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WHO: Twenty-nine-year old guitarist and producer Misha Mansoor leads Periphery, a techy prog-metal outfit whose elastic, instrumentally vigorous, heavily syncopated sound is cut with elements of electronic and ambient music. The band’s 2010 self-titled debut, which Mansoor wrote, programmed, produced and mixed in the living room of his Washington, D.C., apartment (tracking all the instruments on a PC he built from spare parts), is the most visible example of a metal sub-strain known as djent. The word itself, coined by a member of Swedish rhythmic metal pioneers Meshuggah years ago but popularized more recently by Mansoor, is an onomatopoeia for the sound produced by playing a low-tuned and distorted guitar chord in a clipped, muted style.
21st CENTURY DIGITAL BOY: Years before Periphery began appearing on festival bills with Metallica and Linkin Park, Mansoor was already something of an Internet celebrity — at least to a particular sect of guitar obsessives. Under his online pseudonym, Bulb, he was a consistent presence both on guitar forums and the MP3 site SoundClick, to which he eventually uploaded more than 100 home-recorded demos and song ideas. “At first it was just for fun,” Mansoor remembers. “I didn’t drink or party or have much of a social life, and so I would play guitar and record all the time. I started posting my ideas as a way to document everything I was doing, and before I realized it I had developed a following.” While he still likes to upload the occasional recording, Mansoor admits that he has to “be more careful about it, because the stuff eventually sees release [with Periphery]. I’d actually be happy to just keep putting things up, though I can see how doing that now could cannibalize an album.”
FANTASY LEAGUE: Mansoor’s influences range from Meshuggah and the Deftones to British guitar virtuosos Allan Holdsworth and Guthrie Govan to electronic acts like Telefon Tel Aviv and Trifonic. But his most unlikely musical inspiration? Nobuo Uematsu, a Japanese pianist and composer for video games like Final Fantasy. “His sense of melody is just insane,” Mansoor says. “He operates at a level I can’t comprehend. He’s huge for me.” So much so, in fact, that on 2012‘s Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal, three tracks – “Muramasa,” “Ragnarok” and “Masamune” – were composed with Uematsu in mind. “They’re linked in terms of lyrics, themes and melodies,” Mansoor says. “And they’re all named after swords in Final Fantasy.”
EXPANDING THE BASE: Mansoor describes himself as a “gear nerd,” and it seems the majority of Periphery fans share his specialized interests. “Our groupies are the type of people who want to know what compressor settings we use and what gauge of string is on our guitars,” he says. “Which I’m actually quite happy to talk about.” That said, Mansoor also happily notes that as the band becomes more popular, “there’ve been more non-musicians coming to the shows too, which is nice. Lately, we’ve even seen some females there who aren’t completely miserable.” He laughs. “Slow and steady, right?”