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Ever wondered what's going on inside the prog rock head of the man Alice Cooper called "a born rock star?" Well, now you get the chance, because keyboard magician Derek Sherinian has descended from the Hollywood Hills, delivering his craziest stunt yet, a big revolving chunk of molten asteroid called Planet X, a battalion of sounds sure to set on ear all those folks who thought prog couldn't get this hectic.
Before you get wondering just how much hard rock fire a guy who tinkles the keys can muster, it's best to understand the man with the plan. Derek's main influence in life and music is that big sun-baked intangible known as the California spirit, best exemplified in a little hometown band called Van Halen. "I guess it's just my youth. Living in Southern California, going to high school, that's where my head was at. I didn't listen to a lot of classical and progressive rock bands. I did listen to a lot of fusion stuff like Jeff Beck, but for rock n' roll, Van Halen captures that spirit. That's what triggered me off."
And it is this love of the rock show in totality that led Derek to circus-like touring gigs with the likes of KISS and Alice Cooper. "It was amazing because I had loved KISS as a kid," sez Derek, proceeding gingerly. "But after working for them for a week, it really became a job because they are very demanding employers. They keep everyone on their toes, but it was a great learning experience. It was awesome watching Gene Simmons operate on a daily basis. He's definitely a unique individual."
Times with Alice are looked upon more fondly. "He's great, a total gentleman, a class act." So why would Alice call Derek a born rock star? "You'd have to ask him that," Derek demurs with a laugh. "I guess it's just the spirit, you know? You either love and live for the art form or you don't. And I also live for the lifestyle as much as I can (laughs)."
Lifestyle may be something that aided and abetted Derek's split with Dream Theater. They were a band of family guys on the east coast. Derek was a high-fashion single beast of the west. But above all, it was the music. "I wanted to play some real progressive rock, to really stretch out, and I wanted to work the band eleven months out of the year, not six or whatever. So when it was time to leave, I had no time to reflect. I was hot into my solo album and in particular, really for the first time in a long time, exploring the limits of this kind of music. My experience with Dream Theater has been incredible. It's been a great stepping stone for me, and I was anxious to apply the experience I got in that band to Planet X."
Which brings us to the jumpy, gravity-defying celebration of sound called Planet X. When you first spin Planet X, you might be a bit surprised at how hard-hitting and rhythmic the record really is. There's a reason. "Planet X was written primarily by myself and Virgil Donati, our drummer," explains Derek. "Virgil is from Australia and he's setting the drum world on fire. He had only been on a couple of Australian albums, and that's one of the reasons I went with Virgil, because he wasn't on a lot of albums already. I wanted to surprise everybody and capture his fire for the first time on this record."
"The whole process was nice, because with Dream Theater, I was working with a band that had pre-existed for ten years. There's a certain way the creative process flows. With Planet X, I actually had control to shape the music and the sounds how I saw fit, and that was very gratifying. It's the first time that I was ever in that position. I guess I'd describe the finished product as progressive fusion rock with a '70s feel but with new sounds. I would say it's a cross between Bruford, U.K. and Jeff Beck. And sure, maybe a little Steve Vai."
But Derek can't overstate the Virgil factor. "Rhythmically speaking, this album really goes beyond the usual progressive rock, beyond the typical 5/4 or 7/4 odd time signatures that you hear from a lot of progressive bands. Virgil is nothing short of a rhythmical genius, really pushing me in directions rhythmically that I've never been before. He also plays keyboards, and harmonically, he has a weird way of voicing chords, often in a way I would never think of. He'll show me a set of changes, and then I'll take his changes and kind of tweak them into my style, mixing his style with my style, and then move some of the chords around. And what results is a very unique blend. And we like it enough that we want to establish a band around it. Virgil was awesome. I want to make a lot of music with him in the future."
Joining Derek and Virgil are bassist Tony Franklin and guitarist Brett Garsed. Tony is one of the greats, having played with John Sykes in Blue Murder and Jimmy Page in The Firm. Of Brett, Derek offers the following: "Brett's a session guy who has played with everybody from Olivia Newton John to the Nelson Brothers. But he's a fusion player at heart, and almost immediately after I jammed with him, I fell in love with his style. The other cool thing is that he and the other guys are right here in California, which goes a long way toward making this the real band we want it to be." Construction of Planet X proceeded at a comfortably Californian pace. "We worked hard but not too hard," laughs Derek. "We did it in this little dingy rehearsal space in North Hollywood. Virgil and I went in and played like five days a week, four hours a day, for eight weeks, and just kept tweaking and shaping the material. Once we did the drums, we brought the tapes up to my house, went into The Leopard Room, my studio in the Hollywood Hills, finished it, went down and did the tracking and that was it."
The end result is a truly inspiring return to progressive rock values, with an exotic, new agey twist that is a combination of Derek's chosen weapon, and the flash personality Derek has come to be. And the entire wardrobe spills out on the record's very first track, an eighteen minute whopper called 'Atlantis Suite'. "It's a three-part trilogy," explains Derek. "The middle section was a progression that I had been toying with for the last year. But we put that in after we wrote the first part, 'Apocalypse' which is one of the first things that Virgil and I worked out. I just told Virgil 'I want you to play the sickest drum beats that you can, and I'm going to write notes around it' (laughs)."
Other highlights include 'State Of Delirium', which again finds Derek stepping outside keyboard talk into the world of the total rock experience. "That's a really cool song. The main keyboard part reminds me of Joe Perry on slide guitar, jamming with Black Sabbath. And then the b-section reminds me of 'Kashmir'." Much of the rest, Derek sees in terms of Jeff Beck, specifically records like There And Back, whereas 'Money Shot' harkens back to his days of cheap sunglasses and hot cars. "Again, that one's influenced very much by Van Halen, living in Southern California, summertime, the girls."
One can pretty much figure that when Derek set this record to its spinning space theme, his thoughts and emotions had more to do with shooting stars, quantum energy and inhuman speeds than any peaceful night-time metaphors about the great unknown. One can picture four buddies hurtling through a starlit void, with no idea where they are going, but well equipped with the flare, flame and firepower to get there in quick, dramatic fashion. Planet X just might be this destination, or it might merely be a state of mind where anything is possible. Whatever your take on the skillful sonics that is this band's Star Wars soundtrack, you will undoubtedly be refreshed by the G-forces and blinded by the sunspots along the way. Captain Derek will guarantee it.
Click here to read more about Derek Sherinian's Planet X., or click here to order a copy direct from Magna Carta!
Catalog # : MA-9036-2