Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
The fourth (semi-)self-titled album from Periphery isn't just their heaviest: it's their most organic, authentic and – surprisingly – experimental.
Words by Matt Doria.
A few years ago, you’d be lucky to make it a week without hearing something about a new Periphery project – we’re not sure why you’d want to, either, so it worked out fine for most of us. In just over two years, the genre non- conforming djentlemen dropped close to three hours of mind-numbing metal mayhem, split between the Clear EP , two gargantuan concept albums in the Juggernaut story , and the third installation of their self-titled series, Periphery III: Select Difficulty .
And then the lights shuttered off. Though still with the band as an in-studio collaborator, bassist Adam “Nolly” Getgood left the fold in 2017; the band dropped out of their partnership with Sumerian Records shortly thereafter, and suddenly, Periphery’s fanbase was rife with mumblings of their potential future. Obviously, it turned out that there was nothing to worry about: the age of Periphery IV is upon us, and as its characteristically hilarious title – Hail Stan – teases, it’s one brutally heavy mecca.
Out via the bands own 3DOT label, Hail Stan isn’t the album Periphery fans deserve, but it’s the one they need. At least, that’s according to guitar mastermind Misha “Bulb” Mansoor.
What is it about Hail Stan that makes it the best reflection of what Periphery is, and what you all stand for as a band in 2019?
I think we just got better at being a band. It’s kind of a cliché thing to say, but when you’re in a relationship, it’s all about communication. It’s pretty much the same thing when you’re in a band as it is with any other relationship, whether it be with friends or family or significant others, and I’ve been lucky enough to be with a group of people that all value that. And we work at it. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into maintaining that communication over the last decade – it took a lot of figuring out, slowly and painfully, what worked best for us – and now we’re reaping the rewards from that.
So this was the easiest and most fun album to make – the vibes were good, the stress was low... Old-school producers will say that good albums can only come from turmoil, but I couldn’t agree more! This whole experience – even just for the experience itself – was amazing. I got to hang out with my best friends in the world, have at it and just see what would happen.
How did you want Hail Stan to take Periphery to the next level, so to speak, or build creatively on what you’d established with the first three albums in this saga?
We don’t really care about topping the other albums, or anything like that. We just want to have a good time and be proud of what we put out. Honestly, what I wanted Periphery IV to be is completely different to how it came out. We always have these discussions, when we think we’re ready to write, about what we think the next album will sound like. And the initial description we came up with for Periphery IV would be unrecognisable from the album you hear today.
Because ultimately, we just get into a room and kind of follow the process. We know that when we get together, we’re going to come up with these ideas to bounce off each other, and that will spin out in all these different directions. And it’s better to follow that than fight it, I think is the lesson we’ve learned. This album ended up being a lot heavier than I’d planned – I thought it was going to be kind of weird and experimental, and although it’s got tinges of that wherever it was possible, I guess we were all in a bit of a heavier mood.
How much of a sculpting process does each song go through in the studio?
The songs will change a lot with each incarnation. One thing we had a bit more of this time was... Well, time. We took a year to write this album, and a lot of that was actually just time off, to take our minds away from the project so that when we approached it again, we could sort of look at it objectively. In the past, we’d have a lot of deadlines and we’d have to end up going, “Okay, I guess this is good enough.”
Being able to step back and breathe with this record was incredibly valuable, because it gave us the ability to reshape stuff that we weren’t too happy about. So I’d say on this album, more than any of the others, the arrangements often saw fundamental changes. The first few drafts of “Blood Eagle” were a completely different song – the riff that opens it up actually didn’t come in until, like, halfway through the song. I think Spencer wasn’t too happy with how it originally started out, so he was like, “Okay, what if we try it like this?” And it was kind of jarring at first, but once we listened to it for what it was, we were like, “No, this is actually a lot better!”
That reminds me of something you said in an interview with iZotope once, that the general rule in Periphery is that “you don’t identify problems, you identify solutions.”
I think that rule came about because there used to be some attitudes where certain people would be writing and working on a song all day, and someone would come in, hear it at the end of the process and be like, “...Nah.” And that sucks! You just slaved away at this song for days, poured your heart and soul into crafting something you could be proud of, and then someone who’s put no work into it is just like, “Well, I don’t like it.” It’s demoralising! But by creating this culture where you just identify solutions, it gives you a bit of ownership. You can’t just say that a song sucks – you have to be like, “Well, I don’t like that, but this is how we can improve it.”
If you don’t have a solution, just don’t say anything. We don’t need to have more problems when we can instead work together to make a song work for everyone. Because I think everyone in this band has a strong enough personality that if they have a qualm over someone else’s idea, it’s usually because they’re hearing something better in their head.
What was your guitarsenal like for this record? Were you running through your signature Jacksons in the studio?
We recorded all the guitars at my place, and because of that, we were mostly using my guitars; Jake [Bowen] and Mark [Holcomb] brought their own, but I actually had two guitars custom-made for the session, which were my signature guitars retrofitted with Evertune bridges. It’s actually a pretty incredible bridge! They have their downsides – the guitars tend not to play quite as well as they would with a different bridge, and they definitely don’t sound as good – but they kept the guitars amazingly in-tune. Having the option to use those saved us a lot of time, because anyone who’s recorded in the studio knows how much time you spend tuning and getting things right. And with as many layers as we have, if things are out of tune, it starts to get really ugly, really fast.
One thing that’s always blown my mind with Periphery is how dynamic your playing is, and especially live, how tonally experimental you are. Is it important for you to be able to work with such a wide range of tones with the one guitar?
Totally. From day one, Periphery has just always been about trying to have my cake and eat it too. I like all these different styles of music and I have all these different influences – everything from super heavy stuff to poppy, clean, quiet, electronic, orchestral... All this really different stuff, and it was like, ‘Is there any way that I can just combine all the things I love into one band?’ And as a result, I needed a guitar that’s shockingly versatile.
It needs to sound just as much at home on the most aggressive tone you’ve ever heard as it does on the most beautiful, sparkly clean tone, or ambient strumming, or some kind of mid-gain fusion. And it can’t just be okay at any of that stuff – it has to be absolutely amazing at all of it. That’s a big reason whymyguitarisasspecificasitis,inaway–it needs to cover all the ranges.