INTERVIEW: Periphery’s Misha Mansoor

A lot has happened since I Heart Guitar last interviewed Misha Mansoor. In the space of a mere year, the djent movement – of which Mansoor’s band Periphery is a central focus – has gone from metal curiosity to fully-fledged phenomenon. The Icarus Lives! Ep has further solidified Mansoor’s reputation as one of the most technically gifted metal guitarists of his generation, yet he maintains an open dialog with fans, continuing to post video and audio of random jammage – new gear, Nyan cat, the list goes on. Periphery are heading to Australia in July for the League Of Extraordinary Djentlemen tour with Tesseract, and I Heart Guitar caught up with Misha to talk about what’s happened in the past year.

Hey Misha.

Hi! We’ve talked before, haven’t we?

Yes we have, about a year ago.

Yeah! I Heart Guitar! I remember that.

Yeah, cool! So the Melbourne stop of your Aussie tour has recently been upgraded to a bigger venue because ticket sales were so good.

Yeah! That was very unexpected. I don’t know how that happened. I don’t know who we paid off to make that happen! But that is more than a pleasant surprise. Australia was one of the most fun tours – it was like a vacation to us. I don’t know what it is, but everyone was so nice and welcoming. And I’m not just saying that. Australians are like some of the nicest people we’ve ever met. It was a treat, and having some of the love come right back to us was really awesome. So seeing that the shows sold out so fast was like icing on the cake for us.

Everyone seems to know who you are and about the whole djent movement now. How are you coping with that? Does it mess with your head? Do you try not to think about it?

I try not to think about it. This whole djent movement thing is very funny and silly to me because it’s appearing out of nowhere, almost parallel to what we’re doing. I think people don’t realise that we’ve just been doing what we’ve been doing. It wasn’t cool to be playing this style of music for the majority of the time that we’ve been writing and playing the music that we do, and we write and play the music that we do because it’s the only thing that we know how to do. It’s just going for it. It’s not like we sat down one day and said “I’m gonna start a new fad or something.” It wasn’t like that at all, it was just doing what we were doing. So it’s just interesting to see how that all happens. It is very surreal. And we focus on it a bit, like we named our tour the League Of Extraordinary Djentlemen. We don’t take it all too seriously, and it’s not all that relevant to me in day to day life or anything. It just is what it is, y’know?

So how have you guys developed as a live entity over the last year?

We’ve just been getting better by touring. Unfortunately we’re a band that doesn’t have the luxury of practicing very often, and we just get most of our experience from actually touring live. We’ve just been practicing and trying our hardest to get better, and whether we are or not is up to you to decide! But we’re trying, y’know?

How have your equipment needs changed over the last year or so?

We did try to improve our live sound and evolve as a band, and I think the same is true of tone. As anyone who is on a tone quest knows, it’s never-ending. Even when you find that perfect tone, you’re always trying to take it to the next level. You eventually get bored of it and try to find the next thing to add to your rig or whatever. I think the tone quest has ended for us at the AxeFX. We now go direct. We don’t use amps any more, we don’t use cabs, we don’t use pedals. We just have an AxeFX and a Fractal MFC foot controller. That pairs up perfectly with the AxeFX, and we just go directly into the board with that. And that has been the best setup that we’ve used, so that’s how it’s evolved.

What about guitars?

I play a lot of guitars. I’m endorsed with several companies but I decided to do non-exclusive endorsements only because I’m a gear nerd and I love so many guitar brands that it would just kill me to have to tie myself down to just one. So I play Bernie Rico Jr guitars, Mayones guitars, Blackmachine, Ernie Ball, Decible, I have a Daemoness on the way. I have all these custom jobbies, and I kind of just take them all out on the road with me.

I think that’s really cool, because there are some guys, like I remember in the early 90s a particular guy changed guitar companies every week, but I think there’s an integrity to playing exactly what you want no matter what brand it comes from, rather than in effect saying you love everything one brand does even if some things don’t actually work for you.

Well I think it’s partially that kids are a lot smarter nowadays and kids have a lot more accessibility on the internet to all these luthiers. It’s almost like there’s a luthier for every band that exists out there! And to go out and say “This guitar is better than anything else out there” is just absurd. And I think a lot of people, especially people who are ready to drop some serious money on a guitar, are ready to see past that. And I was just thinking, before we were talking about endorsements I was just playing whatever I wanted and I went out and bought whatever I wanted. And I thought it’d be a real shame if that had to stop all of a sudden, if I had to stop playing all the brands that I love playing because one company wants me to say I like them more than everybody else. I’m not big on lying either, y’know! So this way I can still play all the brands I like, and I can still talk really well about the brands that I like, and I can still talk crap about the brands that I don’t like! I won’t go out of my way to do that, but if someone were to ask me, I wouldn’t hold back or sugarcoat it either.

Last time we talked you were about to get your first DiMarzio Crunch Lab-loaded guitar. Now you’ve had about a years’ worth of experience with the pickup, what do you think?

I really like it! I really like that pickup. Once again, with pickups I’m endorsed both by DiMarzio and by Bareknuckle, so I put some in some guitars and some in others, and I’ve been switching them around and experimenting. And they’re very different pickups, but I do love the Crunch Lab. In the guitars I have them, I can’t imagine switching them out because they seem to have that attack that I love but they’re also very, very full. It seems to be DiMarzio’s best pickup that they offer for the kind of sound and dynamic that I’m going for. So I really, really do love that pickup.

So, new album? I hear you’re working on two albums to release next year, and one is a concept album?

Yeah! We couldn’t make our minds up on what we wanted to do. We had so much material that it was like, “Why don’t we just do both?” I wanted to get this concept album out there. It’s been an idea for years and years and years, and it’ll probably evolve into something very different by the time we’re done with it, but a lot of ideas and the themes and general concepts and what we want to do musically are sort of storyboarded, and I want to actually get that done, and the rest of the band wants to do that too. But then we have all these other songs that wouldn’t fit that context but that we really want to get out there. So we decided to just do both. We’ll probably do a staggered release, three to six months apart, and we’re going to take a lot of time to record so it’ll be all quality. If anything we’ve just been narrowing down the ideas, because there are so many quality ideas for both albums that we’ve just been trying to narrow it down to the best ten or twelve that will make sense for each album. So you should be getting two albums from us next year, which will be kinda cool. Let’s say hypothetically each album was 45 minutes long and you could technically fit them on one CD: I’d still want them to be separate entities with different artwork and different feels and everything. I wouldn’t want them to be mixed up just because the can be mixed up. I really want them to be these separate bodies of work, because they really will sound different and be completely different approaches too. It’s just fun experiments for us. So the regular album, as we’re calling it for now because it doesn’t have a name, will be three to five-minute songs for the most part, direct, good old stuff that you’re used to, and Juggernaut, our working title for the concept album, that one will be very experimental, and will almost be written backwards based around the story rather than writing the music first and fitting lyrics into it. So it’ll be a very different process and a fun challenge.

Thanks to Roadrunner.


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