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Derek Sherinian

By: Lori Smerilson Carson

Collaboration is always the best way to work well together for any situation. Keyboardist Derek Sherinian truly exemplifies this theory as he has played and toured with many world-renown musicians over the years such as Billy Idol, Alice Cooper and bands Whitesnake, Dream Theater, and his co-founding bands Sons Of Apollo and Black Country Communion. He continues to work with some of the best in the music industry and has received several accolades for his keyboard playing. Now, his extraordinary talents can be heard on his latest album VORTEX, which mostly features his longtime friend Drummer Simon Phillips, but also a number of other musician friends.

Catching up with Sherinian, he divulged some details about the new record, how collaborations came about to create these amazing new songs, and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: What inspired your new album VORTEX?
Derek Sherinian: Well, I just love making music all the time and making records. It’s a big part of my life and what I love to do, and I’m fortunate to find someone in Simon Phillips that loves to do it as much as I do. We love making records together, and VORTEX is probably the fifth or sixth album that we’ve made together where Simon’s played drums, co-producing, co-writing and mixing. So, he’s very involved in the process. We brought in a lot of our friends, guitar players who happen to be really famous, world-wide players, but they’re all the very best at what they do. So, we wanted to bring them in on this music to really help make it come to life.

SFL Music: I heard that on the song “The Vortex”, which features Steve Stevens. On “Fire Horse” you have Nuno Bettencourt. On “Scorpion” I saw the video and the song is kind of jazzy?
Sherinian: Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of piano lately. I did on the last record a song called “Dragonfly” and people just love it when I play piano and I‘m really enjoying it also, so I’m starting to really lean more in that direction in my writing and playing.

SFL Music: Speaking of jazz, you have Mike Stern on “Nomad’s Land”. How did that come about?
Sherinian: Mike, I’ve been a fan of Mikes since I was going to Berklee in the early 80’s. He’s just a legendary player. Great signature sound and Simon has played with him before in the past. When Simon brought in “Nomad’s Land”, I thought that Mike Stern would be the perfect player for it, so we just gave him a call and yeah, thankfully he played on it and I think he sounds fantastic.

SFL Music: How did you end up working with Nuno Bettencourt?
Sherinian: Nuno and I worked together on the Generation Axe tour in 2017 and we became good friends on that, and when it came time to do this record, the song “Fire Horse”, I thought that Nuno would be the perfect choice for it and he absolutely was. He did a killer job and I’d love to work with him more in the future. What a great talent.

SFL Music: Now you’ve toured (and recorded) with Joe Bonamassa before. How did it come about that he’s on “Key Lime Blues”?
Sherinian: Well, Joe and I were bandmates in Black Country Communion. We’re still bandmates, if we ever make another record again. And then I also toured with him in his solo band, and Joe has appeared on three of my solo records now. He’s always been very gracious in helping me out and wanting to play on my records and with Simon too. We always have a great time in the studio and on this last record, Joe brought Steve Lukather with him on the car ride up to Ohi and we had a great day in the studio recording the song “Key Lime Blues” and got some great footage of the two of them playing, and just watching both of those masters go at it and record is just a real treat. You can hear it on the recording.

SFL Music: What inspired the song?
Sherinian: Well, it all starts with Jeff Beck. I mean, Simon and I are very big Jeff Beck fans and that song is very reminiscent of his earlier albums like BLOW BY BLOW or WIRED from the mid 70’s.

SFL Music: So, you would say he was an inspiration?
Sherinian: Yeah, for sure, but we just put our own twist on it.

SFL Music: What inspired you to go into music as a career?
Sherinian: I don’t know. It’s a cliché’ answer, but music chose me. I didn’t choose it, and I just was gravitated towards it and that’s what it is.

SFL Music: You also were in Sons of Apollo with (Ron) Bumblefoot (Thal) and he’s on “Aurora Australis”. What inspired that one?
Sherinian: Well, Simon and I wanted to write an epic to end the album and so we just started writing sections and connecting ‘em and fine tuning it. Then we ended up with “Aurora Australis”, eleven-minute trilogy, and it really covers a lot of different styles and we felt that Bumblefoot would be the perfect player for this song, and he just sounds amazing on it. Wow!

SFL Music: You have Michael Schenker and Zakk Wylde on “Die Kobra”. How did that come about?
Sherinian: Michael asked me to play on his IMMORTAL album in the year 2000 and he really loved the way I played, and so he agreed to play on this record. So, I wanted to write the ultimate Michael Schenker instrumental song and “Die Kobra” I think, covers a lot of his classic sounds from UFO to the first MSG album which Simons Phillips was the drummer on, and that was the first time I ever heard of Simon was in 1980 when that first MSG album came out. So, to have Simon and Michael on this song is killer.

SFL Music: Was that when you first met Simon?
Sherinian: No. I met Simon much later in the year 2000 when he played on my inertia album, my second solo record, and then that’s where we started developing the friendship and the working relationship.

SFL Music: Are you guys thinking of touring?
Sherinian: Well, we’re gonna play some select dates at the end of the year to get a feel for it and then just see what the interest is you know, from fans and promoters. And if we can put together a little run and do some select festivals and stuff, that would be fantastic because one of my dreams was to always take this music out with Simon and now the planets are aligned and we’re able to do a couple of shows at the end of the year, so let’s see where that goes.

SFL Music: Is that going to have Tony Franklin on bass?
Sherinian: No, it’ll have Bumblefoot on guitar and then we’re gonna use Ric Fierabracci on bass who’s playing on the song “Scorpion”. You can see him in the video. Fantastic player. He played with Chick Corea for like ten years, on tour and on records. Really great player.

SFL Music: So, fans can look forward to a possible tour?
Sherinian: We’ll be posting it on our Instagram. All of our social media. As soon as we know something, you’ll know.

SFL Music: What would you say is the connection with you and Simon musically?
Sherinian: Well, he’s been one of my favorite drummers you know, for forty years plus. So, that’s always good, but we have a connection when we play. He digs my writing. I dig his writing and when we collaborate the synergy is just undeniable. We’ve shown it again and again on our releases and you can really hear it on “The Vortex”. It’s undeniable. It isn’t just the playing, the keyboards and the drums, the musicianship. It’s the composition, it’s the production. It’s the whole package and Simon and I are just really in synch on these records and even though it says Derek Sherinian on the records, it’s really a duo effort, and when we go play live at the end of the year, it’s gonna be billed as Derek Sherinian and Simon Phillips because it really is both of our efforts. I couldn’t do it without him.

SFL Music: You’re an amazing musician and you play with so many amazing musicians. What would you say you get out of doing that?
Sherinian: What do I get out of it?

SFL Music: Yes.
Sherinian: That satisfaction of hearing my songs, my art come to life in its optimum sonic form with the very best players and my favorite players you know, in the world and to be able to have such a vast array of them on all of these songs is just, not only rewarding for me, but the fans benefit from it because they get this incredible record with all this talent.

SFL Music: What would you say inspires you when you’re writing a song? What influences you?
Sherinian: Just life in general. I just go to the keyboard and let my hands start moving and you know, that’s when everything starts happening and hopefully in that session, you’ll stumble on one little nugget that can be turned into a great song.

SFL Music: What would you recommend to up-and-coming musicians?
Sherinian: I would just say, do it if you really love it and if you do love it, really pour yourself into it and don’t be mediocre. Really just try to be as great as you can.

SFL Music: That’s great advise. Are there going to be any new videos?
Sherinian: I think there’s going to be some visual videos for “Aurora Australis”, but that’s it, I think.

SFL Music: Did you have any plans for any other projects coming up?
Sherinian: Well, the next album I’m gonna do is gonna be a piano trio album with Simon. It’s going to be all piano. No guitars, no keyboards at all. Just straight piano. So, that’s what I’m gonna really be working on as far as my writing and recording within the next year.

SFL Music: What made you choose the name VORTEX for this ninth LP?
Sherinian: Desperation. We had to come up with a name before the deadline and it was really coming down to the final hours and VORTEX was the best option.

SFL Music: Well, that was a good choice. Was there anything else you wanted to add about working with these musicians?
Sherinian: I’m very grateful to have you know, such great friends and great players that are willing to come and play on my record and I’m just very pleased with the outcome. I listen back to it, I’m proud of every song, every measure and everyone’s performances. So, I really hope everyone will take a chance and listen to the samples on YouTube and if you dig what you hear, go buy VORTEX. You need this in your collection!

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