An Interview by Jedd Beaudoin
Derek Sherinian's latest solo opus, Black Utopia, provides listeners with yet another glimpse of the ultra-talented keyboardists passionate musical vision. Along with fellow legends such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Lukather and Billy Sheehan (to name a few), Sherinian has sculpted an album that will one day reside in the same pantheon as Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow or Mahavishnu Orchestra's Birds of Fire.
I caught up with Sherinian on what was a rainy Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles but a (surprisingly) sun-soaked day in my hometown. As no-bullshit in conversation as he is in a musical setting, Sherinian answers questions quickly, cutting conversational fat away to reveal a lean and tender steak. Nevertheless, he's polite and, above all, enthusiastic about his craft.
Black Utopia (available on Inside Out Music America) is finding its way into record stores at this very moment, waiting to change your life.
SoT: What can you tell me about the writing and recording of Black Utopia?
Derek Sherinian: Black Utopia took about a year to write and record. The difference between this album and Inertia is that Black Utopia is a little heavier and a little darker. This album has Al Dimeola and Yngwie Malmsteen and Billy Sheehan. They're new players to my work and I think they brought some really cool elements with them.
SoT: You were a member of Yngwie's band if I remember correctly.
DS: He called me in 2001 [and we did a tour]. I also played on his newest record, Attack. We made an arrangement that, after I finished doing his record, he'd do three tracks on Black Utopia.
SoT: His music isn't necessarily easy. What was it like to be in his band, playing that music?
DS: It was great to play "Black Star" with him, to be able to double that line with him. That song is such a classic. From a technical standpoint, it wasn't that difficult because most of it is 4/4 and just doubling his 16th triplets and his patterns. He has a few patterns that he uses, where, once you master those, it's all fun.
SoT: You've played in bands in the past that have always had a very strong guitar presence. Do you like playing off of a guitar player?
DS: Definitely. I also tried to write Black Utopia from a fan's perspective. I just wanted to make the record that featured all the styles that have influenced me and the styles that I've listened to in my personal time. I don't listen to keyboard-dominated records. That's just not what I'm into. My main objective was to be true to the sound in my head.
SoT: "Nightmare Cinema" is one of my favorite tracks here. Can you tell me a little bit about how it developed?
DS: That song was written with Brian Tichy and we really wanted to pay homage to Randy Rhoads because it was the 20th anniversary of his death. We wanted to capture that Diary of a Madman vibe. We wanted to tap into that and Zakk [Wylde] speaks the same language as me[when it comes to Randy], so he was very glad to oblige.
SoT: Nightmare Cinema was also the name of Dream Theater's alter-ego.
DS: That's when we'd switch instruments on special occasions.
SoT: "Stony Days" is another cool track. I really like the mood on it.
DS: I wanted to go for a real mellow, pot-smoking vibe.
SoT: [Laughs.] "Axis of Evil"?
DS: It is a historic guitar moment. It has Zakk Wylde and Yngwie doing a lead war. It's very heavy and I really dig it. It has a very cool middle section as well.
SoT: I wanted to step back a little bit back in time. You studied music, you teach and it would seem that the language of music is important to you. Was it important early on?
DS: I thought it was really important to have a really strong musical foundation, to learn the fundamentals. I had private instruction all the way up until I received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music, which I attended for two years. I'm grateful that I took that I took the time to learn the language.
SoT: What are some of the things that you're still striving for at this point in your career?
DS: I really want to make a great acoustic piano album within the next few years. I want to continue making better records and develop myself as a touring entity with my solo career. I'm very excited that I'm going on my first world tour this year, starting in June.
SoT: I've heard that you'll probably have Tony MacAlpine with you.
DS: We're just working out the final details. I think it will work and I'm very excited about playing in the U.S. and South America and, eventually, Europe and Japan.
SoT: This is truly unique opportunity.
DS: Absolutely. This is a unique opportunity and that's why I'm putting everything I have into making this happen.
SoT: What do you think will be different when you go out on the road as band leader?
DS: Having your name out on the marquee, for starters. You have to make sure that everything goes down correctly. You have to oversee everything. I won't have a manager out there with me. I'm going to have do a lot of shit myself [laughs]. It'll be cool. I'm ready for the challenge. The band should be really well-rehearsed and ready to go. There'll be no problems there. I'm excited.