As I continue my search for the newest and most progressive metal around, I got the chance to talk with Mark Holcomb of Periphery. We talked about the new album, “Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal,” the band in general and the creepy old guy from Family Guy!
Hi there, thank you for doing this interview. The new Periphery record is quite a scorcher. Are you happy the way it came out?
Thank you for your time. Yes, we’re all very proud of the album and how it turned out in the end. I think the entire process took a bit longer than we all expected, but we learned a lot going forward. It was our first real “studio” experience in a sense and we took a lot away from that.
What’s the story behind “Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal”? (the album title).
Well, one day Misha, Jake and I were sitting around trying to think of cool names for the 2nd album. We were tossing around all kinds of serious names, joke names, and so on. And I threw out the title “Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal”. At first, we all just laughed – but then there was a silence and I think it was Misha who said, “Let’s call it that!”. Haha, so it is exactly what it sounds like: a joke. It’s meant to be a comedic nod to some of those cheesy 1980’s action movies. I think it originally was used in Jaws II. Very cheesy.
The new album also seems to be a little more focused and structured compared to the first album. How do you see things?
We definitely agree. I think that would come from a couple different elements. We had much more time to collect our ideas this time around, especially Spencer. It was also a highly collaborative effort this time around, whereas the first album was mainly a collection of Misha‘s songs re-recorded.
Our aim was to have it be a bit more dynamic and focused, and anytime you have more creative voices involved in the process it can be risky to maintain a sense of cohesion in the end product. I think we all work well with each other naturally though so that didn’t end up being a problem at all.
How would you like to describe Periphery II to someone who isn’t familiar with the band?
I would probably just call it progressive metal to someone who hasn’t heard us. I hear us called all sorts of things but it’s the simplest term, and one that comes with the least amount of expectations and preconceived notions. We have so few boundaries with where we’re willing to go creatively that I think “progressive” is an appropriate term.
The first Periphery record was very much recorded in Misha Mansoor’s bedroom. How did you guys go about it this time around?
We recorded the album at Oceanic Studios in Bethesda, Maryland – owned by our good friend Taylor Larson. We wrote, arranged, and recorded demos of the album in Misha‘s bedroom; that’s just historically where all of us have always jammed and thrown ideas around. But we wanted to go in the opposite direction on this record and achieve something you couldn’t really capture in a bedroom studio; which is to have huge-sounding real drums, mic’d amplifiers and cabinets, and really all the amenities that a full studio offers.
As I said before, we got more hands in the process as well – with the entire band contributing more and our new bassist Nolly co-producing the effort, and Taylor Larson mixing. Spencer also got a chance to write, produce and record all of his own vocals from the ground up, unlike the debut album where he had to rush his recording and was singing vocal parts written by previous singers, for the most part. Spencer‘s contribution to this album are, to me, what distinguishes this record from the first the most.
Dream Theater’s John Petrucci added some guitar parts to the album. How did you guys manage to get him onboard?
It was easier than we thought actually! Haha. We did a European tour with Dream Theater in January and February of this year, and we thought to ask him when the tour began, if he’d like to contribute a solo.
We were apprehensive of his answer of course, but he was very enthusiastic from the start. He recorded the solo actually on the final day of the Euro tour. He and our other guitarist Jake holed up in a hotel room in Luxembourg, and they got it tracked in an afternoon. He sent it over to us asking if it was okay for our tastes – and of course our jaws hit the floor. It was an honor to have him play on the album.
Periphery has three highly skilled guitarists within the band. What are the pros and cons of that?
I would say the pros far outweigh the cons by far. It’s a very non-traditional approach so to have 3 guitarists is risky in that there is little-to-no precedent in terms of this kind of thing, Iron Maiden being the famous example. Pros are being able to collaborate endlessly with 2 of my favorite guitarists on the planet, and having more layers of quality control and creativity when writing.
With 3 guitarists, there is naturally less risk of running out of creative juices. I also learn a lot on a daily basis, being around 2 other guitarists all the time – from their weird techniques, writing styles, gear, etc. We all trade some characteristics of our playing inadvertently, almost through osmosis. Cons would maybe be it being harder to make 3 guitars work in a sonic environment, particularly live.
Our sound guy Alex Markides does an amazing job at making that work though. A big risk is having egos and creative opinions clash when writing or making decisions, but I feel like this situation works almost too well because Jake, Misha and I have always been friends first, co-workers second.
None of us have egos or get too hurt when our creative ideas aren’t perceived well by the others, so it’s really quite easy. The key is to not get too attached to your ideas, and to check your ego at the door.
What’s the benefit of having a skilled producer like Misha Mansoor within the Periphery ranks?
It’s a blessing, for sure. He’s our not-so-secret weapon, haha. No, it’s really great – he is a producer by nature so he never gets out of that mode. Part of his existence on this planet is to always be getting the best performances out of his band mates. His greatest strength in my opinion is his ability to construct and arrange a song; to take a collection of ideas and to make it all “flow” and “vibe” naturally.
A lot of people in this style of music don’t really think of a producer in that sense, but for us it is THE most important thing to have a song be memorable and be arranged in a way that makes that easiest.
It’s getting harder and harder to make a living as a full time musician. What is your secret to get by?
We haven’t found it yet, haha. There really isn’t a worse time to be a full-time musician than now, with record sales being what they are and our economy being so bad. But the key is resilience and just continuing to do what you love, even if it means incorporating some kind of supplemental income on the side to make it work.
We’ve all got some kind of work on the side to complement what we do in Periphery: our drummer Matt founded his music lesson company BandHappy, Misha produces other bands, I work in IT and give guitar lessons when I’m home, and so on. It makes it a bit easier on all of us.
Time for the final question. Who’s your favourite character in Family Guy and why?
Maybe…. Herbert? That creepy old dude. Every time he speaks in that whistly, nasal old voice it creeps me the hell out. I wish I could impersonate that guy so I could freak out random people in public. There really isn’t much to his character except for being a filthy old pervert – but that voice of his is enough for me, haha.