Sons Of Apollo _____

Prog - - Contents - Words: Rich Wil­son Images: Will Ire­land Derek Sherinian

Mike Port­noy takes on Dream The­ater with new prog metal su­per­group.

Sons Of Apollo have been a su­per­group in wait­ing for a long time. Five years, to be pre­cise, ever since for­mer Dream The­ater mem­bers Derek Sherinian and Mike Port­noy teamed up with bassist Billy Shee­han and gui­tarist Tony MacAlpine to form the short-lived in­stru­men­tal live project PSMS. The mu­si­cal un­der­stand­ing and chem­istry be­tween band mem­bers was pal­pa­ble, and over the in­ter­ven­ing years, Sherinian has been fre­quently hound­ing

Port­noy to try to per­suade him to con­vert the band into a fully fledged stu­dio unit.

“PSMS was noth­ing more than a fun live thing and we didn’t have any ex­pec­ta­tions be­yond that,” says Port­noy. “It was some­thing for me and Derek to be play­ing to­gether again and have some fun. We did a Euro­pean tour and an Asian tour. The mu­si­cal chem­istry in that band was so strong and each in­di­vid­ual mu­si­cian was so strong that af­ter that tour, Derek was egging me on to do some­thing more full-time with it, but the tim­ing was just not very good. It was also in­ten­tional for me to kind of avoid the pro­gres­sive metal genre to do dif­fer­ent things. Fi­nally, ear­lier this year, af­ter years of nudg­ing me on, we fi­nally got to a point where the time seemed right to pick up where we had left off and turn it into a full-time, vo­cal band.”

“It has mainly been me bring­ing it up to Mike and say­ing, ‘Let’s do this for real and get a singer and form the ul­ti­mate prog metal band,’” adds Sherinian. “I un­der­stand that af­ter be­ing in Dream The­ater for all those years, he wanted to di­ver­sify and work with dif­fer­ent play­ers. But I think that most of his fans re­ally want to hear him play­ing prog metal, the genre that he helped in­vent. So that’s what we’re do­ing with Sons Of Apollo and it’s the most nat­u­ral style for me to play as well.

“When we an­nounced we were go­ing to do this, there was a bid­ding war from three ma­jor record la­bels for this band be­cause they just knew that the se­cret sauce was Mike and I to­gether play­ing this style. At the end of the day, peo­ple want to hear me and Mike go­ing apeshit on our in­stru­ments.”

There have been a cou­ple of ad­di­tions to en­hance the ap­peal of the band. MacAlpine has been re­placed by for­mer Guns N’ Roses gui­tarist Ron ‘Bum­ble­foot’ Thal, and singer Jeff Scott Soto (Yng­wie Malm­steen, Jour­ney) was se­lected to front the band. In typ­i­cal Port­noy fash­ion, the al­bum was writ­ten at speed, with the writ­ing com­menc­ing in March and the al­bum be­ing de­liv­ered to the record la­bel in July. That

Prog’s new­est su­per­group may in­clude for­mer mem­bers of Dream The­ater, but don’t go call­ing them a copy­cat act. With hard rock and AOR he­roes on board too, Sons Of Apollo are an ex­cit­ing prospect. Mike Port­noy and Derek Sherinian tell us more.

“Dream The­aTer

have saT on Top of The 20 pro­gres­sive meTal Throne for The lasT years anD been com­pleTely un­chal­lengeD buT sons.” un­Til now. now is The era of The

pace is some­thing which is noth­ing new to those who have fol­lowed his ca­reer, but for any band to record an al­bum as com­pelling as this de­but in such a short pe­riod re­mains star­tling.

“I think that over the last 20 al­bums I’ve made, most have been made this way,” says Port­noy. “I don’t think the qual­ity of any­thing I’ve done this way has suf­fered as a re­sult of work­ing quickly – it’s just a mat­ter of be­ing very fo­cused and creative. The only time in re­cent his­tory when I spent a ridicu­lous amount of time mak­ing records was with Dream The­ater and, to be hon­est, there was a lot of money wasted on those records.”

“We’re hun­gry and you can fuck­ing hear it on this record,” says Sherinian. “The creative process in this band is re­ally healthy. We im­me­di­ately felt that Ron was a long-lost brother and we just dug right in like three lit­tle kids with paint and an open can­vas.

“The beau­ti­ful thing about Sons Of Apollo is that Mike and I are the pro­duc­ers, so we ba­si­cally get to do what­ever the fuck we want. There’s no­body telling us what to do and we don’t have to send in daily demos to some A&R suit who doesn’t know shit. We ba­si­cally just let our­selves go for 10 days and tried to write the sick­est and best mu­sic that we pos­si­bly could.

“The dif­fer­ence be­tween what we’ve done in the past and what we’re do­ing now is that we’ve placed great em­pha­sis on songs. We’ve got mem­o­rable cho­ruses but also have ad­ven­tur­ous mu­si­cal jour­neys within them that are un­re­strained. We play the way we al­ways have played, but there’s a lot more em­pha­sis on qual­ity con­trol, with the lyrics, the melody lines and song struc­ture. It’s like the first Van Halen al­bum but with chops.

“We also re­ally took time to go through each vo­cal phrase to make sure there was no cheese any­where, no gar­goyles or

Dun­geons & Dragons shit, and no rec­tum-puck­er­ing high notes. Every­thing is very smooth and ballsy.”

Sherinian makes a vi­tal point.

There are count­less prog metal acts who are merely im­i­ta­tors, pre­pared to re­gur­gi­tate the genre’s clichéd, hun­dred-notes-a-sec­ond tech­ni­cal ex­cess at the ex­pense of adept song­writ­ing, soul and cho­ruses. It’s a bless­ing then that Sons Of Apollo have taken a far more em­brac­ing ap­proach, brim­ming with vir­tu­os­ity but adding that key ac­ces­si­bil­ity.

Song­writ­ing aside, it’s

Jeff Scott Soto’s vo­cals and the in­tro­duc­tion of Ron ‘Bum­ble­foot’

Thal into the group that have cer­tainly aided the band in cre­at­ing some­thing more orig­i­nal than just an­other prog metal act.

“I think

Bum­ble­foot is go­ing to be the big sur­prise for a lot of peo­ple,” ex­claims

Port­noy. “He’s the real star of the show here and peo­ple who only know him from Guns N’ Roses, where he wasn’t re­ally able to do his thing, are go­ing to be shocked at what he can do. He was in­cred­i­ble to write with and took what my­self and Derek were do­ing in a very dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. Bum­ble­foot is a gui­tar hero and I al­ways wanted to work with him in a band and give him the plat­form to truly shine. I think this al­bum will ab­so­lutely do that.

“Jeff is also an amaz­ing front­man. He knows how to work the crowd and front the band, which I knew would be a great as­set. The great­est as­set of his voice is that it has a real ac­ces­si­bil­ity. He’s got a great back­ground in the

AOR kind of stuff, and from when he was fronting Jour­ney for a lit­tle while.

“Derek and I have this crazy prog back­ground. Billy and Bum­ble­foot are do­ing crazy gui­tar unisons, so Jeff is re­ally the an­chor and the glue to make the whole thing very lis­ten­able.”

Those hooks Port­noy refers to are preva­lent through­out the al­bum, but in Com­ing Home and Alive, Sons Of Apollo have cre­ated a pair of tracks that could, given the right op­por­tu­nity, pro­vide them with cross­over sin­gle suc­cess. In these days of dwin­dling ra­dio im­por­tance, it’s dif­fi­cult to fathom quite how that leap could be made, but the po­ten­tial is clear.

“Alive to me is a home run on every level,” agrees Port­noy. “In a per­fect world, that would be as big as a Foo Fighters or Red Hot Chili Pep­pers song. It’s some­thing you could pic­ture be­ing played in a sta­dium. That was the first song that Jeff de­moed up and sent to my­self and Derek, and I was just floored. That was the moment that proved he was the right man for this

band. We’ve shot a video for Alive as we hope for that to be the sin­gle when we hit the road next year. This band has the com­mer­cial po­ten­tial to re­ally stand up in to­day’s mar­ket. I think there’s enough there for the ex­ist­ing fan base but there’s also a lot there to make a lot of new fans.”

There’s an in­evitably, though, that with two for­mer Dream The­ater mem­bers form­ing a pro­gres­sive metal band, com­par­isons be­tween the two acts will nat­u­rally fol­low.

Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, Port­noy re­mains re­laxed about the Dream The­ater-re­lated ques­tions that will un­ques­tion­ably pep­per every in­ter­view over the next 18 months. In­deed, he re­veals that he’s been able to “build up a very nice per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with both John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess over the last cou­ple of years”, adding that he’s “com­fort­able in my own skin and feel I have def­i­nitely moved on”.

Yet Port­noy sug­gests that one of Sherinian’s mo­ti­va­tions in re­form­ing the band was to in­vite com­par­isons be­tween the two acts.

“If I’m be­ing hon­est, a lot of Derek’s in­cen­tive to form this band was to, in his words, ‘Re­claim my right­ful throne to the genre that I helped cre­ate,’” he laughs. “But once we got to­gether and started mak­ing the mu­sic it­self, it re­ally went to so many dif­fer­ent places that go way be­yond the Dream The­ater world. It has the pro­gres­sive metal mo­ments on Gods

Of The Sun, Labyrinth and

Opus Max­imus, and those three epics are def­i­nitely pro­gres­sive metal ma­te­rial in the Dream The­ater vein.

But then you hear songs like Signs Of The Time or

Com­ing Home and they have a hard rock, Van Halen, Deep

Pur­ple kind of in­flu­ence.

The al­bum ended up be­com­ing very di­verse and some­thing that tran­scends the pro­gres­sive metal tag.”

Sherinian is more forth­right in his as­sess­ment of Sons Of Apollo’s prospects and per­haps, given the man­ner of his re­place­ment in Dream The­ater in 1999, there’s a sus­pi­cion that he’s been wait­ing for a moment to per­form in a band that can in­voke mu­si­cal re­venge on his old band­mates.

“It re­ally is an orig­i­nal sound and it’s not fair to com­pare us with Dream The­ater,” he says. “Dream The­ater re­ally isn’t the Dream The­ater it was. With Sons Of Apollo, peo­ple are go­ing to hear the in­flu­ence that Mike Port­noy brings into a band and you’re go­ing to see the spirit that’s maybe not in Dream The­ater now.

“I read a lot of the mes­sage boards and it seems that a lot of Dream The­ater fans weren’t happy with that last re­lease. I haven’t heard it, but the con­sen­sus seems to be that it was very Walt Dis­ney and didn’t have any balls to it. So we want to in­vite those fans to come over to Sons Of Apollo be­cause I’ll tell you, man for man, pound for pound, there’s not a band with the vir­tu­os­ity, the balls and the pre­sen­ta­tion that we have.

“I’m not say­ing that in an ar­ro­gant way. I’m say­ing that be­cause it’s a fact. I think Sons Of Apollo is the best thing that will ever hap­pen to Dream The­ater and if it gives them a new spark of in­spi­ra­tion to start mak­ing great records again, then it’s only ben­e­fi­cial for the fans.”

Such state­ments could merely be seen as PR blus­ter to pro­voke in­ter­est in the project, but he makes a force­ful ar­gu­ment. This band is lu­di­crously tal­ented and with the com­mer­cial at­tributes pos­sessed by some of their songs, they have the po­ten­tial to achieve a main­stream suc­cess not seen in the genre for a long time. It’s a fact not lost on Sherinian, as he closes with an up­beat so­lil­o­quy that you sus­pect is only par­tially tongue-in-cheek.

“I’m go­ing to make a bold state­ment,” he pro­claims. “Dream The­ater have sat on top of the throne for the last 20 years and have been com­pletely un­chal­lenged un­til now. But now is the era of the Sons. There’s only so much room at the top of prog metal, so they need to start clear­ing their shit out now be­cause we in­tend to have our thrones put in there by Oc­to­ber 20th…”

FIGHT­ING TALK: FOR­MER DREAM THE­ATER MEN SHERINIAN AND PORT­NOY ARE LOOK­ING TO RE­CLAIM THE PROG METAL THRONE.

SONS OF APOLLO, L-R:

BILLY SHEE­HAN, MIKE PORT­NOY, JEFF SCOTT SOTO, DEREK SHERINIAN, RON ‘BUM­BLE­FOOT’ THAL.

PSY­CHOTIC SYM­PHONY: AN AL­BUM FULL OF HOOKS AND VIR­TU­OSO CHOPS. DEREK SHERINIAN (LEFT) AND MIKE PORT­NOY, SHOT EX­CLU­SIVELY FOR PROG.

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