The Djent Set: The Guitarists Who Have Inspired Me, and How to Play “Jetpacks Was Yes”
This month, I’d like to talk a little bit about some of the guitarists who have influenced my playing and writing style. Many of these influences—the main one being Dream Theater’s John Petrucci—use seven-string guitars, and I’ve long been drawn to the instrument’s expanded range and how it can be used in a musical way. Many guitarists who play standard six-string guitars have replicated the seven-string’s low B string by simply tuning their low E string down. But Petrucci proved to me that the seven-string enables you to create tones and sounds that would not be possible on a drop-tuned six-string. Through his lead playing, John has also showed me that there is a difference between playing notes that simply work within a given context and playing the right notes—those that really make a part sound perfect.
Another guitarist that I would say the same thing about is Guthrie Govan, who always seems to hit every right note in an effortless way, even when he’s improvising. Allan Holdsworth does the same thing too, but in more of an alien way, in that his music sounds like it’s coming from some distant universe. If you haven’t heard Holdsworth check him out, because his sense of melody is truly unique. It may take a few listens before you understand it, because his music is very complex, but I’ve never heard anyone else play like him. Allan’s music illustrates the potential of where a melody can go, as well as how to voice chords and resolve musical ideas in unique ways.
In terms of the jagged rhythmic syncopation we use in the music of Periphery, the band Meshuggah has been a huge influence. They also have a sense of melody that is very influenced by Holdsworth. I’ve learned a great deal from studying their music. Some people may find it hard to get past the harsh vocals and aggressive musical style, but many non-metal fans get into them because of their songs’ musical value.
Another band that greatly influenced my approach to guitar is the now-defunct SikTH, from the U.K. They are phenomenal musicians who hit all the right notes in a catchy way and used syncopation brilliantly. Though some of the song sections could be simplified to three of four chords, they always made the music sound very colorful through the use of unique chord voicings and rhythm techniques. Ultimately, I try to take the best of all these different influences and apply it to my own playing.
A good example of a Periphery song with Meshuggah-type syncopation is “Jetpacks Was Yes.” During the verse (see FIGURE 1), the main guitar part alternates between power chords and strummed octaves. Using downstrokes exclusively, I begin with a four-note power chord, articulated with a hard, staccato attack that reveals the Meshuggah influence. That sharp sound is where the term djent comes from when used to describe our music.
Throughout the riff, I alternate between the D5 power chord and a D octave figure on the fifth and third strings, played in a highly syncopated 16th-note rhythm. As you can see, many of the accents do not fall on the downbeats, which lends the riff a playful kind of vibe.
Toward the end of the song, I play a riff, shown in FIGURE 2, that developed in a virtually random way. This riff, which is also played with consecutive downstrokes, begins with a single-note figure on the sixth string, once again alternated with octave shapes on the fifth and third strings, which this time pull off to the open fifth string. In bars 3 and 4, I alternate between E and D octaves.