle, WA
01/30 In The Venue – Salt Lake City, UT
01/31 Summit Music Hall – Denver, CO
02/02 Varsity Theater – Minneapolis, MI
02/03 House of Blues – Chicago, IL
02/04 St. Andrews Hall – Detroit, MI
02/06 Opera House – Toronto, ON
02/07 Corona Theatre – Montreal, QC
02/08 Upstate Concert Hall – Albany, NY
02/09 Waterstreet Music Hall– Rochester, NY
02/11 Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
02/12 Irving Plaza – New York, NY
02/13 The Fillmore – Silver Spring, MD
02/14 District N9ne – Philadelphia, PA

-KB

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