We all love a good supergroup, and for progressive rock fans, Sons Of Apollo is about as super as it gets. Bringing together former Dream Theater members Derek Sherinian (keys) and Mike Portnoy (drums) in an original band for the first time since the late 90’s, this prog behemoth also includes guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, bass god Billy Sheehan, and vocalist Jeff Scott Soto for the incredibly hard-hitting debut album Psychotic Symphony.
“We’re seeing such an overwhelmingly positive response from our old fans and some new fans who are joining us,” Sherinian says a few days after the album’s release. “And what’s really exciting is that this is a brand new, fresh thing and a lot of these fans are coming in on the ground floor. And you can feel that that’s a really special thing. Everyone involved in Sons of Apollo can feel the buzz and the juice and we know that this is gonna explode worldwide. Everyone can’t be wrong, and you just see the look on the journalists’ faces. I’ve done probably 500 interviews about this either face-to-face or phoners, and everyone has the same reaction. There’s not another band out right now that plays like this.”
When the video for the track ‘Coming Home’ was released a few months ago, fan reaction was mixed - mainly because for a supergroup built on musicianship, the track leaned a little more towards straightforward heavy rock rather than a blitzed-out musofest. But did anyone really think these guys would get in a room together and not put their chops on display?
“That’s the thing,” Sherinian says. “When we first put this together we figured it was going to be more prog metal like some of the things we’ve done in the past. But once we started writing, all our classic rock and hard rock influences came to the forefront, and the virtuosity was the icing on the cake. We mastered the art of strategic wankery; we put the songs first and we want to make sure this stuff is f**king kick-ass rock and roll like the stuff we grew up on. AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Queen, KISS, The Who – you can hear little bits of all of those bands in Sons of Apollo. But you can also hear the most sick instrumental passages that you’ve ever heard before. But that’s not what this band is about. Again, it’s strategic wankery, and the songs come first.”
While there’s a big movement towards plugins for a big chunk of the keyboard world, Sherinian is unashamedly old-school in his gear allegiances. “I use everything but plugins,” he says. “I use real keyboards. I use a Hammond B3, I use a Mellotron, I use Nord synthesisers going through Marshall stacks. I’m old-school. I have some modern gear as well, but I don’t use any tricks in terms of apps or playback tapes or sequencing or anything like that. Everything is live and real.”
Clearly guitarists have influenced Sherinian’s gear choices as well as his playing style, which is proudly guitar-inspired. “I listen to the same guitarists I always did,” he says. “Yngwie, Randy Rhoads, Van Halen, Holdsworth, Jeff Beck – all the same guys. There really hasn’t been anyone new that has come around in the last 25 years or so that has really done anything ... except Bumblefoot. You’ve gotta hear how great this f**king guy plays. I’ll say this, and I’m not saying this in a braggadocious way, but it’s a fact: I’ve played with the very best guitarists in the world. I just did the Generation Axe tour with Steve Vai, Yngwie and Zakk Wylde, and all of these guys are fantastic players. But Bumblefoot is something special. It’s very rare when you find a guy that has a super-strong rock and roll background but has the virtuosity that can play anything, and Bumblefoot is the perfect hybrid. And that’s what Sons of Apollo all have in common. We’re all rock musicians and we rock hard but we’re also virtuosos at the same time, but it always comes from a place of rock first. Most rock bands don’t have the chops that we do, and most prog bands don’t have the swagger that we do.”
Psychotic Symphony is out now via Inside Out Music/Sony Music.