Interview with Misha “Bulb” Mansoor of Periphery

Periphery are one of the newest acts to dominate the Djent movement. Formed in 2005 by Misha “Bulb” Mansoor, the band’s hard-hitting self-titled debut, which was released in April of last year, has been praised by many for its superb craftsmanship. As a kicker, the album also included guest appearances from guitarist Jeff Loomis of Nevermore and vocalist Elliot Coleman of Sky Eats Airplane. Now, with their newly released EP, the band have offered up a killer helping of remixes, b-sides, reworked cuts, and brand new tracks. From the looks of things, Periphery aren’t thinking about slowing down.

Right after he was finished trying out some new guitars, Misha was kind enough to have a quick phone chat with Rock Edition. Not only is Misha one of today’s finest young shredders, he is also an equally talented songwriter, engineer, and producer. Check out what we spoke about below.

A year after the release of Periphery’s debut album, we have been rewarded with an EP full of remixes, re-recorded tracks, and more. What was the motivation behind putting this EP out?

There were a few motivations. We always sort of joked about doing a remix album. Everybody in the band loves electronic music, myself included. It’s actually pretty much what I listen to. We just thought it would be awesome to mix work and pleasure a little bit. As that was coming together, we had all these b-sides from the last album that nobody could get physically. People had always been asking us, “How do I get these?” So we decided to put those on there too. The beauty of it was that this was something we could use as a supplement to the first album, and we could do it while we were on tour. For the last year and a half, we’ve basically been touring nonstop. This was something that we could put together in our time off that we had between our tours. We couldn’t have too much new material because there wasn’t really any studio time. “Frak the Gods” and “New Groove” are the only new songs. “Captain On” and “Eureka!” have reworked vocals, which Spencer [Sotelo] took the time to do. We also upgraded one of our songs, and we redid the vocals on “Icarus Lives!” We figured it’s like an Icarus-themed EP, so we had to include the song. It’s really a whole mishmash of things. The other purpose that it served was to allow us to put something out so that we could take our time on this next album. In today’s world, you can become irrelevant so fast. You need to be putting stuff out; it’s for your own good. People tend to move on to the next thing and forget about you. It all worked out well. We just kind of combined all of our ideas.

Do you already know what the band’s next full-length is going to be like?

I’m trying to make our next full-length an epic release. It’s going to be a two-part thing: one album is going to be a concept album and one album is going to be regular. I don’t know if they’ll be packaged together or released separately. I just really care about creating it right now. We’re all working really hard at that. We can now afford to take all the time off that we need to get it done. We want to ensure that it’s all quality and not rushed because of deadlines.

Can you fill us in on the concept?

I don’t want to give away too much about the concept because it’s not fully fleshed out. We have a few things that we’re working with. One was sort of expanding on the concept of our song “Jetpacks Was Yes!,” which is about an immortal being. This would explore more of the physiological ramifications of being an immortal being. Over time, as he starts to outlive everything — not just people, but the planet, the universe, and everything — he’s eventually drifting through space and wishing he could kill himself. It’s kind of depressing, but that could be one [concept]. I’ve storyboarded that and put in a lot of interesting plot points. There are a few concepts that we’re working with and a few variations on those concepts. I don’t know which one it will actually be. It’s something that we’re still toying around with.

The idea behind doing a concept album came about because I have all this music that’s thematically related. Actually, “Icarus Lives!” was part of it and so it’ll have references to that. As much as I’m sure people are sick of hearing that song, it will reference it a little bit. [laughs] It’ll have that Devin Townsend-esque album cross-pollination. I’m into that stuff. We’re just kind of doing whatever the hell we want. [laughs]

Sounds good, man. I dug your remix on the new EP.

Oh, really? Thanks.

It was simple, in a good way. And I think the mood you created just resonated with me.

I’m glad you like it. I just did it for fun and kind of as a joke. The guys were like, “Hey, you should put it on [the EP].” I cleaned it up a little and then put it on there. It wasn’t really a serious attempt at first. I don’t think it’s the best one by far. [laughs]

Which remix do you like the most?

I have a hard time picking between the two. I love the Zedd remix because I’m a sucker for trance and house mixes. The sound design and production on that is just amazing, which is why we had him do it. Then, we had a remix competition and PeteyG’s remix blew me away. It’s like this dubstep-like groovy thing. They’re both really awesome. I guess it just depends on your mood.

The mindset you’re in is definitely a part of the experience.

Yeah, and the thing that I also liked about Zedd’s remix was that it really focused on the theme. He was specifically trying to make a club mix that you could actually play in a club. You can’t have screaming on that. It wouldn’t work really well on the radio either. PeteyG’s remix focuses more on the screaming side. Even though it’s from the same song, it’s two completely different sides of the coin.

How do you know when you’re done with a song? Can you feel it or do you think these songs could potentially go on forever?

It could just go on forever. I recorded our first album in my living room. That’s almost part of the reason why we decided to revamp some of the songs, because we could. It’s so easy and accessible to us. Some people argue that a song is never done, you just leave it alone at some point. I think that rings very true. In that sense, having a deadline is sometimes essential. You could be overly critical forever and ever.

It’s great that you found some time to redo the tracks a bit. Were only vocals redone? What about the other parts?

Vocals were re-recorded on “Captain On,” “Eureka!,” and “Icarus Lives!” “Jetpacks Was Yes!” was actually reworked. We were toying around with a different arrangement where there wasn’t screaming. It actually came from a suggestion from our label to try a version without screaming for a radio campaign they were talking about. We didn’t want to do that at first. Although we have complete creative control in our contract, we also try to be very diplomatic about things. Just because you can say “no” doesn’t mean you should blindly do that. We have this rule where we try everything before we say no. So we tried it and everybody was like, “This is way better!” Then we thought that it shouldn’t even be a radio edit but instead it should be the official version of the song. It just kind of took over. Sometimes labels can generate pretty good ideas.

On that same note, tell us a little about your deal with the various labels that you’re signed to. You guys have this DIY approach to things.

Yeah, our deal is kind of split down the middle between DIY and a record deal. We have creative control and we actually own our masters, which is pretty rare for a band like us. We license our albums to our record labels. We’re signed to three labels: Sumerian [Records] in the States, Distort [Entertainment] in Canada, and Roadrunner [Records] in the rest of the world. That allows the different labels to specialize in their different territories and use their own approaches. We asked ourselves, “Why do you need a label? What do you not need from a label? What do they do?” We eliminated the aspects that we didn’t need.

It seems like you guys went into these deals with some really thought-out plans.

The trick is that you have to be desirable. And wait for the labels to come to you. You can never start a negotiation by saying, “I want that!” You have to be like, “Why should I sign that?” We waited for the labels to come to us, instead of asking them if we could sign to their label. Then the ball is in your court. Ultimately, you have to be patient. We waited years and years before we were able to get a deal that was even close to what we wanted. We were watching our peers get signed and become bigger and bigger. It was tough, but we knew what we wanted and stuck with it until we got it.

I’m not too big a fan of this question, but I’m genuinely curious about your answer. I know you’re not just a metalhead. Who/what are you influenced by?

Well, there are the obvious ones like Meshuggah, Dream Theater, Deftones, etc. A less obvious influence is Final Fantasy. Nobuo Uematsu’s music is huge for me. It’s such a big influence. If you play those games and you love the music, you’ll hear it. Lately, maybe it’s just from touring so much with metal bands, I’ve been getting into bands like — have you ever heard of The Dear Hunter?

I absolutely have!

They’re one of my favorite bands of all time. It’s all like epic concepts and it defies all descriptions. It’s the most colorful music I could ever hear. Another cool band is Karnivool. I’ve also been getting into this band called The Reign of Kindo, which my bassist [Tom Murphy] had told me to get into a very long time ago. I’m just lazy when it comes to checking out music. Other than that, I like electronic music from like Telefon Tel Aviv and BT and stuff like that.

Totally. I was listening to some BT the other day. I didn’t realize he had his own plugin. It’s called Stutter Edit [by Izotope], I think. I didn’t realize how popular he’s become.

Yeah, I’ve been meaning to check that out. BT’s huge. He’s actually not too far from where I live, which is kind of cool.

Nice. Another thing on the plate for Periphery this year is your first time at the UK’s Sonisphere Festival.

It’s going to be our first festival actually.

Really? Your first festival ever?

Yeah, it’s exciting. Metallica’s headlining.

You’ll be playing after them? [laughs]

They’ll be opening up for us. It’s pretty sweet. No big deal. [laughs] They’re actually probably playing a different stage.

Do you guys have anything else going on in the meantime? Sonisphere is not until July.

Other than that, we’re literally just taking time off to record until September. In September, we have our headliner. We did The League of Extraordinary Djentlemen Tour in Europe and it was a big success. So now we’ll be doing the US version of that tour. I can’t reveal the lineup yet unfortunately. It’s going to be freakin’ awesome! If you liked the Europe lineup, you’ll love this one.

Back to the new album a bit, do you think you’ll be taking a similar approach to your other new songs like “Frak the Gods” and “New Groove”?

We’re going to be doing everything. There’s going to be heavy stuff, maybe some more complex stuff, but also simple stuff. We will be focusing more on the electronic side as well. We’re writing some entirely electronic songs. I set the groundwork for the first album to be very broad so that we could expand on it without getting weird. In Periphery, the rule is to just do whatever the hell you want as long as it sounds good. That’s what we’re going to go with. The stuff we’re writing is very diverse, but I think it does all sound like us at the end of the day, which is the important thing.

I know you get this question a lot, but I figure I’ll ask: what kind of gear are you using nowadays? Any new guitars, pedals, amps, etc.?

We don’t use amps anymore live. We just use Axe-Fx [by Fractal Audio]. We go direct to the board with that. To monitor ourselves, we use these Mackie HD Series monitors. It’s consistent and it sounds awesome. This setup has made me not want to go back to amps. I’m really stoked on it. Our sound guy loves it too because he knows what to expect. There’s no miking and no other variables really.

[Periphery’s manager tells Misha to wrap up the interview] Well, I don’t have anything else to discuss really. I did want to hear your take on Dream Theater’s new drummer. I know we’re both fans. [laughs]

Oh! Mike Mangini, man. I’m so glad. I knew he was going to get the spot. My top three were actually coincidentally their top three. I love Peter Wildoer’s work in Darkane. Marco Minnemann is also one of my favorite drummers of all time. I really thought that the guy who would fit their style the most and would be their guy right off the bat was Mangini. He’s got the showmanship and can play the parts perfectly. I’m so happy for them and I know that their new album is going to kill. You know, Mike Portnoy is one of my favorite drummers of all time. To replace him, I was heartbroken, but if they have to replace him, then they have to get “the guy.” I’m so glad Mangini is that guy.

Pick up Periphery’s new release Icarus EP.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.

  • MarkPopkie

    I have a little issue with the opening sentence… “ of the newest acts to dominate the Djent movement.” What? You say this right before stating that the band was formed 6 years ago! Periphery helped START the “djent movement” with a few other artists. Without the likes of Misha Mansoor, there would be no movement. Let the trolling commence!

    • Understood. I’m simply trying to say, as you pointed out, that a few relatively younger bands (in relation to Meshuggah and the like) are starting to hone their craft and lead the movement. Periphery seems to certainly be on the forefront of that. And, although they’ve been around for a few years now, many people unfortunately didn’t hear about them until they released their official debut last year.

    • Understood. I’m simply trying to say, as you pointed out, that a few relatively younger bands (in relation to Meshuggah and the like) are starting to hone their craft and lead the movement. Periphery seems to certainly be on the forefront of that. And, although they’ve been around for a few years now, many people unfortunately didn’t hear about them until they released their official debut last year.

    • Carmelocj15

      I’d agree to a certain extent, but Periphery did have a major effect in bringing djent to the mainstream market