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INTERVIEW: Mark Holcomb – Periphery

Photo Credit: Jonathan Thorpe
Photo Credit: Jonathan Thorpe

WORDS: Henry Jones

PERIPHERY are one of modern metal’s strongest outfits. The band popularised the term ‘djent’, have consistently produced quality studio records and harnessed a reputation as a solid live band. Before a headlining show in Manchester we caught up with guitarist Mark Holcomb to talk about the tour, the band’s least favourite songs to play live and future material in the works!

How’s the tour going?

Mark Holcomb: Fantastic so far. Just played the one show, which was Bristol last night. It was awesome, great crowd, it sold out. Played a very long set, yeah it was a great show. Last night, we played about 70 to 75 minutes, so it was the longest show we’ve ever played, really. We’re not used to playing headlining shows out here, it’s actually our first headlining show in Europe in about five years, so it’s been a long time, but it was a great show. Spencer [Sotello] kind of blew out his voice a little last night, so we may have to cut a song or two, but it’ll still be around 75 minutes tonight.

What are your favourite songs to play live?

MH: Now, it’s Stranger Things. It’s always the new songs, you know. We get tired of playing Icarus, we hate playing Icarus, but we know we have to play Icarus Lives because we know people will be angry if they don’t hear it. But it’s Stranger Things, it’s Four Lights, that’s a really fun one because it’s instrumental, and it’s got this really heavy, gnarly groove to it, and Graveless is always really because it’s a thrashy one.

And your least favourite songs?

MH: It’s always the old stuff, like it’s all technically engaging, and you can always find ways to keep yourself occupied and have fun with the songs, but I have to say, my least favourite overall are always the old songs, just because we’ve played them so many times, like Letter Experiment, we’re playing The Walk too, and you know, that’s not a fun song to play, but it’s awesome to see the crowd go crazy for it. And the crowd went nuts for it because we haven’t played that song in three years.

We saw a post the All Things Periphery fanbase a while back about new material in the works. How’s that coming along?

MH: Good! So we’re one of those bands that always writes. We’re always, always, always writing, so even when we finished Juggernaut, and we knew we didn’t have to write, we were still writing anyway. You know, there was no pressure on us whatsoever to write because we just put out two records in January, but in a sense, that makes us feel more comfortable writing, because there’s no pressure, there’s no timeline, there’s no deadline to meet, so it’s just creation. Just creating, and creating, and creating, and there’s a lot of stuff written, Spencer’s been writing a lot. So I think you may be seeing new material from us sooner than you think. Like a lot sooner.

Considering the jump from Periphery II to Juggernaut in terms of style, where do you see the next record going?

MH: You know, it’s definitely not going to be a concept album. I think we burnt ourselves out on the whole concept album thing, and I’ll tell you something kind of candidly is we cut a lot of really good material from Juggernaut because it didn’t fit lyrically with the story. So we had a great song, for instance, that was great instrumentally, and Spencer wrote killer vocals for it, but it wouldn’t quite line up with the Juggernaut story, or it wouldn’t quite line up with the vibe that Juggernaut had. So we cut it, and that’s kind of a shame and that’s a restraint we’re just not used to working with because we’d never written a concept album before, so the next one, we’re gonna embrace not having to do a concept album, we’re just gonna put out material we feel best about from every angle and just not really pay attention to, you know, “Does it fit lyrically? Does it fit the story?” since there will be no story. I think it will be a little bit more sort of light hearted, because Juggernaut was a dark record, you know, so I want it to be a little bit more upbeat, to go back to a little bit more of the… I guess ‘whimsical’ is the word for the Periphery II feel. It’s difficult to describe. There’s definitely a lot of playfulness present on that album, and I think I miss that personally. I miss all of the electronic elements in our music, because there were no electronics on Juggernaut, which is a shame because I really love Jake [Bowen]’s electronic stuff.

We’ve heard a lot of people saying digital amps like Axe FX can’t replace traditional tube amps, how do you feel about that?

MH: I agree to an extent. What we do is we use amps in the studio, and then we use Axe FX as well, so we use a combination, but live, we use Axe FX because it’s just super convenient. We don’t have to lug our amps around everywhere, the tone is super consistent every night, you don’t have to rely on how your tubes are doing, on putting an amp through a different environment, or even how the stage is set up. It’s all the same with an Axe FX. So there’s that, and it gets close enough to where you can’t really tell the difference in this style of music. You know, we play metal, it’s metal music, and it provides that kind of tone very well. But there’s nothing that comes close to messing with real amps in a studio, especially if you have the time and the resources to do so.

So are you guys just running straight through Axe FX tonight?

MH: Straight through Axe FX, always to front of house, but when we do, we always have cabs on stage too. Now the cabs are for nobody but us and the first couple of rows in the crowd because what we noticed happening a couple of years ago was the fans that would get there early, they would rush up to the front, but then the front of those speakers facing front of house would be on the side of them, so what you’ve got is like this sound completely bypassing the first couple of rows of the crowd. So, we’d see them after the show, and they’d say, “The show was great, but we couldn’t hear anything but drums and Spencer yelling at us acoustically.” So we’ve found this is a way to kind of reward those people who got up early. We can just sort of direct sound at them with the cabs. That fills out the sound nicely too.

So, how difficult is it to try and dial in tones into the Axe FX, considering just how many types of guitars, pickups and strings you guys use?

MH: Well, we have various types of guitars, and different brands, we all use different pick up brands, but in terms of tone, it’s pretty consistent, because we dial everything in the same, and we use the Axe FX’s EQ to make up for any differences in pickups and brands. So any combination of body woods in the guitars, any pick up differences can all be sort of compensated for on the EQ side, which we try to do. The tones, at the end of the day, are all very similar, but, and this is something interesting, me and Misha [Mansoor] play a lot of the rhythm stuff. I’m panned hard right, Jake’s panned in the middle, and Misha is panned hard left. That means that Jake gets a lot of the ambient clean parts, and a lot of the layers, so that means he has a ton more Axe FX presets programmed than we do since he uses, I think, over 100 presets live in one set. So he doesn’t have the clean tone for Letter Experiment and then the clean tone for Jetpacks, he has separate ones for each. This is for you nerdy musicians out there, one is aligned with the BPM for Jetpacks, one is aligned with the BPM for Letter Experiment. It’s all song specific. So yeah, we make sure we have everything consistent, we all have a lot of patches.

So do you use the Axe FX pedalboard too?

MH: We don’t. We have all of our Axe FX presets programmed and automated in. So all of our backing tracks and Matt [Halpern]’s click track, which we also have in our ears too, that all runs out of a ProTools session, and in that ProTools session, it’s all just running real time, right? So in that ProTools session, we actually go in and program MIDI triggers that switch our presets for us at specific places. So no pedalboards needed. It’s really convenient, and it’s really fun not to have to tap dance.

What’s your current favourite guitar that you own?

MH: Probably the PRS 7 string I have. It’s a 7 string version of a 6 string model I own. It’s really great, I love it.

Do you see HAUNTED SHORES performing live any time soon?

MH: Nah, I don’t, I don’t. So that project was like my passion project, and then I involved Misha, so it’s become both of ours now, and it’s something I want to keep as an outlet for things I can’t really express in PERIPHERY. So if it’s something too fast, or too death metal-y, or too crazy to make it in PERIPHERY, well we got HAUNTED SHORES.

What sort of other side projects would you like to pursue in the future? Anything you couldn’t pursue in PERIPHERY?

MH: I’m always open to whatever, you know. HAUNTED SHORES, I want to put out some more material next year, and I’m talking with some people about collaborating. My friend Anneke van Gierbergen, she sings in Devin Townsend’s band, we’re talking about collaborating on some stuff. There’s a couple things in the works, nothing I can say too much about at this point, but yes, the answer is yes, there’s a few things that I definitely want to collaborate on, for sure. I’m always open to it, time permitting.

And finally, some people over on All Things Periphery have been asking about the possibility of a GOOD TIGER/PERIPHERY US tour. Any comments?

MH: Hopefully, yeah! We’re not going to be touring the US for a while now because we’ve toured it twice this year, and two very long tours too. GOOD TIGER’s one of those bands, though, that we really, really like. They were great last night and we’re excited to have them on this tour, and it really makes sense for us to tour together, since they’re such good friends of ours and we really like their music. I’d love to take them out in the States, for sure! Nothing imminent though.

Thanks for a great interview!

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Distorted Sound Issue 24 COVER