by Keith Sorrels April 10, 2002
Keith Sorrels: How are things out in California?
Derek Sherinian: It’s going great. We’re just havin’ Tony (MacAlpine) over here at my studio and we’re just finishing up the Planet X Moonbabies album.
Keith: You have a very unique way of setting up your keyboards to play live. What inspired you to do that?
Derek: Um, I just wanted to try something different and it just made sense to me because a lot of times when you look at a keyboard player very few people have the angle of being able to watch the hand hit the keys and by tilting my keys the way that I am even the worst seat in the house is going to be able to get the vibe.
Keith: Do you use a lot of layering in the studio and how do you go about recreating that sound in a live setting?
Derek: Well actually, I just started endorsing a new company called Nord by Clavia Synthesizers and I got this new keyboard called the Nord Lead III and it’s so amazing that before I used to use a lot of MIDI and MIDI upgrade modules but these Nord’s are just so fat within themselves that I’m not really using any layering really. These keyboards have really taken MIDI out of my rig.
Keith: Well that would really help you out when you’re playing live.
Derek: Well, I’ve simplified my rig, big-time.
Keith: You have a very at-ease look when you’re playing. What’s going through your mind when you perform?
Derek: Nothing. That’s actually the only time when I’m not thinking about anything. Usually I’m in deep thought…constantly.
Keith: How did you go about choosing Dave LaRue to sit in on bass for Live from Oz?
Derek: Well, he’s an amazing bass player to begin with and he’s one of the very few bass players that are able to play the lines!
Keith: You mentioned that you’ve simplified your rig quite a bit for performances. What’s your current live setup?
Derek: Right now I’m using a Nord Lead III, a Nord Electro 73, and a Korg Triton Pro…I’m going to use the smaller Triton for the tour and Moog chorus pedals.
Keith: How important is improvisation to you in a live setting?
Derek: Extremely. I think that the songs have to have structure, but within that structure there’s and allowance for improvisation within the solos to make little jam sections. I think it’s part of being a great composer is to provide a hybrid of improvisation and structure and constantly pushing that envelope.
Keith: So do you like Planet X shows to be more planned or spontaneous?
Derek: Well the songs are definitely planned but all the solo spots anything goes. We’re going to be bringing Tom Kennedy on the road to play bass on this next tour and when he and Virgil get together is just insane. It’s just kooky! Tom is featured on five songs on Moonbabies, and Jimmy Johnson’s on four songs, and Billy Sheehan is on one.
Keith: What’s your favorite song to do live?
Derek: With Planet X, I like playing all of them for some reason or another. It’s just when I get on stage with Virgil and Tony it’s a thrill because they’re just such amazing players and you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Keith: What would you consider unique about hearing a Planet X show?
Derek: Planet X just has a unique approach to fusion; its very rare that you hear a band that plays with the complexity that we do with the attitude and the heaviness. And I think a lot of that is attributed to the fact that I’m coming from a place of Randy Rhodes and Eddie VanHalen which is very prominent in everything I do. As a kid I used to love guys like Holdsworth, DiMeola, Jeff Beck and all the fusion people as well as Ozzy and VanHalen but the bottom line at 35 years old today I still have Randy and Eddie on my walls and not the other guys. So that spirit always has to be there, ya know, in my book that’s the only way I can get turned on.
Keith: What kind of people are typically at a Planet X show? Do you get a lot of metalheads or musicians?
Derek: A lot of musicians and a lot of males, as you would expect.
Keith: Moving on the Moonbabies, what was it like working with Billy Sheehan?
Derek: Billy was great! He came up and did the one track on Moonbabies and after he finished and it’s funny, he only likes to record late at night so he showed up at The Leopard Room at 11:00 and finished up the Moonbabies track and I said to him right after, “Billy, if you’re not too tired, would you like to play on my solo record? I have a track ready to go.” And he goes, “Put it on!” And I go, “Let’s go, Albert!” So he ended up playing three songs on my new solo album that’s coming out in 2002 as a result of his session with Moonbabies. That’s the great thing, living in L.A. is that there’s so many awesome musicians that live within a five mile radius of you. All you do is call ‘em up, “Hey dude, what’s up? Come on up and lay some tracks.” And it’s a really cool scene.
Keith: So what are your personal feelings towards Moonbabies as opposed to the previous Planet X albums?
Derek: Moonbabies is a lot more Virgil-dominant in the composition and as a result of that, the music is way more complex that Universe, if you can imagine that. It’s really just…I’ve never heard music like this before, harmonically or rhythmically. Simon Phillips has said the same thing. There’s just a unique quality to this music in that I don’t think there’s ever been anything recorded as technical as this Planet X Moonbabies album. I’m speaking from mathematical standpoint. I can’t take credit for it because as I said, Virgil was the main writer on Moonbabies. But you have to understand that Virgil is as we speak right now rewriting the text rhythmically all over the world. His comprehension of polyrhythms and independence of the limbs and superimposition of time signatures and polyrhythms is just beyond anything that we’ve heard, all of us. I’m fascinated from a standpoint even though I’m the founder of Planet X; I’m in awe of Virgil’s talent as like a freak show! It’s funny, I find myself a lot of times like a carnival barker or promoter, “Look at him on the drums!” That’s what I feel like! If you listen to me on some of the bootleg shows, that’s what I sound like when I’m announcing him. That’s how he inspires me. I think that’s great to have that in your band and constantly have that inspiration because as a result, it’s making me a much better player.
And here’s the thing…I gotta give Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci a lot of credit because before I was in Dream Theater, if you looked at my track record, I had played in Kiss and Alice Cooper. I’d never played in any fusion or progressive bands whatsoever. All of my chops that I developed was a result of playing in Dream Theater. I had some chops from Berklee but I had never utilized them in a band situation. Dream Theater definitely showed me the light as far as developing a style on my instrument, forcing me to step up and really project. The difference between a guy that plays really good and being a great player is that the guy who’s a great player has figured out a way to impose his personality into the music where a guy who plays really good is just playin’ the notes. He may be playing in tune and it may be in time but there’s no personality to it a lot of times. That’s the difference.
Keith: How long did it take to write and record Moonbabies?
Derek: Moonbabies took a long time. Actually, Virgil started recording the first phase of drum tracks in June 2001, and here we are in April. The record’s not coming out until July, so probably about a year or 11 months. We took our time on this one so the wait will be worth it. A lot of that is because Tony and Virgil went off and did the G3 tour with Steve Vai and also I did some dates with Yngwie Malmsteen last year, so that kinda put our schedule off a little bit.
Keith: So what’s the songwriting process like for Planet X?
Derek: Well, what happened for Moonbabies is that we had a rehearsal room for two weeks and as a result we wrote as a band three or four songs and then Virgil wrote the rest of them on his own.
Keith: Do you ever plan on having vocals play a part of Planet X or do you want to keep the band instrumental?
Derek: Well, to be completely honest with you I just want to keep it instrumental. Virgil and Tony throughout the years come up to me saying that we should get a vocalist and that we’d sell more records or whatever. But the bottom line is that once we’ve put a vocalist in the band it’s going to put restraints of the thickness of it and I think I want to keep Planet X pure for what it is. It is what it is.
Keith: Moving on to some other questions, you’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you approach your playing like a guitar. Do you feel that gives you more options musically as opposed to sticking to a more traditional piano/synth sound?
Derek: Well, I don’t really approach it like a guitar. A lot of times when it comes to a solo situation that’s just what I feel in my heart when I play. It’s just such a natural thing, it’s not like I think about it intentionally. I think if you’ve listened to any record that I’ve played I play traditional styles as well. You always hear a lot of piano and organs and synth sounds.
Keith: What kind of music have you been listening to on your own?
Derek: I haven’t been listening to a lot of new stuff because I’ve just been so involved in making these solo records and Planet X records. It’s very hard to take time away and listen to new stuff.
Keith: What are your thoughts on the future trends of music?
Derek: I have no thoughts whatsoever. One thing that’s beautiful about my life and career is that I’m able to make these records with complete creative control and I’m really playing exactly what I want. If you listen to Planet X, there’s no regard for commerce whatsoever (laughs). Ya know what I’m sayin’? The fact that there’s no vocals…I’m really keepin’ it real and I’m playing with the exact musicians that I want to play with. What’s really cool is that a lot of musicians that were my heroes when I was growing up are now calling my house on a daily basis asking me to play on their records and praising me for some of my releases and it’s just really cool!
Keith: That’s pretty much you’re lifelong dream, isn’t it?
Derek: Pretty much. Now if the money would start rolling in the dream would be complete! (laughs) Ya know what, honestly, without the big money it is just such a pleasure to wake up every day with a studio here and know that I’m putting everything that I have into the tracks. So that as a result these CD’s are going to be released around the world for people to enjoy and to inspire young musicians and to me that’s doin’ what I’m supposed to be doing.
Keith: I know a lot of people can’t wait for Live from Oz and Moonbabies is probably going to blow everybody away.
Derek: Oh, it’s going to be cool. Live from Oz is really cool too. That was from our Australian tour, the last gig of the tour. Simon Phillips mixed it and did an incredible job.
Keith: Well, that’s about all I have. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview.
Derek: Thank you very much for your time, and I’ll speak to you soon, I hope. Be sure to check out www.xplanetx.com and www.dereksherinian.com for updates. Thanks dude!
Keith: Ok, thanks!
Ytsejam.com would like to thank Derek for taking the time to do this interview and to Keith for conducting it.
Visit the official Planet X website at http://www.xplanetx.com
Visit the official Derek Sherinian website at http://www.dereksherinian.com