Periphery are back for a new album that’s just shy of a year from the release of third (and fourth) record ‘Juggernaut’. If you’ve been living under a very big rock, this new album is called ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’, and man, this one’s a doozy! The album is sonically monolithic from beginning to end and serves to prove that Periphery really knows what they’re doing and why they are masters of their craft. I got the chance to speak with the band’s warm and friendly drummer, Matt Halpern, who was very eager to talk about this new record as well as his signature snare drum, The Wraith.
Hey Matt, how are you?
I’m good man, how are you?
I’m not bad, thanks. Where about are you calling from?
I’m at home actually, which is awesome. I’m in Baltimore, Maryland and I just got home from a really busy day and I’m stoked to be talking about this new record!
It’s interesting that you’re at home because it seems like you and the rest of Periphery never have a moment to yourselves! I mean, you guys put out the dual ‘Juggernaut’ album last year, as well as ‘Clear’, and now you have ‘Select Difficulty’ coming out this month. What was the reason behind such a short break between records?
Well, we found we had a bit of downtime whilst touring ‘Juggernaut’ and one thing we as a band like to do during our down time is write music. And we ended up just demoing a few ideas for fun and ended up discovering that there were a few demos we wrote that we were really passionate about. We had enough material that we thought, the writing process for ‘Juggernaut’ was so intense and so serious and had to fit into the story we had, yet writing music without any boundaries or rules or that wasn’t tied to anything was really fun. So it was kind of an accidental album that we’re releasing next month, and it wasn’t a part of the strategic plan but we were so passionate about it that we didn’t want to wait. We wanted to take advantage of the time we had off.
I don’t think there’s any right way to do this for bands nowadays. I think everyone is so used to getting music in a way that’s…instant gratification and I think because of previous touring cycles and the way music was released, bands had to be on a certain type of cycle that was two years long. Whereas with us, we really lead with our music than anything else. So if the guys in the band are passionate to write, we’re gonna write and if that means we make a record, we make a record. We’re already demoing new ideas! Who knows what it will lead to but we’re already writing again. This was just a random thing that happened and we’re really happy about it.
It’s nice to hear that it’s come from a place of passion and not from monetary gain. But then again, you wouldn’t be in a progressive metal band if you wanted to make money.
[Laughs] Oh man, that’s so true! But also, being in a progressive metal band it gives us an opportunity to be as unique as possible so it’s the right style for all of us as individuals.
In saying all of that, though, were you ever worried that maybe you were putting out too much content for some people? Like you would be flooding the market? Was that ever a worry for you?
No, not really actually. See, we’re really connected to our fans. Like, as a band we are directly in touch with our fans; there is no middle man. We go and we talk and we interact with our fans on a daily basis and so many of them are asking over and over again for more music. They want more from us. It’s where we come from as a band really. Before Periphery was even a band, our guitar player Misha had his own music. And he would just put out songs as they were done and the original fan base just got so used to hearing from us so often that it’s really translated to us many years later. They asked and we answered the call! We’re really stoked that we have the ability to that and we’re really happy we get to do that.
That’s good to hear, man! I’m keen to pick out something you said earlier about ‘Juggernaut’ being far more intensive and serious. Whereas ‘Select Difficulty’ was more about the passion and creativity of the individual songs as opposed to a whole concept and I want to know which you prefer as a process?
I think both serve their role. I can’t say that in the future we won’t come up with another cool storyline and we want to write something that adheres to that storyline. I think we learnt a lot about what it was to write under those functions and those parameters but I also think that in the working together with inside those barriers it made it a lot more fun to work outside of those barriers or rather without any barriers. I think now, having written ‘Select Difficulty’ and seeing how fun and easy was to collaborate and work together, that’s a theme we want to continue with.
What we want people to get from Periphery III is that this is the most honest representation of who we are right at this moment in time. I have no idea what will come in the future and whatever we put out in the past is really in the past. So where we are in as band musically and who we are is really represented well on ‘Select Difficulty’ and I think to sort of round that and answer your question, we really loved this much more “free” and creative process and we’re happy we had that freedom and that this will continue going forward. But you never know, we may write another record that is based on a story and I think that would be fine too.
To be honest man, I think it definitely shows. I got the opportunity to give ‘Select Difficulty’ a spin last night and I have to say that I enjoyed it much more than both sides of ‘Juggernaut’. That more free process worked better for sure.
Oh, wow. Thank you so much!
No worries. One thing I loved about the record and wanted to ask is how you guys achieve such a massive sound? There’s a track on there called ‘Marigold’ and it’s just monolithic. The amount of depth achieved in the mix and structure is really something to be proud of and I wanted to pry a bit and see how you guys go about achieving such a sound. Is it mainly the songwriting, or a mixing and engineering thing? Or a blend of the two?
It’s funny ‘cause it always usually just starts with like a riff or something. We definitely don’t have like a magic box we can just plug an idea into and all of a sudden there’s a huge sounding thing. We start writing like everybody else does with a melody or a riff or a drum set and we go there. What I think Periphery has that a lot of other bands don’t have is, with the exception of myself and even then I dabble in it a bit, is that all five others members of my band are obsessed with music production. From Learning new instruments and tools and software. So they spend their time learning all that and have years of experimentation and years of working on their passion for music production which has really learnt itself to how we sound now. I have to say, Nolly is a gigantic reason why the record sounds the way it does. He produced the record, he engineered the record and he mixed the record. He has spent hours upon hours learning how to mic drums up and has spent hours learning how to mic up and tune guitars and get the tone dials in. These guys spend hours every day trying to become better at their craft and improve. It is so inspiring. I have never been around people who are so dedicated to bettering their skills. And I think it’s a testament to it that you say that so I have to thank you for saying all that because we did self-produce and engineer. I know the guys will love to hear you say it’s a good sound because it’s so important for them and their so passionate about it. It’s almost more important to them than the songwriting itself. Honing the songwriting is just as important for the band members as is the ability to produce music. I’m glad that all shows so thank you, man!
Of course, Matt! And thank you in a way too as it really shows that with enough passion and drive people can self-produce and shouldn’t be afraid of it. We’re no longer being fed the lie that you have to have David Bendeth or someone of that ilk to produce your record to have it sound good.
Oh absolutely, man!
We’re starting to get a bit time heavy so we’ll wrap things up a bit. One thing I was really interested in asking was about your custom Mapex snare drum, The Wraith. Now, when you give a snare drum a title, I feel like it should be more than just be a musical instrument. I feel like it should do my laundry, cook my dinner and cure world hunger. So what’s the story behind The Wraith and where it is today?
[Laughs] Oh yeah, it’s a big project of mine. It’s a huge passion of mine. I play Mapex drums exclusively and I’ve been pushing Mapex to work with me on a signature snare drum because I’ve had so many ideas, and I have a clear vision on what I was looking for in terms of sound. Luckily after grinding away at them and annoying the shit out of them they said: ‘Okay! Give us your specs on the snare drum.” And I told them I was looking at a drum with a lot of presence in both the live setting and the studio and a drum that was versatile. I’m a huge fan of brass drums so I knew it had to be brass. We put it together and it’s been great even in the prototype stages. Since then I’ve used it on every single recording I’ve done since it came out in early 2015. I used it on ‘Juggernaut’ and on ‘Select Difficulty’ and I’ve performed every single show with it since it came out. It’s won awards at this point for Best Snare Drum and it’s in the hands of a lot of amazing drummers. Chris Adler was using it and a lot of others have really taken to it. I’m really happy with it and I’m really proud of it. It definitely wasn’t a mistake or a happy accident. It was really intentional to create this particular drum because I think it’s truly representative of the sound as a drummer I’m looking for. It’s really cool that you asked about that~
Wow, that’s fucking awesome man! I definitely loved the snare tone on ‘Select Difficulty’ which made me really happy as I reckon a bad snare tone can just kill a whole record’s vibe.
Absolutely man, and I’m glad you liked it because that really is The Wraith on every single song just in a different tuning.
Sweet! Alright man, that’s time for us, Matt. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to hear the record!
Thanks so much for your time and kind words, Matty. It means the world to me and the band.
‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’ is out July 22nd through Sumerian Records.
Photo credit: Jeremy Saffer