Periphery are an enigma within their scene. From the surface, they’re a very technical prog metal band combining intricate structures combined with big choruses and great melodies. But beyond that, it’s made up of (currently) five guys who have a good sense of humour – which you can easily see in some of their music videos – and a hell of a lot of musical ability. On top of that, last year’s stellar ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’ is some of their best work yet!
So once the band touched down in Melbourne for their headlining tour with Melbourne own Circles and Sydney’s own Polaris, I went down to 170 Russell and caught up with guitarist Jake Bowen for a chat (and a bit of a yell so we could be heard over Circles soundcheck.)
Hey Jake! So, one thing that I’ve noticed is that Periphery tends to play a set that, at least early in the touring cycle, relies heavily on the album you’re promoting. I know that’s a common thing, but you guys tend to play a lot more new songs than other bands that I’ve seen. Aside from the promotion aspect, is there a reason for this?
I think one of the biggest reasons is that we tour quite a bit, and we’ve played the older material so much so that by the time we have new material we’re so excited to learn it and play it as a band because we’re always trying to change it up. It’s important to us to stay as fresh as we can.
For sure. Is it difficult to omit older songs that are considered fan favourites?
There’s always a discussion about what we have to play versus what we want to play, and that’s changed a lot over the years. We used to play ‘Icarus Lives’ at pretty much every show since the band started playing shows, and we recently took that out and I don’t think anyone is missing it too much. I’m sure there’s going to be other songs that will eventually get the axe but that was the first one to go and no one’s really complaining, so we realised that it can be done.
I have to say quickly, as a long time fan, I really enjoyed ‘Periphery III’ as well. When it comes to a song like ‘Marigold’ for example, were you consciously trying to make it very hook driven or was that something that happened naturally?
I think the aspect of it being hooky is because of Spencer. His vocals changed that song from the way I envisioned the vocals to be before we had vocals on it. It’s a very notey song, it’s a very proggy song, but Spencer came up with a chorus that gets stuck in my head all the time. I didn’t expect that song to come out that way, and I think that’s what’s interesting, especially when we all come together as songwriters. Our expectations for songs and demos always change by the time the final product is ready.
Have you heard any interesting remixes or covers that came as a result of releasing the producer pack of the album?
I know that a lot of people are making instrumental versions of our music, but I haven’t any cool remixes. If they’re out there, I haven’t heard them yet. [Spencer chimes in here, saying “There’s one for ‘The Way The News Goes’ that had a lot of potential. Sick as fuck). I’ll have to check that one out based on Spencer’s recommendation!
Cool! Do you think that the concept album format is something you would revisit in the future?
Yeah maybe. The concept record that we ended up doing was planned before our first album (‘Periphery’) came out. Initially ‘Juggernaut’ had a bunch of tracks on it that haven’t seen the light of day. Actually, ‘Icarus Lives’ was supposed to be a ‘Juggernaut’ track, but we wanted it to be on the first record and that’s what happened. I don’t want to say never, but we did that, and now we’re just seeing where we go. ‘Periphery III’ is a more standard record for us in terms of format and layout, so maybe we’ll do that for a while and if we get the inspiration to do another concept record, maybe we will, maybe we won’t.
One of the bigger pieces of news from your camp last year was that Nolly wouldn’t be touring so he could work on his production career. I’ve seen in some live videos that you’re running his bass tracks through the PA as opposed to hiring a touring bassist, why did you guys make that choice?
I think we all have different views on what we want to do, and instead of rushing in and finding someone to replace Nolly live, we want to talk about it and see how operating as a five-piece works. I think the ultimate goal is for us to take our time and figure out what we want to do. Running his tracks is the default place to go.
Do you think part of that is because he may return in a live role at some point in the future?
The possibility is there, but I don’t forsee that happening. If we wants to come back the door is always open. We’re still really good friends with him, he still writes with us and helps us record, so we’ll see!
So how do you find it working with two other guitarists in the studio, considering your playing styles are all different?
I fucking hate it, I think Mark is one of the most [laughs and motions to guitarist Mark Holcomb]. No, it’s easier than you might think it would be. There’s that expression that there are too many cooks in the kitchen but it’s not when there are guys like Mark and Misha. I don’t know how they feel about working with me, but I feel working with them is just natural and it’s easy. We understand each other’s strengths as players and it’s a nice way to write when people understand your voice with an instrument. I guess I should say that I’m very lucky!
While we’re on the guitar side of things, I’ve noticed a lot that since you guys gained popularity, that more bands playing progressive metal have become more inclined to using high-end custom guitars, Axe FXs, Kempers and things like that. Do you think your band has anything to do with that being the case?
Yeah, I hope so. The one thing that we do know about Periphery is that the people that listen to the music do tend to be musicians, and they take an active interest in the gear that we’re using and they’re interested in our opinions when we do try out a new guitar or a new piece of gear. I’m glad that we have those kinds of people listening and engaging with the band because that’s what we’re excited about. It’s like another dimension to the band that makes it more fun.
I suppose the social media thing really weighs into that too because you guys can post a picture of a new piece of gear and fans can be like “Wow, what’s that”, and it can get the ball rolling for them in terms of inspiration for their build and the brand itself
I feel like bands are always looking for new ways to promote or boost their image. This one just happened naturally because we’re excited about the gear that we use, and it’s natural for us to post about it plus it adds that extra layer of interaction.
So how familiar are you guys with Circles and Polaris?
Pretty familiar. We’ve known about Circles for a very long time. Polaris not as long but they’re a newer band, but they’ve been killing it every night. We’ve only played two shows so far but they’re really fun to watch and they sound great. The one thing I’ll say about Aussie bands is that it’s the one place in the world where the local bands and the up and coming bands are awesome. In America, a lot of the local bands suffer with growing pains like figuring out what their sound is, how to sound professional live, having a singer that can sing in tune, it can be a struggle. But every time we come to Australia there are sick opening bands. It’s really what it should be. A lot of people look at the up and coming acts that are opening in America like “Oh my God, when is this going to be over because I want to see the headliner”. It’s different in Australia. It’s how we found out about Twelve Foot Ninja. We headlined in Melbourne, and they opened the show. They destroyed us! They’re just awesome, we became friends with them after that and took them out in the States. You guys have a great music scene here!
We’re definitely very proud of it man. I guess it’s harder for younger American bands to break through because of the market saturation as well.
There is that, but I think there’s also a sense of quality that doesn’t necessarily exist in America with a lot of people. There’s an attention to detail. I think Australians have a very good sense of what they like, what they consider high quality. And I think that’s why the musicianship tends to be in more supply than in other places.
Finally, what was your favourite release of last year?
Oh man, how do I get out of this one? Good question! Gojira. Not metal? Infinity Shred. It’s this electronic act that I’ve been digging a lot. We’re going to be taking them out in the States after this tour ends. They’re a newer band but they’re onto something cool, that’s like synth wave mixed with black metal. There are no vocals, but with a lot of analogue synths mixed with parts where’s just blast beats. It’s very cool. I think it’s something you could put on as an ambient soundtrack behind whatever you’re doing but when you pay attention to it there are things you can pick out are interesting musically or melodically. It’s good driving music!
Sounds awesome man! Thanks for your time tonight, Jake, I hope you guys kill it later tonight!
Did you catch Periphery live this month? If you did…how fucking solid were they? ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’ is out now via Sumerian Records.