Spencer Sotelo Talks of the Juggernaut That Is Periphery

Spencer Sotelo singing for Periphery at House of Blues in 2013 on the Summer Slaughter Tour.
Spencer Sotelo singing for Periphery at House of Blues in 2013 on the Summer Slaughter Tour.
Photo by Groovehouse

In the world of progressive metal, few names stand above Periphery these days. You've got your legends, of course, like Dream Theater, who will forever tower over their peers. But for a young vital band making original and relevant music, look no further than Periphery.

On January 27, they'll release their latest full-length, Juggernaut, and it's an epic sized package. Call it the Use Your Illusion of prog metal; it's two whole album's worth of material released as two separate albums on the same day. One album is called Alpha and the other is called Omega. They're concept records too, so you have to buy both halves to get the whole thing.

It might just sound like shrewd marketing, but this band is onto something big here. In advance of their show in Houston this Saturday night, we caught up with singer Spencer Sotelo.

Juggernaut: Alpha
Juggernaut: Alpha

If you're a longtime Periphery fan, you might be a little thrown off by the title of this new record. Juggernaut is a "song cycle" the band had been discussing since at least 2006, which originally consisted of loosely linked demos recorded by guitarist Misha Mansoor. Sotelo confirmed to us, however, that this Juggernaut has nothing to do with that Juggernaut.

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Originally, he tells us, the band thought about incorporating those demos into the new album, but quickly realized they were too "dated," so they scrapped everything and started over with a new idea: a full band collaboration.

"The three guitar players wrote the bulk of all the music and it just consisted of them meeting up every day and sharing riff ideas that they had," he explains. "Once they would finish songs they would give them to me and I would write a loose plot of where I wanted that part of the song to fit into the story and from there we tweaked the song to match the vibe of what's actually happening in the story. So it was pretty big process actually this time around, like nothing we've ever done before."

Story is a big part of this record. Sotelo tells us that he purposefully structured recurring vocal melodies and themes throughout the record to create a connection between the songs and the story's twists and turns. He also teased that a graphic novel might be in the works with a major comic book publisher to elucidate on the deeper details. When asked about a stage show, he admitted some members might be hesitant, but that he would love it.

In the meantime until things get sorted on the graphic novel, fans will have to tear into the story through the lyric booklet and the illustrations and contained within. If you were thinking about just downloading this thing, Sotelo would advise you to splurge a little bit and get the whole package to unlock the story a bit better.

One thing that will jump out to fans immediately is the shift in sound. For one thing, Sotelo is singing more. "I've always been a singer. That's my thing, and Periphery has always been a heavier band that relies a lot on screaming," he says. "I think we're getting to a point now where we've eased the fans into being okay with a lot more singing."

Easing fans into this record started with the first single, "The Scourge." Deliberately chosen against the wishes of management and their record label, Sotelo tells us that Periphery wanted to introduce the record to fans with what he calls a "tension song."

"We need to show people that we're doing something different with this record and we're gonna give them one of the tension songs," he explains. "We wanted people to grasp just how dark the record actually is and we felt like that song pretty much encompassed that."  

As exciting as this new record is, Sotelo is a man who cannot sit still. He admitted that unless he can keep the creative juices flowing, he tends to get depressed. With that in mind, this Periphery record is just one more of a seemingly endless litany of projects he's currently involved in.

The most notable, is, of course, that Sotelo is the current singer for esteemed post-hardcore band From First to Last. Their old singer (Skrillex for the uninitiated) is sort of famous now. Sotelo stacks up pretty damn well against him though, all things considered.

That came about purely by chance. After working with current From First to Last guitarist Taylor Larson on Periphery II, which Larson recorded for the band, Sotelo came together with Larson and band founder Matt Good to make a record "just for fun."

"I used to be a huge fan of From First to Last and [thought] that would be awesome to play a few shows here and there. It was supposed to be an EP but we ended up doing a full record," Sotelo says of the origin of his work with them.

"I think it was a big surprise for a lot of people, but we put out a single, "Dead Trees," and it is a little bit heavier than a lot of the old From First to Last stuff but it still has that signature FLTL sound."

Meanwhile, Sotelo is also hard at work on a solo project called Endur, a Nine Inch Nails-inspired industrial electronic album. His contribution to Periphery's experimental record Clear, "The Parade of Ashes" was originally written for the project.

"I've been listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails for the past two or three years, I've just kind of been on a kick, and I was like, it would be fun to do something industrial like that but make it a little bit more appealing to people who are used to listening to radio," he says of the project, which will be released in either late summer or early fall of this year.

With all that going on, it must be hard to focus on Periphery, but Sotelo assures us "Periphery is where my whole heart lies." With the release of Juggernaut, the band will be hitting the road and that will take up much of his time in the near future.

They'll hit House of Blues in Houston on Saturday night, along with As I Lay Dying spinoff Wovenwar, Nothing More and Thank You Scientist. If the songs translate live as well as they do on the record, this show is not one to be missed, as Periphery will be trotting out many new songs for the first time.

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