For Misha Mansoor cars came before guitars — he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't transfixed by them. "The first time that I saw a Ferrari in real life was a 348, and that was like meeting your hero. I was starstruck," says the Periphery axman, who was then eight years old and living in Belgium. He recalls looking through the dealership's window with his dad. "I asked, 'Can we buy one?' not really understanding the concept of money." He laughs.
Mansoor's fixation on fast cars trailed him into adulthood. So, naturally, when he began making his own money there was no question about what he was going to spend it on. "I never thought I would be able to own a fast car ... So when I realized that I might be able to swing this, it was like, 'Damn, I have to do this.'" That first ride was a BMW M3 E90, which was followed over the years by a revolving collection of AMG, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren sports cars.
It's a passion he shares with longtime friend and fellow guitarist Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders. The two first bonded over their love of Meshuggah riffs and crazy futuristic guitar gear, which eventually led to Mansoor producing a few of AAL's albums. While making the modern djent genre-buster Joy of Motion, Mansoor picked up Abasi from the airport in that newly acquired BMW M3 and punched it. "That was probably the first time I felt 400 horsepower at full throttle," Abasi recalls, laughing.
Abasi's fascination with cars also started when he was just a kid. "I think some of these vehicles blurred the lines between things we would see [in] cartoons, superhero stuff or comic books," he explains. "It's almost when you're into science fiction and you're yearning for some of the things you've seen in the movies … to trickle into the real world."
Like his pal, Abasi has owned a bunch of sports cars, too. His favorite is his current McLaren 720S. "It seemed the design language in the 720S really merged elegance with aerodynamics," he says. "It is a supercar in every quintessential sense of the word … I can hardly believe it's legal to own one because of how quick it is. [Laughs] But I really respect, as a street car, the amount of advanced engineering that seems to have trickled down from racing."
Mansoor's also a big fan of McLarens (he recently traded his 720S Spider for a 765LT Spider) and the dudes regularly meet to talk shop, enjoy track days at the famous Laguna Seca raceway or take some "spirited" drives through the "twisties" of the Southern California canyons. The thrills they experience from their high-performance vehicles isn't all that different from the complex, technical, virtuosic music they make.
"I gravitate heavily towards Porsche and McLaren because those are the two nerdiest brands for drivers," Mansoor says with a laugh. "If you were looking at music, those would be like the prog-nerd guitarists' guitars."
"The way I play — with speed and precision and all of that shit — it's not practical," adds Abasi. "And the car isn't practical. But I like that there are some things that exist that aren't practical: They exist as an example of what's possible."
"For me, I want an experience. It's less about having the car, owning it or showing off. Whether it's a basic drive, going through the canyons or the track, I want a car that puts a smile on my face, that gets me in my zone. That just makes my chest filled with warmth and there's only certain cars that can do that." — Misha Mansoor
"The McLaren 720S is almost a car version of what I try to do with metal," says Abasi. "It pushes the envelope aesthetically and performance-wise. It has a combination of traits that feel new and modern."
"I'll never forget realizing how much of a difference the sound adds to your experience of driving. Then I almost started to think of it as a musician — distortion through a really loud amplifier — it's not just noise to us." — Tosin Abasi
"When we got to Laguna, Tosin and I showed up in two 720Ss and they're like, 'Oh, man. That's so cool! Last week, there were two 720Ss. They both crashed. One crashed at turn 1, the other one crashed at turn 9. Totaled.' I'm like, 'This is a great start to the day.'" — Mansoor
(above) Abasi driving his McLaren through Laguna Seca's famous turn 8, the Corkscrew. "Psychologically, it's a little disconcerting," he says of the blind turn and elevation drop, "because there's self-preservation, and there's car preservation and then there's your ego."
"I'm looking at McLaren for design cues. I love that McLaren is so aesthetically aggressive. When I'm designing guitars for Abasi Concepts, I want the equivalent of that in a guitar." — Abasi
(above) "It's just this wonderful analog experience," Mansoor says of his Porsche's naturally aspirated engine. "It's like playing through a nice tube amp full stack. Everything is just very tactile."