Interview: Periphery Discuss Their New Album, 'Periphery II: This Time It's Personal'
Before we talk about the new album, could you expand a little bit on the upcoming concept album?
MANSOOR I always thought that it would be really cool to compose an album of music in the same way that you’d score a movie. In other words, the lyrics and storyline would come first and the music would be almost secondary to the plot. The arrangements are going to be very unconventional, even by our standards.
While not a concept album, Periphery II has some reoccurring themes.
BOWEN It certainly does. The first, the seventh and the last track are the beginning, middle and end of a story. They share lyrical themes, melodies and guitar parts.
MANSOOR It’s a little dorky, but the three songs—“Muramasa,” “Ragnarok” and “Masamune”—refer to three swords from a Final Fantasy video game. Muramasa and Masamune were Japanese legendary sword makers, and Ragnarok is a Scandinavian reference to the end of the world—Viking stuff. That’s the cool explanation…but really we just ripped off Final Fantasy!
You’ve recently undergone some changes in band members.
BOWEN Things didn’t work out with Alex Bois, and Mark had been playing in a band that Misha produced called Haunted Shores. They had written some really great songs together, so when it came time to pick somebody to fill Alex’s immense shoes, Mark was an obvious choice for us. It also helped that he lived right down the road from us.
We had a headlining gig in Australia last summer and Mark’s challenge was to learn an hour-long set of ours by ear, and he completely nailed it. As a player, he’s set a new standard for the band.
HOLCOMB They gave me the instrumental version of the album, and I just picked it apart. Sometimes I’d have to refer to videos of live performances on YouTube to get hand positions. For example, Alex’s parts on “Frak the Gods” were a little buried and they were also very fast, so I’d run video in slow motion and see where his fingers were. It was a lot of work, but in the end, it was one of the main reasons that they hired me.
On the new album, you invited outside players to solo on some of the tracks. You have three excellent guitar players in your band, why did you feel compelled to go outside the group?
MANSOOR My top three guitarists of all time are John Petrucci, Guthrie Govan and Allan Holdsworth, so it’s always been a dream of mine to play with those guys. We weren’t able to get in contact with Allan, but we reached out to John and Guthrie and got them to participate.
I play the first solo on “Have a Blast” and Guthrie plays the second. On “Erised,” once again, I play the first solo and John plays the second, and Wes Hauch from the Faceless plays on “Mile Zero.” Wes is the best guitarist that no one’s heard of yet, and I guarantee that you will have him in your magazine very soon. And when you hear what he can do you will understand why we had him as a guest soloist. He’s unfairly good. In some ways, his solo might be the biggest surprise.
Despite the guest spots, there’s so much stylistic continuity on the album, it almost feels like one continuous piece of music.
HOLCOMB We intentionally have the songs spill into each other so you lose track of what you are listening to. We want people to lose themselves in it.
MANSOOR It’s our way of rebelling against this short attention span that is destroying the album format. We figured if people can’t tell where the track ends then they can’t stop the song.
The structures of your songs aren’t tied into anybody’s traditional notion of verse, chorus, verse, but they do have their own internal logic that is consistent. Your ideas aren’t classical, but they are symphonic.
MANSOOR I really admire bands like Dream Theater and composers like Devin Townsend and Nobuo Uematsu, who are good at writing themes and bringing them back with a twist. Their music evolves, but it doesn’t ramble.
I hear a lot of music that has no regard for big picture—it just feels like one riff tacked on to another. It really creates another dimension of emotion when you can create a musical roller-coaster ride that is clear in its intent.