Upstairs at London’s O2 Forum Kentish Town, a few hours before a sold-out show, we find Periphery guitarists Misha Mansoor and Jake Bowen sat opposite rising stars Plini and Jakub Zytecki [ex-Disperse] - who were chosen as main support for this European run.
The four musicians each have their own unique take on writing and recording, with differing areas of expertise and experience, though Mansoor is quick to point out the common thread…
“We may have different levels of intellect when it comes to music and theory; the one thing that unites us all is that we act on instinct,” he asserts. “Regardless of knowledge, instinct comes first. Knowledge may come in later to temper, inform or educate but instinct is something we all trust. It’s our first go-to.
"Through our sets you see various permutations of that, based on skill, influences and how we want to express ourselves. I know that’s a bit abstract but that’s the main thing that ties us together and why we respect each other, in a game-recognize-game kinda way. I understand the choices these guys make, I relate to it and that’s why I think they’re awesome.”
For Australian virtuoso Plini, whose debut album was described by Steve Vai as “one of the finest, forward-thinking, melodic, rhythmically and harmonically deep instrumental guitar records I have ever heard,” Periphery’s meteoric rise within metal’s ranks as leaders of the djent upsurge has been very much a source of inspiration.
“It was a huge deal,” he says, handing this Guitar World correspondent a cup of cinnamon tea to ward off the winter chill. “It was Misha’s demoes on sevenstring.org that made me think I could record music and put it on the Internet.
I didn’t need a record label or massive studio. I could just buy a guitar and a computer, try it that way. It made me think it was possible and okay to succeed without all that label infrastructure.”
When did you start to notice tech-metal was becoming more popular?
Jake: “I have to say one thing: I don’t think we intentionally spearheaded anything. We just wrote the stuff that we wanted to write and if people were digging it we’d go in that direction. We don’t feel like we’re masterminds of anything at all, it was really all by accident. Wouldn’t you agree, Mish?”
Misha: “You don’t choose what people like. It makes no sense. I still don’t understand why anyone likes our band! I get why they like Plini… I can understand that. But not so much with our band. Maybe it’s something that happened over the last 20 years, I’m sure that has something to do with it.
"Everything kinda flows… if it wasn’t me posting on those forums, it would have been someone else. Who knows why these things happen?!”
Is there a kind of person this style of music tends to attract?
Jake: “Yeah, it definitely resonates with a very specific type. If you talk to a lot of the people at the show tonight, you’ll find they're either musicians, students or professionals in some sort of field - I guess we tend to draw intellectuals.
"I think that’s interesting, though it wasn’t intentional, you don’t get to pick your fanbase. If you make music with a lot of detail, it can draw in a lot of those kinds of people. It’s give and take, we’re all feeding off each other.
Misha: “Basically, nerds like us. It’s okay to be a nerd. I remember growing up when it wasn’t okay to be a nerd. Everyone would say you suck and had no friends. Being a nerd is cool now, it’s more accepted.”
How much of a part has technology played for the tech-metal movement?
Misha: “I think a lot of it comes down to exposure from Spotify and streaming services. Look at Plini, he comes from Australia but now he can come out here and crush it because everyone has access. It’s cool to be into nerdy stuff and find the subgenre that defines you. Now there are tools to help you find what you want.”
Jake: “There are algorithms that follow our listening habits. If someone listens to Plini or Jakub, there’s a very good chance they’ll be directed to Periphery, Animals As Leaders and Tesseract. The machine is listening, so to speak… that’s how we’re able to spread further.”
What would you say are the main differences between you all as players?
Plini: “I just rip Jakub off but I’m always two years late. He was using EDM with Disperse ages and then two years later I finally understood how to do it. So whatever he’s up to now, you can expect from me in a few years (laughs)!”
Misha: “Jakub’s on some crazy shit, man!”
Jake: “He’s found a way to bridge the gap between very textural and melodic electronica with guitar worked into it in a way that engages with guitar players. Does that sound right?”
Jakub: “Yes, I like to make it feel more easy-listening than it might actually be.”
Misha: “The guitar isn’t even a focal instrument, which I love. There will be a layer or texture and then occasionally that little flurry that happens that makes you think, ‘Oh, he’s sick!’ But for the most part, it’s integrated in other ways.”
Jake: “Me and Misha play guitar and compose things, but these guys are on totally different level in terms of playing. They can improvise and are so locked in. I don’t want to discount what we are doing, I enjoy what we do, but both of us look up to these guys. We can compose and perform live but these guys can play guitar in a way that we never could.”
Yet still manage to keep things very musical…
Misha: “Exactly. Jakub has superpowers. He’s got the whole cheat code and god mode going on with his guitar but he has the maturity to use it responsibly. Using his powers for good - seriously, that’s a phrase I like to use a lot.
"There are a lot of people that can shred all day long, but who can actually use it to create music that makes you feel something. Restraint is incredible. Some people might listen to a song and have no idea of what he can really do, and it doesn’t matter.
"The same goes for Plini, it’s about the emotion of the song and the flow. That’s the beauty of what he does. He keeps it simple and also uses his powers for good. People might not realize how hard he can shred until they see him live. That’s what’s so awesome about them.”
Jakub: “I guess both me and Plini work to serve the song. That always comes first and everything else is secondary. We both want to tell the story, that’s always the most important thing.”
How different is your live gear - are you all using an Axe-FX somewhere in the rig?
Plini: “Me and Jakub are actually sharing one Axe-FX!”
Misha: “That’s the smart way to do it. For us, it’s a mix. I don’t think any of us shun anything, it’s just about whatever works best. We usually use Peavey Invectives but we don’t have them out here, so we have the 6505s. We use Axe-FX just as a power amp for stage sound.”
Jake: “We got a little creative with the effects loop out, bypassing the preamp stage of the head, with a separate block that diverts off the Axe-FX before any cab simulation. That signal goes into the amp which is powering the cabs, so we get that for our stage volume. Then the one with the cab simulation is going to the front of house fully direct.”
Jakub: “I’m not super-techy when it comes to gear. I do it more through trying different things that might sound good. I don’t even know exactly what I used and where, I’m more blindly trying to see what works and what doesn’t.”
What do you think lies in the future for tech-metal?
Misha: “It will be some 10 year-old kid that will be watching Jakub and outshredding him on YouTube. It’s like, ‘Oh my god, they’re getting younger!’ When I first saw Jakub, he was only 16 or so. It made me think, ‘What’s the point, why even try beating that?!’ They’re just getting younger and better now. That’s the future right there.”
Jakub: “I think the boundaries between guitar or metal-driven music and electronica or dance will disappear. That feels like the future to me.”
Will it be still called djent? Is it still called djent now, even?
Misha: “Djent was never a thing to begin with so it can never end. You can’t kill what’s already dead, right? I always called myself progressive and I’m sure the other guys here do to some degree as well, because it allows us to get away with whatever.
“It’s like a removal of limitation. I kept on meeting people that said we were too heavy for rock or too metal… which were stupid comments. It should be whatever you want it to be. Write whatever you feel like writing, that should never be a problem. Forget about what other people think and make sure it’s genuine.
"Sure, some people stumble upon a hit or a formula or something. But to be consistent, it has to come from somewhere genuine. I have no idea what will happen next, probably someone that mixes things together, not because they’re in their room trying to figure out the next big hit, but rather it’s the music they want to hear themselves.”
Jake: “There’s also the technology to follow. Think about when rock and roll first started, the equipment used was very different to what it is now. Now there’s more electronica and synthesizers in the genre because people can work easily inside the box through home recording.
"As long as technology keeps progressing, we’ll figure out new ways to evolve music and sound. There’s always going to be talented people out there, it’s just up to them to figure out what to do with the technology.
"That’s why djent came out, Misha was able to start recording at home with sampled drums, POD XTs and it eventually got easier and easier. Now you can surgically design whatever you want. It got cheaper and quicker, which is why people take advantage of it.”
What’s the last piece of gear that blew your mind?
Misha: “Jakub isn’t human, he’s pretty much a plug-in so I’ll say him (laughs)!”
Plini: “I’m going to give an unashamed plug for my signature plug-in with Neural DSP, the Archetype. For me it’s an unfaultable digital guitar amp. What Neural do really well is that feeling of going into a guitar store and trying the most expensive thing… you just know it’s going to be good.
"You don’t need to EQ everything to make it sound good. I think everything they do is amazing… they did one with Nolly [Getgood, ex-Periphery], too.”
Jakub: “It’s so simple and minimalistic too, which really helps… I use it too and love the fact it works straight away and very easily. I was using Amplitube for a while, to be honest I’m not even sure why. The Archteype feels like the next big thing for recording. It’s so convenient, you can always re-amp it all later too.”
Misha: “They do great work and Plini’s plug-in is sick. I have a pedal company and drum software company. But I’m going to take this in a different direction, I got this EP-2 Echoplex, an original tape delay.
I love delays and that thing is just a mojo machine. I used it on the album, it inspired different ideas like the beginning and end of Satellites right before Jake says, ‘Suck my balls!’”
Jake: “I did say that…”
Misha: “The Echoplex is so amazing when it comes to inspiration. Out of all the delay units out there emulating tape stuff, I never thought it could be that sick… but it is and especially the EP-2.
"I’d like to do some modulation and delays with my company in the future, that would feel like the logical next step. The Strymon Volante is one of the best delays out there but it’s still not the same, nothing beats the real thing.”
Jake: “There’s one thing that I know will inspire entire songs after I start it up. It’s this plug-in called Omnisphere 2 made by Spectrasonics. It’s this freak plug-in where every sound is already amazing. The moment you hit a note if feels like a song. You don’t have to do much to make it sound good.
"Me and Misha were working on an electronic track together and I’d say a good chunk of it started with that. There’s a lot of guitar on the album but not in a metal or djent way. It’s a very great way of laying foundations and textures for music.”
Misha: “It just ruins all the others value-for-money-wise. Everyone’s always talking about all these orchestral plug-ins but I always tell them the first one you should get is Omnisphere. You’ll get more out of that per dollar spent than anything else.
Sounds like we’re getting paid off by them, we should be… Spectrasonics, send me free shit!”
Jake: “We’re not Jan Hammer or anything so they probably won’t talk to us. I’d put fuckin’ money it… if you look at every one of our projects for every Periphery song, there will be at least one per song.”
What are the common mistakes you see people making when it comes to home recording?
Jake: “What I’ve noticed when I’m looking at the general scope of players online posting demoes or performances, a lot of the time they’re trying to emulate something too closely rather than trying to figure out what makes them unique.
“You hear these songs that really go for the Periphery production but kind of miss the point completely. There’s something really sterile about it. I wish people would get more experimental and not chase specific things that have already been done. I guess that happens in every generation, everyone’s just trying to emulate who they look up to…”
Misha: “True, our band is just a Meshuggah rip-off. We listen to them and Dream Theater.”
Jake: “But what sets us apart is - sure, you hear polyrhythms, djenty guitars and heavy drums - but you also hear big melodies. Spencer [Sotelo, vocals] writes incredible choruses that can resonate with more than just metal fans.”
Is there a secret to counting and writing in odd time signatures?
Misha: “None of us count. If we counted… we wouldn’t feel it. Not even our drummer counts… if you’re counting, you're not playing music. You should internalize everything to the point where you’re not even playing it, you're performing it and enjoying it.
You shouldn’t ever worry about it and if you do, then maybe it’s not what you should be playing or you're not well enough practiced. Nobodies counting. It’s all feel. It has to be feel.
Jakub: If you practice anything enough, the muscle memory will start to kick in. That’s when you can really start enjoying it.”
Plini: “I only ever notice I’m in an odd-time is when I’m laughing about and choose to do something different just for fun, but staying in time and key. That’s the only time. You have to get to comfortable levels of muscle memory so you can really enjoy it. If you’re thinking too much you’re not going to be able to.
Misha: “You wouldn’t be performing, you’d be rehearsing. My younger brother was exposed to a lot of music I love, stuff like Dream Theater and SikTh, I noticed when he started to play guitar he was writing in odd-time signatures. He didn’t even understand it was odd, he didn’t know the first thing about music theory.
"But he didn’t think of 4/4 as a limitation, the count is however many notes the riff needs. Exposure is the main thing. If you listen to this style, it’ll be in there somewhere.
"I took an electronic music class in high school and one of the assignments was writing in an odd-time signature. And I failed, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t understand or wrap my head around it. I hadn’t been exposed to much of that type of music at that point. If you want to get better at this style, try to understand and play along, eventually it will work its way into your musical lexicon.”
So what happens when one of your bandmates comes up something that doesn’t quite sink in?
Jake: “I just sing along to it. Whenever there’s a time signature tripping me out, I’ll just hum it to hear where it starts over. We don’t have too many songs that are crazy. We mess with seven a bit and there’s some in five, a few that are pretty weird, but most of the time we begin and end songs in four.
"Another thing to note is that people will hear accents like where the snare lands, which might be somewhere unconventional not just the two and four, and assume it’s all an odd-meter but really the section is still in four.”
Plini: “The perfect example of this was the other night, there was a part in our set where I start clapping while Jakub played chords with weird accents. The audience just couldn’t follow it.
"For Periphery it’s different, we were in Germany and they were playing Lune, which has this part where Jake’s playing in seven and Spencer’s getting the crowd to chant his name in four over the top… and it all went totally fine!”
Misha: “Maybe in Germany they are counting the whole time. So the lesson is don’t count unless you’re German, in which case keep on doing what you’re doing!”