Interview: Periphery

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Whenever someone asks me, “Whom would I consider the modern faces of metal?” I immediately respond, “Periphery.”

Right around four years ago, I discovered this new wave of bands that somehow merged the progressive tendencies of Dream Theater with the ferocious groove-laden rhythms of Deftones. In what’s commonly referred to nowadays as “djent,” it felt reinvigorating to hear young musicians challenge the status-quo of guitar playing by demonstrating virtuosic songwriting through downtuned seven and eight-string riffs. Even in my wildest dreams, I wish my musical creativity could reach this level of brilliance fronted by modern titans including Misha Mansoor, Jake Bowen, and Mark Holcomb.

On behalf of fellow Pop-Break extraordinaire Nick Porcaro, he sent me a YouTube link for Periphery’s “Icarus Lives” sometime towards the spring of 2011. This actually occurred when I worked in Walt Disney World and perhaps I needed a dose of “Buttersnips.” Right away, this track’s heart rattling bounce spiked my blood pressure through the roof. Personally speaking, their debut LP represented a necessary turning point for the genre of metal after the previous decade’s overexploitation of deathcore and metalcore. I’m a huge supporter of screaming yet it felt so refreshing to hear Spencer Sotelo display such an immense vocal range over these bone-shattering riffs. As a major fan of progressive and melodic songwriting, Periphery managed to strike a balance that satisfied my personal tastes.

Nowadays, the odds are stacked against most bands trying to generate excitement for their new material; however, very few projects matched the anticipation for Periphery’s brand new concept LPs Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. Simply stated, this double album format goes against the conformity promoted by most record labels that prefer digestible material in smaller intervals. Juggernaut wasn’t meant for one sitting; this storyline requires multiple listens to absorb the multi-layered intricacies of the group’s darkest work to-date. Considering the eclectic tonalities and frenetic time changes, I’d argue both albums feature the best songwriting of the band’s career, especially on tracks like “The Scourge” and “Heavy Heart.” Following Alpha and Omega’s debut at number 15 and 16 on the Billboard Charts, this achievement served as a testament to Periphery’s loyal fanbase craving musical innovation at the highest level.

In an exclusive interview with Pop-Break, I sat down with Periphery bassist Adam “Nolly” Getgood for an in-depth conversation examining the recording process behind Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega.

Photo Courtesy: Speakeasy PR
Photo Courtesy: Speakeasy PR

Let’s talk about the early seeds for Juggernaut; this could’ve potentially been Periphery’s debut LP. When you first started brainstorming ideas for this project – what were your initial expectations from a musical standpoint?

It’s an interesting one. The Juggernaut is the title of some completely nebulous idea. This was an idea Misha had for a very long time before he even started Periphery. He was putting out some music and a couple of his ideas were tied into this Juggernaut theme. The song “Icarus Lives” from our first album was originally part of Juggernaut. What we released now is an entirely new piece of work and doesn’t really relate to any of the concept ideas from the past. Going into this album, it wasn’t really clear what we were trying to accomplish. It was an experiment for us and we wanted to try writing music to a story. It’s an interest that we’ve all had. We wanted the story to guide the musical moods instead of starting with a blank canvass where we can create anything, which could actually be a limitation sometimes. One thing that was clear – our previous album Periphery II was very up-tempo and kind of playful in its execution. We wanted to go in the other direction and create something that was darker and had more of a slow burn atmosphere where the songs took longer to develop and had darker tonalities. Both lyrically and conceptually, it’s a very dark story kind of inspired by Stephen King and some cult horror movies. I don’t really want to go too much into the concept itself (Laughs). All of that stuff lent itself quite nicely to the story we were aiming for. What we created in the end is really cool and it’s truly a collaborative project and we’re all pretty proud of how it turned out.

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Once Periphery solidified its lineup with Mark and yourself, did this upswing in momentum finally provide the confidence to approach a project like Juggernaut?

I think people who follow the band have been aware of this Juggernaut idea for a very long time. With every one of our releases, people would ask, “Is this going to be Juggernaut?” It eventually reached the point where we said to each other; “I think the next release has to be Juggernaut no matter what.” It’s kind of a butterfly effect – if Mark and I weren’t in the band, the band would be on a very different course right now. I don’t know what path that would be – it might be better or worse. If they were in a similar position, I could imagine that they would’ve been able to release Juggernaut if they hadn’t already.

Juggernaut wasn’t originally planned as a double album, could you talk about this burst of creativity that translated into Periphery’s most monumental release yet?

It’s interesting because it was a very collaborative effort. There were six members having input on the material and helping to add ideas and structure the song arrangements. I think that’s one of the reasons that we wound up with so much material. We also felt the storyline needed to be a certain length to make sense. Having watched a lot of TV series for example, now whenever I see a movie, I’ll say to myself, “Wow, that was short.” I didn’t really get any sense of character development because they’ll use a montage to cut through time. We didn’t want to do that with our album. I’m not saying our album is as long as a TV series or anything like that. We wanted to give the songs time to unfold and time to explore some different sounds. The album is way more varied sonically than anything Periphery has done in the past. I think all of this combined with the idea of “Juggernaut” – this epic concept album – it needed to be long. Even up to the last minute, more stuff was being added and more stuff was being cut. There were songs that we cut a couple of weeks before the recording and we axed them in favor of our new ideas. I think “Hell Below” was a song that came out right at the very end. It was a very interesting journey and a pretty tiring one.

“Hell Below” is so intense (Laughs). What was going through your mind when you recorded that song?

Most of that was actually Misha. It was right near the end of the whole process and we were wrapping up and preparing to record. We thought everything was set in stone. We all checked our inboxes one morning and there was something from Misha. He had the beginnings of the song and he said, “I have no idea if this will be usable for Periphery but I just wrote this super heavy thing. I was trying to experiment and I tuned my eight string really low and this idea just happened.” Everyone was really into it and thought the song was so appropriate. There was another aggressive song that would’ve fit the storyline but when we heard “Hello Below,” we said, “Wow, this is the best idea we could possibly have for this.” The song’s title was originally a joke called “Hell-low” like “L-O-W” like the word hello (Laughs). I might’ve actually suggested calling the song “Hell Below,” since it ties in with the storyline. It was sort serendipitous at the time.

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I almost fell off my chair listening to “Hell Below” because the riff just poured out of my speakers (Laughs).

It’s really really low and really really metal basically (Laughs).

Honestly, were there ever any moments where you felt burdened by the amount of material at your disposal? It seems like you guys were inspired by the musical freedom…

I think the biggest obstacles were technical when it came to actually recording that much material. It’s difficult not to burn out and we undertook all of the production ourselves. I took on the engineering and mixing of the album myself. Having that much material makes it more of responsibility to manage. It meant that we really had to be on top of our game and make sure everything was done right. We weren’t cutting any corners. It’s easy to start taking liberties by the time you reach song 16 since most albums would be finished by that point. We held each other accountable. My mentality has always been that we need to make things right. After the fact, we would regret not spending a couple of extra hours to make something perfect. Looking back now, if I listened to the album and knew there was mistake that we didn’t bother to fix, I would’ve been really angry with myself. Thankfully there’s none of that on Juggernaut. It’s just a huge amount of data at this point.

Gigabytes by the millions (Laughs)? Were your hard drives completely maxed out?

Yeah, there’s a good 250 gigabytes with all of the associated product data (Laughs).

The average listener/non-musician might not fully grasp the multi-layered production effort put forth by your band. How would you describe the monstrous engineering process of obtaining your guitar and bass tones, as well as, the drums and vocals?

I imagine it could be summed up by the word “more.” Basically whenever you think you have enough, you add a little bit more (Laughs). I’m exaggerating a little bit but a song might typically have a couple of rhythm guitars playing the riff, which could be pretty cool. There might be another pair of guitars harmonizing the riff in certain parts or they might be doubling the riff with a different sound. That could be four guitars right there. Sometimes you have four guitars all playing the same thing with two different sounds and than those gets harmonized and you wind up with six or eight guitar tracks and that’s just the core foundation of the riff. Beyond that, there could be multiple clean guitars harmonizing each other. There could also be piano, synths, and vocals. Vocals could even have full on choir sections with up to 20 tracks. It gets really insane, especially for songs like “Omega,” which is title track off the second Juggernaut album. It’s 11 minutes long and that kind of track count could build up. It’s a song with so many sections that differ. There’s another heavy song called “ Stranger Things.” The intro alone has 10 guitars playing and even trying to get 10 guitars to sound in synch and in tune with another was enough to make us tear our hair out for a while.

How much time was spent engineering this album?

We basically spent two months tracking guitars and I was very keen to establish actual working hours. We worked 11 – 7 everyday – we shifted the 9-5 back a little bit. Otherwise, you burn out quickly, especially if you run into technical hurdles like tuning issues or timing issues. It could suck the life out of you. If you attempt to make up for the lost time later in the day, you wind up doing terrible work that you have to undo the following day. We stuck to that timeframe and I think that’s one of the reasons why we were able to get things done on schedule.

Comparing the themes of Alpha and Omega, which story ark do you prefer? Do you gravitate towards the somewhat upbeat style of Alpha or the darker connotation of Omega?

It’s tough. I think right after we finished the record; I had a strong preference towards Alpha. Over time, I think I’ve come to appreciate Omega again. It’s funny; I was so involved in the technical side of things that I’m so aware of every aspect of the album. I really didn’t want to hear these songs over the past few months since we turned the album in and finalized it (Laughs). Just recently, I’ve been able to listen to it again and kind of enjoy it like a listener but still not fully (Laughs). Doing that made me appreciate the intricacies of Omega even though I was there – it was kind of lost on me by the end of the process. I think I’m pretty even at this point. I don’t ever think I would ever tell a listener to only listen to one half of the record. I feel like both albums are required.

For the unfamiliar listener trying to grasp the narrative of Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega, could you possibly give a short synopsis of the story?

Unfortunately, I really can’t (Laughs). We have this policy where we will reveal what happened but we want to do this in a cool way that does the story justice. We also want fans to enjoy the story without having essentially seen a film trailer that gives away all of the plot points. The lyrics are not allegorical, they kind of go as the story unfolds. If you follow the lyrics with the music, you could get the jist of it. I’ve seen a lot of fan threads from the forums online and a lot of people are very close to the mark of it. And that’s great; we’re not worried about it because that means we hopefully did a good job of telling the story. I won’t tell you who is close to the mark because some people are way off too (Laughs).

Photo Credit: Sumerian Records
Photo Credit: Sumerian Records

What’s the wildest conspiracy theory for Juggernaut that you’ve seen so far?

I think what’s really good – we have titles and musical themes across our songs. Some people are finding themes or similarities that we didn’t put in there intentionally. They’re like, “Oh my god, they totally turned this riff into that riff intentionally.” And we’re like “Yeah? Yeah, we totally did that intentionally (Laughs). It wasn’t just a coincidence (Laughs).” I haven’t fully gone into the detail of studying some of the conspiracy theories. I could tell you the main character is not a girl. That’s one that seems to be propagating but it’s just not true.

Not to compare Periphery to Dream Theater but I remember when Octavarium came out and how Dream Theater challenged fans to interpret every miniscule detail of the album. The physical product for Alpha and Omega draws from a similar background where the artwork, album sleeves, and lyrics challenge the fans to search for context clues?

Yeah, that’s what we’re hoping for. It’s something where we feel the physical product does something, which a digital product simply can’t. It allows you to pour over things. Every member of the band has enjoyed interpreting our favorite albums whether they were concept records or not. We would love it if people were connecting with physical media in that way again and using the internet to talk and discuss these ideas. That would be really cool if kids were doing that.

Being an accomplished guitarist on your own, it’s difficult to find that chemistry with one musician, let alone three other guitarists. How do you four compliment each other styles and push each other during the writing process?

I think its luck. It’s something that we’re very lucky to have found. Before I was in the band, there were a few other musicians in the band for a brief period time. It didn’t work out for those reasons. I think one of the biggest ingredients is that there is very little ego within this band. Everyone is really good at not taking things personal when other members of the band criticize ideas or offer suggestions. Everyone understands that we’re all on the same team. If anyone has a suggestion that’s going to make something better, that’s awesome and it needs to be embraced. Ultimately, it’s going to make all of us look better and make us more successful. Not that success is the measure of what we’re trying to do but everyone wants each other to improve upon what we’re doing. That not only includes the three guitarists, it includes Matt on drums or Spencer on vocals. We all have input on their parts and they have inputs on ours as well. Somehow it all works. It didn’t always work that way and we really have gotten so much better at communicating. It really is like a marriage that goes six ways. We need to communicate with each other and tell each other about stuff that we’re either happy or unhappy with. We have to share those sorts of things with each other in a way that nobody feels upset or feels like they’re being attacked. We’re at a point where it’s happening in a very positive way on a regular basis.

Talk about your ability to balance the responsibility of being a band member and engineer. Do you have a different approach for either role or is it a natural combination for you at this point?

Yeah, I think so. From having been in the producer’s chair and essentially played the role of psychologist for other bands many times in my life, you almost want to stop being hypocritical. When you stand there and tell someone in another band, “You need to listen to what this guy is saying because he’s trying to make you sound better. It’s going to sound better if you listen.” You realize the benefit of that kind of interaction and that’s just on a personal level. As far as I’m concerned, the engineering thing is just something that I bring to the table. Everyone in the band has amazing skills outside of music whether it’s having a great vision for the artwork or the band’s graphical presentation. There’s so many different ways everyone helps out whether it’s having great business connections or having ideas that could help the band further develop. Misha also has a hand in all of that and everything seems to be going really well so far.

Knowing how you guys are best friends with Mark Okubo from Veil of Maya, I know he collaborated with you guys at different points while you were in the studio.

He collaborated with Misha and Spencer actually produced the vocals for their new album that hasn’t come out yet with their new vocalist.

Did you ever seek his advice for how to approach Juggernaut since Veil of Maya has tackled concept albums in the past?

I’m sure we did talk to him. It was funny; he was actually down in D.C. and just started to record his album while we were down the hallway recording guitars for our album. He was there for some of the recording process and saw how it was going. I think the concept thing actually happened organically. I’m sure there are a lot of people we could have spoken too about it. It’s something that we felt our way through ourselves. I think with any concept album – the concept itself will be the great deciding factor beyond any technical advice for how to accomplish certain things. We were pretty much set once we figured out what the story would become.

What are your some of favorite concept albums?

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It’s an offbeat one but Time by Electric Light Orchestra. Electric Light Orchestra are a band from the ‘70s/’80s and they are such amazing musicians. Their main songwriter Jeff Lynne is absolutely incredible. That’s the music I grew up with since my dad was a big fan and I had all of the cassette tapes when I was young. I didn’t even know it was a concept album at the time because I was too young to know that. That is one that really stands the time with me as a concept album.

Having been on the road for over a month now, how would you measure the crowd reaction to the Juggernaut material?

It’s been going over really well and we’re very happy to see that. We’ve actually played some of the more slow burny material from both of the albums. It’s been cool to have that dynamic in our band because we haven’t really had that before. Most of the songs we play live tend to be pretty pummeling from start to finish and don’t tend to relax. We’re playing songs like “The Scourge” that’s way more downbeat, especially in the beginning. We’ve also played “Pyschosphere,” which is really heavy but slow and less about aggression as it is about moodiness. It’s been great to see how the fans react to those songs. Songs like “The Bad Thing” off Omega have been huge hits live and have made me actually enjoy the song on a whole new level. That was one of my least favorite songs when we recorded the albums and now it’s one of my favorites. It’s kind of cool.

Is it weird sometimes when you don’t think highly of a song but the fanbase seems to embrace it?

I think there’s definitely an interesting balance there. You obviously want people to like what you create but people sometimes like things that aren’t good (Laughs). Misha wrote a joke song on April Fools Day last year called “Borthelcash.” It was literally the worst songs he could possibly write in a few minutes where sections repeated four times longer than they should have. It was terrible and kids still ask us if we’re going to play that song live and it was just a joke (Laughs). Whenever we get the temptation to go down certain roads, one of us will say, “Yeah, just remember certain people liked Borthelcash.” We still write for ourselves and I don’t see that changing as we move forward. Who knows what the next album might be? If this album was slow and dark, maybe the next album will move in the opposite direction? Maybe it will be fast and light (Laughs)? I don’t know. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

You were able to create a real dense low-end bass sound on the album even among all the guitar tracks, was the key component in achieving your tone?

Thank you, I think the key thing is the bass tone is often emasculated on a lot of metal records. Metal records are typically light on the low end and the end result is something thin sounding, especially when you listen to those albums real loud. That’s the opposite of what we wanted. That’s one of the reasons why the album is called Juggernaut; we wanted the songs to sound massive. Especially being the bassist and producer, it’s an area where I have a strong personal interest. Especially live, the bass contributes greatly to the sound. We may have three guitars but without the bass in the middle and without that distorted sound, the whole band wouldn’t have the same impact. The entire band was on board with the bass being a prominent instrument on this album. The album should have loads of low end and should really display the sound in way not typically found in metal. I’m very grateful to them and I think the record sounds better as a result.

For more on Periphery, check out their official site.

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