Derek Sherinian hardly requires an introduction. Derek has played with KISS, Alice Cooper, Zakk Wylde, Dream Theater, Billy Idol, Slash, and scores of other incredible musicians. I first heard about Derek from his work with Dream Theater on the Falling into Infinity album, and he has since become one of my favorite keyboardists. Following his departure from Dream Theater, Derek has led or participated in several successful projects, including Planet X, Black Country Communion, and a number of solo albums that feature work from some of the world’s most gifted musicians.
Derek’s new project, Sons of Apollo, was just announced. Featuring Mike Portnoy (Flying Colors, The Winery Dogs, Transatlantic, ex-Dream Theater) on drums, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (ex-Guns N’ Roses, Art of Anarchy) on guitar, Billy Sheehan (The Winery Dogs, Mr. Big) on bass, and Jeff Scott Soto (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, ex-Journey) on vocals, the band promises to be technically amazing and heavy as balls. Their new album, Psychotic Symphony, is slated for release on October 20, 2017 through InsideOut/Sony Music.
Derek graciously agreed to answer some questions about his work with Dream Theater, his work with Planet X, his solo work, and his latest project, Sons of Apollo.
Who were your keyboard idols growing up?
Elton John was the first, then I got into Jan Hammer on synth because he played with fire and balls like a guitar player. Also I liked Jon Lord, Keith Emerson, and Rick Wakeman. Most of my real musical heroes were guitar players.
How was Berklee? What is one thing about your time at Berklee that might surprise us?
Berklee was a great experience- it was like a microcosm of the music business. It was really clear who was going to make it, and who wouldn’t.
I read that you are very interested in family history, particularly from your Armenian side. Has this always been the case, or did something spark your interest?
I have always been interested history period. I think it’s important to know where we come from.
(Derek talked about his interest in genealogy here: https://auroraprize.com/en/stories/detail/regular/7764/derek-sherinian )
Your keys are somehow incredibly heavy without ever sounding cheesy- a label that is often lobbed at progressive keyboardists. When you are writing, how do you choose which sounds will fill the space? Is it more instinctual (like, a feeling) or is it more methodical?
It is raw instinct. It is something you cant download on an app and put on your iPad – you either have it, or you don’t Your playing style is a reflection of your personality.
Your approach to the keyboards has been described as “guitaristic” by several outlets. Would you agree with this?
For sure. It all comes down to what heroes you had on your wall when you were a kid. I had Edward Van Halen, and Randy Rhoads on mine, not Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman.
You’ve said before that you have always sought to have a unique tone. Without revealing your “secret recipe” too much, what would you say is the special Sherinian touch?
It is learning to harness the power of imposing your personality through the instrument. Again, it comes down to who your heroes were, and who you are as a person. I am an intense, aggressive person. This bleeds into my playing without me even trying.
You have studied with a diverse roster of musicians, among them Russell Ferrante and Terry Lavitz. Do you still train with other keyboardists/pianists on occasion, and if you do, what drives you to make that decision?
No, but I would like to continue my studies one day. I always want to improve my musicianship.
Falling Into Infinity
20 years ago, your first full album with Dream Theater, Falling Into Infinity, was released. What moments on that record are you most proud of?
I am proud of “Lines In The Sand”. That was the first musical idea that I brought into the band, and many Dream Theater fans to this day agree that it is not only the best song on that record, but one of the best in their catalog. (Editor’s note: I do too!)
You mentioned in an interview that moving on from Dream Theater ended up being a blessing for you. Could you explain a little more about this?
The dream was to always be in a cool rock band, not a prog rock band. DT was a great vehicle for me to gain international recognition, but I never envisioned myself growing old with those guys…ok, maybe Portnoy 🙂 John found his cyborg soulmate in Jordan, and now Mike and I have Sons Of Apollo- everyone wins in the end!
Planet X, to me, is some of the most interesting and forward thinking fusion I have heard. How did Planet X come about?
Planet X was the result of me getting fired from DT, and wanting to form a technically superior band to stick it in their ass!! 🙂 The problem, is that the music got so technical, that it was completely not enjoyable for me to play. Planet X broke harmonic and rhythmic ground for sure. To this day, I haven’t heard anything sicker instrumentally.
Is there any Planet X in the works?
No, We are all busy with other things. Maybe someday.
When you write your solo albums, do you imagine different guitarists or drummers or bassists in different roles, or do you invite people you trust to fill in spaces you leave for them?
I cast my solo records like a director casts a movie. There are certain players that are obvious for certain songs. One of my fortes is bringing out performances out of these people that they didn’t even know they were capable of.
What are some of your favorite studio moments from your solo records? (guitar solos that blew you away, moments that exceeded your expectations, etc.).
There are many, stand outs moments are watching Yngwie play his first take solo on the mid section of “The Sons Of Anu” (from Black Utopia)- amazing. Producing Al DiMeola the next day in Miami on the same song, great!!
Getting the phone message from Allan Holdsworth playing me his solo on “Day Of The Dead” for the first time.
Sons of Apollo
How did Sons of Apollo come about?
I have been prodding Mike for the last five years to do this, as it always seemed like an obvious move to me. After being in the same band for 25 years, I get that Mike wanted to diversify and play with many different people, but now it is time for him to reclaim the throne of the genre that he invented. I am at his side to make sure that happens.
Was the writing somewhat collaborative, or was it led by individual members?
Sons Of Apollo is a very collaborative effort where everyone is encouraged to contribute. I brought a finished musical piece and many other starting points. We then went in the studio and put it all together. Ron Thal is an amazing writer and musician. I doubt that we will ever have a shortage of musical ideas.
All of you are veterans of metal music, with decades of experience below your collective belt. Projects like this can often be a clash of opinions, as all of you have been successful in different projects. Did you find the writing process to be smooth or was it challenging at times?
It’s challenging for sure, but whoever fights the hardest will win the clash! If there is no tension writing the music, you will sound like the Osmond Brothers.
Are you planning on touring?
Extensively! SONS OF APOLLO will bring the show to as many people as possible.
Thanks, Derek, for talking with us. Check out Derek’s past work here, and GO AND SEE SONS OF APOLLO ON TOUR!