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The Phoenix Rises: An Exclusive Interview With DEREK SHERINIAN

By Ruben Mosqueda, We Go To 11
Friday, August 28, 2020 @ 8:50 AM

"I just hope to break even on this thing and pay for my sushi bill, then Iíd be happy."

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SONS OF APOLLO Band Photo Credit - Hristo Shindov

ďYouíre getting my primary instruments, youíre getting a HAMMOND B-3, youíre always going to get the MOOG Synthesizer, RHODES and my KORG through a MARSHALL stack! No matter what band Iím playing with or what Iím doing youíre always going to get my cast of characters of sounds. My primary soundsĒ. Looks like itís more of the same from DEREK SHERINIAN on the new album The Phoenix, due on September 18th, 2020 via InsideOut Music. As with past records Sherinian has loaded up the album with guests that include STEVE VAI, JOE BONAMASSA, and ZAKK WYLDE [OZZY OSBOURNE, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY] amongst others with the rhythm section that consists of SIMON PHILLIPS [MSG] and TONY FRANKLIN [THE FIRM, BLUE MURDER]. KNAC.COM got an opportunity to speak with Sherinian on August 12th, 2020 as he was doing press for The Phoenix. Enjoy the interview.

KNAC.COM: Itís been 9 years since the last album, but youíre gearing up to release The Phoenix on September 18th.

SHERINIAN: Yeah, it was time. I went and got another solo deal and I called [drummer] SIMON [PHLLIPS] right away. He was the first person that I called and we got together over a 4-5 day period and we wrote the concept and structure of The Phoenix. Weíre so happy with the end result and all of the players that were involved on the album. We're very excited to see the reaction from fans like you.

KNAC.COM: You always strategically place special guests on your albums. Did you have people in mind as you were writing these songs and make the calls?

SHERINIAN: I knew JOE [BONAMASSA] was going to play on ďThem ChangesĒ because he and I had discussed that before. I also talked with KIKO [LOUREIRO] about writing a song so I knew he was going to be there. As far as the other players go, ZAKK [WYLDE] is always invited and the opening track ďThe PhoenixĒ was just right for him. The songs tend to work themselves out, if I donít have a preconceived notion, it usually becomes obvious who should play on what.

KNAC.COM: Since itís been 2011 since Oceana, are these all brand spanking new tunes or have some of these songs been marinating for a few years?

SHERINIAN: Yeah, these are all fresh, new ideas with the exception of ďThem ChangesĒ of course which is a BUDDY MILES song. All the other instrumental stuff that you hear on the album was written within the past 18 months. To give you a time frame they were written after the last SONS OF APOLLO record was released.

KNAC.COM: Was the gap between albums motivated by the state of the music business? What I mean by that is that people donít consume music in the same fashion as they did even a decade ago. Sales are low and people have a short attention span.

SHERINIAN: Yeah, youíre looking at an example of that, with all of the downloading, the record sales dwindled from release to release over time. It didnít matter how good the record was, it was getting downloaded and the record advances got less and less. So to me it didnít make sense to make a solo record anymore. I finally decided to bite the bullet and just go for it. I just hope to break even on this thing and pay for my Sushi bill, then Iíd be happy. I think as long as I get to make the records with the people that I want, Iím happy. My solo records are truly a Ďlabor of loveí.

KNAC.COM: As far as the promotion of The Phoenix, youíre on the phone with me today, youíve been doing press over the past couple of weeks and there have been clips released to sample the music. There will be no live stuff for a while, Covid pulled SONS OF APOLLO off the road, thereís limitations at the moment. Some bands and artists have been streaming stuff online, is that something that interests you at all?

SHERINIAN: Iím not interested in doing that at all, Iím going to let the record promote itself and Iíll do press like Iím doing right now with you. Iíll talk until Iím blue in the face! [laughs] Iíll just keep talking. Iím not into this live streaming thing at all, I would just rather wait to do it correctly.

KNAC.COM: For you is the reason youíre not into the streaming thing because the fan and artist interaction piece is missing?

SHERINIAN: Thatís it. Thereís no interaction. Itís all done through a screen. Thereís no interaction and to me the whole thing is so sterilized. You donít get great quality as far as sound goes, Iím not embracing that. I just prefer to wait this out.

KNAC.COM: Youíre pretty firm on that Derek.

SHERINIAN: Yeah, I am. I just see all these people that are doing the split screen, Covid videos with all these different conglomerations of people. It looks like the opening credits of THE BRADY BUNCH! I donít want to be a part of that. If youíre into that do it, have fun, but Iím going to wait this out and youíll see me on stage doing this properly.

KNAC.COM: SONS OF APOLLO were pulled off the road when Covid was spreading across Europe...

SHERINIAN: Well, we pulled ourselves. I just want to clarify that. We were actually the first band to do it. Like you said we were in Europe and it was a tough call and ultimately we decided to come home. Nobody has seen anything like this. BILLY SHEEHAN, who has been doing this longer than any of us, has never seen anything like this! Ultimately, we were looking out for our safety and we made the painstaking decision to come home. We just didnít want to be quarantined and stuck in another country. The day after we canceled our tour, you started seeing all these other bands pulling their tours. Thereís some fear behind it, this is all uncharted territory for us.

KNAC.COM: How long did you guys deliberate about pulling the tour?

SHERINIAN: It was a gnarly 24 hours for us! God bless our tour manager, he went over all of the different scenarios that could happen if we stayed on or if we left now. Do we leave now? Do we play a couple of shows then leave or what? So he walked us through every potential scenario and as a band we chose the smartest move and that was to come home. It was just so unfortunate because the band was on fire and kicking ass, did three weeks in the U.S. and attendance was up 30%, the band morale was high, we were excited because people were showing up! When we got to Europe we saw more of the same, so to have to cancel the tour was incredibly hard, but we had to do it.

KNAC.COM: Was there anything on the record that went through various incarnations before it was recorded for the record?

SHERINIAN: No, most of it was pretty much as it was written. I think the one song that is way different than anything that I have done in the past is ďDragon FlyĒ. That is the only song with acoustic piano, no synth and no guitar. Itís a pure trio.

KNAC.COM: A friend had reminded me that you were on the BRAD GILLIS album Gilrock Ranch [1993]. So I went back and listened to that a number of times. Was that a recording debut?

SHERINIAN: Ha! It was my recording debut.

KNAC.COM: Tell me about that.

SHERINIAN: I will tell you my BRAD GILLIS story. Iím from Santa Cruz, California, itís the central coast, itís about an hour south from the San Francisco bay area. My parents were still living there, I had moved to Los Angeles and it was just brutal. It was just such a struggle. I remember I had taken a weekend off and drove up to Santa Cruz to see my parents and lick my wounds a little bit and get a few home cooked meals and recharge my batteries! [laughs] I went out one night to a local night club and there was BRAD GILLIS! I knew his work with Ozzy and he has already done two records with NIGHT RANGER. I recognized him immediately. I walked up to him to talk to him, I told him I was a keyboard player. He told me that he was working on new songs for NIGHT RANGER and also stuff for a solo record. He invited me over to play keyboards on his demos. That was a very big deal for me. I had never played with anyone that was famous and in a famous band. That was a huge step forward for me in my career. I played on a lot of his demos and throughout the process we became good friends. Ultimately, when NIGHT RANGER broke up he started a band called MEGA MEGA, what a horrible band name! I was selected as the keyboard player for MEGA MEGA. The band tried to get signed but we didnít have any success. Ultimately I was hired for the ALICE COOPER gig. I ended up leaving, but MEGA MEGA imploded organically, it was happening at the time that I left. I went on to play with ALICE COOPER and it was history from there. BRAD GILLIS was one of the first people to believe in me and invited me into his world and gave me a break. Brad gave me a glimpse of what life could be like. Iím very grateful to Brad. He wound up playing on my 2006 album Blood Of The Snake. I recently guested on his new record, I believe it will be a solo record, but I played on a lot of the tracks. I love BRAD GILLIS and I will always be there whenever he needs me.

KNAC.COM: This MEGA MEGA thing, I hadnít heard of that. What did that sound like?

SHERINIAN: Oh man, that was really bad 80s music, bad haircuts and all. It just wasnít any good! [laughs] It was a huge miss, but I was flattered that he wanted me to do it. We gave it our best shot.

KNAC.COM: You must have been geeked that you played on a song with GREGG ALLMAN on it.

SHERINIAN: Yeah, that was pretty cool. Gregg was over at Bradís place a lot. I was living there at the time and GREGG ALLMAN would come over all the time and he was a very cool cat.

KNAC.COM: I was looking online and it appears like SONS OF APOLLO will head to Europe in 2021 to make up the dates that were pulled due to Covid.

SHERINIAN: Yeah, weíll be heading over there for a month. Our South American tour was rescheduled for April 2021 and Europe will take place in May 2021. Letís keep our fingers crossed that all of these happen and we can finish what we started.

KNAC.COM: [MICHAEL] SCHENKER will be releasing a new solo album in January 2021 and I saw in the press release that you are one of the people listed as a performer on the solo album.

SHERINIAN: Yeah, that is pretty awesome. I got a call to play on Michael's record a couple of weeks ago to play on a track. I didnít speak with Michael directly but evidently he was so pleased with my track and I was really overjoyed. His manager contacted me and he asked, ĒHow much do we owe youĒ? I said ĒI canít accept any money to play on the great MICHAEL SCHNKERís album. If he wants to return the favor and play on my next solo album that would be awesomeĒ. I got a reply almost immediately that said that he would love to. I immediately got to work on a song that brought me back to 1980 to the first MSG record. I again contacted SIMON [PHILLIPS] who as you know was the drummer on the first MSG record. I wrote a song that I feel is on par with ďInto The ArenaĒ. I have shared it with people and they have said that this is the best thing since that. I went into the studio and cut drums and bass with Simon and TONY FRANKLIN. Itís being shipped to Germany today! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: Thatís incredible.

SHERINIAN: [laughs] I know right? My new album The Phoenix hasnít even been released and Iím already writing the next one! [laughs] I canít wait to hear Michael's brilliance on that song because it was written for him and in honor of him. Heís one of the greats and an absolute treasure of a player.

KNAC.COM: The next thing I wanted to ask was about a dream guest for a record. Looks like you can scratch Schenker off the list. Who does that leave?

SHERINIAN: There are a few, I think the unicorn player for me would be JEFF BECK. Before itís all said and done, I want to get him to play on one of my records. Simon and I were discussing this, he says that heís a hard person to reach. I donít know, I can try and see what happens.

KNAC.COM: Is he harder to get in touch with than EDDIE VAN HALEN? I recall that you were at some backyard party on stage playing with EDDIE VAN HALEN. I saw that on YouTube a few years ago. Whatís the story behind that?

SHERINIAN: Yes, that was a wild situation. STEFAN ADIKA had this band called the STAR FUCKERS, theyíd play at The Cat Club in Hollywood, CA. To make a long story short, Van Halen's fiance, now his wife, saw this band and knew that they were going to have a party at Van Halen's house. He had just done this collaboration for music for this porn director to be used for the film and they were going to do a launch party at Van Halen's house. The STAR FUCKERS were hired to be the party band. My friend Stefan knew how huge of a VAN HALEN fan that I am, so even though they didnít use a keyboardist in the band he hired me for the night just so I could meet Van Halen. We arrived at the house and there is Eddie! He wound up taking me and BRIAN TICHY to his recording studio 5150. Itís really surreal to try to remember the sequence of events but we must have been in the studio for 20-30 minutes. Heís telling us all of these stories and then I looked on the wall and thereís the Ďsharkí guitar from Women And Children First and then there were all the reels of tape with all of the VAN HALEN masters. I was like ďHoly shit!Ē This was all happening even before the gig, so then we played the gig and he got on stage with us. It was a dream, the dream will be fully realized if I could get that guy on one of my records.

KNAC.COM: NAMM for 2021 has been canceled, which is a huge deal. Have you thought about how youíre going to handle fan interaction going forward?

SHERINIAN: Iím all about social distancing, I do like to interact with my fans, right now I do that online. I know a lot of people are getting creative with their online marketing and are doing stuff like CAMEO where people will pay the person to record messages for people and wish them a happy birthday and stuff like that. I think that is cool, but not good for me. I found my comfort zone in doing the keyboard sessions from my house, since thereís no touring right now. Itís funny because it has kept me busy. Last week I did work for everyone from MICHAEL SCHENKER to an unknown artist in Finland to someone in Waco, Texas. I get work from people all over the world, theyíll send me tracks for my session business. Right now that is blowing up for me. People can contact me via social media, Iím very active on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM. Send me the track and if I like it you can commission me to lay down some keyboards for your track.

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