Son's Of Apollo Talk Us Through Their New Album
Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian give us a track by track breakdown on the day of Psychotic Symphony's release
Should any Hollywood producer want to make a movie about Sons Of Apollo, Derek Sherinian has the perfect pitch. “We’re the Marvel Avengers of music – five superheroes on one stage.”
The keyboard player says this with a smirk on his face, but it’s only a slight exaggeration. The band Sherinian has put together with drummer (and former Dream Theater colleague) Mike Portnoy also features virtuoso bassist Billy Sheehan (The Winery Dogs, ex-Dave Lee Roth), modern guitar icon Bumblefoot and former Yngwie Malmsteen singer Jeff Scott Soto – a group of musicians whose collective pedigree outstrips that of any other supergroup you care to mention.
The album this billion dollar quintet have recorded, Psychotic Symphony, bridges the worlds of prog, metal and old fashioned hard rock. Sherinian and Portnoy (who also produced the record under their nom des plume, The Del Fuvio Brothers) have gathered in the offices of their UK record label to give Prog and exclusive track-by-track run down.
“Sons Of Apollo is driving a stake through the bloated heart of progressive metal,” says Sherinian. “We are redefining the genre. The world has ever seen a group of musicians where everyone is a virtuoso but also has rock’n’roll swagger.”
That’s fighting talk where we come from. Take it away, gentlemen…
God Of The Sun
Mike Portnoy: That was the first thing that was put on the table. It was something that Derek had pretty much sketched out completely on his own.
Derek Sherinian: When Mike called me up and said, ‘Are you ready to do this?’, I was like, ‘Fuck yeah! Let’s go!’ It hadn’t made a solo record in five years, so I had all this shit bursting to get out. I immediately went into the studio and started writing. I had this one piece, God Of The Sun, and I kept working it and working it, and it just turned into this 11-minute thing. I sent it to Mike, and he said, ‘That’s fucking great.’ There’s very much a Perfect Strangers-era Deep Purple vibe to it.
MP: “That was pretty much the only existing sketch when we began the album. Everything else after that was stuff we collaborated on and worked on together.
MP: When we wrote it, we were going for a real Van Halen swagger. There's no question that Van Halen and bands like that are part of our DNA. We’re not going for an old school vibe – that’s the world we come from. Most progressive metal bands of this generation don’t have the classic rock background that this band does. Most of the progressive metal bands from this generation grew up listening to Dream Theater. But we grew up listening to The Who and Van Halen and Sabbath.
DS: Music should be fun. We love what we do. For us, music isn’t doing a Rubik's Cube. It's got to be fucking fun. We love getting in the room and creating. I can't wait until we play live, it's going to be a five-ring circus special.
M: I think that's what is gonna separate this band from other progressive metal bands - that there's just a lot of personality here. Whoever you watch, you're gonna be entertained. There's a lot of progressive metal bands aren't like that - it's like watching a science experiment.
Signs Of The Times
MP: It's the first song me Derek and Bumblefoot wrote collectively, the first day we started jamming together. It's a great example of everything this band has to offer - you've got these heavy, heavy riffs in the verses, and then you've got this hooky chorus. The main riff sounds like Sepultura and the chorus sounds like Kansas. It's one of those songs where you can get a little taste of everything that Sons Of Apollo has to offer.
D: I knew Bumblefoot’s name from Guns N’ Roses but when Mike suggested him, I said, ‘Will he be able to keep up?’ I couldn’t have been more wrong. He has an unlimited capacity to play anything. He has a vast lexicon of influences from fusion to classical to jazz to classic rock to hard rock. He just embraces it all. I've played with the very best guitarists in the world - Vai, Yngwie, Holdsworth, John Petrucci, all of them brilliant. But none of them have both the rock'n'roll swagger and the virtuosity, Bumblefoot has it all.
MP: It's my personal favourite on the album. If there's any one track that shows the epic nature of what we can do, it's this - it's got a little bit of all of us in it. I love the whole middle section. When we wrote it, I ended up playing all these crazy time signature rhythms, and then we orchestrated it and it became this real epic adventure. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I told these guys, ‘I have a vision, just follow me, trust me, we'll go from this section to this section.’
DS: Mike encouraged each person to open up musically, and that's a rare commodity. Most of the time people are really restrained and hold you back. Mike is the opposite.
MP: I hate working with other musicians where they're, like, ‘No, you can't do that.’ I'm like, You can do whatever the fuck you want, this is music.' If you want to create something new and original, you have to create something you think can't be done. That's how original music is made.
MP: That's the more commercial end of what we do. I'm not afraid to use that word, ‘commercial’. In a perfect world that song would be a smash hit. I think it stands up there with anything the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or the Foo Fighters do. You'd never expect that from a bunch of prog guys. I think it’s also the song that helped settle the rest of the guys on Jeff, to be blatantly honest. I was pitching Jeff, and he demoed up that song and knocked it out of the park. That's the song where everybody heard it and went, 'OK, now I get it - this is the guy.'
DS: I was an Yngwie Malmsteen fan at Berklee, and Jeff was obviously his singer back then. I've been aware of Jeff Scott Soto since i was a teenager.
MP: The very, very first song Dream Theater ever played live, when we were Majesty, the opening song at our very first show was I've Seen The Light Tonight from the Rising Force record. I saw Jeff on tour with Yngwie with Billy Sheehan opening, back in 85. Two of our band members onstage 32 years ago. How fucking weird is that?
Lost In Oblivion
MP: Bumblefoot had a riff he called the “Rushuggah” riff - it was kind Rush meets Meshuggah. Ir was one of the hardest patterns I've ever had to cop. It took me a long time to learn it, about 30 minutes, which is pretty unheard of for me. Normally I can play something right on the spot. So it's based around this riff - it's a really upbeat, heavy song - it's got kind of a Rob Zombie verse, but a hooky, Jeff Scott Soto chorus. And it's got this guitar and bass breakdown after the drum breakdown - it's like Eat 'Em And Smile, but to a whole other degree of insanity.
DS: We’re bringing together the old and the new. We have an old school soul and a modern sensibility.
DS: This is the intro to the next song, Divine Addiction.
MP: It’s Derek’s Eruption. It’s his Eddie Van Halen moment.
DS: There’s one part where I start shredding but then when it starts going down low, it’s like, ‘Fig-aro, fig-aro, figaro, figaro, figaro’ – it reminds me of the Barber Of Seville. And ‘Whore’ is just a fun word to say. It gives an explicit rating, which I’ve never had before.
MP: We have an ‘E’ for explicit for the lyrics of Figaro's Whore, which doesn't even have lyrics!
DS: That's about sex addiction. It's OK to talk about sex in prog. It doesn't need to be a sterile cyborg-fest. It can be fucking rock'n'roll - we're a rock band with sick chops. It is about a chick. There are moments on the record that are actually about women. Jeff would bring it in the lyrics, but we didn't discourage it.
MP: This the ultimate instrumental. It’s a four-way showdown between Portnoy, Sherinian, Sheehan and Bumblefoot – every one of us gets a moment to shine in that song. The stand out Billy Sheehan moment, for me, is on Opus Maximus. There’s a moment that’s in 19/16 time, a drum groove I had, and Billy just started jamming it. He came along with this bass line that is actually fucking ridiculous.
DS: But it’s not only a shred fest. The opening riff is so heavy – it’s like an evil UK… on steroids! But then it has this moment that goes through thus melodic Elton John Funeral For A Friend moment, then back into these crazy moments of shredding. It’s got everything and the kitchen sink.
MP: Given the extended history Derek and I have of writing instrumental music, it was only natural that this band should have one. When you’re writing an instrumental, anything goes. There are no rules, you can just do whatever you want. That’s what this band is about.