Interview: Periphery Discuss Their New Album, 'Periphery II: This Time It's Personal'
This interview originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Guitar World. Pick it up in our online store here.
Once upon a time, video games were considered the nerdy domain of geeks, freaks and social misfits. Over the past couple of decades, however, the $65-billion gaming industry has become as ubiquitous and all-American as baseball and apple pie.
The long-term cultural and psychological impact of gaming and the relentless pursuit of “the next level” will undoubtedly fuel countless sociology books and psychiatric papers, but for now one only has to listen to the ambitious, cutting-edge prog-rock of Periphery for a glimpse of how gaming is shaping art and music in the 21st century.
The band’s leader and primary composer, guitarist Misha Mansoor, is struck by the notion. “I hadn’t given it much thought,” he says, “but I would say video game music has had a very strong influence on my writing. Nobuo Uematsu, who composed the music to the majority of tiles in the Final Fantasy video game series, is an incredible talent. His sense of melody and use of texture is definitely a big reference point for me.”
Guitar virtuoso and recent Periphery addition Mark Holcomb sees parallels as well. “The band is always talking about getting to the next level in terms of our playing skills. We’re all huge gaming dorks, so I can’t deny that the complexity of our music and dedication to our playing has some connection to that relentless pursuit of ‘beating’ the game.”
Adds Mansoor, “I remember learning John Petrucci’s Dream Theater solos back when I was just trying to get better at the guitar. I’d sit down for hours, and in many ways it was like trying to clear a level. I got the same sort of satisfaction when I mastered one of his licks. That kind of hyperfocus used in gaming definitely transferred into how I practiced the guitar. Playing a great lick or solo was never about showing off; it was more about the challenge of getting better and reaching new heights.”
A burning ambition to break on through to the other side has been evident throughout Periphery’s history. The group burst onto the progressive rock scene in early 2010 with the three-guitar attack of Mansoor, Jake Bowen and Alex Bois, the multi-octave singing of Spencer Sotelo, and the impossibly agile rhythm section of bassist Tom Murphy and virtuoso drummer Matt Halpern.
Their impact was immediate and electrifying: highlighted by the “djent”-metal signature of high-gain palm-muted guitars, Periphery’s highly idiosyncratic sound spawned two underground hits—“Icarus Lives!” and the soaring “Jetpacks Was Yes!”—as well as scores of imitators. With its mixture of aggressive seven-string guitars and glitchy electronica, punctuated with ethereal New Age and off-kilter polyrhythms, Periphery’s music was so stylistically set and distinctive that it was hard to see how it could further evolve.
But like any good group of gamers, Periphery has spent the past two years building solid strategies to move on to bigger, better and more challenging environments. Their second album, Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal, is a perfect reflection of their desire to advance their music.
The album is structurally tighter and compositionally more sophisticated than their debut. The ebbs and flows between the heavy sections and the more ambient textures are less forced, and the group has cut back on the chugging “djent” moments that threatened to turn it into a novelty act. The album features two new members—guitarist Holcomb, who replaced Bois, and bassist Adam “Nolly” Getgood—and it is the band’s first release to feature live drums and live orchestral elements.
A battery of superstar guest soloists also adds fresh color to the proceedings while adding credibility to the claim that Periphery is an important new voice in progressive rock. Dream Theater’s John Petrucci, Guthrie Govan and Wes Hauch of the Faceless all dazzle as they trade some of this year’s trickiest solos with new guitar hero Mansoor.
“We invited them to play for pure bucket list happiness,” Mansoor says. “It’s just a thrill to have them on our album. All three of those guys are guitarists’ guitarists. We can all solo in this band, but no one can play like them and it’s very cool to have their sound on this recording.”
In the following interview, Mansoor, Bowen and newbie Holcomb expound on their expanding universe and explain how listening to Periphery’s new album might actually make you more intelligent.
GUITAR WORLD: A lot has happened to Periphery since last year. You released an EP and replaced two band members. Then it was announced that you were releasing two albums simultaneously, but in the end you released only one.
MISHA MANSOOR The whole point of the EP was to give people something to chew on while we recorded a new album, which we knew we would need a lot of time for.
JAKE BOWEN We had an ungodly amount of new material, and initially we wanted to do two full-length albums. One was going to be a normal collection of songs and the other was going to be a concept album. But once we realized the magnitude of that undertaking, we realized we needed to slow down a little bit.
MANSOOR We tried to set aside six months to work on both projects, which would’ve given us plenty of time, but then we were offered an opportunity to tour with Dream Theater. As far as we were concerned, when you get a chance to play with Dream Theater, you rearrange your plans!
What was it like touring with them?
MARK HOLCOMB One of the things I really took away from watching a band at their level is that it takes dedication. They warm up in their dressing rooms for hours every night before they go onstage. It’s a harsh reminder that there’s work involved and there’s a reason they’re on top.