The Periphery guitarist discusses his new signature amp, guitars, effects and music in general.
Written by Troy Richardson, Musician's Friend Staff Writer
Misha Mansoor is a guitarist, producer, pioneer of djent and co-founder of the progressive metal band Periphery. He's also part of the studio group Haunted Shores and the hardcore punk band Snuggles, in addition to his own solo projects. A noted fan of all kinds of gear, Mansoor has recently collaborated with Peavey to create the invective.120 guitar head and his Peavey invective.212 speaker cabinet.
The HUB: Misha, thank you so much for talking with us. You have a new signature model amp. There's a lot of amplifier companies in the world. Why Peavey and not someone else?
MM: That’s a really good question. I had an idea for an amp and Peavey was actually the first company I reached out to because one of my favorite amps of all time was the 5150, which eventually became the 6505. For whatever reason, it’s just been used on everything and it started to become what people associated with metal tone.
The HUB: Was the invective.120 an expansion on the amp you were using or a combination of some others you had used? Or did it just come to you as something that you haven’t seen out in the world?
MM: It was actually a little bit of all that. As I said, I’m a big gear nerd. I currently have … like 19 amps. I live in an apartment so it’s kind of ugly, but I have a lot of amps and I always have … there was a lot of stuff that I hadn’t really seen on contemporary amps.
And then, yes … from other amps I had, there were some cool features and cool sounds that I was basically always comparing it to. I have a few amps that I absolutely love in certain situations … those were my benchmarks. It’s great to have those because the whole project took us close to three years and a large part of that was because I was constantly A/B-ing it with what I had and I was like, "Until I like this amp better than anything else in my collection, I don’t want to put this out."
The HUB: One thing that I thought was particularly cool was the nine-volt courtesy jacks on the back. You must have designed the amp with pedals in mind.
MM: Absolutely … We have two sequential effects loops … effects loops that feed into one another … I was using an isolated power supply with that and it was just a lot to set up.
We also have MIDI on the amp and it comes with its own footswitch, which you can make remote control those loops. The idea was, that way I can switch the delay or the reverb on independently without having to touch the pedal. I was like, "well, that’s kind of cool, but it’s just a shame I have to set all this stuff up … Hey, is there a way that we can just set these power supplies with enough power to power two Strymons, knowing that any other nine-volt pedal won’t need more draw?" And they’re like, "Yeah, no problem at all."
So, you’ve got a remote control for the stuff that’s in each loop … controlled independently, and know that one feeds into the other so you can arrange your effects accordingly, like delays in one and reverbs in the other, or whatever, and then not have any additional cable mess or power mess. You just power those two from there and they don’t have to sit on the pedalboard ever.
The HUB: Has the amp brought out anything in you creatively since its creation?
MM: I think what’s kind of surprising is the settings that I find very inspiring on it—like the clean channel on the amp is incredible and it’s got this overdrive built into it. It's got a specific overdrive just for the clean channel and that setting is probably one of the most inspiring settings for me. It’s not what people would expect necessarily, but it’s just like a beautiful sort of spanky mid-gain sound. I don’t know why, but once I start playing that, I can’t stop.
The HUB: Is there anything in your collection that may surprise people, whether it’s an instrument, an amp or an effect?
MM: I have no less than four actual tape echo units because apparently you need four. No, I’m convinced that five is the number that makes you truly happy, so that’s probably where I’m going to go next.
The HUB: How did you come to pick guitar in the first place? Why not trumpet or drums or any other instrument?
MM: At first it was piano when I was 4, but my mom forced me to take lessons and that makes you resent the instrument more than learn anything.
I think … when I was 13 or 14 … I used my Bar Mitzvah money to buy a drum set. And that was my first love. That’s what I always wanted to do. When I went to university when I was 17, I couldn't really play drums. It’s kind of a difficult instrument to play if you’re not in your mom’s basement or in a house of your own. So, I was like … "You know what? I’m just going to focus on an instrument I can actually play every day." And that’s where I started to take the guitar seriously.
The HUB: Did you take your knowledge of piano and drums and just pick up a guitar on your own or how’d you do it?
MM: I was self-taught … I just like to kind of dive in and figure it out, as painful and slow a process as it might be. For a while there, I just basically wanted to be John Petrucci and that served me pretty well. I’d never become John Petrucci or anything close to it, but it definitely forced me to up my chops a little bit.
The HUB: What is your songwriting process like? Do you usually come up with a riff, a structure or melody, or is it different each time?
MM: It usually starts out with a riff, or I’ll be just playing around with some gear, and I’ll just kind of hear something. I’m like, "I wonder. Let’s see what happens." Sometimes … actually, it kind of happens a lot … I’ll set up a little pedal setup in front of my amp and just something will spark an idea.
But one thing I actually like doing is writing with my band. Often times what we do now for Periphery stuff is just kind of compile basic ideas and then I wait for the guys to get here. We have these writing sessions … we’re just going to write for a week and see what happens. We just get together and literally music will just—like it’s a guarantee that music will get written. There’s no real pressure.
Writing a Periphery song … that’s really easy because there’s basically no rules. The only rule is, "does it sound good?" And if it doesn’t sound good, then we either fix it or ditch it.
Misha on-stage with his Peavey Invective 120 (Photo: Randy Edwards)
The HUB: Has your creative process changed over the years or did you find what you’re describing early on and you’ve stuck with that?
MM: No, that definitely was something we had to work towards. The first album … that basically is my solo album and it was so stressful and I hated it … the whole point of being in a band is being able to collaborate with people … that was always the goal and it took a little bit of time to find the members.
The HUB: Were your influences as a songwriter the same as your influences as a guitarist, or are there some that people may find interesting?
MM: A big one that people might find interesting … I’m a big fan of video games and their music … particularly Final Fantasy VII, which is by a composer by the name of Nobuo Uematsu, who's pretty legendary in the video game composition community. Outside of that, you probably would have never heard of him. But he’s an incredible composer.
By the very nature of those games … you’re playing games for 40 or 50 hours, hearing a lot of these songs over and over. It just gets drilled into your head, but they’re so good that you don’t get sick of them. If anything, if I hear them now, I get nostalgic for them and the game.
The HUB: How does technology play a role in the creative process for you? Do you work electronically from the start or do you use pen and paper still?
MM: I can’t even use pen and paper because I don’t know how to write music like that. I exist because of technology. I actually got my start when computers sort of became powerful to where you could record on them. You didn’t need some crazy supercomputer. I was using my gaming computer that I had at the time and just finding software that would allow me to record … none of these technologies at that point in time were particularly good but they went from non-existent to existing, which was a pretty big, a quantum leap as far as the recording goes.
The HUB: On that subject, where do you see the music business headed, particularly for artists who may not be mainstream?
MM: Well, I’m not a mainstream artist, so I’m in a very good position to comment on this. I commented on this before and it got me in hot water because people like to turn what I say into clickbait articles and make it sound like I’m complaining about the state of the industry. I’ll preface this by saying: I’m not complaining. I’m merely explaining the state.
It’s very tough to make a living right now because there’s not any money in it. The way to make money in this industry, in my opinion, for most people, unless you’re absolutely massive, is to find ways to diversify your income. Have as many income streams as possible and plan around it. Don’t expect this industry to feed you or to do anything for you because it’s very hard to even get that out of it.
The HUB: You guys have been very involved with gear development, whether it be signature gear or otherwise. It's probably a little more gratifying to have something that’s influencing other musicians, not just selling a T-shirt?
MM: Yeah. All the things that I do that make me money are either related to the band or related to music in ways that I genuinely care about.
All these things are born of passion. One of the benefits is like, yeah, they give me a little bit of extra income, but that’s not the impetus for them at all. The impetus for them is always a passion project. It’s just because I’m a gear nerd and I genuinely enjoy this stuff…
Periphery has never had to compromise when it comes to their music. We’ve had managers, past managers and labels try to tempt us with radio campaigns and, "oh, you can play arenas, you can do whatever." And we can go back and be like, "eh, we don’t really care." It’s fine that we really don’t make money as a band. We never expected to. And really, all it was about was self-expression and making the music that we want to make … and we have a really good time doing that.
The HUB: What’s next for you musically at this point? What are you working on for the future?
MM: Well, musically, this is the year of Periphery ... We’re doing stuff which we never really had the luxury of doing before … we kind of took most of this year off just to write the album. Normally, we write fairly quickly and the schedule would dictate that’s what’s wise to do but I think we wanted to see what would happen if we actually took our time.
Now that we have our own label and we’re kind of in control of our destiny as far as scheduling and timelines go, we’re allowing ourselves the luxury of doing that.
The HUB: Misha, thank you so much for your time. This was great. It was very interesting and it was great to get your thoughts on the amp that you created.
MM: Thank you for the interview. I appreciate it.