Periphery’s Jake Bowen On The “Unspoken Cosmic Thing” That Defines His Band

The Periphery guitarist discusses his guitar heroes, 'Hail Stan,' and how to stay on top of your game

Periphery interview

Photo by Travis Shinn

Periphery have carved themselves a unique legacy after nearly a decade of boundary-pushing music that’s as heavy as it is textured and unpredictable. Their newest full-length, Hail Stan, continues that tradition. The album is also the band’s first on their label 3DOT Recordings.

We spoke with Periphery guitarist Jake Bowen about striving for musical growth, the “unspoken cosmic thing” that defines a Periphery riff, and two of his guitar heroes: his aunt (former member of the trailblazing metal band Meanstreak) and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. Stream ‘Garden In The Bones’ here and read the Periphery interview below:

Periphery Interview

Dan Redding: When I think of Periphery, the first thing that comes to mind is the masterful level of musicianship. Are you a believer in the idea that it takes ten thousand hours to master your craft?

Jake Bowen: I think you never truly master anything. I don’t know if it’s nihilistic of me to say this, but no matter what, there’s always gonna be somebody better than you. You’re never truly ‘the master’ as the title implies. I try not to look at it as, ‘Once I reach a certain point, then I cross this threshold.’ I look at it as, I’ll never cross the threshold, and the whole point of doing it is to constantly get better. All these things are on a scale, and you’re just somewhere on that scale.

How do you make sure that you don’t plateau, and that you keep growing and pushing into new areas?

I think if you say that to yourself, and you have those thoughts, like, ‘Oh man, I feel like I’m plateauing,’ there’s a certain something in certain people that can identify that… There’s no surefire way to remove or undo some sort of plateauing experience. But as long as you try to stay as self-aware as possible – again, no one is truly self-aware, it’s just different shades of self-awareness – as long as you stay aware of it as best as you can, I think that’s probably the best way of not getting to that point. I wake up every morning and I’m just like, ‘Okay, what am I gonna work on today?’ Sometimes, I need to change things up, or think outside of the box as they say. To not let plateauing happen, or writer’s block, or come up with stuff that is a breath of fresh air, and you’re not rehashing former glory.

I know you have an electronic music project. Is looking outside the genre of heavy music part of how you push your musicianship forward?

Absolutely. I don’t really listen to a lot of heavy music anymore. I never thought I’d really see that day, just growing up the way I did. I fell in love with heavy metal. It’s something that I’ve listened to since I was a really little kid. Lately, I just feel like the things that were present in my childhood are just in much smaller quantities.

The different genres of heavy metal, the different scenes of heavy metal, are becoming way more defined. There’s so much more out there. It kind of segregates everything. I don’t really have a grasp on what’s cool and heavy, or what would be considered good heavy metal. I’m exposed to my friends’ bands, but I’d say that my biggest inspiration – and the main reason why I like writing metal – is because I don’t listen to it. I don’t burn myself out on it. I don’t wanna say it’s a bad time for metal music, because it’s not – there’s tons of good albums. I just find more inspiration elsewhere.

What elements does a guitar riff have to have in order to be a great Periphery guitar riff?

Sometimes we get into that conversation in the studio when we’re writing or on tour. We kind of boiled it all down to: [the riff should] give everyone in the room a certain, ‘Yeah that’s sick,’ or ‘No, that’s not sick.’ I know that’s really abstract… We know it when we have it. There’s an unspoken cosmic thing. It’s pretty humorous.

We were talking about how you push yourself to keep growing. You’re one of three guitarists in Periphery. Do you guys push each other to grow?

Oh, absolutely. I owe a debt of gratitude to everybody in the band, but especially Mark and Misha, the other two guitar players. The reason the band has been able to progress – at least my interpretation of progression, because there’s a lot of people who think we’re just doing the same thing over and over again, and they might be right, I dunno… I’m in a band with these two other guys who are just constantly getting better and writing really interesting stuff, where I’m like, ‘Oh, show me that! Show me how you did that!’ I take what I learned from them and try to reinterpret it from my own taste, or whatever I’m being inspired by at the moment. It’s kind of a perpetual motion machine amongst the three of us. We’re just constantly like feeding off of each other’s inspiration. Without that, I don’t think the band would’ve gone very far.

Another thing that stood out to me while I was reading interviews and learning more about the band was that you seem to get along really well. Periphery seems like a happy and wholesome band. What are the keys to getting along with your band members?

I love that you brought that up because for a long time, it wasn’t like that. There were times when I hated certain people in the band. Because there was an almost unspoken – you can tell by the actions of the people in the band, and the enthusiasm for the music, that there’s this unspoken appreciation for what we have. A global appreciation for what we have. I don’t think any of us have gotten into a shouting match, but it’s gotten close. It always comes back down to earth at some point in the argument where it’s like, ‘Okay. Let me identify the ways that I’ve been acting like an asshole, and I will do better.’ Then the other person says the same exact thing.

It’s not like a toxic relationship. We have disagreements like everyone else, but we also respect what the other guy thinks. We don’t badmouth each other. There’s a lot of respect, and I think it comes from this appreciation. It’s like: ‘Look what we have. We could either end up broken up, or we could continue on just like the way that we’re going, fighting all the time, being jerks to each other, and maybe still make it, and get to the point where we’re all detached from each other on the road, and it’s just a job.’ That sounds horrific to me. I’ve heard stories of bands that are like this. I just wouldn’t do it. I’d go work on a farm or something, if that was what it was going to be like. The other outcome is, just learning what the other person needs, and trying to accommodate them. If everyone is doing that, if everyone is feeling that way, then no one is without. It’s just appreciation, because we’re happy to be doing this.

You guys created your own record label to release the band’s music. What’s the most misunderstood thing about monetizing music in 2019?

I think the first thing to understand is that now we’re at a point in the industry where it changes – sometimes on a weekly basis – how you’re supposed to get your music out there, and what that means. Maybe ten years ago was kind of the end of this era where it was like, ‘Okay, you start a band, you play local shows, you sell tickets, you put your music online if you could.’ There was a kind of set way of doing things. Now, there is sort of a set way of doing things at our level. But as far as bands in general, or signing new bands, or bands that don’t have a strong following yet, it’s kinda hard to tell them what direction they need to go in in terms of promoting their music.

I think the one thing that hasn’t changed is people’s love of live music and live performances. That’s why the touring market is so saturated now. That’s really the best way to profit from the art. It’s also hard to get steady touring gigs or to get enough of a following where you can tour. It’s so incredibly difficult to monetize this stuff. But as a label, we encourage people to play shows, to put on a performance that people would pay money to see, and that give you a chance to sell music and merchandise at the show. You’re front-facing and you’re giving something that people can’t replicate or use the internet to duplicate. That would be my focus if I was going to start over: get a good touring practice going. You don’t know if people are gonna stream your music. You don’t know if people are going to follow you online or if you have a strong social media presence. Because it’s just been diluted with people posting their bands online. ‘Here’s our music video, we’re really really sick, you should check us out.’ People become deaf to that. I think the way to get around that is to put on a good show, because when you put on a good show, that’s unique.

You raise this idea that there’s no blueprint because the industry’s changing all the time, and the delivery methods of social media and music streaming is all changing all the time. It makes you feel like the possibilities are endless. Personally, I feel like I should take advantage of that. But then I think: what am I supposed to do, reinvent the wheel? That’s kind of an overwhelming prospect, too. How do you approach that idea that there’s no blueprint and there’s total freedom?

Blind luck. There’s kind of a template of things that you can do to promote your music and promote your band. To create a world. I hate to use this term because it’s kinda gauche, but pushing a lifestyle. This is gonna kinda take the mystery out of everything, but the internet exists, so the mystery is gone from everything. I promise you that we don’t really think about it this surgically – but a lot of it is, ‘We’ve got this really tight band, we love making music with each other, our social media presence is really strong. People can see into our lives and get a sense of what we’re about.’

A lot of people gravitate to certain members of the band: drummers go to the drummer, guitarists go to the guitar players. Just that kind of vibe. We’ve created this little world of Periphery and people who listen to Periphery, and we try to share that and bring them into the world. I think that having the right people who have distinct personalities – like the guys in my band – that makes that possible.

At least that’s what we do. That’s the other thing: what works for one band doesn’t work for another. It’s really hard to tell, and this is where the blind luck comes in. I feel like we were one of the last bands to get our foot in the door with creating a social media buzz. This was back in the MySpace days. We were getting really good play counts, and seeing a ramping-up of the band’s notoriety. But it’s just luck that we happened to get in at that last moment, and we were able to set up this social media world before it became super saturated.

Yeah, your videos that show the behind-the-scenes process of making Hail Stan were a really great eye into the band and the creative process.

You got your first guitar from your aunt, who was a member of an all-female thrash band called Meanstreak. Did you learn anything from her experience in the music business?

She made it look really cool! I remember being a little kid, and being at her house when she was getting ready for a gig. She would go out looking super metal, and she had this really awesome guitar. I remember saying to myself, ‘Wow, that looks like a lot of fun.’ I had no idea what was outside of that door. I just knew that she was going someplace where she got to play guitar and look like a badass. That was my first impression of it.

As far as teaching me anything on the guitar, I didn’t really learn much from her, other than her band was really really good. They have this album called Roadkill. It’s impressively good. But she married the guitarist of Dream Theater, John Petrucci. Back in the mid-nineties, I would go over to their place and take casual guitar lessons from him. So, in some way, I was learning something from that family.

I think Meanstreak is a badass band name.

Yeah! They were a badass band! I go back and check out the cassette tape, and I think it’s on YouTube. And I’m just like, ‘Wow, this is so sick! I can’t believe that they didn’t go too far with this.’ They could’ve. They had the look. And they played well, too. They performed on a comedy show on Comedy Central. They were on national television as a house band. It’s a cool thing, and it’s cool that you found out about that, because I don’t think too many people know about that.

They were like The Runaways of metal. 


You wrote on Twitter that you wouldn’t be where you are without the influence of Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. What do you think Kirk’s innovations were and are as a player?

I think he has a very unique voice. There’s a rawness to it that is hard to replicate. Metallica is one of the most copied bands in metal, if not the most. There are countless videos online of people paying tribute to Hammett and Hetfield. You can kinda tell [that some fans] get close [to replicating Metallica], but they don’t have this x-factor that Kirk and James have. I’d say that Kirk isn’t the most technical player out there, but he has this way of making it sound that way. He also lends a very unique voice to the guitar. I think that’s why I love Metallica. I’ll always love Metallica.

I look at it this way: every genre has its ambassador. This legendary act at the very top. For metal, it’s pretty damn cool… Ask anybody on the street what they think of metal, they’re gonna be like, ‘You mean like Metallica?’ That’s reaching a cultural level that kind of transcends everything. I’m glad that Metallica gets to be the ambassador, because there’s so many crappy metal bands. So many! So I’m glad that our biggest one is also our best one.

It’s also cool to see how they’ve evolved. Have you seen them live anytime recently?

I feel like I saw them live back in 2011.

I think James’ stage presence is almost fatherly in a way – now that he’s older, he’s got this really commanding presence. It’s just cool to see a band that you’ve grown up with evolve decades, you know?

Yeah. The transition from moderate-sized metal band to enormous, world-class metal band is such a hard one to make. Figuring that out takes the involvement or participation of everyone in that band, and they all get it. They all know how to perform at that level. They’re kind of performing at that level where now they’re just fine-tuning what they do. It’s cool to see bands be able to do that.

We briefly mentioned your electronic project, which is called Four Seconds Ago. I know you’re a fan of that genre. For people who aren’t familiar with the genre, can you recommend a few electronic artists to check out?

Yeah, absolutely. My favorite one currently is this dude named Sorrow. That would be the first one I’d check out. The classic one that I tell everyone about is Telephone Tel Aviv. They have a record called Fahrenheit Fair Enough. That’s one of the biggest reasons I wanted to do electronic music. I spent a long time just trying to rip that off. It’s just so good, and I was trying to be like that. Eventually, I think I found my own voice. But that was one of my biggest inspirations, was that album.

Another album that kind of had that effect was a band called Trifonic, and their album  Emergence. There’s a song on there called ‘Parks on Fire.’ The guy who did that video is also the guy who did our video for ‘Galaxy.’ That video for ‘Parks On Fire’ is a crazy experience. It’s probably the closest thing to doing DMT without actually doing DMT. I highly recommend watching that.

Are you an Aphex Twin fan?

I am, I love Aphex Twin. It’s really weird stuff, and it’s stuff that I have to put on when I’m not really around anyone else. It’s a real party-killer sometimes. But I love Aphex Twin.

Yeah, some of it is so challenging and abrasive.

Yeah. Which I like. Richard D. James is a genius.

He’s brilliant.

He certainly creates this mystery around Aphex Twin, which I really appreciate. It’s hard to find out about this person. Every other band and musician are all over the internet, but he just does his music and the music speaks for itself.

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