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Periphery Launch New Double Album ‘Juggernaut’

American prog metal band Periphery’s guitarist Misha Mansoor on how gaming influenced their latest album

Anurag Tagat Jan 20, 2015
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Adam Getgood, Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb, Spencer Sotelo, Matt Halpern and Jake Bowen (from left). Photo: Jeremy Saffer

Adam Getgood, Misha Mansoor, Mark Holcomb, Spencer Sotelo, Matt Halpern and Jake Bowen
(from left). Photo: Jeremy Saffer

What does guitarist Misha Mansoor do when he’s on the longest break between albums with his prog metal band Periphery? He gets his gamer mode on. Destiny, Halo – you name it and he’s played them. Over a Skype interview with rolling stone India, Mansoor says he’s become a couch potato, “I’m being a lazy little bastard right now, playing all the video games while I still can, catching up on everything.” Mansoor mentions everyone in the band is pretty much a gamer. That’s not surprising to hear when you look into the Juggernaut albums, set to release this month, which take listeners on a thrill ride along with a main character. Winding down during his last months before Periphery heads out to release and tour with their latest double album, Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega, Mansoor is not ready to reveal any story details yet. But he tells us that vocalist Spencer Sotelo wrote the album’s story line. Adds Mansoor, “We are pretty much a band of gamers and we could’ve got influenced – whether it’s conscious or subconscious at this point, y’know?”

Juggernaut is a follow-up to Periphery’s seven-track EP Clear, which released in January 2014 and featured one song written entirely by each member of the six-piece band. Mansoor says it was an experiment took him back to 2006, when he started out composing what was then beginning to be called djent under the moniker Bulb. Says Mansoor, “If anything, it was probably the most like the Bulb days when I used to do everything myself.” But the producer-guitarist adds that it reinforced his desire to always write with his bandmates. Says Mansoor about the track “Zero,” off Clear, “It took a lot of work for me to get that song the way I wanted it to be, without being able to bounce my ideas off other people.” But Juggernaut is a “complete contrast” to Clear says Mansoor. “As much as Clear was an experiment in what we could do individually, Juggernaut was an experiment in what we could do together. Those are opposite sides of the spectrum. Juggernaut was entirely collaborative – no matter what your instrument was, you had input. Our general rule in the band is ‘You don’t identify problems, you identify solutions’,” he adds

In this interview, Mansoor opened up about the challenges of writing and performing a double album. Excerpts:

RS: Which games are you playing right now?

Misha Mansoor: I’m playing the absolute crap out of Destiny right now. It’s funny because both my girlfriend and I are hooked on that game, to the point where we’re thinking about buying another PlayStation 4, so that we can just both play. That’s horrible, I know, but that’s the level of addiction that game has caused in us. I’m also playing Forza Horizon 2, because I really like racing games. I started messing around with Far Cry 4 and started playing the new Civilization game, because I love the Civilization series. I really want to pick up Dragon Age, but I’m afraid that if I play both Dragon Age and Destiny, then I’m just quitting music. It’s a bit difficult right now.

You wrote music for games like Homefront and Halo. Is that something you want to do more often?

Being able to write two songs for Halo was like a real opportunity for me. People keep asking me ‘Hey dude, are you going to write more songs for video games?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah dude! As long I get an offer.’ I was very lucky to get that offer. I love video games and I love writing music, what better than putting the two together, you know? [laughs].

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How have you been prepping for Juggernaut?

We actually have the first bit of downtime in the first few years and it’s the longest amount of downtime we’ve had, so it’s nice, just taking it easy, playing a lot of video games, not worry about music too much [laughs].

Oh yeah, I see a lot of tweets from you about [live streaming video platform for gamers] Twitch.

If we’re going to be playing video games, might as well be productive about it, right?

I agree. Coming to the new album, how did you end up with so much material for Juggernaut?

As we were putting the album together, we were really after a concept and a vibe and the music had to follow a story. The story was very intricate and we actually had to narrow everything down. We had a lot more music to start with and the concept just narrowed everything down. By the time we had all the music together, we were like ‘This is really good, this is really long’.

Given people’s attention span these days, and the nature of music and how people experience it, we realized that we needed to separate this into two albums, to give them their own identities. To us, it just seems like, if you have two separate albums, each one gets treated with a sort of respect. But if you have two discs on an album, in my experience, it always feels like that second disc is an add-on. The only way that I can explain the psychological effect is how I always tell people, ‘Don’t give your music away [for free], even if you charge a dollar for it, do it.’ The reason is that if you get something for free, it has no value to you. If you pay for something, you always attribute some value to it. You always give yourself some attachment to it. I feel like a second disc in a double disc release always is there for free and it doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.

We wanted to have this story – it’s a big story and each part can be digested properly, each one has its own artwork, its own style. It’s something that really made sense to the whole band. It’s trying to give the music the value it deserves, essentially.

Was it also an educational experience? Did it show that some people in the band were more knowledgeable than others when it came to writing music?

Well, none of us are really schooled in music theory. The only person is Nolly [Adam Getgood], our bassist, and even he just writes using his ears. He’s got a fantastic ear for music, so when it comes to the technical side of things, no one really cares. It didn’t really matter whether it was simple or complex. It was just about getting an emotion. And in this case, there was a very specific vibe we were chasing, one that fit the story, which was the centerpiece and backbone of everything.

When did Spencer write the concept story and finally present it to you? What did you think of it?

It was around May of this year, as we started to write it. Up until that point, we knew we wanted to make a concept album and we had a few concepts kicking around, but Spencer came to us with a pretty detailed idea of what he wanted it to be and that really helped us capture the vibe we wanted to get. We loved it. That was the inspiration, if you will. I can’t elaborate on the story right now, because Spencer – and I actually agree with him – doesn’t want to explain it before the album comes out. He wants people to figure it out for themselves first and then we’ll clear it out. I want it to hit in a less biased way, when you’re not expecting a certain thing.

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It also looks like this album has a lot of artwork to go with the concept.

We worked really hard on the artwork on this one. It needed to be specific. The artwork is very representative of the story and I’m really excited for people to see that. In the past, the artwork has been sort of… I mean, it’s something we’re excited about and worked. We’ve had artwork before, but I don’t think everyone in the band cared about it as much as they do on this one.

Do either of the albums have any guest collaborators this time around?

This is all us, this time. We made that conscious decision for this album. The guest thing is really cool and it’s nice, but it also puts a bit of unfair pressure on the people that have to perform the solos. Mark [Holcomb] has been doing the Guthrie [Govan, guitarist] solo [on “Have a Blast”] and it made us not want to play the songs with the guest solos, because no one felt they can do it justice. Everyone feels like it’s a lose-lose. Jake does the Jeff Loomis solo [on “Racecar”] and I think the both of those guys do their guest solos well, I can also understand when they say that even on their best day, when they nail, they feel it’s not true to the original. They’re emulating someone else and those people delivered it in a different way. You just can’t win in that kind of situation. Moving forward, they both asked if maybe we shouldn’t do guest solos and everyone in the band thought it was a good call. I was fine with it as well. It took the load off, and that’s the way it went [laughs].

You’re getting on massive tours this year with Devin Townsend and then there’s the US tour as well. Have you got any offers from India?

You know, we’ve got occasional offers from India. The same problem is the timing. We played once in Bangalore [in 2012] and that was awesome, but that had to be like the sixth or seventh offer we’d gotten. It was the first one to actually work with our schedule. I’m hoping we get another offer, it’ll be great.

What is your setlist going to be like for the upcoming tour? There’s obviously the challenge in playing a double album live.

For the first tour, we’re going to introduce a lot of Juggernaut music. We’re probably going to be playing six songs but we also have to play our hits. And our album doesn’t come out until halfway through the tour, so I don’t think we’re going to go too crazy with the material. We want to do about half and half [of old and new material].

Eventually, it would be nice to do both Juggernaut albums in their entirety, but that in itself is quite a lot of material. On top of that, if we were to do it in order, there’s a logistical concern, in that this album is composed to a goal, and it wasn’t really thought about as a live album. Literally every consecutive on a different tuning or a different kind of guitar. So I think we would pretty much… if we had to play 17 tracks, we would have 15 or 16 guitar changes each [laughs]. It would be a complete nightmare in that end. Maybe at some point, we could do that. I would like to… we just need a crew that’s totally on it, like it’s no big deal.

Juggernaut releases on January 27th on Century Media. Stream Juggernaut: Alpha here

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