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INTERVIEW: Jake Bowen – Periphery

As progressive metal has surged in popularity in recent years, PERIPHERY have been at the epicentre of the movement. Since the band roared onto the scene with their self-titled debut, the band have soared in popularity leading the charge as progressive music evolves and expands. Now, 12 years into their career and on the back of the successful Periphery III: Select Difficulty, the band are just about to wrap up an extensive headlining tour of Europe. Before a show in Manchester, one of two dates here in the UK, we caught up with guitarist Jake Bowen to reflect on the success of Periphery III, the response to being nominated for a Grammy and the future of progressive metal.

So we are getting to the latter end of the headlining European tour, how has it been for PERIPHERY?

Jake: Awesome! It’s been interesting because we haven’t been here in quite a while for a regular tour, I think it’s been about a year and a half, but having DESTRAGE and THE CONTORTIONIST out with us has been really cool. We’ve noticed a bit of growth in other markets, the shows have been going really well and they are fun to play, I like the setlist so I can’t complain. I was looking forward to this tour for a while!

Speaking of the setlist, how is it balanced? Is it mostly stuff from Periphery III: Select Difficulty or is it a nice mix?

Jake: It’s half and half pretty much, like Juggernaut and Periphery III, with some Periphery II stuff sprinkled in there. I think we’re only playing one Periphery II song, I should know the answer to this question! But yeah the rest is Juggernaut and Periphery III, not that there is any focus and stuff, these are just the songs that we enjoy playing as a band and stuff that we have together that we know all the parts to. Also, in consideration to the setlist is also where there are breaks for Spencer, as he sings and screams, having like too many screaming songs in a row and then doing a singing song is really difficult because the screaming shreds his voice. So we have to make sure it is paced correctly and not only that, the other challenge is that we have a lot of different guitar tunings so having a lot of similarly tuned guitars, those songs have to go together otherwise we will be switching guitars every other song. It’s pretty challenging coming up with a setlist but once we do and get it nailed down it works well.

So I imagine there is a lot of preparation before you go out on tour?

Jake: Yeah, there is and I lot of it I have to say is our crew. They get our equipment together and they are the best crew! They really are the absolute best. I rely a lot on them to grab the gear and assemble it, and we have these fly-cases and stuff that we bring on the planes so I trust them to make sure they have all the stuff. Why we do that is because we all live in different parts of the United States so it’s hard for us all to get together. Usually we get together for a few days before the tour starts to practise but that’s it.

Periphery III has been out for just nearly a year now, so fans have had plenty of time to digest the new material. How do you feel the new material comes across, especially live?

Jake: I think it’s great, I mean there is kind of just a feeling associated with it and the newer stuff is the most fun to play and I don’t really know why that is. The only reason I can guess is that we’ve had time to refine our writing process and we know that, just in our opinion, write better songs that go over with the crowd better and that we feel more comfortable playing. I play some of the older stuff sometimes and I’m like “I don’t know why this isn’t sounding right” I just can’t put my finger on it, I think it is just because we’ve gotten better as a band. Writing together and putting a song together is like putting a puzzle together and the pieces are just fitting better.

And of course The Price Is Wrong was nominated for a Grammy, how did you feel when you found out you were nominated for such an award?

Jake: Shocked! I mean, that kind of world is very far removed from what we’re used to being in and it’s just because of the nature of the music we write; it’s very out there and it appeals to a very specific group of people. So to have any sort of mainstream recognition is pretty interesting and I’m really glad that it happened! It was a cool thing to find out, but at first it was shock and I was like “maybe we’re doing something correctly.”

Being noted by the mainstream indicates that progressive music is really exploding in popularity, so do you feel that this style and movement of music is at the best it can be?

Jake: Well, I always thought it was at the best it could be in the 90s and then I started listening to bands like BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME and SIKTH and a million other bands. I realised it evolved, this style of music is evolving into something and hopefully we are part of that evolution and then I know in like five or ten years you’re going to hear kids doing even crazier shit! I think that’s just the nature of this style of music, it’s very skill-orientated and I think people figure out new ways to do things and play music and I think it is only going to evolve further. I just hope that it doesn’t get stale and that there is an emphasis on song-writing, I think that good songs are what have the staying power.

So do you feel that there is always going to be room for improvement within progressive metal?

Jake: Yeah, as long as there is a group of people who appreciate music. You can’t just pick up a guitar and start playing stuff, you have to dedicate pieces of your life to it and I hope that’s written into the DNA of the style.

So it’s almost like a lifestyle?

Jake: Yeah absolutely! You hear a lot the term people throw around; basement shredder. I feel that’s where bands like PERIPHERY came from. We just sat in our rooms and our basements and just played until we were at a level where we can meet other people who play at a certain level. So as long as there is some sort of support structure and people who enjoy the music, I think it is only going to grow!

You just mentioned about the whole ‘basement shredder’, that’s really been a core aspect of PERIPHERY with the whole self-producing of the records. Was that always the intent from day one?

Jake: I think that was something that Misha showed me that could be done. Before I became friends with Misha, this is in like 2004/2005, he was posting songs online and a room mate of mine was like “yo you need to check this kid out, he’s ridiculous!” And I would listen to it and was like “wow you can get that kind of recording quality at home now? I really should work on this.” So of course I hit him up before any of us were anything and we exchanged guitar licks and riffs over the internet and it’s what got me started into accepting the fact you can do this stuff yourself. I learnt a lot from him and everybody in the band learnt a lot from him and we took it on ourselves to be a part of the DIY process, like we have different roles in the band. We all write now and we all produce, we’re all present for the pre-production, the writing, the actual recording and production of the album and then the release. I did the artwork and some people handle the business aspects of the band, it’s pretty cool to have that control not because we need to, we’re not control freaks! But you only have yourself to rely on and you only have yourself to blame if something goes wrong so it really gives us piece of mind in terms of releasing music and making albums because it’s just like “we did our best, there’s nobody to blame but us.”

So it really leaves your musical direction in your own hands?

Jake: Yeah, and that’s not to say we haven’t haven’t listened to suggestions from parts of our team like that. We aren’t hot headed and that we’re not willing to listen to feedback because that feedback is important, any sort of feedback is important! Even if it is not the best feedback, it keeps the gears turning and it gives you a different perspective. You may even come up something that has nothing to do with that feedback but it is because of that feedback that you thought of the idea. It’s good to be constantly offered perspective.

Going back to Periphery III, now that is has been out for about a year, looking back on it how do you feel it holds up compared to your back catalogue?

Jake: For me, it is my favourite album, I know that is a cliché answer for a lot of band guys because they always say “oh our current album that you can buy now on iTunes is the best one.” I don’t feel that way because of that, I feel that way because of the way it feels to play the songs live. I don’t know, I just sort of lock into them, it’s just a feeling and that’s what I base my opinion on.

I know it is early days but have you already started on the follow up?

Jake: Yes and no. With PERIPHERY we always have a billion demos so there is stuff out there that may make it onto the next record that’s already kind of written. For example, we did a summer camp last year in up-state New York and there was like 80 people that came and we all wrote a song in front of them. Who knows? Maybe that song might make it onto the next record, it’s got some cool riffs in it and it’s cool because people helped us with that song. The fans listened to the song-writing process and they did gang vocals on some of the sections so it’s interesting that we have all that stuff and that is just one idea! There’s a bunch of other ideas kicking around and we always write a bunch of stuff when it comes to doing the record anyway so the answer is yes, there is stuff out there but we haven’t started focusing on it yet.

And really, just to close off, once this tour comes to an end, what’s next for PERIPHERY? Do you have more touring in the works? Any festival appearances?

Jake: No, we’re just going to take some time off for a few months. We’re working on a tour for the fall but I can’t really say much about it yet just because everything is so tentative. But yeah, hopefully we’ll get some time off because we’ve been going pretty much since the end of January until now so like we did Australia and Asia. I even stayed in Japan after the tour and did like a week hiking trip so that was more travelling. And then we did a US tour and then we did this European tour so pretty much the first five months of the year have been all work so it will be good to have some time off and recharge!

Well brilliant, best of luck for tonight’s show and the remaining tour dates, thank you for talking to Distorted Sound.

Jake: Cheers, thanks!

Periphery III: Select Difficulty is out now via Century Media Records.

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Distorted Sound Issue 24 COVER