We recently got the chance to sit down with Periphery guitarist Mark Holcomb before a show at Chicago’s House of Blues. Mark gave background on his history with Periphery, shed the details on his signature PRS guitar — which boasts several subtle but seriously unique features — and even offered some advice for up-and coming bands. Check it all out in the video above, or read a full transcript below!
|A 25.5″ scale — highly unique for a PRS||Mark’s custom Seymour Duncan Alpha and Omega humbuckers|
A carved, figured maple top
Gaboon ebony fretboard with 20″ radius
|Green abalone “J” bird inlays||Glow-in-the-dark side fretboard dots|
zZounds Blog Bonus Clip:
We’ve also got an exclusive clip in which Mark discusses the influence Metallica have had on his playing, his thoughts on Periphery’s cover of “One,” and which Metallica track he’d like to cover with the band:
Mark Holcomb Interview Transcript:
I met the guys in 2007, when I was in a local band called Haunted Shores, and after that disbanded I started a project — also called Haunted Shores — with [Periphery guitarist] Misha [Mansoor]. This was way before I got involved with Periphery, so he and I had a very easy musical relationship in the very beginning.
When [Periphery] lost a guitarist in 2011, they asked if I wanted to do a fill-in gig for three shows in Australia, and I accepted — only under the pretense of being a fill-in. And then after those shows, we started to discuss the idea of me being a permanent member. It was kind of a no-brainer for me at the time, because they said they wanted someone to write and contribute, and that was the gig I was looking for. I didn’t want to be a hired gun; I actually wanted to write and contribute content to the band, so that was a very open-door policy from the very beginning.
We put out Periphery II three years ago — and before that, we did a lot of the writing on our own. For instance, a song like “Scarlet,” I would write on my own with Misha, and we’d bring it to the rest of the guys, and they would maybe give their opinions on it, and feedback, and Spencer [Sotelo] would write vocals for it. It’s evolved a lot since those days. We write everything together now, and that the beautiful thing about how Periphery has evolved. It used to not be that way.
Now, every single member touches every single song. And particularly the guitar players — me, Jake [Bowen] and Misha — we’re sort of the crafters of the skeletons of the songs, because we sit there in front of a computer with a bunch of guitars, and we trade riffs back and forth until something sticks, and we build our ideas from the ground up. That’s the way this band works. It’s not an old-school way of doing things. It’s not “jam in a room with 6 dudes and hope something cool comes out.” We think about doing that sometimes, but then we remember we have 6 people in our band!
It’s a very fulfilling way to write for me, because I respect these guys as writers a lot, and Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega — the albums we just put out — they were written in a very collaborative nature. That was kind of the intention with Juggernaut. We didn’t want it to be this “one member writes a song, another writes a song, and come together and maybe we come up with some album resembling a real concept album.” It was a concept album from the very beginning, so we wanted it to be a very cohesive process — and it if was being bound together by a narrative, we didn’t want to have this jumbled, disjointed mess of songs that didn’t fit together. We wanted every band member to have a say and for everyone to collaborate and have equal say in every single song — and part, even.
I contacted [Paul Reed Smith] because I wanted to develop a different twist on a Custom 24. The Custom 24, I’ve always been absolutely obsessed with, ever since I was a kid. It just had this really classy, “non-shredder” look to it that I liked, that was very different from other guitars that were around at the time when I was growing up. I contacted them and I asked if they would be interested in building a guitar — not even as a signature model, just as a cool one-off thing. They were so gracious about being open and trying some new things, which I was really happy about.
The 25.5-inch scale length, the 20-inch fretboard radius, the flatter radius on the neck — that was a big thing. And there were some other design characteristics that I honestly thought would be a big battle, but [PRS] were super-helpful and just supportive the entire way about trying something new. Because a guitar that’s excellently built can be used for anything. And that’s kind of what we wanted to prove with this guitar.
I spent half a week at the Seymour Duncan headquarters building these pickups with a couple of the builders, and they kept saying how this guitar just sounds so “pissed off,” and so aggressive and snarly. That was the main goal with the bridge pickup — the Omega — to have a really angry, snarling sound, but also be able to restrain and lay back a little bit. And that’s a big part of our music. You listen to a section that has a lot of staccato and stop-start sections, where there’s supposed to be silence between these gaps, and you can’t have a pickup that’s too hot, because you lose a lot of the dynamics.
I think the neck pickup was a real surprise for a lot of the developers and people at Duncan, because you know, they think of a “metal” set of pickups, and the bridge is normally the anchor of the set. But a lot of the people at the Duncan factory said the neck pickup was one of the best ones they’d ever put out, at least in recent memory, so they’re really happy with it — and I couldn’t be happier with the set. They were built specifically for the guitar, and this was the only guitar they put them in. They sound awesome — I’ve actually put them in some of my other live guitars, and they sound excellent as well, so I think we nailed it from that standpoint.
My local band never made it — obviously, the Periphery situation took off. But I’ve seen it time and time again: the ones who make it, you have to show the powers that be that you can do it on your own: recording your own music, playing your own shows, booking your own shows, and playing any show. Because they have nothing to gain by signing an artist whose music they simply like. They want to jump on board something that’s rising, and help you get up there.
So for me, it was always just: try and be self-reliant. Don’t try and rely on too many other moving parts to get what you want to get done. Try and do it yourself. That is something that’ll never go out of style — unless you’re extremely lucky and someone does discover you, but you can’t count on that.