Latest release: Periphery II: This Time it’s Personal (Roadrunner/Warner)

Self-confessed nerds Periphery have become a pretty big deal over the last couple of years with their DIY take on progressive metal, idiosyncratic production style and values and a long stream of free, downloadable material. With their second album for Roadrunner about to be unleashed in early July, guitarist Jake Bowen took some time out ahead of a European tour to talk to Loud about new methods of recording, working together as a band and what his favourite Australian band is. (Note – since this interview was conducted, the band has been announced for Soundwave 2013). 

Hey Jake, I have to say that I personally think the new album is a huge improvement on the first.
I think a lot of it has to do with it being collaborative this time round. It wasn’t just one or two people writing everything. Everyone was involved. You’re kinda hearing Periphery as a full band [as it is] now!

Did it make things easier working together as a band?
It was easier in certain ways and it was harder in others. This was the first time we did a recording in an actual studio. So making sure everybody stayed on schedule and everybody was doing a good amount of work per day were all considerations that we had to make sure were met. Because when you’re working around schedules and  engineers it’s not like recording with just Misha. We really have to manage our time as well as making a great album. It is easier because everybody’s working, but it’s also harder in lots of ways.

It must have been something of a learning curve too, compared to how you had worked before with Misha doing it all when there was time here and there to do it and slowly putting it together when you could.
With the first album, it was five years in the making. To finally get it out was cool. We didn’t have that leisure this time. We had to work within the time constraints.

One of the key aspects of your popularity has been the DIY aspect of Periphery and the way you shared your music openly in the past. How is that going to change now that you’re attached to a label?
In some ways we’ll see that, like with clips or demos – we’re going to put a demo up occasionally. But we’ve tightened up on that lately, just because of the nature of our record deal. We can’t give away as much as we used to when we were starting out. But that’s kind of part of our business model: let people try it for a given amount of time, we put all the demos online and let people download them and make their own mix CDs. Once we got enough people interested in the band, then it was time to bring in the real recordings that were released through a label and distributed professionally… so you know it kinda changed. But the initial aspect of that is that we liked what that offers. A steady flow of music that’s readily accessible. The way that we made a compromise will be that we’ll release stuff in between our major releases. Like last year we did the Icarus EP which was remixes of that song “Icarus Lives!” and it had a couple of bonus tracks on there, and that was just to hold people over until this one came out. We’ll always be releasing stuff.

So for the foreseeable future, that part of Periphery is going to remain; it was really what helped you build your name in the first place.
A part of what made it catch with people is the style that it had. A self-produced metal recording that sounded good. Which was very hard to come by in the early 2000s. We were only just starting to utlilize the home recording technology to come up with the results. Misha was one of the first – one of the first, there were plenty of other kids doing this – to get a really interesting new production style out of recording this way.

And this was back in the dawn of the social media revolution as well. He was very quick to jump on that as a tool.
Yeah, he just spent time with it. That’s how he learned how to do it. That’s what’s kinda cool about it. He had no formal training, he just put the time in to learn it. I feel like that’s why our music resonates so well with other musicians. They feel a connection to the way we record and the way we write because it’s very similar to how most kids write stuff. Especially nowadays with the Internet, the members of Periphery are writing whole songs on their own and that’s kind of based around this whole kind of self-produced style or aspect.

With everybody writing songs now, as you said, how difficult was it when you went in to record to decide exactly which songs you were going to put on the album?
That’s always a fun process because it usually has like several band meetings and about 170 emails and a bunch of voting sessions in order to pick. Because everybody has a different idea. You know, there’s certain tracks where everybody’s the same on, but everybody has a very specific idea on what should go on the album. So figuring that out when we have six members was a little difficult. We do everything democratically, so if a majority is in favour of a list of tracks – for a track – it will get voted on. Everybody gets a vote.

How does that work in Periphery? Because there are some bands out there where that sort of thing probably wouldn’t work at all.
It’s like any relationship. If you’re with good people that understand each other… we’re pretty laid back, well, we’re hyperactive in certain ways! We’re pretty laid back as friends and we all see eye to eye on lot of stuff, and that kinda makes it work. But there are relationships that don’t work, because you’re just with the wrong people. Think of countries. Not every country’s gonna work democratically. It’s just a matter of who you work with, and for us it’s been working really good. Everybody who is in the band is really fun and great to work with.

Even though everybody is writing, have you noticed similar themes coming through in your songs and music?
It’s interesting. We’re all sci-fi nerds and we’re all into video games and we’re all into alternate realities and physics and astronomy and all the nerd stuff. So obviously when it comes to thinking up lyrical content, that shines through. Even melodic content is inspired by situations or moods in situations… that part of it usually comes first and depending on the vibe of the song, definitely influence how the lyrics are gonna turn out. There are recurring themes, but it’s not on purpose or specific. We’re not like into one style. You’ll find songs with lots of different subject matter.

What’s the deal with the title. Is it Periphery II or is it actually called something else? What’s the story there?
That’s like one of those things that we vote on. We were just trying to come up with these album titles, and nothing we came up with was cool enough. At that point, that’s when we just started making jokes and not taking it seriously. We started giving it movie sequel titles. And we started calling it Periphery II: This Time it’s Personal, or Periphery II: Cruise Control or Periphery II: Revolution. Something cheesy and movie related like that. This Time it’s Personal stuck, and we’ve just been laughing about it. That’s not really what the album is called. It’s really Periphery II or just Periphery or self titled or This Time it’s Personal or whatever anybody wants to call it. That’s being completely honest about it.

So in essence, from your point of view it’s basically untitled.
We worked so hard on the music and making sure the lyrics were better this time around and everything was just better on this album that when we came to naming the album we just didn’t care anymore!

Now that you’ve had a chance to step back and listen, in what ways is this album better than the first?
I think everything! I think all categories have been improved upon. The producition’s better, it’s more clear and everything fits better in the mix. The vocals have evolved and improved. Spencer’s writing for his style. He didn’t have that luxury on the first record because those songs were already written. So with those two things converging and with everybody helping out… everybody wrote for this album. Everybody has like a huge stake in it. You can just hear the improvement. I put on the debut and listened to the production and maybe it’s just my ears so fatigued from all the music, but it sounded horrible to me. And it was like Wow, this is a massive improvement. It just gave us a good feeling that we did the right thing this time by going into the studio and showing everybody that this isn’t just Pro Tools  or trickery – we can play.

You guys were in Australia for the first album. Any chance we’ll see you back here?
Oh damn right! We love Australia dude. We love America but if there’s anywhere else we have to go, it’s definitely Australia. Everybody in the band feels that way. We have to come back.

What’s in store for Periphery in the immediate future?
We are going to Europe in a couple days to play some festivals. We’re gonna play Rock am Ring and Rock am Park in Germany and do some headlining dates in between, and then do Download in the UK.

Excellent. There’s some Australian bands playing at a coouple of those shows. Maybe you’ll cross paths. Now, beyond Periphery, what bands or music are you listening to at the moment?

Well since you brought up Australian bands, I’m gonna name-drop Karnivool, because they’re like my favourite Australian band. I’ve been listening to Sound Awake a lot. I’ve been listening to He is Legend, Nine Inch Nails, Pantera… I don’t do too much metal, but that’s like the heavier side of what I choose to like. [Karnivool] need to catch on Stateside. They are so good.

Periphery have since been announced to perform at Soundwave 2013 on the following dates:
Saturday 23rd February – Brisbane
Sunday 24th February – Sydney
Friday 1st March – Melbourne
Saturday 2nd March – Adelaide
Monday 4th March – Perth