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Progressive Rock Interviews

Derek Sherinian

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Derek Sherinian From 1999
MSJ: Considering your musical history (Kiss, Alice Cooper), when you joined Dream Theater, many considered you to be more the "rock" element in the band, rather than the "progressive" end. With Planet X, you show a very progressive side. This comes as a bit of a shock to many fans. Has the progressive thing been something that you have been interested in for a while, or is this something new for you?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that I was one of the reasons why Falling Into Infinity had a lot of commercial elements to it. That was really just not true. My main contributions to the Falling Into Infinity were Lines In The Sand, which is probably the most progressive song on the record, and also New Millenium which also pretty prog. Other members were writing with Desmond Child going for a more commercial sound. That was kind of a disappointment to me, because when I first joined Dream Theater, I was really excited about really branching off and playing some progressive, but then a lot of the songs ended up being very commercial. What was amazing was that when I hooked up with Virgil, he affected me in such a heavy duty way. You go through your career where you play with people who are very talented, and are great players, but then, every once in a while, you come across someone who just has a really special gift. Virgil definitely fits into that category.
MSJ: Tell me a bit about the other musicians on the Planet X disc and how you hooked up with them.
I've always been a fan of Tony Franklin, I loved the way his fretless bass sounded in Blue Murder. Brett Garsed is an Australian guitar player that Virgil brought in who has a really cool style. Brett was actually invited to join Planet X as a full time member, but he had other commitments. Just recently, we hired Tony MacAlpine as our full time guitar player. That's worked out incredibly. We're writing an album, Planet X, as the band. We're in the process of negotiating a deal with Magna Carta.
MSJ: Several of the titles on the album (like Brunei Babylon and Space Martini) are quite interesting. How did those come about?
Brunei Babylon is a song about the Sultan of Brunei and his decadent tactics. Brunei is a very rich country. Space Martini is kind of a take off on Jeff Beck's Space Boogie.
MSJ: Some of the major influences I heard on the album are UK, Bruford solo stuff, The Dregs. Are those all bands that you listen to quite a bit.
Absolutely. More Bruford and UK, but also there is a very strong Jeff Beck influence. There's some Jeff Beck fusion. There's a fusion thing that Virgil and I are tapping into that's different than the normal progressive rock that you hear. I really think that with Planet X we've started to create a new sound in progressive. We're just tapping into new things. It's only going to get stronger now with the addition of Tony MacAlpine, because our music is going to be a takeoff on my solo album, but it's going to be more guitar driven and heavy. That's the main thing where we're coming from. We're into ultra-progressive fusion. We call it "heavy prog fusion". We have no gargoyles or dungeons and dragons or operatic elements in our future whatsoever, or a lot of the cliched prog things that we've been hearing throughout the years. Planet X, as a band are very thankful to the forefathers of the genre like Yes, ELP and bands like that who paved the foundation for us, but with the new millenium, we feel it's our obligation to jack things up a few notches. One of the things that's a problem with progressive rock is that the music is very stimulating to the mind, but visually most progressive rock shows are extremely boring, and the members of the band aren't interesting or have no star appeal at all. Planet X is a visual spectacle on stage. Everyone is very image conscious, and the stage is a whole scifi mess. It's a trip. It looks like my keyboard riser on the Dream Theater tour. Even though we're very technical in our approach, we approach our music with a total rock and roll attitude. Our music is "fierce", that's the best adjective I can use to describe Planet X. We've been playing shows in Los Angeles and we've been selling out every show to the point where we're gonna start taking the show on the road. We're very excited. We've been writing on a very diligent schedule, Virgil, Tony and I, and we're just pushing each other. We just want with the turn of the new millenium we want to hit the forefront of progressive rock. We don't want vocals. I think a lot of the things I learned in Dream Theater, from listening to the fans, is that their favorite part of Dream Theater was when the vocals left the stage, and the band was just jamming, everyone would go off on their instrumental things. A lot of their problems is that they would have to sit through the painful vocals. That's not my opinion, I'm just saying what a lot of peoples' opinion is. So, we're just basically taking the best part of it which is the music. Frankly, I don't have anything to say lyrically, or any message to convey to you. I just want to play some killer music.
MSJ: How did the solo album project shift into being a band?
Well, basically, when I started writing with Virgil after the first time, I knew that I wanted to do a band with him, just because he was so awesome in his musicianship and his song writing. I had an obligation to do a solo record, so the first record was put out like that, but I've really got to give credit to Virgil, as well. That record is just as much his as it is mine.
MSJ: How is the band going to differ from what the solo project was like?
The band is just going to be a takeoff of the solo album. The solo album is just a prototype pretty much of Planet X and the sound that we're going for. It's very keyboard driven, obviously, because it's a keyboard solo album, but live we play all of those songs on my record, and I assign a lot of the keyboard parts to the guitar, which makes it a lot heavier.
MSJ: You were recently rated in a major magazine poll as best keyboardist. Was that a surprise? How did that feel?
To be honest, it showed a lot of vindication after getting fired, and then getting voted in the number one rock magazine in America as number one keyboardist. I thought it was quite ironic, as a lot of the fans did. It was cool, because usually you don't see a lot of people in progressive rock place in a mainstream magazine like that.
MSJ: Who are some of the other keyboardists around today who you are impressed by?
There's a lot of people that I think have incredible technique. Jan Hammer, I've identified with his style the most throughout the years. That's because it's a very individual brand on his style, which is very cool. Jon Lord and Keith Emerson were great. There's a lot of guys.
MSJ: If you weren't a musician what would you be doing?
I don't know. I'd probably be in sales because I'm very much into self promotion, and promoting and hype. I've taken a very Gene Simmons approach to my career.
MSJ: What would be your five desert island discs?
Bruford-One of a Kind, UK-In The Dead Of Night, Jeff Beck-Wired, Return to Forever-Romantic Warrior, and Van Halen I.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 5 at
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