Periphery: divide and gather

There’s a band that has been making actual leaps forward since the beginning of their career, reaching new levels with each new album, whether in terms of music or creative methods. Although Periphery was founded by guitarist Misha Mansoor, well-known for his contributions to SoundClick and various forums, the other members have progressively started to take part in the writing and composing process. With their new double album Juggernaut, the band has become a fully collaborative entity. Actually, causal relations being what they are, this record would probably not have grown so big had the musicians not joined forces. The talents that make up the band were also probably consolidated by Clear, a very special EP released last year, where each musician became executive director for a song that developed from a shared basis.

At least that’s what Jack Bowen, one of the sextet’s guitarists, explained in the following interview. There’s no doubt nowadays regarding Periphery’s artistic ambitions, and the band is therefore establishing itself as a leader.

« I think that I realized I can write a whole song [laughs] on my own. »

Radio Metal: You had announced the Juggernaut album project more than two years ago, that means it’s been long in the making. In the meantime you did a special EP called Clear. Was it somehow a way to make a pause on the Juggernaut album project and clear you mind a little bit before coming back to it?

Jake Bowen (guitar): That’s an interesting perspective. I think Clear just comes from the fact that we all had ideas and we didn’t really want to wait until Juggernaut was done to put them out. And we also knew it’s already been a while since we released something. We figured we could probably get it done in a month, which we did, and have it out soon after. We just kind of came up with the concept through just talking with some of our friends who are close to the band and kind of fleshed it out that way. Then we all got together and came up with the concept, and then we all went off on our separate ways to write them on our own. But everybody worked with a certain person in the band or some people outside of the band. It was just a thing to do, just to get these ideas out that we were sitting on.

How did you come up with the pretty unique idea for this EP, with each member being kind of the executive director to a song?

Mainly, the idea first came from Steph [Carpenter] from the Deftones. We were on tour with that band and we were always hanging out with Steph a lot and he has all these ideas that he was throwing at us for us to use, just stuff that he thought of. Probably the idea of a band with each member writing a song and putting it on an album isn’t necessarily new. The way that we went about it, I haven’t really seen anywhere. He said: “All of your songs are really multilayered; you have these very dense textures. I bet that if you took just one of those layers and let every member of the band write a song around one of those layers or one of those melodies or whatever, you’d have six different songs and they’d all be really cool. It’d just be everybody’s interpretation of what that melody can influence or inspire.” So we were like: “Oh, that’s a really cool idea!” So we initially got the idea from him.

Misha Mansoor said that this EP was an opportunity to “maybe find something out about [yourselves] in the process.” So what did you find about yourselves in this process?

I think that I realized I can write a whole song [laughs] on my own, although I had a little help from Misha. Because we’ve all written songs together, that’s never been a problem but this time it was just up to me and writing a metal song is really tricky.

Because is this something that you haven’t done before?

Not on my own, I’ve always written with the band. I’ve written songs of my own but I don’t like them. I just don’t think that I ever had a knack for it but this showed me that if I really put my mind into it I can actually do something that I’m proud of.

Did the Juggernaut album actually benefit from this experience?

Absolutely. The big way it benefitted was the communication within the band because, after the second album, we wanted to really take the songwriting to the next level, but that would require a lot of working together and making sure everybody was happy, going through lots of revisions on songs. Figuring out how to do that on Clear with the different people that each person worked with was a step in that direction. On Juggernaut we all worked together and we all came up with ideas, all making sure that the other person was happy. It was a long experience but it paid off in the end because, now, we have an album that, pretty much, everybody’s a hundred percent happy with.

Juggernaut is a concept album built upon a theme that you guys set by the song “Jetpacks Was Yes!” off your first album, and at first the plan was to do a single album. So how a theme in a single song grew up to ultimately become a full double album?

Well, I actually have to tell you that we abandoned that idea. That was originally going to be the basis of the songs. The story from “Jetpacks” was going to be the basis of the concept but there were no musical ties to that song in Juggernaut. That was an idea we thought we were gonna go with but when we actually sat down to write and record this, we realized that it was gonna be a lot harder and a lot more work than we originally anticipated. So we had really to start from scratch, and write music and write a story that fit the music rather than writing the music and trying to cram a story over it.

So what’s the story then now? Because it seems to be quite complex…

Yeah, it is. Spencer asked me to not tell any details about the story, just because he wants the people who haven’t heard it yet, when we release it, to try to figure out what the story is on their own. Because then, if we tell people before it comes out, it’s kind of like telling somebody the premise or the plot of a movie before it comes out: you just don’t go in with zero expectations. Because if you tell somebody, then he expects something to blow his mind and if it doesn’t, he walks away disappointed. But if he has no expectations, it’s like a blank slate, I think there’s a better chance of them latching on to the story we’ve written. I can say that it’s about a dark subject matter and it’s about evil people who don’t necessarily realize that their evil. That’s about as much as I can say.

Is it Spencer who wrote the entire concept or did you all guys in the band write it?

Spencer wrote most of the concept. Matt, our drummer, helped him a little bit. I helped him a little bit. But Spencer is the maestro.

« The whole writing concept of Juggernaut was like: ‘We’re gonna do this together, everybody’s going to be happy and we’re going to work until that happens.' »

Juggernaut is two separated CDs, almost like separate albums. How do both interact with each other musically? One of the obvious interactions is the chorus of “Alpha” that we hear at the end of “Omega”…

It’s something that we love doing and we’ve done in other releases, where we thematically link songs with certain melodies of motifs. We love doing that. And that’s something that Dream Theater did a lot of, and they still do it. It’s kind of a really fun way to bring back a sense of familiarity to a song that you really like and putting it in another song in a different context. There’s a lot of that. Some things are more obvious than others. I think that the whole fun is being able to figure how which are nodes to other songs and which are direct motifs or theme from other songs. Every song pretty much had some link to another song.

Is it important for you artistically to make album that are not just compilation of songs but where you can hear interactions between the songs?

Yeah because I think that if you have an album that’s too out there and that doesn’t have any call back, you’re kind of constantly traveling into uncharted territory, musically. With this, it’s kind of what we do, traveling into uncharted territory, musically as a band, but we reel it back it with a lot of coherent motives and themes that appear on all the songs. It’s kind of like a way of being able to be adventurous but making people feel like they’re part of the story and they’re like: “Oh, yeah, I remember when that happened!” It’s done lyrically as well as musically.

So was the music written before the concept or was it the other way around?

We actually did both in parallel. We wrote tons of music and we had a bunch of ideas concept wise, and then we just picked the best music that we enjoyed and thought would fit the part of the story that we were writing. It was actually very, very tricky and we ended up figuring it out but it took a long time. It really did.

Do you think it’s better to proceed that way, working on both in parallel, to have a better consistency between the two?

Yeah, I think that you create a more genuine experience that way because it’s not just like you’re writing something and then putting something over it because it has to go there. When you write them together, they have to interact with each other in a way that make sense and that’s listenable and pleasurable. So I think it’s important to write them that way. At least for us. Maybe some people and some bands are able to write the music first and then the concept or the concept first and then the music. I think it would probably come out better if the concept was written first and then the music was written over it but we just kind of did both at the same time and it really came together nicely.

And does having a concept make really a big difference compared to previous albums?

Yeah. We got together as a group before pre-production and we wanted to discuss what to expect out of this album. One of the consistent things that everybody brought up was: “Ok, we want it to be cinematic and we want it to be dar.k” Because these are all the things that we’re into: the dark movies, the epic movies, the same with video games and books… Anything that really provides a sense of importance to characters and story development.

Is it this cinematic side that broadened the dynamic range of the music, with all the crazy ideas we can hear, the jazzy elements, etc.?

Yeah. We had to really push ourselves to write outside of what we normally do, especially melodically, because we have tendency to write very specific things, melodically, and we really had to venture outside of what we normally do to get that, to achieve that. I think we were successful. Knowing what the concept was and knowing what we’re going for, using those adjectives that I used before, it pushed us as musicians to write stuff that we thought fulfilled that.

Do you think this album will make a big difference on the future of the band, on how you will approach music?

I hope so. It establishes something for us. It further cements our sound, I think, and what we’re capable of as a band and songwriters. And I think that the production and the writing has matures, so it really sets a new standard for us as individuals to push it even further. Now we have a benchmark for ourselves.

In the press release states that Juggernaut is “perhaps Periphery’s first truly collaborative release.” But Periphery II was also much more of a collaborative effort compared to the first album. So what were the differences in your collaborations and the extent of these between the two albums?

Well, that’s a good question. It really started with Misha because he founded the band and he wrote most of the first album, I help to write the last song on that album and a lot of the electronic stuff. And then on the second album we got a new guitar player, Mark [Holcomb], and we were all throwing in ideas here and there but every song was born from an idea that Misha started, more or less. But with this one we all wrote the songs together and we all got together to really piece the album together. While Periphery II was collaborative, it was still produced and written a lot by Misha with our help. But with this we all put in equal amounts of contribution.

« We wanted to do our interpretation of a concept album without any sort of interference on what people expect a concept album to be. »

Being a collaborative effort, how did you manage to keep a consistency in regard to the way the concept had to be put into music? I mean, didn’t you guys had some differences in the way you were visioning and interpreting the concept?

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s the tricky part. And really the trickiest part to that was trying to figure out what, out of the ideas that we had, [would fit]. Because we just had demos and ideas and riffs and stuff before we actually had full songs, so we had to really pick carefully what we wanted to develop in the full songs, based on so much smaller ideas, to fit in the concept. While we wrote both at the same time, we had to choose carefully what we thought would make it into the album.

The Clear EP shows individual work while Juggernaut shows the band’s collaborative work. Would you say that they are somehow opposites?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the whole concept of Clear is based around the individual whereas the whole writing concept of Juggernaut was like: “We’re gonna do this together, everybody’s going to be happy and we’re going to work until that happens.” And we spent a lot of time together making that happen.

Juggernaut is a very ambitious undertaking; did you have the ambition to make your own The Wall or Tommy?

No, we didn’t use any other concept albums as inspiration, as far as I’m aware. I mean, at least on my end I didn’t. We wanted to do our interpretation of a concept album without any sort of interference on what people expect a concept album to be, but based on what we think it should be rather than having it sized up against other concept albums. I think that the only inspiration that was drawn from other concept albums was the fact that people have done concept albums before and they’ve been really cool. That’s kind of the only thing.

Wouldn’t you be interested in transposing this very complex story into other formats, like doing a theatric or a movie or a book…?

That’s part of discussions we’re having as a band. We want to see if this story’s worth pursuing in other mediums. I’m sure there will be some sort of graphic representation of it, either in a comic book or graphic novel or even some sort of short film or stuff that you see live. I think that incorporating videos live is something that we’ll attempt and you’ll be able to see some sort of visualization of the story that way as well. For now, we’re stepping up the lightning for the next tour but I don’t think we have anything like truly a Juggernaut stage just yet but I think that in the coming months that’s something we’re gonna work on very carefully in order to get something that really fits the theme of the story, bringing a little bit more of theatrics into the show.

You guys did a test tracks with producer David Bendeth but ended up producing the album all by yourselves. Do you think that no producer outside of the band would be able to produce the kind of sound you guys want to have?

You know, I don’t think that it would be an issue as long as the producer knows the band the way that we know ourselves. I think that the only way we would be able to work with a producer would be with somebody who knows how we feel about music and how want to sound like. We can work with any producer, it’s just not gonna get the results that we expect out of ourselves, just because we’ve done this for a really long time. We all have a stake in the outcome. So it’s important for us to get exactly what we want and if there’s a producer that doesn’t really jive with that, then we’ll have to do it ourselves. So the trick is finding somebody who can understand us in the way that we need. I think it’d be fun to work with a producer! It’s a pretty tall order to be able to understand us all. There are six guys in the band and we’re all very much invested in our project. But it could happen and I’m open to the opportunity if the right person comes along.

Weren’t you guys afraid to loose hindsight on your work by handling the production by yourselves, especially on such complex album?

No because I think that, especially Nolly, our bass player, his work ethic is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen before and he just has a way of organizing everything and keeping everything very professional and concise. It was actually me, Mark and Misha who wrote a lot of the music with Matt and Spencer, then we got bring everything to Nolly to record. So everybody kind of had their role and it made it a lot easier to produce, write and record.

Periphery features three guitar players. How do you guys work with three guitars? Doesn’t it sometimes feel like too many cooks in the kitchen?

No because I think that, for that to be the case, everybody would have to have output, a hundred percent of the time. But we don’t. Everybody has output probably anywhere between forty-five to fifty percent of the time and it enable other people to come in and take ideas and run with them, or other people to sit back and watch and kind of produce from the back of the room by listening. It goes in cycles on whose being prolific. It actually makes it easier to write and come up with songs because there more people contributing. But if everybody had something to contribute at all times, then yeah, there would be a lot of cooks in the kitchen and I don’t think it would work.

And what about soundwise?

One of the reasons why we need three guitar players is because the music is so dense and so layered. Everybody’s doing something different, filling out the spectrum of the sound. Sometimes we’re all playing the same thing when we need something that’s really hard hitting and heavy but a lot of times everybody’s playing something different or two people are playing the same thing and the third person’s plays a counterpoint to it. So we’ve just gotten really good at being able to balance the sounds of every guitar player just by strategically giving them certain spaces during certain parts of the song. It is complex and it took us a very long time to figure it out, and we’re still figuring it out, but it’s working for us.

Interview conducted by phone 18th, december 2014 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription, traduction and introduction: Nicolas Gricourt.

Periphery official website: www.periphery.net.

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