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The Art Of 'Atropos': A Conversation With Misha Mansoor (Periphery) and Rod Chong (Race Service)

We take a deeper look at the band's compelling, forward thinking new video.

Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):


On March 10th, Periphery will usher in their fifth full-length chapter, Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre, via their own 3DOT Recordings label, which stands tall as the band's most expansive release yet. Beyond its musical intricacies though is a visual identity just as grand, one that finds Travis Smith's revered artistry at the helm for cover artwork while new creative ventures are explored in partnership with Race Service — a cross-media, innovative creative agency centered on automotive culture. The band tapped the multi-disciplinary hub for a video bringing their latest single, Atropos, to life, bridging AI processing, cinematography, and more for one alluring visual to immerse yourself in over and over again.


Read through an insightful Q&A with Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor and Race Service's Rod Chong below after experiencing the visual splendor of Atropos:


 

How would you describe the collaborative process in bringing 'Atropos' to life? There's plenty of moving parts within this one video and it all came together cohesively, which speaks highly of your partnership.


Misha: Cars. It all started with cars. That's that's how I know Rod. He's the perfect intersection of art and cars. One of his first jobs was doing music videos and things like that, and he hadn't done that in a while. He got very involved with this new wave of art and AI processing, which I find so fascinating.


Rod: As Misha mentions, this project came about through friendship. You could say that when Misha and I met, we hit it off immediately and bonded over cars. Then, it kind of went further into cars and music. We became more aware of what we do for a living, both of us being professional creators. It was only after hanging out for almost a year that we started to look at the possibility of doing something together.

Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

In terms of the creative process of the project itself, from my perspective, I wanted to learn a little bit about some of the aesthetic and cultural references that the band is interested in. I think we quickly agreed upon the "cyberpunk" style, for a lack of a better term. We wanted elements to be kind of futuristic, intense, maybe a little dark from time to time, but not getting into a Gothic style per se. We established a general sense of what style is interesting for the video.


Misha: We like a lot of the same stuff, which is probably why this made sense. It happened organically, too. Rod is the perfect person to be doing this because he genuinely understands and enjoys these looks that I love, you know?


Rod: We're just naturally in sync. From there. I needed to understand what the song was about. I was provided with an explanation of what the lyrics mean, basically the general gist of what Spencer (Sotelo, vocals) had in mind with the song. From there, a concept was developed.

periphery
Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

We didn't want to develop a literal response to his lyrics, so we looked at it from a slightly different angle. At the same time, we were also looking at all the cool, amazing technologies that are available with digital filmmaking and this new AI processing tool set that was coming. We kind of merged everything together at the same time.


It's evident that camaraderie played a critical role in the video's development. Misha, how significant was it for you and Periphery to develop a comprehensive visual identity for this album cycle? 'Atropos' is just one great element and the Travis Smith cover artwork is another, so one could say you're all very intentional about how you like your work presented.


Misha: I'd say we are always very intentional about it. We're pretty hands on. It's something that Jake and I will usually take the reins on because sometimes things can get complicated with having too many eyes on it too. For 'Periphery V', it took a little bit of time to sort of narrow down what we wanted.

Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

It always comes at the end because we need to know what the album sounds like and what it feels like to us first. Then, we'll usually talk about it and that will give us some sort of starting point. What's interesting is that if we had started the album based off of what we thought we were gonna make, if we had done the artwork then, it would not have fit at all. You kind of figure these things out as you go along.


For 'Atropos', we're all into this sort of cyberpunk, slash, slightly anime aesthetic that we haven't really gotten to explore before. We don't want every album to sort of look the same or have the same identity, so that was a fun thing to be able to lean into this time.


Rod: They were very encouraging to me from the start of the project. I was able to just run with that style and make something that had a futuristic tone, but was also very much looking at the world that we live in now in early 2023. I wanted to highlight certain tension points through this concept, which can serve as maybe a warning. We were looking around us and taking in everything that's happening in the world, as we saw it, and then funneled that through the concept of the music, the song, resulting in 'Atropos'.


It's always freeing when you're not bound by endless creative boundaries.


Misha: Yeah, it's natural alignment as well. I think about if we had just been introduced to Rod as a typical director, I don't know that we would have been so cool about it. It's because I know Rod and his style, his work ethic, and his pedigree that this worked so well. It's not like we just go to anyone be like, "Hey, just run with it." That's actually the last thing we would do, so this collaboration just speaks to what we think of Rod as a creative person.


Rod: Thank you for what you just said. Bear in mind that I have to look at the band, the perception of the band, the music, and all that stuff and make sure that I'm presenting that aspect in the right way as well while going crazy into this future AI direction. You have to keep a few different things in your head while you're concepting, etc.

Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Going back to the process, we eventually ended up with a written script and we planned out four major elements for the video. The first one was this AI character. We call them the "godless God" and we imagined an AI that's waking up in the present day, gradually becoming conscious. People talk about the singularity when all the AIs wake up, so we imagined that happening. The AI looked around at the world and was becoming conscious of this burning world with people addicted to their cell phones, becoming kind of angry about it and vowing to take humanity off the planet so the AI itself could survive. That was one of the storylines. We had a little Easter egg in there, too. We actually had ChatGPT write a poem about how it was going to do this and we sorted the Easter egg in a few spots, so look out for that. We put that in there just kind of for fun, ironically.


Then, there's these two other characters that we call the transfixed ones. They're representative of the state of humanity. These people are so transfixed with their own self image that it's a sort of critique on influencer culture. The world is just on fire all around them. It's burning, everything's going wrong, but yet they can't look away and as the video goes on, you can see that they're actually suffering. Their mental health is caving in and they completely collapse by the end. What's interesting is that we used AI tools to make a video about AI, which we thought was a little ironic because we're kind of part of the premise.

Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

It's interesting that there are multiple narratives simultaneously taking place throughout, and the Easter eggs are a neat touch. Misha was mentioning that you have a history with music video development, which of course saw a great decline as the music industry shifted greatly. With music videos making a strong resurgence as of late, was creating 'Atropos' an act of reflection of sorts that saw you tap into previous skillsets and bridge them with modern technologies?


Rod: It's a really exciting time for me to start making music videos again just because there's so much you can do now. It's incredible. I think a lot of the music artists, even their labels and management, are very savvy now because we live in an image led world in so many respects. People are thinking about this stuff all the time and they understand the role of it, so the combination of those two things means speaks to the sort of new golden age we're in because of the quantity, and quality, of image creators everywhere. You have digital filmmakers, animators, AI artists, you name it. There's so many different ways that visuals can be integrated. Live shows will also change, potentially, once they reach a certain level. Bands are constantly thinking about how to visually represent what they're doing live, which also can be interwoven into the music video creation itself. I'm really excited.


There's plenty of bands doing something special, especially in the live setting. Some implement projections, others bridge digital screens with expansive lighting rigs. I'd argue that it would be neat to see 'Atropos' on stage in some way, shape, or form.


Misha: There's so much so much content in it that I think it looks so cool and beautiful. Like Rod said, there's so many tools to work with. It really is kind of a new age and it's all very exciting. We get to open that door and see what it looks like. We get to discover it.

Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Rod: We designed the filming to be processed by AI. What made us so excited is that as we're all discussing it, we knew we could do almost anything we wanted with the footage. We shot a lot of material on location in Downtown Los Angeles and in the Arts District in Los Angeles. We knew that we were going to make it into a post apocalyptic world. There's one sequence where there's a car driving through a city and we're able to take those sequences that we filmed and make it appear that the car is driving one through a futuristic, science fiction world. Then, it cuts back and forth where it's driving through a post-World War III apocalypse in a sort of animated, psychedelic visual style. It almost sounded too good to be true. You remember Misha?


Misha: Yeah, it's incredible. This is what I'm saying: you're opening this new creative door and finding out what's in there. We're still in this exploratory phase, which I think is so exciting. Rod was telling me what we could do and I'm like, "Wait, really? You think it could work?" He was very good about sending us basic edits and shots, and then the post-AI, post-editing versions. I saw some of this stuff get filmed, so it's amazing to see it in its final version. Believe me, it's very interesting if you saw what was filmed.

Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

Some of the shots are actually kind of cool in their own right, like Spencer up against a projector, but it's almost unrecognizable. I remember you telling me we're gonna have a projector on his face because that will confuse the AI and generate cool effects. Rod was thinking a few steps ahead and was planning accordingly.

Photograph by Ekaterina Gorbacheva

I can feel the enthusiasm from just hearing you two talk about it. Misha, in what state of mind does it find you in as Periphery enters this new creative era in your discography? We talk about the technology side of things, yes, but musically, the record is as expansive as anything you've ever done.


Misha: If I'm honest, this was a tough album to put together. I know this is a tired argument, but the pandemic was a large reason why. It was by far the most challenging record that we put together. We all live separately, but we flew and met up somewhere to write, not knowing when the next meeting was going to be. It can be very demoralizing not really knowing where we are in the process. Having the standards be so high for ourselves now was also a factor because we're not interested in something just being good enough. We want it to be great. It's not about critics, it's about us. We have to have that feeling of listening to the record and be like, "Fuck yeah." If we don't have that feeling, either we fix it or we scrap it or we move on. I'm amazed with how it came out. I didn't expect to be quite as proud of it as I am about something that really came together in the 11th hour. I feel like we have something really special here. I have a very, very special affinity for this album. It did take a lot out of me, I'm not going to lie.


Continuing on that point, is it cathartic then for both of you to see you everything you invested into this be acknowledged and engaged in as well as it has? You do this for yourself first and foremost as you aim to please your own creative ambitions before anything else, but once you detach from it, it becomes a whole other being in the eyes of the listeners and viewers.


Rod: I was super stressed over the Christmas holidays. I spent the entire holidays watching video after video about AI video processing, downloading the tools, working with an understanding how to use them. We collaborated with an AI artist, Hueman Instrument, for some help, so shoutout to him. I really wanted to deep dive and fully understand what the tools could do. I had never done this process before, so I felt the weight of the responsibility because you know, we're visionary friends and we had developed this grand vision. If you read the script, it sounds like we're making a million dollar music video. We wanted a post apocalyptic LA with an AI coming to life. From an emotional and energetic level, I went through a rougher scenario, as you do sometimes as a creative.


Interestingly, it went so smoothly during the shooting days. It was like clockwork. We knew exactly what we needed to do. Every time we turned on the camera, we felt magic. We were all very excited as every week went by. We started processing the images for about three weeks with a system and just started getting more and more confidence about how it was all going to fit together. I had a little bit of stress once we started editing, but in the end, the finished piece came out great. There definitely was catharsis for me.


Misha: For me, it's probably in a way that I've never really experienced before because usually at this point, I'm just so over the album. I'm so involved in the writing, the producing, mixing, practically every aspect of it, so I'm just over it at this point. I'm actually getting ready to write the next one at this point. However, for the first time ever in Periphery history, I actually don't feel that way. It's been very exciting to put these songs out and see people's reactions. I'm not sick of it yet, so I'm in this kind of uncharted territory.


Going off of what I was mentioning earlier about the difficulty creating this album, it's extremely cathartic to see it finally get to exist. It's a great moment as a creative to be proud of the finished result. I've done so many projects where I'm ashamed or disappointed by what came out and you just got to live with it and move on to the next project. This is one of those great moments where you're just very proud. I would say I absolutely fell in love with the song having heard it 1,000 times already. I find myself singing it in the shower.

 

Periphery V: Djent Is Not A Genre arrives March 10th via 3DOT Recordings (Order).

Cover Artwork by Travis Smith

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