Interview with Periphery — “We don’t get to see each other very often in person.”

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On January 24th, 2024, progressive metal band PERIPHERY rocked Huxley’s Neue Welt in Berlin as part of their Wildfire Tour. We chatted with guitarist Misha Mansoor (along with vocalist Spencer Sotelo and drummer Matt Halpern) about their unique and intricate musical style showcased in their latest album, “Periphery V: Djent is not a genre,” their creative process emphasizing emotional impact and praise for ex-bass player Adam “Nolly” Getgood‘s contributions, as well as the origins and evolution of the term “djent” in their music. Read the complete interview here or listen to the audio below…

Hi, there! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. You are at the start of your European tour and you haven’t toured in Europe for a while. What is it like to be back?

Misha: It’s been a little while. I want to say it’s been four years, maybe longer. It’s been great because there’s been an entire pandemic and we always wonder with these things how people will react, how fans will react. I wouldn’t take any of this stuff for granted; we play a very weird style of music. We do have loyal fans but who knows, if all our fans had disappeared or stopped caring, I wouldn’t have blamed them. So it’s a very pleasant surprise to see that it’s still going strong and people seem to be excited to see us… we’re early on in the tour still, this is the fourth show today. But so far, these are all the best we have done in these respective markets. So, [we] can’t really ask for more, can we?

The last time you were in Europe, was in 2019, before the pandemic. For me, it’s the first show of PERIPHERY I’m seeing and I’m very excited. 

Misha: Well, I hope you enjoy the show tonight then. 

You mentioned that some people may not be familiar with your music because you play a more complex, weird genre – if I can call it that. How would you describe your music to someone who is hearing your music for the first time?

Misha: I mean, I would generally say it’s sort of progressive metal. If that’s the kind of thing they would understand. If people aren’t as familiar with metal, I would just say we play rock music or heavy music. But generally speaking, that’s our approach and I always thought progressive metal sort of gave you the most options when it came to writing and recording. It seems like there isn’t anything you can’t do if you’re doing progressive music and it’s pretty aggressive as well. I think if you come to a live show you’ll see that it’s got the energy of a metal show. So, progressive metal seems to be the best way to describe it.

Yeah, I mean it also has layers upon layers. That’s why I want to talk a little bit about your new album, “Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre,” it’s very unique and it’s a very layered and complex record. So I want to talk a little bit about the themes and concepts particularly. How do you find those themes and concepts and how do they influence your music?

Misha: I think when it comes to themes from a lyrical standpoint, that’s really more of a Spencer [Sotelo] question… I don’t really deal with lyrics and I don’t… as much as we’re all involved with all aspects, and we may be involved with, let’s say, tweaking lyrics, the conception, all that come from Spencer. As far as the musical motifs and abstract concepts from just a purely musical standpoint, that’s a very intuitive thing, it’s not something that we put much active thought into and probably the most active thought we put into it is before we start. We’ll usually have some sort of conversation as a band as to what we want the album to sound like and what we think it should be. I think pretty much every time including this time, the album ends up sounding completely different anyways, so it doesn’t really matter. These things sort of just take on a life of their own and we’ve figured out what it sounds like as we work on it and we do what I like to call just sort of following the threads. So you’re just sort of seeing where this song wants to go and where it takes you and you’re sort of discovering it as you go. So I think there’s a much more loose approach there as opposed to let’s say a strict concept that we feel we need to adhere to.

So basically like a video game you just navigate and discover stuff on your own, like Elden Ring.

Misha: Yeah, it’s like a, it’s like an open-world video game. Yeah. You make your own adventure out of it. 

I want to talk a little bit about some tracks in particular from this album. I’ve noticed the length from these specific ones are bit longer compared to all the other records you had before and you also have, of course, very long and intricate pieces like “Dracul Gras.” I want to discuss a little bit the creative process behind those longer pieces. How do you structure them? 

Misha: Again, it’s when we’re putting these things together, we’re not really paying attention to the length, and then once we’ve got kind of an arrangement that we’ve settled on or that we feel is generally there, that’s the point where we’ll be like, “How long is this song? Oh wow, it’s this length or whatever.” Sometimes in the case of – I don’t even remember with “Dracul Gras” if it was like the kind of thing where we noticed it was getting long or at the end, we’re like, “Wow, okay, all right, we’re hitting 10 minutes for this one” – but it’s not really an important thing. Maybe it’s something that should be more important because maybe I wish we had put a shorter song on the album [laughs]. Certainly from a music video standpoint, it would have been a little bit cheaper.

You have some short songs, “Everything Is Fine!” is a pretty short song, 4 to 5 minutes?

Misha: I guess relatively speaking, that’s a shorter song, and even that I think is in the five-minute area. But again, we’re not really thinking about song length, when we’re writing we’re thinking about whether the idea is complete. Is the sentence complete? Or is the thought complete? And there are certain songs that don’t take very much to get that point, and then there are other songs, where it just feels like it has more to say or to use your Elden Ring example where there’s more to explore. 

Yeah for sure. I mean you have “Reptile,” that song is about 16-17 minutes. But you didn’t beat DREAM THEATER’s record for a 20-minute song.

Misha: Someone’s always going to have a longer song but that’s on, you know, it’s another example of… that’s the first thing that we wrote for “Periphery IV.” I think we were just very excited to write and we were messing with a tuning that we’d never played with before. So, it’s kind of the perfect storm. We just got a whole bunch of ideas out and we wrote that song fairly quickly. It was written pretty much entirely as it is from an instrumental standpoint over the course of three subsequent days. So, it happened very fast and it’s just because we were just bursting with ideas and then we realized, oh wow, we’ve got a tell the rest of the guys that we wrote this long song and I really hope that they don’t veto it or hate it or whatever. This is generally how it goes for songs, is just we’re writing and we’re not really paying attention to really anything other than “How does this feel? Do we feel good about this? Okay cool. Do we not feel good about this? Can this be fixed or maybe we can’t fix it? Maybe let’s put this one off to the side for later. I mean, we can tackle it at a later date.” It’s a very intuitive process. 

What’s your favorite song off the album? 

Misha: It’s hard to pick. 

My personal favorite is “Everything is fine!”

Misha: That’s a good one. That’s a fun one. 

It’s very raw in emotion, I don’t know. It hits you straight in your face somehow. 

Misha: That was the goal with that one and I think if there’s a reason I like that song, it’s because sometimes it’s hard to get the idea of the song to actually… It’s hard to make this song actually have the effect that you want to have, right? So you have an idea for a song that’s very aggressive and you have an idea for a song that should sound raw and emotional. But sometimes it just doesn’t get sold that way. Sometimes there’s something… there are just so many variables when you’re recording something and everyone’s getting over it, everything’s being put together and sometimes something gets lost. A lot of times there’s this raw characteristic or this emotional characteristic that maybe can get like polished out or overpolished like over-refined and I was really happy that that song came out sort of the way that, for me personally, I wanted… I intended for it which was very raw. It’s a very raw kind of unrefined song in just the right way. I’m glad that we pulled that one off. 

Are you gonna play it live? 

Misha: I would love to play “Everything is Fine!” live. We haven’t rehearsed it but eventually, I would like to play it.

It would be fun.

Misha: It’ll be fun for everyone except for Matt [laughs]. He’d have his work cut out for him. It’s by far the hardest song for him.

Is there any particular instrument or a piece of equipment – besides the obvious, the guitar – that you used on this album and was crucial? 

Misha: I mean, you know, the computer [laughs]. And I’m not saying that to be facetious. It’s such a powerful tool for composition, between being able to recreate a virtual orchestra on it and have it sound realistic with software synthesizers and being able to basically pull any sound that you want at any time. In a way, it almost turns you more into a curator of ideas, rather than a guitarist or a traditional producer. When you have a machine that can make infinite sounds, it’s sort of like narrowing it down to what you want. But it’s such a crucial part of how we work and maybe at this point, something that we take very for granted. But we are, I think of this era… of the musicians and producers who work in a room with our computers, all of us pretty much. Spencer is a force of nature with a computer in a room as well. We’re probably one of the first bands from that era to switch over from let’s say bands in a room who would jam. Which is something we don’t really do?

You don’t jam? 

Misha: It’s not because we don’t want to. I’d love to I think we do it well but we all live far apart. It’s hard to get together. When we get together it’s usually to get work done, which means rehearsing for a tour. There’s usually a very specific goal and that goal isn’t “Hey, let’s jam and see what happens.” I think I’d like to fix that in the future. But for now yeah, the computer is sort of how we get our work done. So that’s probably the unsung hero as boring as it may sound. 

I don’t think that’s boring, we live in a digital world, and everybody uses computers for different reasons. In your documentary, I saw you have a lot of gear in your house. Is that where you record the actual albums? 

Misha: I mean yeah, the only thing that’s not recorded in someone’s house is the drums, Matt will fly out to various studios. In this case, we went to Real World, or he and Nolly went to Real World, which is an incredible studio and captured, probably my favorite sounding drums of any project that I’ve been involved with. So, that’s where it’s worth the expense and the time, and when you have someone as talented as Nolly at the helm and you have a drummer as amazing as Matt you can capture something very magical. Short of that I probably would just programmed it and that’s what I’ve done on my solo project and side projects. But yeah it’s… Spencer works… I guess now you have your studio but “P5” was tracked in your room?

Spencer: Yeah, the spare room. 

Misha: Yeah, the spare room in the house you used to live in. I did the guitars and we kind of wrote everything in my room at my spot in Los Angeles. So yeah, it’s all kind of done in bedrooms [laughs]. It’s just sort of what works for us. It’s our comfort zone at this point but I do have all this gear that I get to plug into this computer. I think we all appreciate – I know Spencer and I appreciate our gear. We have quite a collection of things that we find very inspiring.

You mentioned Nolly and I wanted to ask, what was his role in the creation of this album? Was he producing or was he helping or advising you?

Misha: He’s not really producing in the traditional sense, we’re sort of self-producing. I’ll handle the instrumental side of things and we’re all kind of producers but all sort of head up that side, Spencer‘s heading up the vocal side of things. When we’re working on instrumental stuff, we’ll be doing it more in my spot, when we’re working on vocals, we’re doing more at Spencer‘s spot. When the drums are programmed, then everyone has input on everything, and then when Matt has to fly to the UK to do drums, that’s where we’re sort of trusting Nolly, and he understands our sound being an ex-band member, being a business partner, being one of our best friends. He genuinely understands. So there’s a lot of trust being put in him – and there’s a lot of decisions and minutiae and, work that he’s putting in – that has to come down to trust. I can’t micromanage. No one can micromanage. They go out to the studio and we get the tracks back and I’m like, “Wow, this is great.” Then obviously, we trust him with mixing, but he also really sort of needs and values our input. So, we had a lot of… a lot of back and forth on the mix, to get it to where it is. I think certain members are pickier than others, so I know that Spencer and I are probably the pickiest when it comes to the mix. So we probably had the most feedback but it’s always great to have another set of ears on it. I’m not a big fan of mixing, Nolly is so good at it. I think we ended up with a mix I was extremely happy with and it took a few rounds of back and forth but again, he understands what it is that we’re looking for. So it makes the whole process a lot simpler. 

That’s amazing when you have such a person who matches your energy, vibes, and creative thinking, outside of the band.

Misha: We’re very lucky. Oh, and I completely forgot. I write the bass parts and for this album, I was just programming them with MIDI. But we just had Nolly learn it and play it, which he did, which is great. That’s a gift right there, you know [laughs]. Because no one’s going to… again, he understands the tone we’re going for, and him and I have a very close understanding of what I want out of the interplay of guitars and bass, and he just… 

Matt: He knows the songs really well through the drum recording process, too, at the same time.

Misha: He’s like almost a band member even though he’s technically not a band member anymore, but he’s a band member in every way that really matters during the recording of an album and with the responsibility of the roles that he’s taking on. So he records these incredible bass parts, and it makes our album sound so much better. This setup is how I would love for it to continue, moving forward, basically. 

I mean, incredible and plus a little bit more like jamming. 

Misha: A little, that’s very true. If there was any tweak it could be a little more jamming, but the setup for actually going to record it; we’re very happy [about that]. 

I have some questions for Spencer because you’re the vocalist. I would like to ask you about the lyrics and how you approach them. PERIPHERY has a wide range of moods and atmospheres, so how do you adapt your vocal delivery and convey those moods?

Spencer: Everything I do is really, really based on kind of what I’m feeling at the time that I’m writing this song. And I never go into anything thinking like, I’m gonna write about this or this is the kind of emotion I’m going to portray. Everything’s very stream of consciousness. I’ll sit down and just play off of what I’m feeling at the moment. 

I wanted to ask actually what are your inspirations from the non-metal scene as a vocalist? 

Spencer: Oh man. I don’t even know where to start. There’s a lot there. Yeah, I listen to anything ranging from like, IMOGEN HEAP and FAITH NO MORE to even some old punk rock stuff like hardcore punk like AFI. Yeah, the older stuff. I stopped listening to them after they went a little more mainstream. 

Can you share some insights into your lyrical interpretations, do you maybe have a favorite song from the record or one that is very special to you?

Spencer: I can’t speak for everyone else but my favorite song in the record is “Dracul Gras.” Finally, those are the least serious lyrics on the record. It’s a very playful song, it’s a kind of a story we all came up with together and Matt even helped write some of the lyrics on that song we had we had a good time with that one. Thinking about it now that might be for a reason, I think I was going through a very dark period when we were you know writing this record… writing and recording it and that was kind of like the comedic relief for me. So like I have a lot of good memories attached to creating that song.

I was looking for a deeper meaning to that song.

Periphery: [laughter]

When I was reading the lyrics, I thought, “Is this for real?” And then wondered if there was more to it, but I guess not.

Spencer: Oh yeah, it’s a very surface-level song. 

Misha: Yeah, that’s a very silly song with a very silly story. 

Spencer: That’s a good story.

Misha: It’s a great story though. We were laughing about it the whole time. We never really… Because normally, if we’re doing a concept, we’d leave it to him to do the concepts, kind of serious. But this is like a concept song where we all kind of agreed on the concept beforehand.

Spencer: It’s funny too because like the demo title of the song was “Fat Dracula.” And we were all thinking for a while we’re like what are we gonna write the song about? I was just trying to think, what are we gonna create the story about and I was like what if we just write it about literally a fat Dracula? 

Misha: Yeah, it sort of just took life from there.

Matt: I want to turn it into a movie. That would be so much fun. 

That would be amazing. Like a 12-15 minute movie or like the DAFT PUNK version of when they did the whole Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem in ’99.

Matt: Yeah, it’s bad that making long-formed videos…

Misha: … Yes, if someone wants to throw us a budget we’re here for it. 

I think the Swedish band AVATAR, they have a whole one-hour metal movie. They based it on their album and they made a movie out of their album.

Misha: So expensive, that’s all I can [say]. When I hear stuff like that, I’m just like “God, it must be nice. Having that kind of money. Yeah, or friends.” I don’t know. 

Do you have some funny or memorable memories of touring in general, or maybe something you have experienced on this tour?

Misha: This tour just started and I’m so jet lag that I barely remember anything. 

Spencer: Yeah, I’ve been sleeping until 5 PM every day. 

Misha: Yeah, that’s pretty funny. [laughs].

A jetlag doesn’t sound funny. [laughs]

Misha: Yeah, no, jetlag sucks. 

Spencer: It’s just such a short tour. It takes so long for me to adjust to the schedule over here. I might just stay on my old time back home for this trip.

Matt: It’s just been a lot of laughs.

Misha: Yeah, it’s a pretty light-hearted tour. 

Matt: Everybody gets along pretty well, so it’s a little like having a vacation in that way. We don’t get to see each other very often in person. Doing a tour like this, we get to spend a lot of time together in a short period of time and we’re experiencing all the stuff together so it’s like new cities, new restaurants, new fans, shows, etc. We have new crew members that we’ve never worked with before, it’s like getting to know them, and having new people that are constantly enriching the experiences, is just a lot of fun. I don’t know if there’s any one story because there’s just so much happening in any single day but it’s been a very positive experience so far I think and like everybody’s just having fun and laughing a lot which is good.

My last question and the most important one. What is djent? 

Misha: Oh boy. You just snuck that one in at the end there. It’s most importantly not a genre. If you’re asking very seriously, it’s the onomatopoeia of a guitar palm mute that was popularized by the band MESHUGGAH, by Fredrik Thordendal. I think those guys, when I posted on the MESHUGGAH forum, they would throw that word around, and then people on the forum would throw that word around and it was very clear for non-guitarists… it’s a technique that makes it sound more metallic, and it’s a sound I like. So when I would put my demos up where I would be striking power chords in a similar way, I’d say “new djenty idea” or something funny and it was a big inside joke on the forum. I think this sort of took a life of its own where people thought that I was describing the genre of music I was playing. And then, I quickly discovered, that it’s very hard to argue with people online, so once they decided that it was a genre, it became a genre. We don’t actually care and we don’t take our album titles very seriously, or even song titles seriously. Because I think we know what parts of the band and the music are sacred and we take those parts very, very, very seriously, and everything else is basically a joke. So to me, song titles are really largely irrelevant, and the same thing with album titles, they don’t matter, so you might as well have some fun and just be able to see that “Periphery V: Djent is not a Genre”… genre, djent, that’s enough right there… that’s the chuckle I need to get me through the day so that’s a good enough reason to call that. I think some people have looked again for deeper meaning and they’re not really gonna find any, but if they do, more power to you. 

It clearly became a meme, at this point.

Misha: It got a lot of attention with our fan base and that’s good that only helps us out but it was just funny. That’s the main reason why we called the album that and I still don’t know what djent is, to answer your question.

I have a theory. Me and my friend think that the djent is actually Swedish for chug

Misha: I mean technically that’s probably the best – it’s a Swedish chug [laughs]. 

You say chug, in Sweden they say djent. 

Misha: Yeah there we go. And chug is an onomatopoeia of the palm mute as well. So yeah that’s probably the most accurate answer. 

Alright! Thank you very much for the interview, do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans?

Misha: We want to shout out to all the fans who’ve come out. We’ve been seeing a lot of great support again, from everyone in Europe. I hope that continues. I want to shout out to our opening band CROOKED ROYALS who are on our record label, 3DOT Recordings; a very talented band and very nice guys, who flew all the way from New Zealand to be here. It’s quite a trip. They’re working very hard, as I understand. They are taking trains and non-existent trains in Germany because this is a problem, but right now. They’re hustling to be out here and it’s cool to see them get such a warm reception from the fans. That’s about it, we just want to thank everybody for coming out. 

Interview by Alexandra Aim