2017 finally experienced the long awaited reformation of two progressive metal powerhouses in Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian in the form of new outfit SONS OF APOLLO which also includes the unbelievably stacked lineup of Billy Sheehan, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and Jeff Scott Soto amongst their ranks. With their album Psychotic Symphony due for release on the 20th of October via InsideOut Music/Sony Music we caught up with Derek to get some insight on what the fans can expect from the newly emerging super power of metal.
Hey Derek, how are you doing?
Derek: I’m very well thank you, thank you for taking the time to talk to me
The pleasure is all mine! First of all, I can imagine collecting a group of musicians possessing such an incredible talent wasn’t just a random occurrence, has this been a topic of conversation for a long time?
Derek: It has. Me and Mike have been talking about forming a band for about five years and the scheduling finally came together this year. We moved very quickly, Billy Sheehan was our first and only choice to play bass, Mike brought in Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and I was amazed by his talent! The first day I met him was in the first day in the studio..writing and recording. We were tracking as we were composing on the spot which was pretty exciting! Then throw in the mix of doing it with someone on a primary instrument that you’ve never met before let alone played with… it was like meeting the long lost brother that I hadn’t met in 50 years and then we were just making up for lost time in that 10 days. I think we came up with an amazing album in that 10 day time period. The next days me and Mike worked with Jeff Scott Soto on finishing up the vocal melody lines and then we all did our individual overdubs in our studios putting on the finishing touches and then we finishes it in August. Everyone that has heard this record has called it a masterpiece and I can’t argue with that! I’m just excited for this album to come out so we can play this stuff live!
I can’t argue with that either, as soon as I heard it I was blown away and hearing the short time span it was constructed in makes it even more impressive!
Derek: Ah thank you man, that’s awesome.
How has it felt to reunite with Mike after all these years? Just like old times?
Derek: Just like old times! It was like not a day had passed. We’ve always had such a strong personal chemistry and it was great. He has such a great energy and passion for music and for the band and I just love having a partner that has that same intensity.
Ever since SONS OF APOLLO came to the forefront you’ve been instantly coined as a supergroup. Does that add any extra level of pressure?
Derek: Not really, we just do what we do. I mean labels are labels, in a sense it kinda is a supergroup like the Marvel superheroes, the Avengers! There’s a difference in style and sound on top of being a virtuoso and when we get together collectively we’ve figured out a way to blend and compliment everyone’s fortès and make sure that they were utilised on this record and I think everyone really shines in a great light.
I can imagine a lot of ideas were brought to the table for this album. Did this spark a lot of debate or did you all seem to agree on the same sort of direction for SONS OF APOLLO?
Derek: Mike and I were the producers of the record and we only had 10 days in the studio. We had some starting points that I brought in and that Bumblefoot brought in. One of the first things I turned into Mike was the God of the Sun trilogy and he heard it and said it was perfect as it is we don’t need to add anymore composition to it and he thought it should open up the record! So I was really happy that he liked that song so much. It’s an extremely strong opener.
How do you comprehend constructing the larger tracks like God of the Sun or Opus Maximus. Do you break the writing down into sections or is it more of a continuous flow?
Derek: Well God of the Sun was my sole composition which I wrote section by section and I took a lot of time on it as it there is three definitive parts. I’d say there is about two weeks worth of writing before it got to the final form when you put it all together. So that’s how God of the Sun was which was more of a composition. Opus Maximus was the song that we wrote in the studio. I had the intro riff and the outro riff which was something I wrote a couple of years ago and had forgotten about! I played it for Mike and the guys and they said “this is fucking killer, we have to do something with this”. It’s very savage and sludgy but more diminished than demonic. So we started that and the rest of it we just started writing section by section and Mike was testing the guys saying “go here” and “go here” and he took us down a journey and it’s Opus Maximus! The mother of all instrumentals!
How do you approach your solos? Particularly your contributions to Opus Maximus which is rather intricate. Does that come with experience or is it more of a instinctual..in the moment kind of decision?
Derek: One of my musical heroes was Allan Holdsworth, rest in peace, he was an awesome improviser and so the format for that solo was influenced by his work with his band UK and his solo on In The Dead Of The Night where it has long ostinato bass riffs and chord changes over it and it was my little tribute to Allan Holdsworth.
That’s cool! How have Coming Home and Signs Of The Time been received so far?
Derek: People are loving it. A lot of comments I’ve heard are people saying how it’s so heavy but when it reaches the chorus it takes this unexpected turn and kind of sounds like a modern day KANSAS with balls! Like a real memorable hook. One of the cool tricks that we mastered on this is the art of strategic wankery. We made sure we didn’t sacrifice the quality of the song by the use of alternate musicianship that people expect to hear from us which also suited the songs. For example Coming Home is a straight forward, hard rock song which is cool as it didn’t call for it… so strategic wankery!
[Laughs] Well I can’t fault that! Apart from the abundance of talent in the band did anything particularly inspire your writing on this record?
Derek: Life has so many twists and turns and at times it will affect my writing but what inspires me the most is being surrounded with great musicians like I am with SONS OF APOLLO and now I know what Ron Thal is capable of as a musician which is fucking amazing. I’m really excited for what the next record is going to be but for now we are going to focus on the release of Psychotic Symphony and take this thing on tour which we still start in February of 2018. We are going to be touring throughout the year and hopefully into 2019. Everyone knows in this band that SONS OF APOLLO has the biggest chance of exploding and doing something new and fresh and that’s the bottom line, that people navigate to where it’s warm and SONS OF APOLLO is going to generate the most heat! We are really excited to see what happens.
Fantastic! Can we expect to see you guys over in the UK?
Derek: You know it man! How could we not do a full scale tour and not come!
Awesome! I’ll look forward to it. I’ll leave you with one final question. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Distorted Sound?
Derek: I just want to thank the UK. On a side note my other band BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION charted at Number 5 on your billboard charts from what I understand so thank you to everyone for your support on that. There will be two B.C.C shows in the UK…One in London and the other in Wolverhampton. These will be your only chances to see us perform and this will be in January.
Thanks very much for your time Derek, it’s been an absolute pleasure to speak to you. Best of luck with the album release and I look forward to seeing you guys when you hit the UK!
Derek: Thank you so much man. Take care!
Psychotic Symphony is set for release on 20th October via InsideOut Music and Sony Music
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