MARK HOLCOMB Talks New Periphery Album, PRS Guitars & More

Mark Holcomb

Periphery have just launched their fifth studio album titled Periphery III: Select Difficulty, and according to the response on the tracks that have been premiered so far it’s easy to conclude that this new release is an instant “hit.”

In an interview for our website, guitarist Mark Holcomb sheds light on the creative process that informed the new record, but he also told us about his musical upbringing, picking guitar, his new PRS 8-string model, and more.

How would you describe your initial exposure to music? 

Mark Holcomb: My initial exposure to music came in the ‘80s as a child, when my Mom would play music around the house that ranged from PrinceMichael JacksonPhil CollinsGenesisThe PoliceBilly Joel and so much more. I adored all of that music and I still do for nostalgic reasons, but also because it’s just great music. I picked up guitar in 1995 and from then, I kept learning at a slow pace until I discovered Metallica - that put me on a fast track to wanting to take the guitar more seriously.

Were you in the music programs in school while you were growing up?

Mark Holcomb: I took really informal piano lessons as a kid and I had about 3 guitar lessons when I began guitar, but besides that, I had no musical training.

How did you get into playing guitar?

Mark Holcomb: In 1995, I hurt my knee playing basketball and was basically instructed to recover and rehab for almost half a year, ruling out any possibility of physical activity. Because of that, I chose to take guitar a little bit more seriously. Besides that several lessons that I took that year, I did the bulk of my learning from buying random tab books, looking up tabs online, and most importantly, learning songs by ear off of the radio.

If I heard something that I really liked, my first impulse was to try and learn it on guitar.” – Mark Holcomb, Periphery

Did you start to listen to music differently once you discovered guitar?

Mark Holcomb: For sure. If I heard something that I really liked, my first impulse was to try and learn it on guitar. This is why I became so obsessed with Metallica. Everything off their early albums just screamed to be learned on guitar.

Who were some of your early guitar influences?

Mark Holcomb: MetallicaYngwie MalmsteenPanteraRandy RhoadsDave Grohl, and some more. Metallica was the big one though. They’re the ones I spent countless nights in my bedroom just playing along to entire albums tirelessly.

Mark Holcomb (photo by Josefa Torres Photography)

Mark Holcomb (photo by Josefa Torres Photography)

How did your career get rolling? What were you doing initially?

Mark Holcomb: I was in several local bands in my childhood: one in southern California, one in southern Spain (where I lived as a teenager), and another one in Washington DC. In all of these bands we played local shows, nothing too successful. We did it for fun and basically just to have a good time.

Tell me about your technique.

Mark Holcomb: It’s weird. [laughs] My lack of lessons growing up enforced some bad habits, particularly with my left hand, but these idiosyncrasies are something that, in my opinion, have come to partially define my playing. So I don’t resent them at all.

It’s known that you play and are endorsed by PRS Guitars. What made you gravitate to this brand?

Mark Holcomb: I’ve always been kind of obsessed with PRS since I was a teenager. They had this reputation of classiness that other brands lacked. They didn’t advertise with half-naked women, they didn’t have flames or skulls or anything tacky on their guitars. They were just classy-looking instruments that put the focus on the feel and tone of the guitar. Aesthetically they were gorgeous too.

You have recently received your signature PRS 8-string. What can you tell me about this model in particular? This is the second 8-string that PRS ever built.

Mark Holcomb: Yes, the 8-string is extremely special. I asked Paul [Reed Smith] if he could built it 2 years ago, and they’ve had it in the pipeline since then. It’s basically an 8-string version of my signature model, more strings obviously, longer scale length, but the same pickups and visual appointments. I have yet to use it live but I fully intend to take it on the road and make it my main 8-string.

Do you plan to bring this PRS 8-string on the road? If so, how will your live performances with Periphery change? 

Mark Holcomb: Well I already use 8 strings live for certain songs, like “Stranger Things,” “22 Faces,” “Four Lights,” “Ji” and so on. It will get a lot of live use, for sure.

PRS 7-string Mark Holcomb signature

PRS 7-string Mark Holcomb signature

Besides your strong relationship with PRS, what other guitars are in your collection?

Mark Holcomb: I have many, but I’m not too much of a collector. I have some other brands like MayonesAristides and some more and they’re fantastic, but I really only like to play what I need, and PRS makes every single guitar I need.

Tell me about your home studio. What do you use for tracking at home?

Mark Holcomb: My home recording rig is very simple. Fractal Axe-Fx II XL and a MacBook Pro. I use the Fractal as an interface, and it does the trick just fine since I only really use my recording rig for demos. And obviously the Fractal is insanely diverse so it houses everything I need to do tone-wise.

With the advancement of the technology and amp/effect simulation, do you still use pedals?

Mark Holcomb: I love using pedals, yes. Though because of our reliance and utter fixation on the Axe-Fx, we never use pedals live. At home and in the studio is where we like to have some fun with pedals. The possibilities can be endless, and there’s a fulfilling quality to creating tones by more traditional means.

When we collaborate for Periphery the creativity tends to compound and become contagious.” – Mark Holcomb

Tell me about your guitar rig that you used for recording the new Periphery album Select Difficulty.

Mark Holcomb: We used 100% Fractal Axe-Fx II XL for the guitar tones. For the actual guitars, I used my PRS SE signature model for all 6 string material and my PRS 7-string signature model. The other guys used their own signature guitars as well. There are no 8 string songs on Periphery III.

Describe how you, Jake and Misha work as a guitar team in Periphery? How do you stay out of each other’s way?

Mark Holcomb: Our writing relationship is very harmonious. We all have similar tastes in music, but our styles are different enough to where they complement each other quite well. We all always write on our own, and when we collaborate for Periphery the creativity tends to compound and become contagious. The number one key to staying out of each other’s way is surrendering your ego, and leaving yourself open to critique and new ideas. There’s no quicker way to disappointment than failing to do either of those things.

Do you often talk about who is going to do what within a song when working on a new material?

Mark Holcomb: Not at all, the process is not at all premeditated. We all just get in a room and write, and what comes out is what comes out.

In your opinion, what are the three skills that every guitarist must bring to perfection?

Mark Holcomb:

  1. Willingness to learn new material and techniques;
  2. playing cleanly;
  3. surrendering your ego.

How did you work on perfecting your rhythm and solo parts?

Mark Holcomb: 100% practice. Recording myself and pinpointing flaws. Whatever it takes to expose any deficiencies in my playing.

Periphery III: Select Difficulty

Back to music… You are about to launch Select Difficulty. I must admit that I was really surprised when you announced it few months ago, mostly because of the small gap between the Juggernaut albums and PIII. How was the creative process for this brand new material?

Mark Holcomb: It actually had most to do with the fact that we had time-off in late 2015 and we happened to have quite a bit of creative momentum after Juggernaut. Recording those 2 albums last year was stressful, and I think we all were just itching to write new material that wasn’t tied to a concept. That desire kept us very sharp an eager to get back into the studio. Plus, writing music is just kind of what we do for fun.

I listened to the new album a few times already, and my initial impression was that it’s more raw or straightforward than the Juggernaut albums. What is your take on this?

Mark Holcomb: That’s definitely true. The intent of this album was to be more direct and explosive. Juggernaut was more brooding, patient and more of a build-up. Periphery III opens with blast beats and 2 straight songs with no singing. The objective was definitely to write a more powerful, compact album. All of our albums have always been reactions to the last, and I think writing that album was a very natural reaction to what Juggernaut was.

From what I could understand, the closing song on the album “Lune” is the first song that you guys wrote in a jam session. Tell me more about it. Misha told that “Lune” is a love song. So seems like you guys can write love songs that sound epic if you want to. [laughs]

Mark Holcomb: It is a love song, or at least that’s what Spencer wrote his lyrics about. “Lune” is probably my favorite song off the record because it was written directly off of a freeform jam that we had one day in our studio. I wrote some chord progressions, Jake and Misha started jamming some lead lines over them, and Nolly and Matt began to flesh out the parts with percussion and bass. It all came together so organically and I’m super proud of how everyone came together to write something so drastically different. I want to experiment with that writing style more in the future.

Periphery 2016

Periphery 2016

You guys are to host the Periphery Summer Jam at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian later this month. What are you looking forward to?

Mark Holcomb: I’m looking forward to spending some real time connecting our fans, and letting them into our world too. We generate so much interest in the form of Q&As, clinics and masterclasses, that this will be the next natural evolution of that. Connecting with our fans is something I enjoy perhaps more than any other aspect of my job.

August is almost completely reserved for touring the US, with support from Sikth, Chon and Toothgrinder. What happens after that?

Mark Holcomb: No concrete plans just yet! We have some preliminary plans to hit Australia in early 2017, a festival in South Africa in September, and more to come. We will tour plenty in support of this record, though.

Thank you for your time, Mark. Is there anything you want to add?

Mark Holcomb: Thank you for your contented support. I hope you guys dig PIII, and we will see you on the road!

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Periphery III: Select Difficulty is out now via Sumerian Records. Get it from Killer Merch or Merch Connection. Check Mark Holcomb’s PRS signature models at the PRS’ official website.

Cover photo by Alex “Pressplay” Wohleber.

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