Features Interviews

Let Me Axe You Something: an Interview with Periphery’s Jake Bowen

Jake_Bowen_Periphery

Periphery are Kiss. Well, okay they can play their instruments really well instead of not at all. And they’re generally all youngish handsomish men instead of shambling piles of leathery hairy flesh and lechery. And their albums have more than one tempo…

But there’s at least one thing both bands have in common: they had the idea to do a bunch of solo works and package them together as a collection. Well… and even there it’s pretty different because Kiss made solo albums and Periphery’s new Clear EP is just one record containing an overture and then a single song from each of the band’s six members. I guess this whole Kiss comparison is a stretch. The Melvins solo record set is a much closer analog, but that was a Kiss parody so I don’t know if it counts. I guess I just wanted an excuse to knock Kiss. I tend to do that.

Oh right, Periphery. Their Clear EP is immediately compelling, because the first thing you wonder is “did your drummer play guitar?” or “did your singer let your write his lyrics?” whenever a band delves into a project like this. So when I had a chance to talk to Periphery’s guitarist Jake Bowen about the album, his rig, and the group’s formerly-unique-but-quickly-becoming-a-new-norm all direct live sound, those were among the first questions I asked him.

So you guys are releasing the Clear EP in January?

Yeah.

Basically the idea of that was that everybody in the band each did a specific track on the record?  You did track #2, and your drummer did track #3, etc?

Yeah, exactly.

I was curious if one person wrote every bit of [their own song], like here’s what the drums would be and here’s what the vocals are going to be, or was it like you come in with the ground work and Spencer [vocals] will come up with lyrics?

It’s a little bit of both actually.  I can only speak for my song because we all worked pretty separately as far as all the compositions went.  For my song, I wrote all the riffs and I suggested grooves to Misha [guitar] who helped me program the drums.  Spencer wrote all the vocal parts, and I worked with him on some of the parts or at least my vision of what the parts should be over my riffs.  I was the general maestro for the song, and people contributed certain things but it was pretty much up to each person’s discretion on how the song would end up sounding in the final product.  Even though there is collaboration in some respect, it’s exactly what that one person wanted.

What about tracks where guitar players didn’t write it?  Spencer wrote track 5 and your drummer wrote track 3.  Did they play the guitar on it?

Actually, pretty much everyone in the band plays guitar except for Matt.  Matt’s the drummer, and he worked with Spencer on the song.  They have another project together called the Mothership.  I’m not sure how much of the song he wrote and how much Spencer wrote, but I’m pretty sure that Spencer tracked the guitar on both songs.  So everyone in the band plays guitar except for Matt, so it was pretty easy to track guitars for these songs.

You mentioned that the drums are programmed on the song that you wrote ["The Summer Jam"].

Yeah.

Were they programmed on a lot of the record or on some of the songs?

Just on some of the songs.  On Spencer’s and Matt’s songs, for sure they went to the studio and recorded live drums.  On my song, [guitarist] Mark’s song, Misha’s song and [bassist] Nolly’s song are all programmed drums.  Normally we wouldn’t do an official recording with fully programmed drums, but this was just an experiment and we figured it would be okay in this one instance . . . especially because each person was in control of their own track and we had a very limited time to spend getting it done that this would be the right move and the right sound that we were going for.

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Was a lot of the stuff home recorded?  Did you record your stuff at home?  Misha, I’m sure, has a pretty good recording rig at home. Or did you record in a studio?

Matt and Spencer went into the studio to do all of the instruments.  Me, Mark and Misha did our songs on Misha’s recording rig at his house.  Nolly did his song at his own recording rig that he brought with him from the U.K., but I believe he recorded it . . . he wrote it at his house in the U.K. but he recorded it at Misha’s apartment.

I know that these weren’t the songs that you masterminded, but for the songs that Spencer and Matt did, did they also use direct guitars or do you know if they mic’ed anything up?

Well they worked with this guy who worked on our 2nd album.  His name is Taylor Larson.  If I know Taylor, he probably had them use a real amp and a cab rather than Axe-FX, but I think he has an Axe-FX II which is used for direct recording.  I’m pretty sure it was a real amp on both those songs though.

One thing that I was going to say is that overall for something that was recorded in several places; it has a fairly consistent sound to it.  Did you take those direct guitar recordings or did you re-amp them afterwards to get a more consistent guitar tone?

You mean on all the tracks as a whole or on Spencer’s and Matt’s?

Yeah, the whole overall mix between the different songs.  There is a consistent sound to it.  It doesn’t necessarily sound like a recording that was tracked in a bunch of different places by a bunch of different people.

I think there are similarities between all of the tones.  Just because it’s high, tight guitar tone with a nice bottom end to it, I think the mastering and mixing has a lot to do with that too.  I know that for at least my track, Mark’s track, Misha’s track and Nolly’s, it was all direct in with the Axe-FX II using pretty much the same amp model.  The tone might be different just based on the guitar.  We used different guitars and the guitar playing styles are all different, so there are all these subtle little changes.  For the most part, it’s all done through the same Axe-FX with the same amp model.

Do you happen to know for the tracks that did have live drums if samples were used that were similar to the programmed drums?  Like similar drum tones?

No, Taylor Larson has a nice collection of snare drums and drums that he uses and Matt brought his own Mapex Drums into the studio.  I’m pretty sure that none of those drums make an appearance in any of the Toontrack Superior drums, so those will sound pretty different.

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Do you know for the songs that have a lot of drums, if most of them used natural tones or was it more . . .

You know, I know that just hearing the discussions between Spencer and Matt and knowing the type of producer/engineer that Taylor is, I’d say that those drums sounds are probably extremely natural because I know that’s what they’ve been trying to go for for a long time.  Typically metal bands will sample each drum, get the takes and will sample and replace all the hits and quantize them and stuff.  In the end, you might as well fucking program it.

It seems like there’s a little bit of a backlash against that.  I feel that a lot of bands that used to program or sound replace a lot are starting to go back and use more natural tones and mic’ed up drums again.  I noticed that in some of the videos of Animals as Leaders, with an all mic’ed up drum kit and everything, which I was kind of surprised by.

Yeah, well they got Matt Garstka, and that dude is just a monster.  If you have that dude in your band and you’re programming your drums, there’s something wrong with the world.

I think their last drummer was really amazing, too.

Oh yeah, Navene?  He’s a monster too.  Matt Halpern was their original drummer, which is kind of funny.

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Your drummer was their original drummer?

Yeah, but not many people will realize that because Matt wasn’t in the band for too long.  I actually saw Animals as Leaders do a couple of their first gigs with Matt.

I had no idea about that.

Yeah, it’s a cool little tidbit that not too many people are aware of.

Did one person mix the record or were each of the songs separately mixed also?

Each of the songs were mixed . . . well, I would say that Misha mixed my song, his song and Mark’s song and got all the tones and stuff like that or helped get all the tones.  He helped on my song and helped Mark on his song.  Nolly mixed his song and mastered the whole experiment.  Taylor Larson mixed and mastered Spencer’s and Matt’s.  There were a couple of different people there.

So what about the “Overture?”  Did one person mastermind all that or did you collaborate on that?

That’s actually interesting.  I should use this chance to tell you that this idea isn’t our own.  This idea was given to us by Steph from the Deftones.  He has all these ideas and when we were on tour with him, he was telling us some of these ideas.  He said “I would really like for you guys to use some of these things that I’ve been sitting on because I’m not going to be able to do them with my own band because it’s just not the right band for doing that kind of stuff.  Here’s the idea that I had.”  Basically the exact idea that he gave us is the one that we went with.  We tweaked it so that it would fit our band a little bit better.  He said “you should take one idea, give it to each of the members and have them write a song on that one idea”.  Misha had written this whole piano thing.  Before it was named anything, it was just called “Steinway Demo”.  When we were discussing what concept or what melodic theme that we were going to use for the record, we all sent out different ideas and stuff.  We all agreed that Misha’s Steinway Piano demo should be it.  When I went over to record my song, I think it was right after we finished the 1st incarnation of it, I’m like “dude, we got to tweak the piano thing so it’s an intro track that establishes everything”.  So we opened it up and started talking about it and where drums should be.  We sent a preliminary version out with some drums and 8 string guitar.  Spencer came back with some ideas on how to flush out the instrumentals a bit more.  Misha recorded all the instruments for it, and I sat in the chair and pointed fingers at it and stuff.  That came together pretty quickly at Misha’s house.

So the Overture came before the other songs? 

Yeah, a long time before – probably several months.  It was just something Misha sent out with a “hey guys, check this out”.

Did you guys actually go into it and say “hey, I’m going to do a piece based on this section” and”I’m going to do a piece based on that part”? 

I forgot to mention the important part about that.  There’s one melodic theme.  I think it might start to peak out over the end of the Overture track in the Youtube video that we posted, but I’m not sure.  We were like “this is the melodic theme that should be in each song”.  When you hear it in each song, it might not be as apparent that that’s what you’re hearing because it’s interpreted in different keys and different rhythms and tempos and stuff like that.  We just isolated one part of that track and focused on that as the theme that permeates the whole recording.

peavey-6505

On the last album that you did that was a real Periphery record, I know you guys rely on Axe-FX, do you entirely use it in the studio direct or do you bundle it with amps or anything like that?

For at least for Periphery II, we ran it through, I think, a Peavey 6505.  That’s an amp, right?

Yeah, it’s essentially the 5150 when they lost the Van Halen license.

Yeah, yeah, okay.  It was that one, I’m pretty sure.  It might be the newer, EVH one.  I’m not really good with amp heads anymore since I moved over to the Axe-FX thing.

Van Halen moved to Fender, so now there’s a 5150 III.  If it’s a 3 channel amp, then it’s the new 5150 III and it’s Fender.

That’s probably what it is more than the 6505.  I remember it being white and saying “EVH” on the front of it.  So that’s probably the one.

It said “EVH” on the front?

I’m pretty sure.

If it said it in the center, then it’s the new Fender one because the old Peavey ones kind of set it in the corner and said “5150”[or later, "6505]” in the center.  The new [Fender] ones say “EVH” in the center.

Gotcha.  So we ran the Axe-FX II into the power section and ran that out to a Mesa 4×12 and mic’ed that up and that was our guitar tone for Periphery II.

evh-5150

So was that most of it or was there also direct guitar blended in?

I think some of the cleans might have been direct just because you can tweak them a lot better without having to mess with a cabinet.

All the distortion tones were mic’ed up?

All the distortion tones and the leads and solos are amp and cab with the Axe-FX as a preamp.

Did you have to create very different patches that were tailored to that or did your live tone with the cab models disabled essentially work with that?

We have to create very different tones.  Actually, we’ve been using the Axe-FX Ultras up until the beginning of the last tour.

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That was the one before the II, right?

Yeah.  We hadn’t been using our album tone live until very recently, and even then, they’ve changed since the album.  I think we’re using the Friedman model on the Axe-FX II, which is very different sounding than what we had on Periphery II.

Oh yeah, that’s a line of amps based off of hot rodded JCM800s [it turns out I was wrong and they're bassed off of hot rodded Plexis -ED]

Yeah, that’s the amp model that we use for our live tone now and we all use the same tone for consistency’s sake.

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Okay, so you basically took the tone that you developed for the studio and then just put it through cab models afterwards and based the live tone off of that?

Actually what ended up happening was Nolly, our bass player, is producing and recording the new Animals as Leaders album.  The last time he was out there before our last tour, he had Matt from Fractal and he was out there with Tosin and Javier working on tones.  They were getting really good results with that amp model and with the new firmware update.  It was like “we got to switch to this because it’s just that much better”.  That’s pretty much how we came up with the tone that we use now.

You said that all three of you were essentially using the same guitar tone?

Yeah, whenever we make a tweak, we make sure to send it to the other guy that doesn’t have the tweak.  If Misha makes a tweak, he’ll tell me which tweak he made and then I’ll go and do the same thing and Mark will do the same thing.

You guys don’t try and carve out specific frequency notches to stand out from each other?

No, that gets handled in front of house more than in your monitor mix.  We have a stereo mix where I can be in the center and have Misha in my left ear and Mark in my right ear, so I don’t really need to differentiate the tones that much.  The reason why we do tweak the tones is for our house engineer Alex.  He has specific requests that he makes after listening to a couple of shows of the new tones and tells us what frequencies he would like cut.  It’s basically trial and error.

So he makes those tweaks on his side on the mixing or do you alter your amp models based on that?

He’ll tell us what he can cut, and he’ll also do his own EQ at the front of house.  Because I’m in the middle, I’m coming out of both PA speakers whereas Mark is just coming out of the left side, which would be stage right and Misha is coming out of the right side which would be stage left.  My frequencies need to be a little different than both of theirs so that I sit right in the mix.  So it’s just a handicap of having 3 guitar players.

Are you doing that slight tweak in your Axe in the amp model or is he handing that in the front house mixing?

Both.  If he can’t get enough of a cut or enough of a boost, he’ll ask us to do it on the Axe-FX and then he’ll have what he needs, but he’s still doing EQ’ing on his end.

I don’t hear too many bands doing a stereo mix like that live.  Do you know if that’s kind of unique for you guys or is that more common these days?

I don’t know.  I’ve been learning a lot about live sound just by hanging out with Alex our sound guy.  It’s fairly complex and we make it even harder for him by having 3 guitar players and having layered stints and vocal effects and all kinds of crap going on.  It makes it really hard for him to mix us and have us sound good live.  It’s been a very big challenge since we started doing this.  I think we’re on a unique situation just based on the density of our music.  I heard Alex mix other bands, and I’m pretty sure he does similar things and they’ve always sounded really good.

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You’re actually responsible for selling Axe-FX to a lot of people because you were one of the first bands to get really big using those.  Now you see a bunch of bands using the other big name that’s popping up in amp modelers: the Kemper Profiling Amp.  Have you guys been around those at all?  Do you have an opinion on them?

I’ve played around with the Kemper and the Line 6 HD Pod (I think it is), it’s just the Axe-FX always wins those tone wars that we have with the feel of everything, the constant updates.  It’s just the one that we’ve chosen just based on a number of things.  I hear that Kemper is starting to accommodate people who like things about the Axe-FX.  I think the thing that initially turned me off with the other modelers, especially with the Kemper, is the shape of it and the fact that it wasn’t rack mountable.  This was awhile back.

They rack that one now.

Yeah.

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I’ve heard people say, even people who like the sound of the Kemper, that it just isn’t as road worthy, even with the rack mount, compared to the Axe.

I’ve been touring with an Axe-FX since early 2010.  I’ve had it get banged around, I’ve had the knobs get knocked off, I’ve had all sorts of cold and hot weather, rumbling around in a trailer for months and never had any problems with it.  So it’s definitely been tested.

Do you guys fly those units overseas?  I thought that one of the interesting things about them since now that your tone is entirely in the patch, is that you could rent one out there and load your settings onto it.  Although I suppose it’s not that big so shipping wouldn’t be a . . .

Yeah, that’s always been an idea.  The issue is finding people who actually have them to rent.  I think the few backline companies that there are in other countries, if they do have Axe-FX, they get rented really quickly for studios and other applications.  So they’re never available.  We end up taking our own.  We use these Pelican Cases that are custom fit that fit the Axe-FX.  I think we have to buy new ones now that we’re using the II because the II is just a little bit longer.  These are the same types of cases that film crews and camera crews put all their equipment in, and you can custom fit the foam and stuff.  So we just end up bringing 2 big cases that hold our 4 Axe-FX (now), our audio interface, our midi interface and all the cables and power stuff that we need.

You just travel with four of them with no backup or anything?

Yeah, we don’t have extra space for a backup right now.  It would definitely be the smart thing to do, but we’re kind of living on the edge right now until we can afford to bring more stuff.  The challenge is always the airlines.  We’ll pay the extra baggage fees, but they start getting really touchy when you start bringing a bunch of cases.  We bring 5 guitar cases.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them, but they’re these 3 spaced guitar cases that . . .

Yeah.

So we bring 5 of those, we bring 2 or 3 Pelican cases that are the size of a very large shoe case, and when you start rolling them up to the check-in counter, they get all mean about it saying “you can’t bring that much stuff on the plane”.  We’re like “what do you want us to do?  We’ll pay the fee”.  So we always have to make sure that while we want to bring everything, we can’t do it just based on airline policy and stuff.

One thing I’m actually curious about your setup, and everything is synched to Pro Tools.

Right.

What about when the songs aren’t quite finished and you’re writing or rehearsing?  Do you have foot controllers at the rehearsal space for that type of thing?

We used to.  At least on this last rehearsal, we got kind of lazy and we definitely did not have patches ready for a lot of the new songs that we were playing.  So we would just play them with the distortion tone the entire song.  It’s fine for us because rehearsals for us is just being able to play through the set making sure there is enough time in between songs to switch guitars and tunings and stuff like that.  The sounds are just kind of a luxury.  We’ll just play through the songs with a distortion patch.  I could bring a pedal board but I forgot where I put it.  [Laughs]

I think that’s all I’ve got for you.  Any closing words or anything that you want to get out there?

If this is a gear related website, I’d like to mention that I have a DiMarzio signature pickup called “the Titan” that is a pretty nice humbucker for 6 string, and we have a 7 string coming out too.  I figured I should shout out to those guys because they’ve been really cool to me.

DiMarzio_Titan_Bridge

That was recently, right?

Yeah, yeah that was released in October.  I love the ones that they sent me.  I’m getting good feedback on it, as well as the Ibanez guitars that I use.  They’re always road worthy and sounding great.

Actually I was a bad guitar website guy and completely forgot to ask what kind of guitar you play in the first place.

That’s okay.

I’m sure people will want to know.  So… what guitar do you play?

I have an Ibanez Custom that I got from the L.A. Custom Shop.  I’m kind of working on a secret project, but the word was kind of dropped a little bit early, so I can talk about it just for a little bit.  I have a signature 6 string Ibanez guitar coming out.  It’s based off of one of my L.A. Custom Shop’s that I designed, and it’s called “the Titan”.  You can get the DiMarzio pickups that I designed in “the Titan” if you buy it.

What kind of body is it?

It’s an RGA style with the arch top with the secret strap look.  It’s a dual humbucker configuration.  It’s got a lo-pro Ibanez bridge in it and reverse headstock, ebony fretboard and it’s pretty cool.  It has a matte finish on it.  Ibanez doesn’t really do matte finishes except for one or two of their guitars.

Is it painted matte or stained wood matte?

It’s painted matte.  It’s not black because I held it up to a black guitar and it actually looks very grey in comparison.  I asked for matte black in the Custom Shop and they sent me this graphite matte and it looks incredible.  I’m like “wow, this is a great mistake.  Perfect.  I like this way better”.  That’s the color it’ll be, but that will be up in January I believe.

What are you playing right now since that guitar isn’t out.  Ibanez RG’s?

Yeah, I have L.A. Custom Shop’s version of that signature guitar.  I have a 6 string and 7 string version, and I also use an RG2228A for my 8 string.  Those are the guitars I’m jamming on now.

Cool.  Thank you very much for doing the interview.

Thank you, Chris, anytime.

periphery-clear-preorder

Periphery’s Clear will be released on January 28th via Sumerian Records.

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