It’s been a year since we checked in with Periphery and in that time the mighty djent machine has grown and evolved at a rapid, startling rate. In the wake of a successful tour with Dream Theater, Periphery’s place as the centrepiece of the djent movement is now firmly established. It’s a genre characterised by heavy syncopated riffs, punchy mid-heavy guitar tones, the use of extended range instruments, clean-to-scream vocals and some of the most outrageous lead guitar work ever committed to hard disc, and Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal builds on the strengths of the band’s self-titled debut in every way. It’s more melodic, yet more extreme. There are more shredding solos but more moments of guitaristic introspection too. More colourful and dramatic. I Heart Guitar caught up with Misha Mansoor and Jake Bowen to talk shop.

Last time we talked, you said you were planning two albums, one of which would be a concept album. Is this still the plan?

Misha: I think we had a lot of expectations, and I guess our gut reaction to that is to just say ‘fuck it’ and do whatever we want. What we’d originally hoped would happen was that we’d get a tonne of time off to just write. We’re at a point where there are so many ideas. All was going to plan but then we got a Dream Theater tour offer smack in the middle of that session. It kinda came to a decision. And no matter what, you never turn down a Dream Theater tour! So we rearranged everything around that. In the end it took us much longer to make even the first of the two albums. We’re writing for the concept, and that will be out whenever it is. And the more we work on it the more expansive it’s become. I don’t know that all of that will fit on one album now, so we’re going to have to get creative with that. That may be some sort of series. I don’t want to give away too much right now and say it will be this or that, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a multi-part thing at this point in time because the story’s pretty expansive.

It’s a very colourful-sounding album, with lots of variety in dynamics, cool modes and atmospheres…

Jake: I’m glad it’s perceived that way. We wanted it to be vibrant and very textured. Fast-paced in some areas, slow in others. Everything is kinda symmetrical on this album in terms of how the track list is laid out and what moods it goes through. It was kind of a side-effect or byproduct of writing the way that we write together as a band. It just happened naturally and that’s what’s kinda cool about it.

I swear, if this album doesn’t really break you guys in the wider metal world…

Jake: Yeah, we’ll give up. It’s over! [Laughs]

How do you divide up the guitar work? Do you do it the way classic Metallica would have, say, James doing the rhythm stuff and Kirk for the lead?

Jake: I think with us it’s a little more complicated because we have so many parts and there’s a lot of layers going on. The positioning on stage really determines who plays what. Normally one of us will write an entire section with layers, and it’s up to us to then figure out who’s going to play what part. It’s pretty even in terms of who plays rhythms and leads and ambient clean passages, but in terms of who does more of what I would say I’m like the lead clean player and I do rhythm, and the other two guys are the lead and rhythm guys and sometimes they play clean.

But sometimes there’s more than three guitar parts so we have to pick the best ones, the ones that stand out the most, and then either commit the rest to a backing track or whatever. Then occasionally if one of us really wants to play a specific riff we’ll make exceptions. If you think of it as like a stereo field you have stereo rhythm tracks left and right, then the lead and clean stuff will sit in the middle. For simplicity’s sake that’s how we do it.

One of my favourite tracks is “Scarlet.” What can you tell us about that song’s history? 

Misha: That was a tune that I wrote with Mark [Holcomb] – actually it’s mostly Mark’s tune. We went by the name Haunted Shores. It was mostly his ideas and I would vibe off them. I really enjoyed doing that because being the main writer in Periphery it’s very fun to be in a situation where you’re reacting to someone else’s riffs. Mark and I had such good writing chemistry – and it turned out that Jake and Mark did too – that it turned out he was the obvious choice to join the band. In fact I think the last time we came down to Australia he played with us as a fill-in. But going on tour with him was so effortless. And how you get along with people on the road is very important. So he was just the guy.

Since I’d written that with him and since Spencer [Sotelo, vocals] had already started working on vocals – the idea was it was going to be a multi-vocalist project – and Spencer had called that song and another song. It was like, three Periphery members have already worked on this song, so we might as well make it a Periphery song. So it’s very cool that Mark had such a presence on that song, because most of those riffs are his. But I also think it fits the sound very well. It doesn’t sound like a far cry from something we’d do, so it shows what an appropriate guitarist he is for the band.

Another one I really dig is “Have A Blast.”

Misha: That was something I had as a demo for a while. I’d been jamming on those ideas for the last few years and I could just never finish it up. But when we got back from our headliner last year we said ‘Well Mark, you’re in the band so let’s start jamming.’ Mark, Jake and I finished that song up together. The song was cool but Spencer’s vocals really made that song complete and brought it to life. I’d say the same about “Scarlet” as well. Those are songs that were really cool instrumentally but they’re actual songs, y’know?

Jake: That one’s one of the most progressive tracks on the album and I think it’s funny that it just pops right in right after the intro. It’s very frenetic from start to finish. It’s an interesting, notey song and I think the vocals are what really make that song interesting. It goes through a lot of different moods. It’s cool! It’s a great song and I’m really happy that it’s the first full song on the album. And it really gets the point across.

And of course you have a special guest playing with you on “Erised?”

Misha: Yes! That’s directly stolen from Harry Potter. It’s the Mirror of Erised – desire. It shows you the things you desire. That works into the direction of the lyrics. It’s one of three guest solos on that we have on the album. John Petrucci is on “Erised,” Guthrie Govan is the second solo on “Have A Blast” and our very good friend Wes Hauch, who is seriously one of the best guitarists I’ve ever come across. I always say he’s the best guitarist that nobody knows about. He’s on “Mile Zero” and he absolutely kills it. We have these three guest solos and two of them are world-reknowned, world-class guitarists and I think that his solo really stands up to the other two.

Jake: It’s a really great song. The choruses are pretty haunting. I’m glad we got to do something like that because it sounds like it could be a Periphery song but it’s very different to what we’ve done. It’s really good to know that we can fit in in all of these different situations.

Let’s talk guitars! 

Misha: I’ll break it down into six, seven and eight-string songs. There’s only one eight string song and I used my Ibanez RG2228, which I think is an excellent benchmark for an eight-string.

I also used my John Dell’Isola, and that eight-string is just fantastic to play and so rich-sounding. For the seven-string stuff we had a rotation using my Jackson Custom Shop seven-string, which is a top notch guitar; my Daemoness – this guy is like one of those savants. He does this inlay work that’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and it’s all freehand as well. It’s a stunning guitar and it also sounds incredible. I used my Decibel, which is a builder based out of Canada; and we used Adam “Nolly” Getgood’s [Vik Guitars] Duality 7. And we put different pickups in each guitar so it would focus on different aspects, then just changed guitars appropriately for each track.

For the six-string stuff it was a bit simpler than that, because Nolly has a Blackmachine B2 and I have a Blackmachine B2. We stuck a Bare Knuckle Aftermath set in mine and a Bare Knuckle Holy Diver and a VH II in his. between that we got every tone we could ever need from a six-string. Those guitars are very, very special. They just absolutely shine in the studio. They sound so rich and full. Sorry for the very longwinded answer but there’s a lot of equipment, as you can imagine!

Jake: I use Ibanez exclusively, and I just got this awesome Ibanez Prestige RGD seven-string, the 2127B. It’s a baritone-scale seven-string… well I don’t know if that’s entirely true: is 26 1/2″ considered baritone? I know it’s extended, but…anyways, I just started using that. And I’m really stoked on it. It makes some of the new material sound really good. And I’m using my trusty RGA420Z by Ibanez. That’s pretty much my all-time favourite guitar I’ve ever owned.

I’ve got a few LA Custom Shops on the way, built by Ibanez. They’re going to be the RGA body type with the arch top and they’re going to have reverse headstocks, and be the black and tan colour scheme. Something a little different from what I normally do.

Every time I go to the NAMM show, the very first thing I do at 10am on the Thursday morning is go straight to the Ibanez booth.

Jake: Oh cool! Yeah, I did the same thing. The same exact thing. Do you gravitate towards a specific body style of Ibanez? I know everybody has their favourite type.

Yeah, mainly the RG and my Universe, but I have this brilliant Talman with a Bigsby on it which is kinda cool too. So what’s your history as a player, Jake?

Jake: Originally it was my dad – he was always playing in bands, just playing out all the time, so that put it in my mind at a young age that that could be a fun way to make a living. It didn’t really hit me until I was eight years old and I went to the local music store with my mom. She was picking up something for her flute and I was just wandering around the store as an eight year old kid, looking at all the guitars and amps and just thinking ‘That looks really, really cool. I want to mess with that stuff.’ Then one day I was just like, ‘Mom, I want to play guitar.’ She had a guitar, an awesome guitar to give me. It was a Les Paul Invader, one of the few flat top Les Pauls that was out back in the early 80s. It was all black, and it was a totally righteous first guitar to get. That’s where I got my start. She got me lessons and everything. My parents played a pretty big part in why I play. And my mom was always listening to Boston and Van Halen and stuff. That’s kinda the first music I was really getting into because my mom was playing it all the time and I knew all the songs. That’s what started me learning to play metal and to shred.

Misha, your Jacksons are incredible. 

Misha: Y’know, it’s funny. I didn’t really like Jackson guitars. My only experience with them was what I’d played in Guitar Center. It’s a big chain so they obviously don’t keep a lot of the really nice stuff accessible to everybody, because you can just go in and try whatever. But I was at Sonisphere last year and they had a little Jackson booth set up there. I was really digging on their guitars, and they had some nice stuff there. They actually let me have one of the guitars that I fell in love with. They sent me this Custom Shop and they said ‘we need to get you a seven-string.’ So they just gave me this Custom Shop seven.

I don’t know if you’re into that whole tonewood debate, but I see basswood getting bashed a lot but some of my favourite guitars of all time are basswood. Basswood, bolt-on maple neck. My Music Man Petrucci, which is one of my favourite guitars, same thing. And I thought there was probably something to that. It gets a bad rap because it’s an ugly wood and it’s inexpensive but I think as a tone wood that’s probably the secret! So I told them to build that, and it turns out it’s fucking glorious!

Well you look at the Van Halen Wolfgangs and they’re basswood with a maple top. A lot of Ibanez Jems and the JS, same thing. 

Misha: I think the key is if it’s good quality basswood, and the same can be said for any wood. If it’s low-quality mahogany, ash, whatever, it’ll sound terrible if it’s inconsistent. The one thing you can say against basswood is it’s not a very pretty wood so you have to put some kind of a maple top on it or something. And it’s porous so you can’t have a natural finish, you have to wrap some paint around it. But whatever!

So they built me that one. And for whatever reason, the guitar ended up coming out really thick, and I think that makes that guitar sounds huge, which is really cool. But it has a big square heel. The most massive heel. And even when they finished it they were like, ‘Wow, that’s a bit big.’ So they offered to fix it. But this is the most meticulous Custom Shop I’ve ever seen. Not only did they send me colour swatches to make sure that the colour they were chasing was just right, but they actually built a twin, just in case something went wrong with the first one! I don’t know what could have possibly gone so wrong with the first one that they’d have to build a second, but they had a twin there! And when they saw how big the heel was they said ‘I’ll tell ya what. We’ll finish up that second one. We’ll do a thinner body and make it a little bit more friendly.’

They finished that one and I told them to do a blue sparkle and surprise me. That guitar is even better! So I think I’m narrowing in on what I like. But man, those guitars are just fantastic. They’re smooth, they’re effortless, they sound incredible. I really think there’s something to using basswood for the body. They’re the most stable necks, because we tour and if you have exotic woods for the neck sometimes they can be moving all over the place. It’s just not practical for a touring band. And they did this really cool ebony inlay of our P logo on the 12th fret. It’s really cool!

So you prefer more punchy pickups rather than super-high output? 

Misha: The thing is, I wouldn’t say I use lower output pickups exactly, but I definitely the lower. And the thing about Bare Knuckles is that their high output pickups are probably where medium or medium high would be for DiMarzio or Seymour Duncan. So we use anywhere from their vintage to their high output pickups on the album. You get more clarity. It won’t be as high gain, but we use an Axe-Fx to record, so you can adjust the gain on there however you need it and you can still get the clarity and the definition of the pickup. You get the dynamics especially. It’s not just full on ten the whole time. You can dip in and get what you want out of it. Much of my tone would sound kinda crappy if you didn’t dig in and earn it, y’know? That is a big part of what makes our sound our sound.

You guys are great ambassadors for the Axe-Fx. Do you even bother owning amps any more?

Jake: Y’know, I don’t have to, and it’s relieving. I love amps and I love plugging into a Mesa Boogie just straight, plugging the cable right in and just letting it rip. But as far as when I play live and what I want to write music on, there’s just nothing better than the Axe-Fx, at least for me and how I like to do things. I understand that people have their preferences and that’s not gonna work for them, but as far as what Periphery does and how we handle business, it’s so great to just be able to show up to a gig with just a handheld rack with my Axe-FX in it just ready to go. It has the tightness I need and the surgical tone precision I need, so it’s just a great unit. I can’t get enough of it. It’s fun to get into because you start to understand what all these changes you’re making do. Just from a scientific standpoint, how frequencies work. You can really dial in your signature by learning that. It’s not a luxury item – I think it’s necessary!

You’re both pretty active on social media – Formspring, Facebook, Twitter…

Jake: Yeah! I think it’s cool that that stuff is available now, because I can set the record straight on so many things. And there’s so much BS about bands that I’ve heard over time, and when I finally get the chance to talk to these bands I’m like ‘What was the deal with that?’ and they set the record straight. And it’s cool that you can actually go directly to the source online, ask a legitimate question and get the correct answer, and not have to have it edited or placed out of context. You can actually talk to somebody as a human being rather than as this source of entertainment as we’re perceived! But it’s cool and I think everybody should embrace it. Twitter’s great because everybody’s pretty much on it, and it’s easy to just send someone a quick message that they’ll actually see.

And you’ll see a lot of bands rock up to a town and tweet ‘Hey, where’s the best burger joint?’ or something.

Jake: Yeah! A lot of times I’ve been instructed by our manager to go on Twitter and offer up our extra guestlist spots. It’s a great idea. If you’re standing outside the club, look for it! We’ll try to get you in. It’s a fun way to interact with people and give them something extra for the price of admission.

One last thing: I love the cover of Slipknot’s “The Heretic Anthem” which a few of you guys did recently.

Misha: That was just frustration in the studio. We were so frustrated and stressed out over the album. We were in there twelve hours every day and we just needed something else to do. And nothing could be better than just doing that and not thinking about the album for a day. I played drums on that. I played drums originally and I’m not particularly good at it but I used to practice Slipknot back in the day. And Spencer’s a huge Corey Taylor and Slipknot fan so he just wanted to do almost like an homage to him, y’know? Just a fun way to break the pace of work, work, work, work, work. That re-energised us a little bit.

Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal is out now in Australia via Roadrunner Records.