Sherinian, Derek (February 2000)

Watching The Stars On Planet X

Derek Sherinian; courtesy Ann Leighton PublicityThe sun is shining in the Hollywood Hills whilst Europe is once again soaking with rain. What started out as a project has become reality for Derek Sherinian, as the project called Planet X suddenly becomes the name of a real band. What a wonderful way to start the year 2000!

"We will start the recording of our next album in my very own studio called The Leopard Room," says Sherinian. "We are currently looking out for a bass player, so if you can recommend someone don't hesitate to send me mail! Virgil DonatiVirgil Donati remains our man on drums and I'm proud to say that none other than Tony McAlpine has agreed to fill in the guitarist slot. Tony really is an ace guitarist who's able to play all kinds of music and I'm convinced that he and Virgil are the ideal people to contribute to the next album. The bass player will not take part into the writing of the material, yet we want to find someone to be part of the band rather than a 'boring' session musician."

Session musician. That's it, the word has been said. In fact, Planet X is the very first solo output from Sherinian after he's been doing the rounds himself, filling the keyboard slot for acts such as Alice Cooper, Kiss, David Hallyday and Dream Theater. "I always knew I was a showman. From when I was very young, I could feel it in my blood that I needed to be on stage. At school I was the very first to stand in front of the class and do my thing. Although I had a pretty clear image of what I wanted to be as a musician, it became pretty obvious to me that it became tougher as I grew older. My absolute dream was to be part of a new band in the style of Van Halen or Led Zeppelin yet only one in five million bands can become as big as these guys. So I started looking at things from a different perspective and called myself lucky that I was able to earn a living playing music even if I was only a small part of the big rock n' roll circus."

Especially during Alice Cooper's Thrash tour, all doors seemed to quietly open for Derek. Rumours have it that during the auditions for the Alice Cooper slot, Derek performed note for note all the sounds Bob Ezrin used on the original recordings. "I had to go on tour with Alice Cooper, whatever it would cost me, so I made sure Alice got to see and hear the best he could get at the time. I worked long and hard in order to obtain the same sounds as Ezrin's. But I had to, knowing there were at least another hundred people doing the same audition! Even if this meant I was still a small shadow next to big artists like Alice Cooper, Kiss and Dream Theater, it's there that I learned the skills, the hard life on the road, how to act on stage, how to cope with stress. It has been the most important and interesting school you can attend as a musician, even when I knew that most bands I have been involved with are mainly guitar oriented, thus meaning that my role would be very much restricted. So I waited until the time was right to do my own thing Derek Sherinian - Planet Xand I'm convinced there has never been a better time than the present. I mean what better way to start the year 2000 than with a band called Planet X? How Star Trek can you get?"

Derek sums up his influences and in a couple of seconds, I find an almost familial connection, because it's as if he's reading my favourites list! More proof that this man is made out of the right stuff. "[Bill] Bruford, UK, Al Di Meola and Allan Holdsworth - these are about the main influences I can think of. The technical part of their music, spiced up with a decent amount of 'soul' and the true 'rock'n roll spirit' are the main ingredients to make Planet X one of the planet's best ever rock bands! We also want to put a lot of effort into making this project a visual, pleasing entity as well, because if you go to a gig nowadays, all that happens is that you hear the music. But from a visual point of view nothing happens. Planet X has a wonderful backdrop that sort of makes you 'float in outer space'. We also project images which we manipulate through computer." I simply have to ask Derek about his extravagant way of dressing, because without any doubt this also adds to the visual concept of the band. "Thanks. I try to look as 'cool' as I can and I can guarantee you my popularity has risen drastically since I appeared in such a flamboyant way. The use of lava lamps on my keyboards, the Goofy shoes and my inseparable sunglasses have become my trademark. You have to know there are thousands of keyboard players out there. It's a question of being recognized, just in the same way that Rick Wakeman is still known for his capes, and people still remember Keith Emerson as being the 'lunatic' who planted knives into his organ!

Derek SherinianNeedless to say it has been a big experience for me when Dream Theater opened for ELP and Deep Purple a while ago. It's not that I was chatting backstage with Emerson and [John] Lord every evening, but now and then we did talk to each other. What I have done is made sure that our conversations were not an exchange of technical know-how. Emerson, Lord and Wakeman still are the best, because I feel that the current wave of keyboard players is much too 'neo-prog' oriented, which sort of means they don't put feelings into what they're doing. Personally, I'm looking for the ideal mix between musicality and technical skill. When you play way too much technical stuff nobody listens and you get the same result if all you do is play some tunes without any technical approach."

Derek Sherinian once performed with William Calhoun (ex-Living Colour) and Buddy Miles, whilst in the song "Day In The Sun," from the band's debut album Planet X (Magna Carta), a decent amount of 'funk' can be heard throughout. "I've told you that the element of 'soul' is very important to us. Jeff Beck, Jan Hammer, Herbie Hancock - these are all big influences which we want to refer to. Planet X has to become the Return to Forever of the new millennium. I can see us succeed in that because each of us tries to put their own identity into the music, which is just about vital if we want to succeed in what we're aiming for.

Over the years I have created my very own, typical style. Often I try to approach my keyboards as if they were guitars. This has given me my own 'sound' which is very important if you want to create unique, original music. I mainly work with a Korg Trinity, yet from the very first day I got this instrument, I started changing every little preset and knob I could find in order to give every sound on board an extra gimmick. My advice to anyone buying a new keyboard: don't use any of the preset sounds but try and change as many attributes that come with the instrument!

On stage, most of the time I have around fifteen different keyboards and modules of which four to five are constantly in motion at the very same time. It's that melting pot of sounds which guarantees originality, not that single sound which you can find under preset number 14!"

As strange as it may sound, David Hallyday (son of French (but Belgian born!) rocker Johnny Hallyday) has indirectly something to do with prog rock. Not only did he use Spock's Beard drummer Nick d'Virgilio on some of his recordings, David also used the many talents of 'our' Derek here. "How come you know all of this shit? You are the very first journalist who is doing his job in such a professional way, it's a dream to do this interview. Thanks! Yes I once played in David's band and I remember I did David's first ever gig in Tokyo in 1988. David was dead nervous, I just did my 'job'!"

Derek Sherinian; (c) 1999Imagine for once that money would not be a problem and you were to put your favourite band together ? "This will sound very cliché, yet Virgil and Tony are already part of Planet X so there's no point to look any further. Regarding a bass player, now let's see, Stanley Clarke has done some brilliant things but he has also written a lot of 'crap'. Tony Levin is more of a session guy, whilst I'm looking more for someone who's a bit younger and wants to be part of a band. Do you know Bunny Brunel? He's French and mainly active in fusion. He could be the right man." Again if money wouldn't be an issue, are there any instruments you would directly buy? Without thinking for even a second Derek answers: "a Steinway grand and throw in a couple of analogue synths whilst you're at it."

We move our conversation towards Kevin Gilbert, who once invested all of his money into buying vintage equipment that he let everyone use. "I have never known Kevin personally, yet I have heard a lot about him. From my side I offer my very own 'Leopard Room' for the recording of demos and such. I am constantly looking for good bands which I can then invite to record in my studio whilst I take care of the production."

With a name like Planet X maybe the term "millennium" should get an extra meaning. "Man should take the opportunity to re-invest in himself. It's as if we start a completely new chapter in the history of mankind, so we should learn from our mistakes, from the previous chapters. With Planet X, I'm ready to make new music with new sounds and with a positive energy that is so characteristic for a new start. I know that the new album will contain the strongest features from UK, Di Meola and Bruford all rolled into one. Planet X simply will be the Return to Forever of the new millennium, let's keep it at that. I'd love to be compared to Return to Forever. God, what a band!"

Of the new album, which will be called Universe, drummer Virgil Donati has already said: "this album is gonna kick some ASS." Let's hope it '"dASS"!

Selected Discography (!!):
Brad Gillis - Gillrock Ranch (1993)
Kiss - Alive III (1993)
Alice Cooper - The Last Temptation (1994)
Various - To Cry You A Song - A Collection Of Tull Tales (1995)
Dream Theater - A Change Of Seasons (1995)
Alice Cooper - Classicks (1996)
Pat Torpey - Odd Man Out (1997)
Dream Theater - Falling Into Infinity (1997)
Explorer's Club - Age Of Impact (1998)
Dream Theater - Once In A Livetime (1998)
Various - Humanitary Stew - A Tribute To Alice Cooper (1999)
Various - A Tribute To Aerosmith - All Star Tribute To Aerosmith (1999)
Platypus - When Pus Comes To Shove (1999)
Planet X (1999)
Platypus - Ice Cycles (2000)
Planet X - Universe (2000)
Various - A Party Of The Times - A Tribute To Prince (2000)
Inertia (2001)
Various - Songs Of Pink Floyd - All Star Tribute To Pink Floyd (2001)
Various - One Way Street - All Star Tribute To Aerosmith (2001)
Todd Rundgren - Todd Rundgren And Friends (2002)
Various - We're A Happy Family - All Star Tribute To The Ramones (2002)
Einstein - Einstein Too (2002)
Gilby Clarke - Swag (2002)
Planet X - Moon Babies (2002)
Jughead - Jughead (2002)
Yngwie Malmsteen - Attack (2002)
Planet X - Live From Oz (2002)
Shaman - Ritual (2003)
Black Utopia (2003)
John Sykes - Bad Boy Live (2003)
House Of Lords - The Power And The Myth (2004)
Mythology (2004)
Billy Idol - Devil's Playground (2005)
Blood Of The Snake (2006)
Billy Idol - Happy Holidays (2006)
Planet X - Quantum (2007)
Ayreon - 01011001 (2008)
Billy Idol - Idolize Yourself (2008)
Yngwie Malmsteen - Perpetual Flame (2008)
Dream Theater - Greatest Hit (...And 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs) (2008)
Molecular Heinosity (2009)
Black Country Communion - Black Country Communion (2010)
Black Country Communion - Black Country Communion 2 (2011)
Oceana (2011)
Black Country Communion - Live Over Europe (2011)
Various - Who Tribute - Who Are You (2012)
Black Country Communion - Afterglow (2012)
Nektar - A Spoonful Of Time (2012)
The Prog Collective - The Prog Collective (2012)
PSMS - Live In Tokyo (2013)
Black Label Society - Unblackened Live (2013)

Billy Idol - Live (DVD) (2009)
Black Country Communion - Live Over Europe (DVD) (2011)
PSMS - Live In Tokyo (DVD) (2013)
Black Label Society - Unblackened Live (DVD) (2013)

Added: February 20th 2002
Interviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

Artist website:
Hits: 1769
Language: english

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