Master of the keyboard, lover and admirer of guitarists, Black County Communion band member, session musician, solo artist and dedicated family man… how does Derek Sherinian fit it all in? Well he just does… He now has a new album release, called Oceana, featuring 9 blistering instrumentals and, as ever, a Stella cast of musicians including Steve Lukather, Tony McAlpine, Steve Stevens, Joe Bonamassa, Doug Aldrich, Jimmy Johnson and Tony Franklin. Plus Derek’s right hand man, on drums.. Simon Phillips. DPRP had the chance to have a chat to Derek and find out that little bit more…
Interview by Phil Chelmsford
Phil: You seem to have been very busy over the past 2 years… what with 2 BCC albums and touring to support them, plus writing, recording and producing your new album (Oceana)… as well as touring with Billy Idol... How do you fit it all in?
Derek: Yeah that’s right… It’s been very busy, which I welcome. I always find that I’m happier when I’m working.
Phil: Is that kind of schedule business as usual?
Derek: Yeah it’s been a little more intense the last year or so but I’ve stayed pretty busy my whole career. There hasn’t been a lot of down time
Phil: You can’t ask for much more than that… How surprised were you at the rapid success of BCC? The band must be over the moon?
Derek: Well I think if it was with a bunch of unknown guys I don’t know if it would have been as successful as it was. I think
because each guy brought something to the table, the synergy of all the parts helped get it over that hump which enabled us to do a full world tour for our second release (Black Country Communion 2) and I think it’s a good situation, I think all the players are great, Kevin Shirley does a great job producing and the fans are digging it so I can see us putting out records every year.
Phil: Did you know any of the BCC guys before the band was put together?
Derek: I knew Glen Hughes, I was already an acquaintance of his, I knew who Jason (Bonham) was of course from his dad, I didn’t know much about Joe (Bonamassa) but when I got to play with him for the first time I really became a fan of his because I think he’s great
Phil: Well you are a huge fan of guitar players….
Derek: Yeah I always have been, I love all instruments but for some reason I’ve always been drawn to the great guitar players and I have fortunately been able to play with most of them that I have admired for years although there are still a couple on the list that I would like to get together with
Phil: If I said I wasn’t jealous I would be lying (laughing)
Derek: Ha! Ha! I feel very fortunate
Phil: I think it’s fair to say, initially, your profile was raised significantly when you joined Dream Theater. Would you agree your profile has been enhanced again by being a part of BCC?
Derek: I think so. I think everything furthers the profile, every record you play on gives more awareness of your name, every
solo record I put out helps push it forward but then there’s like spikes in awareness, which obviously through Dream Theater and Black Country Communion has been very helpful
Phil: I saw you guys at High Voltage this summer in London and it was a great set… in fact the whole line up on that day was superb.. Did you enjoy the experience?
Derek: That was a great show, it was a big show and I liked it. High Voltage was probably the biggest festival we played in
Phil: You were on the bill with your old Dream Theater pals…. Is it always good to catch up with them?
Derek: Oh yeah that was great they were on the side of the stage giving me thumbs up. I got to see them before their set started but we had to leave immediately for another country so I didn’t get to see their set. Although it was great seeing the guys… it was fantastic.
Phil: There a few people who did wonder, considering you shared the same bill, if you might appear on stage with them at some point?
Derek: A lot of people asked that but we had to get off to the next show. We had a long drive that night
Phil: Moving on to the new album.. I must say I’m impressed. It’s an album that does not stagnate (like some instrumental albums tend to do). It flows well and keeps your interest (well kept mine anyway)
Derek: Well thank you very much that’s a huge compliment, that’s what I always try to strive for on a record is to captivate the listener from the first note to the last note and I think that’s the criteria for a great album, for a great movie… you know you don’t want it to wonder you want to be immersed in it and escape from your life for the time that that record is playing. So I hope more people enjoyed it as much as you did
Phil: Some instrumental albums tend to get caught in a theme and can get monotonous, where as Oceana has a great ebb and flow about it. What with trying to keep that flow and the listener’s attention… do you write the music with that in mind?
Derek: Absolutely… Simon Philips and I spent a lot of time sculpting the arrangements of these songs to make sure that the structure was as strong as it could possibly be. We had plenty of time to analyse and say ‘OK this section is too long’ or ‘ This section is not long enough’ or ‘we need to change the key for this solo to give the song a lift’ so there is a lot of thought process put into it to ensure that it is lean and mean.
Phil: I must say the album has a great ‘groove’ going on throughout. It had my foot tapping most of the way thru… Its got a great feeling about it…
Derek: Well I think a lot of that has to do with Simon Phillips. He’s such an amazing drummer and one of the great attributes of Simon is that when he’s playing in an odd time signature, no matter what it is, he makes it feel like 4/4 so you can tap your foot….. Try tapping your foot to a Dream Theater song…. You’ll have foot spasms
Phil: The track Mercury 7 has a a great feel and time signature
Phil: The first track, Five Elements, I thought has a quite an Eddie Van Halen feel about it?
Derek: Oh! (Derek sounds surprised!) I dunno.. its well documented I’m a very huge fan of Van Halen. I didn’t directly take the riff to be like Van Halen but if it comes out through my playing or writing then that’s just how it is.
Phil: Coming onto the guitarists themselves, I know you use a myriad of guitarists on your solo work but how much input do you have in the guitar parts and solos or do you just give them free range?
Derek: Absolutely, I mean we know how the song structure should go and the composition but when it comes to their solo’s they absolutely get free range and we just want to get the best solo’s out of them as possible or if they have any other ideas that help make the song better.. we are always open
Phil: Did all the guitarists come to you to record?
Derek: Yes, all the guitar parts were recorded at Simon Phillips’ studio
Phil: Oh!! I thought you recorded everything in your own studio?
Derek: I have a studio where I recorded all of my parts but we did all the drums and guitars at Simon‘s
(Minor interlude while Derek plays dad to talk to his daughter)
Phil: Carrying on with the album, another big favourite of mine from the Oceana album is I Heard That with Joe Bonammasa playing
Derek: Yeah! Joe just came over to my house and we got together for about an hour and sketched out that song. I then took the work, Joe and I did, to Simon, we then wrote another section to it and finished the arrangement and then had Joe come in and do his guitar parts. It turned out great… there are a lot of people that find that song to be their favourite on the album.
Phil: There are many people that are put off by an instrumental album without even hearing a track or a note… does that concern you?
Derek: Umm!! I guess that’s their loss and hopefully someone will turn them around and get them to give it a chance… what can you do?
Phil: Following on from the previous question, marketing an instrumental album can’t always be easy. Do you or the record company approach an instrumental release any different from a song based release?
Derek: Its not difficult… the bottom line is I need to talk to anyone that will listen as far as doing interviews and any magazine that’s willing to give me coverage – I will do interviews and hope to get a review. I let the music speak for itself and one thing people can always rely on is when I put out a Derek Sherinian solo album it’s the pure sound that I hear in my head, I don’t cut corners, I don’t spare expenses on getting cheaper players where I could maybe profit more, I put everything I make in these records to give the music fan and listener the best record they could possible hear and the best representation of myself as an artist. There’s a lot of integrity there and I think my fan base gets that and I’m very grateful that they have supported me throughout the years
Phil: So have you found your fan base has benefited as a result of being in BCC?
Derek: I think maybe the fan base has expanded a little bit, maybe there are some BCC fans who have said lets check out Derek’s solo album as it has Joe on it, so I think that’s helped
Phil: Modern Instrumental albums RARELY become huge sellers anymore. In the past there have been highly successful instrumental albums such as Tubular Bells, Oxygene, Autobahn (Jeff Beck – Wired Derek adds) to name a couple (two of those albums mentioned are keyboard based interestingly enough)… but not in recent times (which is a shame)…Why do you think that is?
Derek: I don’t know…. I don’t have an answer!
Phil: The world of music of course is quite different to what it was when you started out. Do you think it was easier for artists back then or is it easier for artists today to get exposure or your foot on the ladder?
Derek: I don’t think its easy ANY era to be a professional musician and actually make a living, support your family and to have a real career… it’s brutal… it’s a horrible business… but you have to work that much harder if that’s what you want to do to make your living, so I think in any era it would be horrible. Now with the internet and all the downloading and stuff.. an artist makes a record and it gets leaked out online before it even makes it to the stores.
Phil: That’s also a doubled edged sword as the internet makes artists so accessible from a genuine fan point of view and then there’s the pirating side
Derek: What would be great to have the internet accessible to spread the word but not so accessible that they rob the artists of their royalties
Phil: I totally agree!
Derek: But that’s the bottom line and it is what it is!! It will be what the beast will be…
Phil: I think most genuine fans will go and buy the CD or download the legitimate MP3
Derek: Yeah most would and you know I would never personally download a record. If I was a fan of the band I would go and buy the record to support them. Also I want the real CD in my hands as it sounds better than all these compressed files and when I’m listening to music I want to hear it in its best form. You know what is refreshing is that vinyl is becoming popular again… I can’t begin to tell you how many BCC vinyl LP’s we sold on tour and Oceana is my first solo album that has ever been released on vinyl… which is great because I think that’s going to help if more people get into vinyl and hear the difference of how good that sounds compared to a compressed MP3file. You know maybe people will start buying albums again.
Phil: I share the sentiment and I am not a fan of mp3 myself and neither are most people at DPRP, from what I can tell, but unfortunately the whole world is based on convenience.
Derek: It is and the problem is the younger generation… they don’t know any different. They grew up downloading to their iPod and that’s all they know.
Phil: Away from music, briefly, what do you do in your spare time?
Derek: What spare time?? (laughs) I’m either being a dad or making music.. there is nothing else.
Phil: You must like movies, TV, books etc etc?
Derek: I like watching boxing, mixed martial arts.. I’m going to watch the Mayweather fight tonight (Mayweather v Ortiz), I’m excited about that. As for movies I just watched all the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy which is amazing. I stay very busy…
(Interlude as Derek’s daughter joins the conversation but refuses to talk to the mad Englishman on the other end of the webcam)
Phil: Who in the music world, no matter what genre, grabs your interest and impresses you at the moment?
Derek: I think in most recent years the band Meshuggah are great. I think what they are doing musically is insane and met their drummer Tomas Haake in Stockholm when I was on tour there and I told him what a fan I was of the band. I think they are really really cool
Phil: Its has been well documented that you have an admiration for great guitarists through those you have worked with and the likes of EVH, and Jeff Beck you would love to work with…
Derek: Well I have played a show with Eddie Van Halen live at his house… it was a party… but I’ve never recorded with him but Jeff Beck is someone big time on my list as someone I would love to work with in any capacity. I think he’s just fantastic… he has been a huge inspiration to me since I was young
Phil: Have you met him? (Jeff Beck)
Derek: No I haven’t
Phil: Do you think he is aware of your interest?
Derek: I don’t know… l someone must have told him as there have been so many interviews where I talk about him and my music has been compared so much to his. Who knows he is in a whole different strata. Hopefully one of these days I’ll get to cross paths with him. I’m sure we would make some great music.
Phil: But there must some other guitarists out there that take your eye (or ear)?
Derek: Erm!! (ponders) not really… I think I have played with everyone that I wanted to that’s living except Jeff Beck
Phil: What about someone like Michael Schenker? He supported you with BCC on tour this summer
Derek: Oh yeah Michael is great… Yeah I would love to something with him sometime… He is a really nice guy and he was one of my first favourite guitar players (even before EVH). It was a pleasure watching him from the side of the stage by the monitor desk with the best seat in the house watching him… that was very cool
Phil: Have you heard of Guthrie Govan?
Derek: I have and everything I’ve heard is pretty amazing. I have heard some stuff on You Tube and people have sent me things and I know he’s great.
Phil: I think his style would suit you perfectly
Derek: Yeah he is a great player and I have heard nothing but great things about him… there are a few guys out there who are really, really good but To me, honestly, if I’m going to make a record and I had my choice I would have Holdsworth (Allan) his playing is just the best to me… Holdsworth and Beck
Phil: Well you now have a few possibilities for your next album there… (laughing)
Derek: Yeah!! You know who knows, by the time I’m ready to make the next record maybe there is going to be someone else who comes to my attention that I want to work with. I don’t know what direction I’m going to go I kinda just do one album at a time
Phil: Anyway, I have read that you are hoping to tour on the back of this album in 2012? Where are you hoping to take that tour?
Derek: Yes I am.. we are trying to put it together and as long as it makes sense we will come to Europe some time in the spring next year (2012). I’m just hoping Simon will be available and put a proper band together. There’s a lot of logistics in putting together an instrumental tour
Phil: Do you have any ideas of the musicians you would be taking on tour in your band?
Derek: Yeah! Simon Phillips, Tony McAlpine and then a great Bass Player (TBA)
Phil: Maybe a chance of some Special guests along the way?
Derek: You never know… anyone who played on my record is invited to sit in.
Phil: Will it be headlining or supporting?
Derek: I think it would be a Headline club tour
Phil: Will you bring it to the UK do you think?
Derek: I hope so, I hope so… We’ll see, it all comes down to the promoters and who wants us to come you know?
Phil: Just before we finish up I would like to take you back to the Blood of the Snake album and the cover version of In the Summertime. How did that come about? (Feat. Billy Idol, Slash, Brian Tichy (drums), Tony Franklin (bass))
Derek: That was a song that I’ve always loved when I was a young kid it was the first song that I sing out loud and one time Billy Idol starting singing it at soundchecks so I started playing along with it and just grooving on it and I said one day it would be great if we could record it. So when I was putting together Blood of the Snake I wanted to have Billy guest on it and thought that would be a great song. Billy came in and cut that song and Billy says ‘Why don’t we have Slash come in and play guitar’ so we called Slash and he comes in, laid his track and we end up doing a video that’s on You Tube, yeah it’s cool. Its not like anything else on the record though, so anyone that bought that record based on that song and listened to all the progressive instrumental metal there, I’m sure there was a high return rate (laughing)
Phil: You mentioned you made a video for the track… was it an intention to release it as a single?
Derek: Yeah it was….. It got some radio play in the US. I don’t know about overseas or whatever… you know… but it was fun to do and the video was fun
Phil: You would have thought with having Billy in it and Slash it they would have been great marketing tools for the song
Derek: I was hoping!!!! (laughs)
Phil: Just goes to show… here in the UK I didn’t even know it was a single! I’d like to ask, can you tell the readers something about yourself that nobody may generally know. No matter how, seemingly, trivial?
Derek: (Pauses and thinks)…. That I, erm, have 2 kids? I don’t talk about my family a lot in the press but I’m a dedicated father and husband and anytime I’m not playing music I’m being a family guy.
Phil: One last thing I would like to put to you…. I have some trivia for you… did you know who you share birthday with?
Derek: Yes… Gene Simmons (Kiss), Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and Vivien Campbell (Def Leppard)…
Phil: …and Sean Connery
Derek: Oh yeah!!! Sean Connery that’s right. I told Gene (Simmons) “you know you have my birthday right” he’s looking at me saying “Pffff…. You mean you have MY birthday”
Phil: And finally Derek, Thanks for your talking to me for DPRP. I’m glad we finally managed to tie up some mutual time to chat.
Derek: Thank you very much… the DPRP website has been very very very supportive to me over the years
Phil: I’m sure we will continue to do so
Derek: And I appreciate you taking the time Phil
Official Website: www.dereksherinian.com
Up-coming Concerts (with Billy Idol)
Wed October 12 – Mountain Winery – Saratoga, CA
Thur October 13 – Big Fresno Fair – Fresno, CA
Sat October 15 – Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino – Indio, CA
Sun October 16 – Arizona State Fairgrounds – Phoenix, AZ
Tues October 18 – Humphrey’s By The Bay – San Diego, CA
Wed October 19 – Fox Theater – Bakersfield, CA
Fri October 21 – Chumash Casino – Santa Ynez, CA