Djent juggernauts Periphery have been tearing up North America on tour with supporting acts Veil Of Maya and Covet, delivering explosive performances for their latest album Periphery IV: Hail Stan. We had the opportunity to catch up with guitar maestros Jake Bowen and Misha Mansoor, and while they certainly almost convinced me to re-download Pokemon Go, more importantly, we got to discuss other stuff like releasing their first independent album, the global touring experience, the ever-evolving music industry, and more. With nuggets of wisdom off-stage and a flawless, energetic show to boot, all I can say is… Hail Stan, we stan.
It’s been a while since you’ve been on tour. Congrats on the album again! What have you missed the most about touring and what is it like being back on the road after taking a whole year off to write?
Jake Bowen: “Well, I’m 35 years old right now. I’m getting older and I like spending time at home, with my loved ones and my dog and stuff like that. I look at touring as time that I get to hang out and play heavy metal with my best friends, rather than it being like a ‘job’ or something that we need to do for the band. It’s good for the band, it’s obviously a good business move, but the thing I look forward to the most about it is just being able to hang out with these guys and do all the *other* stuff that goes along with being on tour. I’m just at that point in my life, so that’s my favorite part about it.”
Misha Mansoor: “Yeah, for sure. I mean I was at the point where I was actually pretty burnt out from touring, and that was part of the reason why I asked if we could take a year off. I think they were also kind of burnt out too, maybe not as bad as me, varying degrees, but I really needed it. It’s just one of those things where no one really tells you how to do this, when it’s too much or when you’re overloading the work. It’s hard to say no to opportunities, you never wanna be the guy who says no, and then you get overwhelmed. But I feel really good about it, I love hanging out with these guys. We all live really far away – we used to live a lot closer – so it is kind of our opportunity to hang out. And it is fun to play shows! That’s the secondary thing. Mainly I get to hang out with my friends when on tour.”
Bowen: “I mean you have to look at it this way; at least me and Misha, we’ve been in the band the longest, I think we’ve played something around 1500-1700 shows together. You start to need to look for other things that you look forward to, not just the actual playing, because while that is rewarding…”
Mansoor: “Missionary is just not cutting it anymore.”
Bowen: “Yeah, sometimes you need to spice things up.”
Watch the just-released music video for “Chvrch Bvrner,” off of Periphery IV: Hail Stan:
(laughs) So this is the first album from your independent label, 3DOT Recordings. I think I can safely say on behalf of fans that this album brought Periphery to new heights. It was just a masterpiece in every way. What was different about releasing your first independent record? Did that afford you any freedom or independence that you didn’t have before?
Mansoor: “It afforded us time. I’d say the only thing that was different, it was business as usual for us, which is just like ‘let’s go and have fun.’ Again, we like hanging out, we’re playing video games, we don’t try and force the music. I know if I get together in a room with Jake and Mark (Holcomb), ideas are going to happen, that’s a given. So we don’t need to stress about that, we just relax and have a good time.
The one thing we’ve always been a slave to, I think everyone in a band understands while people who aren’t in bands don’t necessarily understand, is that there is a schedule that you’re on. You start out very excited being in a band, and then you become part of this machine. It’s like ok, you toured a bunch, now we need a new album. You have all these years to put together your first album, and now the next one has to be done in months, and it’s expected to be better or whatever. For the first time, we were able to be our own bosses and set our own schedule.
We took a year and what that really allowed us to do, it’s not that it took us that long to write, but what it allowed us was to get some space from it so when we come back we have a bit more of an objective look, so we can be like ‘okay, that’s cool’ or ‘that’s not sitting well.’ We’ve never had that opportunity. There are songs that I look back on wishing that we had another stab at it; it’s not bad but I think we could have done better. This time, we didn’t have to feel that way. And some songs underwent massive transformation. So that was probably the biggest thing.”
Bowen: “I can only echo that there’s an expectation when you’re on a label that you have to do things within a reasonable amount of time. When you’re in charge of it, you can kind of set that pace. I have no regrets about this record. On other albums, there’s a whole list of things that we didn’t have time for, or that I would have liked to spend more time on.”
Mansoor: “And you listen to it a month later and you’re like, ‘Ah, that’s not really sitting right, we could’ve done better.” Time and perspective is the only thing I can give you, if time is the only thing you don’t have, you have to roll the dice and hope for the best.”
Check out some photos from the tour’s recent stop in Boston at the House of Blues, courtesy Nathan Katsiaficas!
Right, right. What’s the most challenging part about being in this band, actually producing the music, and also partners in the record label, in terms of having to switch hats that you’re wearing and roles?
Bowen: “I don’t think there’s any one thing that stands out. I think the thing that ends up being the most difficult is figuring out logistics because we all share a similar mind, we’re on the same page about things a lot, so that makes it easier to administrate. But when it comes to executing stuff, we have our day-to-day guy who’s also the manager of Periphery, Wayne. We have weekly meetings, and those help us figure out logistics, and Wayne helps us execute with help from all of us when he needs it. It’s a tightly tuned machine in some ways, and I think just the actual execution of the stuff we need to do is the hardest part, but other than that we work together really well. Everyone’s very fluid in terms of accepting different points of views and criticisms, or even different perspectives, so it’s really fun.”
Mansoor: “The fact that we get along as well as we do is probably why it works. If it wasn’t for that and if it wasn’t for Wayne, we probably wouldn’t have even attempted doing it like this. We recognized that between those two things, we had the tools and resources needed to make it successful and manage everything well. At the end of the day, the weekly meetings are a business practice that we took, little tips and tricks that helped.”
Bowen: “And it helps everybody stay up-to-date. We all have a lot of stuff going on at home, so one, two, three of us may not be as up-to-date as the other people, so the weekly calls fix those problems and we’re all on the same page once a week at least.”
Periphery IV: Hail Stan was released on April 5th, 2019 via 3DOT Recordings:
Given how different your influences are, Jake has talked about electronic music he’s been listening to and you both have FourSecondsAgo, I know (singer) Spencer (Sotelo) has mentioned that he doesn’t even listen to metal, what is the writing process like and is that different for each song?
Mansoor: “We’ve figured out our process. It’s taken us about a decade (laughs) and we’re always refining it, but we have a system now and we can rely on it which is nice. It’s taking a divide-and-conquer approach which is what we do in our businesses as well, it makes everything efficient. Jake, Mark and I will start, and the whole band has great writing chemistry, that’s probably the most important thing. I kind of generalize it like this; if you have good writing chemistry, it doesn’t matter what your influences are. You’ll work it out and it’ll only be a benefit. You have good communication, you learn not to take things personally. This is all stuff I’m glossing over, but it took years to get down! It’s very difficult.
From there we’ll shape together a demo with programmed drums and it’ll be instrumental, and it’ll have some semblance of an arrangement, but we’ve all learned not to get attached to that. Then Spencer and Matt will come in and look at it, give their feedback, and help to shape it. Spencer will be like, ‘Okay, I actually hear this as a chorus,’ and they’ll arrange it into something that he’ll track vocals for. Periphery has been doing this thing, and it makes me really happy and we have a lot of fun, Spencer and I have really good writing chemistry, so we would just be singing falsetto gibberish over every song, trading the mic back and forth, whisper screaming, and it’s all nonsense, because I’m useless with lyrics. (laughs) But I think I can write a decent melody and Spencer is fantastic at lyrics, so between the two of us we’re just knocking songs out in no time.
Then he writes the lyrics and Matt is working out the drums, and he likes the stuff I program, so we kind of run with it, and we have our own shorthand for how we communicate, and we’re usually on the same page so he likes it too. I’ll tell him, ‘I left this blank because I want you to just go to town on it,’ and I know I can trust him too. And then before we know it, you’ve got a song! And that is how we approach every song, whether it is a two-minute song or a sixteen-minute song, it’s basically that process. So I would say that writing Periphery songs is very easy, I just have no idea what the song will sound like!” (laughs)
Bowen: “I think it’s interesting that you brought that up, because what was interesting about Periphery before is that the song that we worked on previously would inform the song that we worked on afterwards. So when we started, we started with ‘Reptile,’ the first song on the album, the really long one, and when we were done with that, we were like, what do we work on now? We’ve covered pretty much all the ground you could cover on the first song. (laughs) So then we just got the idea to do something brutal and heavy, and ‘Blood Eagle’ came out. And then we were like, ‘Let’s do something spacey and rock-like’ and then ‘Garden In The Bones’ came out. It’s interesting how as we progress through the writing process, the song that we worked on before would kind of steer us in a different direction.”
Mansoor: “Oh yeah, we got that out of our system. But what’s funny is we ended up a lot heavier. In my mind, the album was not gonna be a very heavy one. I thought it was gonna be kinda artsy or whatever. But we’ve all learned that whatever expectation we have for the album is ALWAYS wrong.”
“Blood Eagle” was the first single and music video released off of Periphery IV: Hail Stan:
And you just ended up with an incredibly diverse album.
Bowen: “We tried to write short albums, and we can’t.”
Mansoor: “That’s actually our biggest failure as a band. Every album we’ve always tried to do eight songs, 45 minutes, that’s been our goal. And we have literally failed every time. It’s all we wanna do. I swear to god the next one, mark my words. I’m gonna be cracking the whip on the next one. (Pounds table) Eight songs, 45 minutes!”
I’m holding you to that! That was my favorite part of the Hail Stan documentary too, like, “guys, we wanted to do a 45-minute album… it’s 63 minutes.” The first track is sixteen minutes. Someone messed up!
Mansoor: “We’ll get it next time! We just need to be more disciplined, that’s one thing we need to work on. As silly as it sounds, I think any album that’s longer than 45 minutes is just dumb. So we’ve just done a series of dumb albums and we need to actually do a smart one.”
Bowen: “Yeahhhh, I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”
I mean, it sounds like it was a very organic process.
Bowen: “Yeah, that’s the thing, we don’t mess with it. Even though our intentions are different…”
Mansoor: “It’s a completely different album.”
Sounds great. As far as touring goes, two years ago you toured Asia; you also just recently had your Central and South America tour. I’m from Malaysia so I was really excited that you guys were touring my part of the world. What has your experience been with different audiences globally, especially with how djent and metal, in general, has been a growing genre but not really mainstream yet?
Bowen: “You know, I have an interesting example for you. As you mentioned, we were in Asia, we played a show in China, and I know that Hong Kong isn’t part of China proper, it’s a bit of a different world from mainland China. We couldn’t play with Spencer (in Hong Kong) because he was ill, and it was a really different vibe, everyone was singing along, it was a fun show, it felt like a party. Then we went to Shanghai, and there were security guards dressed like military officers, and you could just feel it in the room like there was some repression or exhaustion from the crowd where they just didn’t get into it the same way. In different parts of the room, you could see different levels of energy just socially. I think that’s one of the more interesting aspects of touring because you have to learn to adapt. It’s easy to get all pissed off and be like, ‘We’re doing the exact same thing we were doing in the last place, why aren’t these people enjoying it?’ When really they are, it’s just different.”
Mansoor: “But in China, we got the impression that these guys don’t go to a lot of shows. Maybe it’s their first metal show. You see some people not really knowing how to move but kind of figuring it out, like, ‘Oh it’s a visceral style of music, maybe we should push each other around a bit.’ It’s interesting. If you take a step back, you don’t take it personally. But you see a lot of different cultures and every country’s different. You’d be shocked at the difference between the countries. There isn’t any big generalization I can make about traveling around the world, but it’s just all very different and awesome. It’s awesome that we can go to these places for the first time, and anyone shows up. That just blows my mind. I always expect nobody to be there because why?! Like it makes no sense. But I’ll take it!”
Check out the live music video for “The Way The News Goes” off of 2016’s Periphery III: Select Difficulty:
So you guys both have your side businesses and other endeavors that you’re pursuing to improve music as a whole, Horizon Devices, Getgood Drums, signature guitars, amps. What do you think is the next big gap or need for the metal industry and do you have any plans to address them?
Mansoor: “See, I’m not approaching things as a serial entrepreneur, I’m a gear nerd. I’ve always been a gear nerd. Anyone who knows me will see this path into what I’ve done as a very logical one. So it’s not really attacking it as like, ‘Oh, I see a gap in the market.’ That may be part of it, of what makes me go from idea to execution, but it’s more of just doing fun things with my friends, as silly as that sounds. Some of these ideas have seen success. I think it’s very difficult to predict. We always get questions like that, what’s the next thing you predict, what genre… I don’t think you can. If you could, you’d be very very rich. (laughs) But I’m not really concerning myself with that. I think all these things have a shelf life and we’re just trying to enjoy the ride as long as it lasts.”
There’s a few people in Periphery that talked about gaming, and of course Misha, you’ve been featured with Steve Vai on the Halo 2 Anniversary soundtrack. Are there any goals or dreams of doing soundtracks, whether it’s for a game or anything else?
Bowen: “He (Misha) can do it! People urge me to do it and I’m just like, no I can’t. I just can’t work under that kind of pressure.”
Mansoor: “I think something most people don’t realize is that I got lucky. There’s no other way to hustle into that industry than going in full on. Honestly, if I were to take an honest crack at it, it would mean putting this band on hold and giving 100 percent to that. It’s a very competitive industry. I have friends in that industry, they’re insanely talented, so I think it’s something that if I were truly passionate about it, beyond the odd contribution here and there, I would have to shift my life around. I like where I’m at, I like what I’m doing, and if ever anyone wants me to do that I’ll happily do it, I really enjoy it, but I have to wait for the opportunities to come to me because the people who hire people for that go to the people they always go to.”
Bowen: “I think on that level too, the compositional level, and just understanding how to score a movie or a video game, it’s a very specific process that has been developed over the past few decades. You can’t really mess with it too much, you have to do it the way they need you to do it, and how do you learn that? It’s a lot of trial-and-error, knowing people who help you get into that industry. So it’s like Misha said, you would have to make that your full-time gig.”
Mansoor: “Having peeked into that world, it’s an insane amount of work. The people who do that are some of the most talented musicians out there, it makes me feel like I don’t know if I can keep up. If it really came down to it, I don’t think I’m talented enough.”
Check out this incredible “Chvrch Bvrner” live drum playthrough video:
If you could, is there a game or franchise you would love to compose music for?
Mansoor: “Oh absolutely! I would love to work on any role-playing game, like JRPG but especially the Final Fantasy series, I would be right at home there. I really liked working on the Halo stuff. Some buddies of mine who actually got me the Halo gig just did Borderlands 3. That would be fun, maybe something like that. I’d do just about anything.”
You’ve spoken a lot about approaching music as a business. Especially with how music has changed so much in the last few years, moving towards more of a streaming model for instance, how do you think artistes need to evolve in how they approach monetizing music or having a music career be sustainable?
Bowen: “This is where it gets risky answering this as Periphery because Periphery just happens to be in this absolutely perfect habitable zone of this ecosystem. We attract listeners who are into musicianship and gear, so that enables us to enter into the gear world and we all have our signature gear and companies where we can reach these people. It’s almost as if Periphery created the base and we can create things around it that are useful to our listeners. We’re in this very lucky position so coming from this position and being like, ‘Oh, you just need to diversify what you’re doing’ is unfair advice for a lot of bands to try and execute, because their band may not have access to the type of listeners who are into that kind of stuff. We just happen to be incredibly lucky where we are and to enter these types of businesses. If you go to a post-rock band and try and give them the same advice, they wouldn’t be able to do anything with it because a lot of their listeners are casual music listeners.
The way that we’ve approached it works for us, and that’s really the best piece of advice that I can give. Anybody trying to figure out like, ‘how do I make more money?’ Well, look at your band, see what your band offers, and see what other things you can offer around that. I wouldn’t tell a post-rock band to start a pedal company, because no one would give a shit. So you really have to look at what your band offers. There’s some more nonmusical ways to approach this. I know some bands that don’t have very gear-oriented listeners start a clothing company, or they sell their art. They figure out ways they can reach their base in another way, and diversify that way. It’s just a matter of who you are and what your band is.”
Here’s a recent “Hail Stan” North America tour update:
Great answer! Any final words for your fans and budding musicians?
Bowen: “Thanks for staying here this long! We know you’re bored.” (laughs)
Mansoor: “No, we appreciate it. This is almost rhetorical at this point, but we couldn’t do it without them, it’s the only reason we can do tours like this because people show up.”
Bowen: “Every band says they have the coolest fan base but I think WE have the coolest fan base.”
Mansoor: “Our fanbase can beat up your band’s fanbase… at MATH!”
Bowen: “The reason I say that, and I’m not kidding around, is because they’re the kind of listeners who are long-term. They’re not just hopping from band to band. With us, we hold a special place in their listening consumption. That kind of base is hard to get. I can name other bands who have that kind of base: Dream Theater.”
Mansoor: “Basically all the bands that we are a fan of.”
Bowen: “Exactly, Meshuggah, bands like that.”
Mansoor: “They’re always gonna have fans. So we can recognize that in our fans, and those are the best kind of fans to have. And maybe that has something to do with why we’ve cultivated this kind of a band. We’re glad to have people who have stuck around through all our stupid musical experimentation. (laughs) Because we really just write whatever the hell we want! Like it doesn’t make sense that people would stick around.”
Bowen: “And thanks for putting up with our really weird humor.”