Catching Up With Derek Sherinian
If you’re a fan of rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard of premiere rock keyboardist Derek Sherinian. He’s performed with everyone from Dream Theater to Alice Cooper to Buddy Miles and is a current member of supergroup Black Country Communion.
In late September Sherinian released his new album Oceana. We caught up with him to get the scoop.
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
Oceana is your 7th solo album. What can fans expect from this record compared to your past efforts?
This record I was able to get Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who, Judas Priest, MSG) back on board and he played drums on everything. He also co-produced and mixed Oceana which was a huge plus for me. It brings me back full circle (in a sense) to the first record we worked on together back in 2001 was Inertia. Having Simon around truly adds to the quality control in every area of the recording process. We also wanted to make a record that was a little less “metal” and less progressive and put more of an emphasis on melodies and groove, more or less following in the template of the three Jeff Beck records Blow By Blow (1975), Wired (1976) and There and Back (1980). We were fortunate enough to recruit some great guitar players for this project to come in and play on songs that we thought they would be best suited for keeping that “Beck” connection in mind at all times. I think we achieved everything we set out to do. The response so far from fans and critics alike around the world has been great.
In addition to Simon Phillips who are some of the other guest musicians that played on Oceana? Are there any first time collaborators?
Doug Aldrich (Lion, Dio, House of Lords, Hurricane, Bad Moon Rising, Whitesnake) is a first time collaborator he and I wrote one song together called “El Camino Diablo” which he played some great guitar on. In addition my Black Country Communion band mate Joe Bonamassa is also a first time collaborator (on my solo work) he and I co-wrote a song called “I Heard That” which he also played guitar on as well. Steve Stevens (Billy Idol) has played on my solo material prior contributed a song on Oceana as well as Steve Lukather (Toto) who has played on several of my past records. Tony MacAlpine who I played with in the band Planet X for 10 years makes his debut on my solo material on Oceana. Everyone sounds fantastic and I’m truly pleased with everyone’s performance.
Will there be any touring for Oceana?
We are trying to set up dates right now for early 2012 probably in Europe. Most likely the lineup will include Simon Phillips, Tony MacAlpine and a bass player to be determined along with myself. There a ton of logistics in putting together an all instrumental tour so we are trying our best to make it work. The best thing to do as a fan is to stay in tough at my website for any updates as I’m constantly posting here as well as my twitter account @dereksherinan.
Derek you attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston after high school and your roommate was Al Pitrelli. How did you both end up in Alice Cooper’s touring band for the “Trash” tour and what was that experience like?
We were not roommates per say but we both lived in the same dorm. We were very close friends and played together many times a week and have remained close ever since. As far as the Alice Cooper connection goes Alice had contacted Steve Vai about joining his lineup for the “Trash” tour but Steve had already committed to David Coverdale and was going to replace Vivian Campbell in Whitesnake so he was not available. Steve recommended to Alice, a fellow Long Islander Al Piteralli, who quickly became musical director for this tour and Al then recommended me to Alice and I got an audition and got the gig. In this case it was definitely a “who you know” type opportunity but still at the end of the day you have to be able to deliver the goods when the opportunity presents itself and I was fortunate at the time to be able to do so. From sleeping in an apartment with 5 other guys to being in Alice Cooper’s touring band and playing arenas, making high quality music videos, was by far the most exciting time of my life.
You also appeared in the movie Wayne’s World as a member of Alice Cooper’s touring band. Any interesting stories from that experience?
We had a break in our summer tour and we got a call to have a cameo in the film and we were on the set for two complete days of shooting. In ended up being one of the biggest movies of the summer of 1992. Very cool experience. That whole crew and the actors were all amazing.
You then went on and played with KISS on the Revenge tour in 1993. How did you come to the attention of Gene and Paul and what was that experience like?
Eric Singer had played with Alice Cooper so he recommended me to Gene and Paul. Again having a network is so crucial to a musician like myself and I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have so many good working relationships. I learned a ton about the business side of music being around Gene Simmons in cannot help but rob off on you!
I was at one of your first concerts in Dream Theater when you played at your old school The Berklee School of Music in Boston on the Awake tour in 1994. Was it tough (initially) as just a fill-in for the then departed Kevin Moore before you were asked to became a permanent member of the band and went on to record A Change of Seasons and Falling Into Infinity?
It was tough because I really didn’t know any of their music at all. I had to learn an incredible amount of music in a very short period of time. We had literally like 2 or 3 rehearsals prior to the first show I did in the band somewhere in New Hampshire. Boston was the 2nd night. I really felt like crap after the opening night because I just I felt we didn’t have the time we needed to put on the type of show DT fans would expect. I felt relief after the Boston show because everything just seemed to come together on that night and that confidence remained with me for the rest of that tour. That was a special show because I was playing at my old school and I had never played in that room as a student. It was nice to come back in a true concert setting and be able to perform in front of my peers.
You were in Dream Theater for a roughly 5 year period from 1994-1999. Did the recent departure of Mike Portnoy surprise you in any way?
I was a little surprised but I always knew that there was some tension within the band and one thing I have learned in this business is that I’m not shocked by anything anymore. If anything is certain change will occur in any band. You just have to be ready to roll with the changes. I still talk to the guys in Dream Theater and I think it’s the best for everyone right now. Everyone is doing what they want to do and playing with who they want to play with and I wish all of those guys nothing but the best. I’m sure everything will work out the way it was supposed to.
Taking away what Portnoy brought to the table in terms of his business savvy at least from a pure talent aspect in terms of his playing there isn’t much of a drop off going from Mike Portnoy to Mike Mangini.
Mangini is a super drummer, he’s amazing. That’s one thing I wanted to mention whether you like Dream Theater’s music or not in order to be able to hang and play with those guys you have to be a mutherfucker of a player. That’s the bottom line. I hear flack that DT gets saying there is no “soul” to their tunes. Fuck that. You either have the chops to keep up with those cats or you don’t.
Having both recorded and toured with Yngwie Malmsteem do you think he gets a somewhat “bad rap” as a perfectionist who is tough to work with?
We definitely does. But I will say that I’ve worked with him on and off for 10 years and have gotten along with him great. Something not a lot of people realize is that he has a great sense of humor. People recognize that he is one of the greatest metal guitar players of our time. Again he knows exactly what he wants and has built up a business where he doesn’t need anybody else’s input or anyone else’s name attached to his and does everything the way he wants and is totally satisfied with that. He has found his niche market and that’s fine with him. Knowing this all in advance I have never been disappointed in any collaboration I have had with him. He has played on two of my solo records and in both instances contrary to his reputation he was extremely selfless and very eager to please and make sure I got what I wanted out of his performances. That is another side to Yngwie that people don’t see because he is very selective of his work and doesn’t do a lot of guest spots on other projects. It was an honor to have him on my records both alone and another track where he and Zakk Wylde played on together and another where he played with Al Di Meola. It was just incredible to be able to be in the same room with him and watch him work.
Platypus, the super group you were in which also featured John Myung, Ty Tabor and Rod Morgenstein recorded two albums between 1998-2000. Do you think there could be a 3rd record in the future?
You never say never but it’s on my to do list at this time. Those guys are busy with other projects as well. We made those records in a very short period of time. Maybe a week at the most for each of them. There are some very cool moments on both of those records and I would work with any of those guys at any time.
I’ve seen footage of you on YouTube playing at a Eddie Van Halen House party in 2006. How did you become involved in that event and who were some of the other musical participants on that night?
My friend Stefan Aidika was in a cover band called The Starfuckers and he played at the Cat Club in Hollywood on Thursday nights and Eddie Van Halen’s girlfriend (at the time) saw the band one night and thought that they would be great for a party Eddie was planning to have at his house. That band featured John Corabi on vocals, Brian Tichy on drums, Eric Dover on guitar, and Stefan on bass. Stefan knew what a huge EVH fan I was and he got me in the band to do the party. We did a rehearsal in Eddie’s house with Eddie. At first Eddie declined to play but then he changed his mind. He ended up sitting in on like 6 or 7 songs and it was a dream come true! He did one day of rehearsal and Brian and I ended up in Eddie’s 5150 studio and got to just to sit and listen to Eddie tell 3 hours of story after story after story. We had to pinch each other a few times and say is this really happening?? It was one of the high points of my career because Eddie is such a huge influence for me since I was a kid. My son’s name is Halen if that gives you any indication what he means to me!! Then we did the gig the next day and could not have gone off any better.
Currently you’re also working with Black Country Communion and Billy Idol. What can we expect next from each act?
BCC will be releasing a live DVD “Live Over Europe” on October 24th. An entire concert plus a lot of behind the scenes stuff that the fans will just love. There is already talk of recording the 3rd BCC record next year sometime in June of 2012. I have a handful of live dates with Billy Idol coming up in October and also there is talk of a new Billy idol record to start recording in the spring. We will see what happens but I will update on Twitter and my website as soon as anything is officially confirmed.
Derek is there any musician that you have yet to write or work with but would like to and have you reached out to that individual?
I say the same thing at every interview but Jeff Beck is the only one I have yet to work with but would love to play with. He may never have heard of me but trust me word will get to him of my desire to create something with him. If he listens to “Oceana” he would know that we should be playing together in some capacity. It would be great just to be able to spend like 5 minutes with the guy. Me guesting on one of his records or Jeff on one of mine. I think it would be amazing. It needs to be done and I’m confident it will be soon enough.