After years of touring in the live bands of Alice Cooper and Kiss (amongst others) and a four-year stint with Dream Theater, Derek Sherinian released his first solo album Planet X in 1999. The line-up of this album became a real band, named after the album: Planet X. Since then Derek has been releasing released one album per year, always alternating his solo albums with those of his part-time band. However, after 2003 brought us the excellent Black Utopia, Derek followed it up with another solo album, instead a Planet X one.
Yeah, I just wanted to put out Mythology, I've been working on it ever since Black Utopia came out. The first piece I wrote was Day Of The Dead, and I knew right away that I wanted to feature Zakk Wylde and bring Allan Holdsworth in for the first time, because I am a great fan of his work. To have him involved with Mythology is a great milestone.
As always Derek has managed to attract a great groups of people to play on his album. Apart from the usual suspects (Steve Lukather, Simon Phillips, Zakk Wylde, Tony Franklin) there are also some new faces. Derek explains how he persuaded them to work with him:
Well, Allan Holdsworth is a great hero to me and I remember just the first time I met him, I was like a little kid, just very excited. Even though I have worked with some great musicians in the past Allan was just on a whole 'nother level. I remember he did the solo on Day of The Dead in his home studio and I remember he left a message on my answering machine playing it over the phone and I was just blown away by just listening to that message and then after he just like said "I hope it's OK, I hope that you like it" you know, and that was just the most amazing this I ever heard.
And he just did a great job and I wouldn't be surprised if we will work together again.
John Sykes is this other great guitarplayer that I was glad that he took the time to play on Mythology. Normally he doesn't play on other people's records, I think he's done it a couple times before, but it is very rare. Earlier this year he called me to play keyboards on the Blue Murder tour in Japan and I was available and also I wanted to make the relationship with John, because I'd been a fan of his playing for a long time. And I invited him to play on Mythology. And he played on the song God of War, that features Zakk and John Sykes on the same track.
Steve Stevens and I have been playing in Billy Idol's band for the last three years, but Mythology is the first time that we actually recorded together. I think Steve is a great guitarplayer with a wide range of styles and he does a live solo with Billy where he plays nylon string Flamenco guitar and I wanted him to do that somewhere on Mythology, so I wrote El Flamenco Suave.
In Derek has his own home studio, The Leopard Room, where is able to record all instruments.
Most people came up to my studio, the only two people that recorded in their home studios were Allan Holdsworth and John Sykes. But for example with Steve Stevens, because we live close to eachother, a lot of the people live near and so Steve and I just wrote some songs in the studio. And then a lot of the other, heavier stuff I wrote with Brian Tichy, who plays drums on Mythology on all the heavy tracks that we wrote. And we usually just get together in the room, in the studio. We just sketch it out and then we go cut the drum and then overdub everything on top of that.
In the case of Allan Holdsworth and John Sykes, I just sent them down the pro-tools files of the record and they overdubbed their parts of it on top.
Working like that can cause a few headaches, as you never know what you will get back. Does Derek include a guide melody for them to base their solo on?
No, I have total faith in all of these musicians and I know what they are capable of. I am confident in the composition that once they hear it they'll be able to just step right in like into a familiar pair of shoes.
As stated in the reviews on DPRP, there are many differences between Derek's solo albums and the Planet X albums. The most obvious one is that his solo albums are a lot more different styles present, there is a lot more variation.
I'm just very big on having a good balance on a record, so it's not all the same.
I experimented with some different styles on Mythology, like the gospel tune that is Goin' To Church, the flamenco song El Flamenco Suave... As I said, I knew Steve Stevens' flamenco solo and I thought it was a good opportunity to write something like that.
And... uhm... I think that's the beautiful thing about solo records, that you have the freedom to experiment. Take for instance The River Song, that is the first time we've ever had a vocal song on one of my records, and that happened accidentally in the studio, Zakk just started singing and it sounded great, so I had my engineer hook up a mike and then we listened back to the tracks the next day and it sounded great. And there was the song.
As so many great names have already guested on Derek's albums, it seems that he must be running out of choices soon. There are a few still on his wish list though.
Eddie van Halen would be the ultimate for me, and also Jeff Beck. If I could record with both of those guys, that would be amazing.
I haven't approached either yet, I'm just waiting for the right time. I did write a song on Mythology, Trojan Horse, that was dedicated to Eddy. He is a great Dutch guitarplayer, and he's been a very big influence on my writing.
And inviting a guest keyboardplayer to the ensemble?
I haven't really considered it, no, but I would love it though. I don't have a problem with that. It would be cool to have Emerson, or Wakeman, or Jan Hammer play with me. All those guys are great, but no, it hasn't happened yet that I wrote a piece of music for two keyboardists.
With the last Planet X release dating back to 2002, one might be inclined to assume this project is discontinued, however, as Derek assures, this is definitely not the case.
I just spoke to Virgil this morning, we will start writing in January. And we're hoping to maybe have Allan Holdsworth play guitar on that. And then hopefully another tour.
The Planet X shows focus on the material that Derek has written with Virgil Donati (obviously), but has he ever considered touring with your solo material?
I have, and it would be very difficult to get all the guest stars to go on a full tour, because everyone is so busy with their own bands. But what we have in the works is that we are going to try to put together a one night only show in Los Angeles with all of the people on the record and do a live CD and live DVD, and I'm gonna try my hardest to make that happen.
But touring, I would love to, but that is very difficult. I would, but it is very difficult. I did some shows last year on the Black Utopia tour, and Tony MacAlpine helped me out on guitar, Jonathan Mover on drums. And the band sounded great, but then again it is very hard to get the players that can cover all of the styles to do the album right.
But that being said, it is very hard to put together a band that could do it, and the few people that are able to do it, they have too busy a schedule.
When it comes to writing music, Derek Sherinian is a bit of an oddity among keyboardplayers. As he has said in interviews before, he prefers to write music with a drummer as a writing partner, though the music itself always ends up being very guitardriven.
When he thinks of this himself, doesn't it strike him as odd?
Yeah, I guess so. I just know what I hear in my head. It is very interesting that I seem to write better with drummers, as I have in the past with Simon Phillips, with Virgil Donati, with Brian Tichy, with Mike Portnoy in Dream Theater... It is just a certain communication that is being there. But then the music always ends up being very guitar-driven. It's just.. it is what it is. It's just the way I hear it, really. People ask me howcome there is so much guitar on your records, sometimes your keyboards are so far in the background. I just put my keyboards exactly where I feel they are appropriate, and I'm not afraid to go take a solo whenever it is there, but the type of music I listen to is not all keyboards-driven music, I just hear more guitar-driven music.
I would only have made three records instead of five it it had been all keyboards!
I guess that my records are different from other keyboardists, but also my solo albums sound much different than those of guitarplayers. There's not one guitarplayer that could cover all the different styles that you can hear on my solo albums, that's the whole reason why I get such a wide range of people to play on my albums, to cover that spectrum. And as a keyboardist I have the freedom to do that.
Derek Sherinian has always been intrigued with guitars, in fact, there was a time before he joined Dream Theater that he was actually considering switching to playing the guitar. Though he intensively studied guitarplaying for about a year, the Dream Theater audition put him off the idea again.
I picked up the guitar a couple of times since then to write riffs, but I've never pursued any further than that. I really feel, even though I am such a great fan of guitar, that every musician has one instrument they gravitate to and that they are the strongest at. And I have always played keyboards since I was young and I seem to have the natural feel for it.
Thank you Derek, for your time.
I just wanted to thank you for you continued support. I'm really excited about Mythology, it has some great musicians on there and you can hear some samples at my website dereksherinian.com and I hope I get a chance to play in Holland again, I have had a great time there. I played there many times with Alice Cooper, with Dream Theater and with Planet X and I look forward to be able to come back.
Interview by Bart Jan van der Vorst
photos taken from the official Derek Sherinian website
Round Table Review of Mythology
The Official Derek Sherinian Website