Interview with Misha Mansoor from Periphery: Central Focus

There is one band in every generation of metal acts that stands out for creating or popularizing a sound that inspires the music of subsequent artists. Despite being only one album into their career, Periphery is already one of the most influential bands in modern metal. Combining the crushing discordance of Swedish progressive metal legends Meshuggah or UK tech-metal luminaries SikTh, with electronic atmospheres and a keen sense of melody and harmony, Periphery have already inspired or motivated several equally worthy acts (see: Animals As Leaders, TesseracT, Textures) and, like any great band, an inordinate amount of regrettable knockoffs.

But if you troll the internet for new metal, you’re probably already familiar with Periphery. Guitarist and founding member Misha Mansoor took a few minutes to talk to the Aquarian a couple weeks before his band finished mixing their forthcoming sophomore album and hit the road again for their tour with Protest The Hero and Jeff Loomis. The tour will take them through several area venues, including The Bamboozle Festival in Asbury Park.

It seems like every time I check out Periphery’s Facebook page, either you or the band is receiving some new award or accolade, or is ranked on some list or on the cover of another magazine. Given the struggles of any working metal band, how validating is that for you?

I mean, it’s really cool, but the humbling and frustrating fact is that the reality is we still make very little money. It’s cool and definitely appreciated… and it’s probably the only thing that validates it because it’s still very, very hard to make a living doing music. We still make like no money. I’d say it’s cool, but it’s almost like there’s a skewed perception of what our life is like. It may seem like we have everything going for us—and in some ways we have a lot of opportunities and it’s cool—but it could never get to our heads because the reality is that we’re still broke on tour all the time (laughs).

You’ve gone through a ton of members and the lineup still seems to be kind of in flux right now, but when did Periphery really come into their own?

I’d say we really came into our own when we found our singer [Spencer Sotelo], and that was right when we released our first album a few years ago [Periphery, 2010] in April. Our former singer left when we were recording it. That was when the band finally was complete; when we were able to finally put together a full-length and have members who were all on the same page enough to put that out. We’ve had some lineup changes since then, but nothing drastic. It’s been [this way] because of people getting older and it becomes more and more difficult to be in a band as you get older. I’d say that we’ve got a pretty comfortable thing going on right now. Our core members are all here.

It’s a project that I started in 2004, 2005, so I’ll keep on finding members if we lose them. Right now I feel pretty good about where we’re at and how this album came together because of it.

How frustrating was it changing members even after you began recording the self-titled?

Yeah, we had a singer for about 10 months in the band who didn’t do much of anything unfortunately. He didn’t complete the vocal parts that he was supposed to complete on time; we had to delay the album several times. That was one of the factors that lead to us looking for someone else. When Spencer came in, it was like three weeks before we had to turn in the album. So he had to learn all these parts that the bassist [Tom Murphy] and I wrote—because our old singer didn’t write any parts—and try to keep as much of his own flair as possible. And this was for a 76-minute long album. He had to do that in three weeks. It was pretty stressful, one of the most stressful things I’ve ever had to do.

How did you find drummer Matt Halpern?

He’s actually from Baltimore. I saw him play with a pop band one night. Our guitarist Alex [Bois] was like, “Hey, let’s go see my friend’s band. He’s playing, he’s an awesome drummer.” And I [saw him] and was like, “Oh my God, who is this guy?” And we stayed in touch after that and later on when we needed a drummer, I hit him up immediately and I was like, “Yo dude, save our band, please!”

With a three-piece kit plus cymbals, Matt plays a very atypical kit for progressive metal. How did that setup go over with you initially?

Our [previous] drummer left us, I think, two weeks before we had a show, and we wanted at all costs to not cancel that show. So Matt learned, in about two weeks, eight songs. Just by like jamming them in his car. And he showed up with his beat up kit, and he was playing with two toms then, and busted cymbals and all that (laughs). But he killed it, he absolutely killed it.

He’s one of those drummers who will play on anything; he’s not very picky. If everything is not ideal, he’ll work with it.

That dichotomy is so great. Having three guitars is such a sign of excess—Iron Maiden, Lynyrd Skynyrd always come to mind—and then your drummer…

He plays with one tom live, just one floor tom. Everyone looks at it like, “Are you joking?” That actually happened because one practice he was too lazy to set up his whole kit and he was like, “I think maybe I’ll just play with one floor tom, man.” I was like, “I don’t know, I think that would ruin the sound of everything.” And he was like, “Well, we just ran through the set.” So I said, “Oh, good point.” So, if you can make it work, then it’s awesome.

And it’s much less work for you guys.

Absolutely! Takes a lot less time to set up.

You’re going out with Protest The Hero, Jeff Loomis…

Yeah, Jeff Loomis, formerly of Nevermore, and he’s in full-force on this one because Nevermore announced that they are done. Now this is his project. I don’t know if you’ve heard the CD that he’s about to put out, but it’s incredible. It seems like Jeff Loomis would be kind of a weird fit for this tour, but if you heard that CD, it makes so much sense. He manages to channel his sound into a really modern context without it sounding forced or weird. You see a lot of people do that. But here he just managed to walk that fine line between modern sound that’s appropriate and still sounding very much like Jeff Loomis. So I’m really stoked for that.

It’ll definitely be a proggy lineup.

Yeah, there’s gonna be, like, a girl at every show, and she’s gonna be there with her boyfriend and she’s gonna be pretty miserable. It’s gonna be sweaty dudes every night, fuck yeah!

Those are the only shows I go to!

Yeah, those are the only shows we play. We’re Periphery, those are our groupies.

How far along is the new album?

We’re pretty much wrapping it up. Spencer’s just finishing up some vocals and then it’s mixing time. We’re basically going to have it wrapped up before we leave for tour. It’s definitely approaching the home stretch right now, which is good because we’re soooo over this album (laughs).

The band’s lineup changed even going into this album. Did your new bassist play on it at all?

We had my friend Nolly [Adam Getgood of Red Seas Fire] come in. He actually filled in on bass for our first big tour ever because our first bassist was getting married at the time. He’s also filled in for guitar. He’s like the craziest guitarist we know; he’s better than any guitarist in Periphery. He’s also an awesome engineer and producer. I actually hired him to be an extra engineer and producer to have another set of ears, trying to help get a certain sound. I was after a specific sound and he could help me get it. When it was like, “Aww, we don’t have a bassist,” he was like, “Oh, I’ll do it!” He wrote a lot of the bass parts for the album, like a lot of the embellishments. I had everything already demoed and he just gave everything a sound of its own.

Is Nolly the band’s new bass player?

No, he’s just helping out. He’s an honorary member. He’s been so helpful to Periphery over the years that any really good Periphery fan will know who he is.

So who is the new bassist?

We don’t have one yet (laughs). We’re talking a fill-in. We’re taking [guitarist] Mark Holcomb’s brother Jeff Holcomb, who is a sick bass player.

We’re not in a rush to find someone. With all the members we’ve been through, we’ve learned that the worst thing we can do is rush this kind of decision. And we’re not in a position where we have a shortage of people who can fill the spot. So we’ll just do fill-ins until we fill the spot, until we find our guy. Just like with Mark, we knew when we found him, we knew when we did that tour with him it felt right, and we hired him and it’s been a great decision. So we’ll keep on doing it like that. When we tour with a bass player and say, “This is our guy,” we’ll make him our guy.

It seems like one of your signatures is having that really bright, melodic guitar part over a really heavy riff. Do you typically build songs over melodies or riffs?

It really depends. I don’t ever really try to sit down and write a song. It’s usually me just jamming on guitar and I’ll stumble upon something cool and say, “Oh, I should record that!” So I’ll record the demo for it, and sometimes it will spark other ideas and sometimes I’ll have an entire song by the end of it, or at least a section of a song.

If ever I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got this riff, let me write a heavy song,” it just never ends up the way that I thought it would, so I’ve just learned to go with it and see what happens. I think that’s why a lot of the songs tend to cover a lot of ground. They tend to go from super melodic and clean to way heavy and groovy and crazy. It’s just whatever comes out.

So, when you’re jamming around, are you thinking about what project you’re working on?

I don’t sit down and record unless I have an idea. Every time I’ve sat down like, “All right, I have to write a song now,” it’s never yielded a good result. There always has to be something else driving it, like a cool riff. If ever I just try to force it, it ends up sucking.

Have you played Bamboozle before?

No, we haven’t played Bamboozle before. It’s going to be really exciting.

What are you expecting from that show?

I don’t know. We’ve only ever played one festival. We played Sonisphere in the UK. That show was crazy! It was so much fun, definitely an experience of its own. And the other thing is like, and I don’t know if Bamboozle is like this, but everyone in the industry was there. At Sonisphere, everyone who was relevant to our careers was there, and a lot of things happened. We basically secured the Dream Theater tour at Sonisphere. We played our set and the people who were watching were impressed. That’s what got the ball rolling on that. So I’m excited for festivals, not only for the fun aspects because it is really fun to be hanging out with all these musicians you respect, but then also it really can affect your future, both positively and negatively. So that’s cool/stressful.

Is there anything you want to add?

Just check out our album when it comes out. We’ll see you guys at Bamboozle.


Periphery will play with Protest The Hero and Jeff Loomis on April 20 at the Gramercy Theatre in NYC, and on April 22 at the Trocadero in Philly. They will also play The Bamboozle Festival on May 19 and North Beach Asbury Park on May 20. For more information, go to