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Periphery’s Jake Bowen Shares His Thoughts on Elitism in Metal

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While almost every genre has suffered from it in one way or another, the plague of elitism seems to have leeched onto the metal community stronger than any other. We all know that guy who bitches about metal not getting enough recognition while simultaneously lamenting the “mainstream” appeal of bands like Slipknot and Metallica, blissfully unaware of his own irony. Don’t be that guy.

On a recent episode of the MetalSucks podcast, we chatted with Periphery’s Jake Bowen about his thoughts on the trend of elitism in metal, as well as Periphery’s Grammy nomination for “Best Metal Performnce” in 2016:

Periphery’s last record got nominated for a Grammy. I always ask people in the rock and metal scene: when you get nominated for a Grammy, you know it’s not going to be televised, but does it still feel like an absolute sense of accomplishment, or is it more of an “eh” moment for you?

“Absoltely a sense of accomplishment. It’s funny, you get a lot of comments from kids online crying, “Nooo, it’s not even televised and they don’t care about metal people,” but to get any recognition from that camp at all is good enough for me.

“I think there’s this sense in the metal community — and I get it, I’m definitely one of these people — but there is a sense of elitism about metal and the fact that it should be bigger than it is. It’s come a long way; there’s no slouch in terms of how many people consume this style of music. But there’s this assumption that people are missing out, or that the people who run the Grammys don’t really know what real metal is, and that they obviously give all their time to rap and country and pop. Fine, but that’s just the way things are.

“To be able to say that the people who recognize the biggest acts in the world also recognize us is most certainly an accomplishment, and I’m really proud of it. I’m glad that it happened, and I hope we win one sometime. That’d be totally sick — I wouldn’t care if it was televised or not.”

I like that, I agree with you completely. I want to come back to that feeling you had when you were nominated for the Grammy. But on a side note since you brought in the elitism in metal, and we all know about it: because some of the best musicians alive are in jazz and metal that there’s just an elitist mentality in that, when the Grammys represent more of the pop music world. Do you think there’s relevance to that?

“Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s this false equivalency where you say, “These people have put in so much time, and they’re such awesome musicians. Why are they not getting the recognition they deserve?” Those things don’t have to go together. Just because somebody’s incredible at something doesn’t automatically mean they deserve any sort of recognition.

“I think that there is an appetite for music, and there are trends in music which follow that appetite, and that’s just human. If you look at the world right now, people like a lot of things that I would think are crappy. That doesn’t mean that they’re crappy, it just means that my opinion doesn’t fall in line with other opinions. It just comes down to arguing taste. You can’t really tell somebody they shouldn’t like something just because you don’t like it.

“The new hot thing right now that I just can’t stand is the Soundcloud rap thing, with dudes mumbling the same sentence over a remedial beat. But it’s huge right now. Kids are flipping out over it. I don’t get it, I don’t care about it, I don’t listen to it, but I don’t hate it. If you can capture that vibe and learn to reach those people, then you’ve succeeded. You’ve done something that some of the best musicians can’t do. I try to look at it from that perspective.

“My friend and I joke ‘Let’s stop playing metal and start writing pop music.’ I could do that, but it wouldn’t be genuine, and I’d also have to figure out how to actually do it. I don’t know how to get those sounds, and I don’t know how to play music in that way. I could figure it out and approximate it, but to truly understand where it comes from and how it’s made takes a different state of mind.

“In metal, there’s the best musicians in the world playing this style of music, but they haven’t figured out how to reach the largest audience, which would get them the most exposure and the most success. So are they really the best in the world, or are they just the best at their instruments? Other people are really good at reaching people. I think they’re separate things and the kids in the metal community don’t really understand that. Yeah, you can be recognized a great musician, but it just means you’re good at your instrument or good at arranging stuff for metal. It doesn’t mean that you’re good at reaching people

That’s a great point, and that’s always my counter argument. You might the greatest musician in the world, but are you conforming to write songs that have to exist in this format that everybody loves to reach the most people? It’s a catch 22 to do a formulaic song with a chorus and all that even if you’re the greatest musician in the world because you want to reach the largest audience

“Music and art is always about compromise, even the smallest aspect of it. Eventually, you’re going to have to compromise. I forget who said this, but “art is never finished, it’s abandoned.” You can keep working on something ’till you’re blue in the face, but eventually you’re just gonna have to stop and release it as it is. Otherwise, you’re never going to move forward. That’s where the compromise comes in: you’re compromising when you give up on a song and you’re happy with where it is so you release it. That’s the thing that I think people have to come to grips with, especially people in metal bands: if you want your music to reach the most people, you have to compromise your music. There’s no such thing as uncompromising music.”

It would be a welcome change for this thoughtful perspective to infiltrate the metal world, so send this page to a metal elitist near you and check out the full podcast episode below.

Stay tuned for new music from Bowen’s electronic project with Misha Mansoor, Four Seconds Ago. There’s also a new record from Periphery on the way — hopefully this one will get them that Grammy win!

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