Interview and live pics by Marko Syrjala
Derek Sherinian, a keyboard virtuoso, having appeared on such records as Alice Cooper’s “The Last Temptation” (1994) and Dream Theater’s “Change of Season” (1995), “Falling Into Infinity” (1997), and “Once in A Lifetime” (1998). He also toured with Kiss in 1992. Currently, Sherinian shares his time between solo career, Planet X as well as touring and recording with Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force and Billy Idol among various other ventures. Read on for some insights on Derek’s eventful career.
Now you’re once again in Finland. This past summer, you did two shows here with Billy Idol, and now you’re back again with Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force. Besides working with these two bands, you also do solo stuff and a lot of session work. How do you find the time?
There’s plenty of time, and you just have to schedule it all out. Usually, I base everything around the tours and then fill the holes between writing and recording, I have a studio in my house, so I’m always just staying productive.
How long before do you know that a certain tour is going to take place?
Usually, our tours are booked at least a couple of months in advance, so I just put that in the calendar, and if there are holes, I’ll go to the studio.
You’re not an official member of these bands, but you’re touring with them?
Yeah, my main thing is my solo records, but I need to do other things to pay the bills as well.
You’re probably most well known for your work with Dream Theater. How did you get to be in the band in the first place?
It was right after the Alice Cooper record “The Last Temptation,” and Alice took a little bit of a break because it was a weird time in the business because of Nirvana and all the grunge music, records were not selling, tours weren’t selling. So Alice took a little time off, and a friend of mine, Jonathan Mover, a drummer, called me up and told me about this band Dream Theater that was auditioning for keyboardists. I had heard of them but didn’t know much about their music. I called up their management and told them I had played with Alice Cooper and Kiss, and they sent me the music to learn and set up an audition. When I heard the music, I’d never heard anything that crazy. I was a little concerned, wondering if I could play it or not, but I took it as a challenge and worked hard at it. When I went to audition with the guys, it was a really good vibe, and I felt like I did good at the audition, and it could’ve gone either way. It was fifty-fifty whether or not I was going to get it or not. At the time, some keyboardists were in contention, myself, Jordan Rudess, and Jens Johansson. I didn’t know who Jordan was at the time, but I knew Jens. I think Jens is great; he’s a fantastic keyboard player. We all auditioned, and Jordan was the first choice, but at the time, he’d just had a child or something and was unable to tour, so they called me asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, “OK, cool.”. So then I stayed with them for four years, and after the four years, they ended up with Jordan anyways. He was their first choice, to begin with.
Was it difficult to step into Kevin Moore’s shoes? I mean, were the fans giving you a hard time?
A lot of the fans were very, really cool. There were some hardcore fans that… it’s difficult when you replace an original member of a band and the fact that he wrote their biggest “Pull Me Under.” I took a little bit of heat, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Musically, playing his stuff, that wasn’t a challenge at all. That was never a problem for me.
From your side of the story, why did you eventually decide to leave Dream Theater in the late ’90s?
Well, I didn’t leave; it was their choice. The relationship had run its course after four years. I wasn’t happy, and Jordan suddenly made himself available. We were just different types of people, and I wanted to do some solo stuff. It ended up working out into a win-win situation, they’re very happy, they sound great, and I’m getting to play with the absolute best musicians in the world in every instrument, you know, so I’m very happy with that.
Despite the breakup and all the bad things that happened in the past, do you still have such a good relationship with the guys?
Absolutely and John [Petrucci] just played on my last solo record [Blood of the Snake]. I talk to Mike [Portnoy] all the time. So it’s all good.
PLANET X AND SOLO CAREER
At which point did you decide to start a solo career?
The day I got fired from Dream Theater “laughs,” I was halfway done with my first solo record when I got the call that they were replacing me. I was already in transition.
So you would have released a solo album in any case?
Yes, they did me a favor because they helped me set my course.
Do you now have more freedom of choice than you probably did in a band situation?
It’s a little bit more freedom. I feel very fortunate that in my career, I’ve done a little bit of everything. I’ve been a solo artist, a band member, a sideman, a session musician. I’ve seen a lot of different sides of the business that most people don’t get to see.
Your solo records feature an impressive list of special guests [Zakk Wylde, Slash, Steve Lukather, John Sykes, etc.]. Have you ever been unable to get someone you wanted to appear?
I’ve talked to Steve Vai many times, but he’s always just really busy, but he’s open to playing on stuff in the future. Everyone’s been really cool. Everyone wants to be a part of it.
Derek, Billy Idol & Slash
Have you ever considered doing a solo album with full vocals?
Yeah, if I found the right vocalist that I really liked, but otherwise, I’m just happy doing instrumentals. I experimented with some vocals on my last record, Billy singing on a song and Zakk singing, you know, that was cool, but I think my fans that buy my records are just really more interested in hearing the playing.
You mentioned Steve Vai. Are there any other guys you’d like to work with in the future?
Yes, I had the fortune of playing with Eddie Van Halen about three months ago at a gig at a private party at his house, that was like a dream come true, and I would love to have him on one of my records; it’s a dream. And then Jeff Beck would be great, Gary Moore, you know there’s a few guys, Brian May would be awesome.
How about Ritchie Blackmore?
Maybe, but I’d rather play with Yngwie. He’s like Blackmore but much better “laughs.”
What’s the situation with your own band Planet X?
Absolutely, that’s my band. I’m the bandleader and founder. Actually, we have a new album coming that’s almost completed, and we’ll have a 2007 release that we’re very excited about.
Who else is on the band at the moment?
Virgil [Donati], a bass player named Rufus Philpot who’s a great find. On the record, Allan Holdsworth will be playing on three songs, and then a guitar player called Bret Garsed, who played on my first solo album, is a great Australian player.
WORKING WITH ALICE COOPER AND KISS…
The first time I ever heard your name was back in the late ’80s when you joined Alice Cooper’s band for the “Trash” tour. How did you end in Alice’s band in the first place?
That was through my friend Al Pitrelli, the guitar player, who recommended me. We both we to Berkley College of Music together, and I remember in 1989 on the “Trash” tour we played Helsinki, so it was seventeen years ago I was the first time here.
Yes, I remember that tour. You had Great White and Britny Fox with you on that tour?
Yeah, that’s right.
You also played with Alice on the next tour “Hey Stoopid” and “The Last Temptation” album and tour?
With “Last Temptation,” it was only in South America and some US touring.
Was it in Alice Cooper’s band that you became friends with Eric Singer?
Yeah, in Alice Cooper, that’s where I met Eric Singer.
And he then recommended you for Kiss?
That’s right, I did the US tour with KISS for “Revenge,” and I play on Alive III live album as well.
I must ask something about the “Alive III” album. Which songs do you play on?
I’m playing on all of it, but you can only really hear keyboards on a little of it. My main job in Kiss was to double Paul Stanley’s guitar parts with a low keyboard, and then also I was singing backups.
How were the Kiss guys treating you, were you more like a fifth member or just a hired gun?
They were really nice to me. I was definitely more like a hired gun, but they were always really nice, Gene [Simmons] especially. I run into him all the time in L.A., and he’s always like, “Hi Derek, how are you?”, he’s always very nice.
You worked with KISS again for the Ramones tribute album in 2003. You did a great version of Ramones classic “Do You Remember A Rock’n Roll Radio”!
Yeah, it was good seeing Gene and Paul [Stanley] in the studio. I’m proud to be a part of Kiss history even in a small way, you know? “laughs”
Who played on that track? Is it Gene, Paul, Eric, and you?
Yes, it was four of us, and I think there’s a sax player also, but he wasn’t in the studio when I was there.
For many fans, it was not clear who played on that track, and some people even though it was Peter Criss playing drumsï¿½
No, it’s definitely Eric “laughs.”
Was it Eric again who contacted you for that thing?
Usually, you’re a very visual kind of player on stage, and you have plenty of room there. Would you ever think of playing behind a curtain again like you had to do with Kiss?
Well, it depends, I mean, probably not. When Kiss asked me to do it, I never thought I would have done that, but there are some bands that I’m a fan of that I would do it for like Van Halen “laughs.”
Who knows what’s going to happen? Rumor has it Van Halen’s going to tour next summer?
What’s the status of Billy Idol right now?
He’s taking a little time off, and I think we’re going to do a new record in the summer and maybe some more shows?
Have you/he already started writing for the next album yet?
No, I don’t think Billy has started any of the writing yet.
Is he again writing all songs with Steve Stevens?
Ah, with Steve and Brian Tichy, the drummer.
He just released a Christmas album. How did you like that one?
Yeah… uhh… no comment.
It was just you, Brian, and Billy on the album. Whose idea was it anyway?
I think it was Billy’s. I think there’s some good stuff on it.
At least it’s better than Twisted Sister’s Christmas album?
Well, I haven’t heard that one!” laughs.”
toured almost two years for “Devilï¿½s Playground.” Can we expect a DVD or a live album to be released from the tour?
Yes, actually there will be a live DVD, you know, I think next year some time from a show we did in Chicago.
YNGWIE MALMSTEEN’S RISING FORCE
Right now, you’re on tour with Yngwie Malmsteen. What’s the biggest difference between working with Billy Idol and him?
Yngwie’s a lot louder, and there are a lot more notes of “laughs.”
Which band is more fun to play with?
It’s different because they’re so many different kinds of gigs. I think from a playing standpoint Yngwie but from a touring standpoint Billy?
You’ve been working with Yngwie for quite a long time now, haven’t you?
I think I first did some shows with him in 2001 in South America, and there have been a couple of keyboard players in between. I like Yngwie; he’s a friend of mine. We play on each other’s records, and whenever I’m available, I like to play with him if possible.
How did you two meet each other in the first place?
It was right after I was out of Dream Theater. He called me right away to see what I was doing. I think he had another keyboard player at the time that he just wasn’t happy with, and so he flew me don’t to Miami and said that in the future, we’d probably play together. I’ve always been a big fan of Yngwie. I think he’s great.
So you were already familiar with his past career?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
Did you ever see him at a concert back in the day?
Yeah, I did with Jen Johansson, like a long time ago.
Was it Jeff Scott Soto still on the vocals?
Yes, in 1985 or 1986.
Yngwie mentioned that he’s going to release a new album in the spring of 2007. Do you have any idea what to expect?
Derek Sherinian: No, but he has invited me to play on it, and I look forward to it.
He also said that there’s zero chance for anyone else but him to participate in the songwriting. What do you think about that?
He always writes his records.
But what if you were given a chance? Would you like to contribute something to the writing?
Yeah, but if I did write with him, I’d like to put it on my own record “laughs.”
BITS AND PIECES
In 2004 you toured with John Sykes, can you tell some more about that?
Yeah, that was great. He was looking for a keyboard player for his Japanese tour, and he called me up. I’ve been a friend of John Sykes for a long time, so I played with Marco Mendoza and Tommy Aldridge, who I’ve been a great fan of because he played with Randy Rhoads and Ozzy, so that was exciting. We played three or four shows in Japan and then after that John played on solo record [Mythology], it was really cool.
In my opinion, it’s a shame that he doesn’t do more solo shows.
I know, I keep calling him a couple of times a year going, “Come on Johnny, let’s do something!” but I think he’s too busy with Thin Lizzy and other things?
You also did a session with the House of Lords?
Yes. I did one track on their album “Power and the Myth.” I’m a good friend with their bass player Chuck Wright. He called me, I played on the track and haven’t even heard it, but many people say they liked it.
Do you also personally know Greg Giuffria, who is the band’s founder?
I don’t know him, but I know who he is great hair. I don’t know if he can play great, though.
Alright, I think that about wraps it up. Thanks, Derek.
Thank you, appreciated.
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