Periphery's Misha Mansoor Explains Why He Hates Guitar Solos

Courtesy of Periphery

Periphery is one of those bands that are difficult to forget. It's not because they are constantly in the mainstream, shoved in your face by way of radio play, music videos or non-stop festival headlining. Although I'm sure they wouldn't turn down any of that.

No -- you remember Periphery because of the musical prowess. The heavy yet delicate mix of poly-rhythmic patterns and climactic melodies. The unexpected tumultuous flow of the music, and variation between raw screams and soaring vocals. The members, vocalist Spencer Sotelo, guitarists Misha Mansoor, Mark Halcomb and Jake Bowen, bassist Adam "Nolly" Getgood, and drummer Matt Halpern, are actually progressive in every sense of the word.

Periphery is a djent movement pioneer, often compared to a younger, heavier Dream Theater. The members self-produce everything they do, and since the self-titled debut five years ago, have created two other albums. The third, a double concept album called Juggernaut, comes out on January 27.

Juggernaut is two whole albums worth of material released as two separate discs, one called Alpha and the other Omega.

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The story is cryptic, but a lot of the concept is revealed when the physical bundle is purchased, complete with a booklet and killer album artwork. Instead of heavy riffage and growls, the listener encounters elements that are all about the theatrical, from slow atmospheric builds and dark riffs, to ethereal soaring vocal melodies.

Periphery will perform in Mesa at Club Red on January 21, along with Nothing More, Wovenwar and Thank You Scientist.

New Times talked with guitarist Misha Mansoor on the band's day off in Panama City, Panama, where they went for the beach but found 50-degree rainy weather.

So tell me a bit about the concept of the double album, Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega that's coming out January 27.

Misha Mansoor: Well let's start of this interview with an awesome answer. I can't answer that question, but it's for a good reason. We put a lot of work into the concept and the music, especially taking a lot of time with the artwork. It's solely to be able to convey the story as best we could without spelling it out to people. But with that said, we really want to see how people interpret it first, and let them go into it blind. Instead of them reading this interview, checking it out and then having a notion of what we said about it. Everyone in the band is excited to see what people make of it and eventually we will reveal the actual story. It will also be interesting to see how well we will have told the story.

You've said the band is encouraging fans to buy the booklet and the full double album and the artwork, because the physical copy tells the story.

Yes that combined with the artwork; it's all very deliberate. You're absolutely right. We know digital is very popular and convenient, but for the full experience for those who really care about the story, I strongly encourage them to get the physical copy. It will be really interesting to see what people think it's about.

The band has been discussing a project called Juggernaut as far back as 2006, which consisted of demos recorded by you, but you guys decided to scrap that from this album because the material was too dated?

Well it's a number of things. We really just wanted to write a new album, and "Juggernaut" is almost like a project name or code word for our concept albums. We wanted to take the time to craft and create you know? And after Periphery II, which is really upbeat and playful and note-y, the band was on this kick of writing something dark and cinematic and theatrical. These were adjectives we were all throwing around. We were all on the same page with that. And all the sudden that original concept didn't fit the type of music we wanted to write, and those older ideas were suited to the old concept. So writing this new story required new music. We wanted to re-appropriate the ideas instead of use the old songs. They were specifically written for the story.   Well especially for something written back in 2006 -- that's a long time in the evolution of a band's skill set and sound.

Absolutely. Absolutely. But as I said, Juggernaut is more an idea. Here, I'll tell you why we called it Juggernaut. It was something all of our fans knew we were releasing something called "Juggernaut." Literally after every release, fans would be like, "Cool. But hey when is Juggernaut coming out?" And I guarantee you we couldn't said that the album was like Juggernaut and that term is just an "idea," people would still ask when the album was coming out. [Laughter.] You know? And in a sense that's what it really is for us. This is our attempt at actually doing this concept album once and for all. A very ambitious and challenging project for us.

You can hear that in the music a lot. The writing process was one the band has never done before: a full band concept. How do you think that changed the voice of the album? Was it stressful?

No it was honestly a really great thing. I think a lot of people view my role in the band a bit differently rather than it's been or what I've wanted it to be. In the beginning I did everything but that was out of necessity. I started the band and wanted to find members I could work with, but now we have members that are fantastic musicians and creative individuals. I just wanted to be a guitarist; 1/6 of the band. No special role but working with musicians that I respect and create a good album.

If I don't have a complete song idea now it isn't the end of the world because the rest of the guys make it a complete song. We focused more than anything on the songwriting in this album, and the arrangements. If there's a criticism I have of my own music in the past it's that things get crowded and things can't breath. Everything loses its impact then. I already know having competed this album that there's a bunch of things we've learned for next time. That's the nature of this band; you're always learning and getting better.

Did you have to do any restructuring of your guitar work and themes to connect the story between both discs?

Yeah, we all realized it's not about personal ego on any of this stuff; it's about doing the best song. There were some instrumental arrangements that were awesome riffs, but when vocals came in, it didn't fit. One person would be stoked but the other wouldn't. You have to learn how to get not emotionally attached.

We wanted to self-produce, but since we're all very strong-headed and have visions and all produce, it can get very messy. Given that our band is a democracy, it's very difficult for any one person in the band to have the producer role, you know? It required us to really communicate with each other, and open ourselves up to compromising. But we still self-produced and I'm really glad we did. I think everyone was ready for it to be a lot harder. It had the potential for disaster. It's all about having the best results for the album. And that perspective really goes a long way.

In the behind the scenes videos, Spencer said you definitely want to work with a producer for the next album, which would be the first time ever that Periphery would've worked with one, right?

Yeah, but you know Spencer also handles his vocals stuff well, and there were logistical things on his end that made his job really hard. Whether or not he works with a producer on next album is up in the air, that's something we would talk about when next album comes around. But if he feels it would make him better then no one would have a problem, I don't think.

We all write music, including Spencer, but he's the only one who writes vocals and lyrics. So I can understand his stress. We can't give advice on things we can't give advice on.

It seems there's a lot more singing rather than screaming on this album, but it works nicely with the instrumental tension and dark melodies. What outside things were really influencing you?

I don't think there were too many outside things for me. I think the main influence for all of us, and we spoke about it going into what we wanted this album to sound like, is those words like dark, cinematic and theatrical as a reaction to our last album. We're always demoing and writing stuff, so when we were working on Periphery II it was a few years of writing this upbeat playful fast stuff and very colorful. And after two years of doing that we were just ready for something different, dark, slow and brooding.

What's your proudest moment on the record?

I really hate writing solos. They are a real pain in the ass and I hate playing them live. I hate having to compose them. They are so much work and it doesn't come naturally to me. Big sigh. Sometimes I'll get lucky and something good will come out. There's a song called "Rainbow Gravity," and I wanted there to be a solo. It actually came together really fast and I was really stressed out writing it. That's where I feel the pressure is. I pretty much hated it when I wrote it, but when I took a step back and made some tweaks, I'm actually really proud of that solo. So that's why I'm proud of it because I usually hate it. I am not looking forward to playing it live though.

So you'll have that in your set list every show?

We probably will because it'll be one of those songs that works really well live, so I'm mentally preparing. I just gotta suck It up and do it.

And I heard there might be a graphic novel in the works that goes along with the album?

We've toyed around with it as a way of telling the story more concretely, but it hasn't been set in stone. I'd really like for it to happen; it would be awesome. But we don't want to do something half-assed so there will be lots of talk leading up to an idea and execution of it. I think what will help it materialize is finding artists and writers that can really make it amazing.

You're always working on side projects, so as of 2015 is there anything on the horizon for you this year that's new?

All those projects are literally for fun. It's an outlet that's fun for us you know? So we have a full year of touring ahead of us so... whatever free time we have we will have to see if anything gets done. I wanted to do my solo album just for myself because there's a bunch of cool ideas that don't or will never make it into Periphery and won't see the light of day otherwise, but they are always kinda lingering. If I put them on a solo album they are accounted for.

It's my main reason; not money or ego or a separate outlet. It's just these ideas that you have for awhile that will stop bugging m e if they are recorded. But since these are silly goals, there's no timeline or desperate need.

Periphery is scheduled to play Club Red on Wednesday, January 21.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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