Periphery are one very lucky and excited band, landing the support slot with The Dillinger Escape Plan during their Australian tour in May. Music Vice spoke to guitarist Alex Bois about the imminent tour, their recently-released (and self-titled) debut album, and vices such as TV’s Arrested Development and earthquake-related “conspiracy” theories.
Michael Bowser, Melbourne, Music Vice – Okay, I’ll start by admitting that until the other day I was a total Periphery virgin. Tell us a bit about the philosophy behind the band, and the origins and meanings behind the band’s name…
Alex Bois – Well I guess we’re just a bunch of guys who enjoy music, and we’ve all come together through one means or another…we started out with Misha, a guitar player, who kind of formed the band and had a good grasp of recording music in his own home and then putting it up on Myspace and Soundclick. So yeah, I joined up with him; I was playing in another band in LA, and that band wasn’t really doing too much…so I went and jammed with him one day, and things seemed to work out there. Misha was actually playing drums (in rehearsals) at that stage. One thing led to another, we just kept playing live shows, hiring new members – a lot of singers here and there – and really, we just wanna play and produce music that we enjoy and make it a bit of a “career” in the process! As far as the band name goes, we wanted something that was not your typical “metal” kind of name, y’know? We wanted something a bit more ambiguous…to not really have something that sounded like we’re tied down to a “genre”.
You have THREE guitarists, which I’m sure I don’t need to point out is rather unusual! How do you balance the songwriting and performance logistics of this, making room for each other’s sounds and ideas within the overall mix and so forth?
Misha had written a lot of the material before this record…him and Jake had written some bits together…I threw some ideas in there. We have to kind of “divy out” the parts, to say, “Here’s this part, who’s playing this?”, y’know, based upon…well, whoever had written the riff had first choice, if he created it…but I think we also try and build off each other’s strengths. Jake’s good with the fast finger-picking, but with the fast right-handed rhythm, I tend to have a bit of a strength there, so we try to see if everyone’s happy…and if not, you gotta flip a coin, y’know! (laughter) To try to fit it all in there does take a bit of work, ’cause there are three guitars in there…and we don’t really play the same thing, all three guitars are playing different parts, so you can actually pick them out and hear what’s going on, not just three guitars playing the same riff…
So it’s not quite Iron Maiden…
(more laughter) Each to their own! Don’t get me wrong, Iron Maiden are legends!
There’s also quite a bit of programming evident in the recordings…how faithfully is this reproduced live, and who is responsible for triggering/controlling these sounds on-stage?
Well for that, a backing track, just through an Apple iPod or iPhone (!) or whatever it might be…that can just be cued up by either our drummer Matt, or even our guitar player Jake sometimes triggers it for the transitional period between songs. As far as the recording of it, ah…our drum samples actually come from a drum program called “Drumkit From Hell”, and it was recorded by Matt on an electronic drumkit. All we needed were those samples, that was what we wanted to use…rather than spend money and pay for the studio, pay money to rent the room and all the mikes and so forth, we just figured we had this electronic drumkit, let’s just record it on that, see how it comes out. And it was turning out really well, the mix worked well with the guitar tracks we were using. And those “programmed” drums you can hear on the album, they were programmed by Jake and Misha, they kind of bounced some ideas off each other, and we all sat down and said, “Those are kinda cool…ah, I don’t really like it THERE”…y’know, we didn’t really wanna take away from the three guitars and bass and drums kinda metal that we do, but we felt that it sometimes added a kind of “layer” there, made the music a bit more interesting. Our goal is just to make music we think is interesting and…if it works, it works!
You’re going to be touring with none other than The Dillinger Escape Plan here in Australia in May. No doubt you get certain comparisons to them sound-wise, but I also notice that like them you’ve gone through quite a number of line-up changes. One of the most recent appears to be your lead vocalist Spencer, so I assume he came on board not long before the album, and was wondering…how easy it was for him to slot into that pre-existing arrangement?
Well, it was actually very easy in that in his ATTITUDE, he’s where he needs to be. He came in as a fan of the band, so he came in kind of knowing the songs, and we’d met him at shows…but y’know, for him, I think it was kind of difficult in that he wasn’t used to being a touring musician. He had done some touring with some other bands and so forth, but he was pretty new to the whole full-time touring and gigs. And the fact that he actually had BRONCHITIS during our first tour, that was a big letdown as he couldn’t sing for a couple of nights…! Luckily, we’ve come to think that our music carries its own without vocals sometimes, y’know, so…if need be, we can play instrumentally and save the show, and not have to cancel. But no, he did a great job coming right in, recording the whole album in, like, three weeks, while working forty hours a week at a full-time job! He got it done very quickly, which didn’t happen with our previous vocalists: It was always this or that was coming up, so they couldn’t do this, so…it was great, he knocked everything out very quickly. The only problem…might not have even really been a “problem”, but…we had recorded the album fully, with our last vocalist, and in the interum of switching over to Spencer, we re-recorded a couple of the songs with a new mix, and when we played the old guitars side by side with the new ones, the new riffs were SO much better; so although we were happy, we were also kind of disappointed ’cause we had to go back and re-record the ENTIRE ALBUM again.
Yeah, but I think it worked out for the best. And Spencer is improving every day, his screaming…he was mostly a singer, he never really did the screaming thing too much…but after just a full month of touring, his screaming was coming out so much better. So y’know, he’s improving every day, getting more comfortable on stage, and things have really come together with him, we’re super-happy. So yes, like Dillinger, we have had our line-up changes, but also like Dillinger, we think it’s been for the best…
Okay, just on the subject of the “instrumental” thing, since you brought it up: You guys have done a very unusual and interesting thing, and released an instrumental version of your album in addition to the normal one…
Yeah, y’know, originally we were recording a lot of these songs and they were put out…Misha would put them up on Myspace as instrumentals. We didn’t mind, we always knew there would be vocals for the songs, but they weren’t there originally, the way we had written them, so…with a lot of the fans out there, we just heard that there was a demand for a lot of these songs instrumentally, so we said, “You know what? It’s not gonna be THAT difficult to do a quick mix, mix everything without vocals, so we could do that and release a duel disc.” We don’t like to do them that way live, we LIKE the vocals on there…but a lot of our fans are musicians, and they like to be able to pick out the different guitar parts, pick out exactly what the drums are doing…even SINGERS too, if they wanna sing over the tracks, musicians can play along to it…and if you’re already putting out a CD, it’s not that hard to put another cd in the case, y’know what I mean…?
Absolutely. On a completely different note, I notice there’s a big “watery” motif going on in one of your clips and on the Myspage page. I was kind of curious as to what the thinking behind this was…
Yeah, those photographs are actually screen shots from our music video. It was pretty much Ian McFarland, he made a Meshuggah video, and Fear Factory’s new video, and y’know, he’s done TONNES of videos…you name it, he’s just been all over the place. We were a fan of his work, he came to us with an idea, and it sounded like it was a new kind of thing, it sounded fresh; didn’t sound like your typical, y’know, “band-playing-in-a-warehouse” kind of thing. And as much as we do stay true to “metal”, y’know…this was a new kind of direction, of concept. So we went to them and we said, “Yeah, we like it,” and we worked out the numbers as to whether we could afford it (laughs), and we decided to shoot the video. It turned out really good, but some people were complaining, “Oh, you can’t really see the members!” And we’re like, “If you wanna SEE us, come to our live show!” It’s like old Tool videos, they’d have this cool claymation or…other trippy music videos that Tool used to do, and I think that mystique, it’s kinda cool sometimes. If you wanna see us live you come to a live show, we have pictures up all over the internet if people wanna see what we look like, but when it comes to a music video, why not throw a different spin on it? That’s how we felt.
Well the next question is one a friend asked me to throw at you, it’s a bit of an obscure one (laughs): There’s a song on the album called “Jetpacks Was Yes”, and he believes this to be an Arrested Development reference! He wonders what made the band go for such an obscure reference, and are there any other such references on the album that he and others may have missed?
(laughter) Yes, it IS Arrested Development! I’m glad that you just said that, ’cause I really have done a lot of interviews tonight and that can be something I can remember next time, that it IS Arrested Development…earlier I said that it was 30 Rock! I can’t remember what part it’s from…in terms of songs, there’s a few of them in there that have a logical meaning, like “Insomnia” was written on a sleepless night, and “The Walk” is about this guy just walking and all the thoughts that he’s having. “Jetpacks Was Yes” was just a funny thing from that Arrested Development TV show, where, y’know, Misha had actually written that song, it was something that he had in his mind, and then he shot that out and put that as the title to the song. On “Buttersnips”, I had just woken up from a nap and starting singing this nonsensical thing, in a kind of a stupor, and one of the things I said in there was “buttersnips”, and that just turned into, “Okay, I’ll call this one Buttersnips!” A lot of the titles are kind of…they’re just little jokes that we have amongst ourselves, and that’s how we titled them when they were instrumental songs, and when we finally put vocals and lyrics to them we couldn’t really change them, ’cause we knew them as that title, and fans online and so forth knew the songs, y’know, as THOSE titles! I dunno…we like to keep it fun, we like to keep it fresh, and the song titles stick.
Dillinger have a fairly formidable reputation for their extremely intense live shows. Should Australian audiences be expecting something comparable from yourselves when you grace our shores?
Well, like you say…Dillinger like to get in the audience’s face, even if the venue has one of the barriers (between audience and band)…and I think that’s a really awesome thing that they do, it really brings excitement to their show, but we don’t take it that far. We like to “rock out”: We feel the passion of the music, and we do go a bit…I wouldn’t say NUTS, but we do sometimes just ROCK OUT, and things can get a bit aggressive that way, but…with some of our songs acting crazy wouldn’t really be possible: We like it to be as accurate as possible, so we can perform the songs as close to what it sounds like on the album as possible. Y’know, for me, I’m a fan of music obviously, and when I go see a band and I know there’s this drum fill coming up, or this guitar line coming up, I wanna see them play that ACCURATELY. Some bands concentrate on the live show, on going as crazy as possible and riling up the crowd, and other bands go a bit more on the “performance” side…we try to find the middle ground as much as possible. But for us, if we had to prioritise, the PERFORMANCE comes first before, y’know, “rocking out” too heavily…!
A final question, one we always ask here at Music Vice: Other than music, what other current vices would you like to share with us?
Wait a minute…VICES?!
Yes. Usually it’s a cue to say something really tasteless, or controversial, or…?
(laughter) I mean, we all have…everyone likes to party in the band, that’s for sure, to one degree or another! But, y’know, we try to keep those things to a minimum. There’s many different beliefs amongst members of the band: Some members are big into…not necessarily 2012 or anything like that, but they have their beliefs about aliens, that kind of thing…and there’s a lot of controversy out there about that stuff, with earthquakes going off around the world, and y’know, is it coincidental? So it’s like, “What’s actually going on out there?” We do quite a bit of debating amongst ourselves, I wouldn’t say we advertise our beliefs…we don’t like people who go out there and try to force their beliefs on other people. Y’know, live and let live, we kind of live like that…
I don’t know, I’m kind of interested in the music industry. You know how people don’t BUY music as much as they used to? With downloading and all that…and I think that eventually you’re gonna see that more and more, to the point where…y’know, bands have to have some money in order to perform every night, to be able to get to the next venue every night; you need some money flow there, for people to put you “out there”. It’s a general belief that I have, that people need to start realising that, before bands just become OBSOLETE. People think there’s this whole “rock star” thing, with guys in bands making tonnes of money, but that doesn’t really happen any more. Sure, there’s bands like Metallica, these “monster” bands out there, but there’s only, like, TWENTY bands or so that are actually making this kind of money, and everyone else is just scratching to get by. Who knows what music will evolve into in the future? People need to support music more, get out there and support local bands, or bigger bands or whatever it is: The money still has to go in that direction. Downloading is good, I’ve done it, I’m guilty, but people need to support their favourite band; put some money behind them, buy the merchandise, buy the cd, buy whatever it might be. But people don’t like to pay for something they don’t HAVE to, so…we’ll see where it goes, I’m not really sure…
© Michael Bowser, Music Vice
Periphery will be supporting The Dillinger Escape Plan during their May tour of Australia. Their debut self-titled album is out now on Roadrunner Records (in Australia;(Sumerian Records and Distort Records elsewhere in the world).
Periphery – Myspace