Sons of Apollo – MMXX
By Dave Schwartz
By all measures, Sons of Apollo are the
living definition of a super group. Each member of the band
has achieved impressive levels of success and are masters of their
chosen instrument. So, when news spread that this band was
coming together, heads were turned with high anticipation.
Months later, along with the release of the first Sons of Apollo
record, "Psychotic Symphony," came the comparable expectations.
"Psychotic Symphony" was a good album, a
solid album. The record had a few surprises along with a
definite payoff – well-crafted songs. But the biggest surprise
came when Sons of Apollo hit the road. While ticket sales in
Europe and Asia met expectations, attendance in North America was
uncharacteristically slow. There were a hundred possible
reasons for this – none of which worthy of exploration here.
What is worthy of exploring is the result of
that surprise – "MMXX." The band has doubled down. This is a
much better album and I suspect that it has much to do with the 5 -
Mike Portnoy (drums & vocals), Derek Sherinian (keyboards), Jeff
Scott Soto (vocals), Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (guitar & vocals) and
Billy Sheehan (bass) spending 7 months together on the road,
refining their brand and becoming a band. Time and all of the
bumps of our Interstate system has allowed them to come together to
form a single common voice that is uniquely Sons of Apollo.
Jeff Scott Soto called into DaBelly to talk
about the new record. Check it out!
DB: You have a new record coming out –
"MMXX" – and I would love to hear all about it.
JSS: I am over the moon.
Especially with this record. It’s beyond my expectations.
It’s not every day that you can do an album with Billy Sheehan and
Mike Portnoy. Let’s put it that way. And of course,
Bumblefoot. Bumblefoot’s… I know that we’re going to get
into all of this but, when you’re in a band with a guitar player who
the biggest guitar players in the world are idolizing – I got
everybody from Brian May to Steve Vai to Steve Lukather saying
Bumblefoot’s the shit! It feels good to know that you’re
playing in a band with “The Shit!” (laughter)
DB: Well you seem to have that good
problem with everybody in the band. It turns out that
everybody in the band – everybody is “The Shit!” I mean, your
voice is incredible and Portnoy’s drumming and Derek’s keyboards –
this bands talent stack’s up rather uniquely.
JSS: It’s truly a blessing to be asked
to be a part of this and to front this band. And to be given
the respect to front this band. I really couldn’t be happier.
DB: You spent about a year working on
this record. Some might call that a slow drip but I think it
was more of a purposely slow drip. Talk a little about putting
the songs together.
JSS: Well, the reason that it took the
time that it did, outside of the fact that we wanted to give it the
time we did and the respect that is necessary to make a great album
specially since we still are creating our brand and our sound,
There’s not much difference between how all the songs got together
the first album ("Psychotic Symphony") and this album. It
basically starts with Bumblefoot, Derek and Mike getting together
and hashing out a bunch of musical ideas that they might have
written or come up with accumulatively and turned them into
something. From there, Mike came out to LA and went into the
studio with Derek to lay his drums down. They kind of bounce
off of one another to makes sure they remember where the music ideas
From there Ron started throwing guitar
ideas down and once it got to a point that it made musical sense to
send it my way, that’s when I would start carving out the melodies
and the lyrics. I did one day with Derek at my place because I have
a home studio here, and we went over where I’m supposed to sing and
what sections I’m singing. He had some strong melody ideas –
you should sing this kind of thing or it would sound great if you
sang that kind of thing. I just went from there and began just
slowly carving each one.
The only difference on my end between this
and the first album is we were in the studio together, doing it
together. When you book a studio, you know you’ve got to
deliver. You’re sitting there and you know that you’re on the
clock. If Mike is in town and you go long, you’re paying for
extra hotel rooms and studio time. If I’m not feeling well or
croaky or crusty, we’re paying for it. This time around I
wanted to alleviate the pressure of when I needed to sing or when I
wanted to sing. I was also out on tour with my band – SOTO.
I didn’t want to come back from a tour feeling haggard and be in a
position where I was forced to go into the studio and knock things
out. I said to the guys, please let me have the respect of
carving it and coming up with the personality that is necessary for
these songs to make them as good as I can. And we did exactly
that. I would do one song and we would hone in on that one
song until it was exactly right. Then go onto the next.
Normally I would do multiple songs and then go back and listen and
make notes of what I want to fix or maybe add a harmony. But I
told them, Let’s do one at a time. And as we knocked them out,
that’s when we go onto the next. This way I can concentrate on
DB: From the perspective of the fan,
the first hint of the greatness of this record came with the first
single, “Goodbye Divinity.” It was a surprise in a very good way,
to hear how much more the band had come together and was now more
significantly playing off of each other. I’m not sure you
could’ve done “Goodbye Divinity” as well on the first record.
JSS: Well, to be honest with you, as
we were trying to create the brand and the sound of this band on our
first album, we had to be together more as a new band. Now
after touring with this band for 7 months and knowing each other
better, knowing the chemistry, knowing what will work and what might
not work, I knew exactly what to do on this album. On top of
that, I wanted to add a little more of my personality that I
normally put onto records. On the first album, I think my
performances are great but they lack my personal side. My
personality. This is because I was trying to stay within the
confines of making that record and making those songs as strong as I
could. Now I want to make the songs as strong as I can but I
also want to add the little things that fans know me from or even I
know myself from. II think I accomplished that more so on
“MMXX” than I did on "Psychotic Symphony."
DB: For me, that’s what is exciting
about this record. All of the personalities are apparent.
And they’re all screaming. You can’t miss them as they all
come together in this wonderful blend. I read that there are a
couple of songs on this record that are older than the rest –
“Asphyxiation” and “Desolate July.” We’re these songs
something that were previously worked on? Done for a time?
JSS: Not at all. Everything on
the album is new. Nothing is previously written or recorded on
the first album and saved for the second. I know that Derek
recycled some older ideas from his previous records but that’s done
all the time. You have to be able to steal from yourself.
The best plagiarism in the world is to actually borrow from yourself
– something that you may have actually done or maybe something the
rest of the world never heard. Of course, you can borrow from
yourself, Prince made a career of it! (laughter) But as far as
the actual songs, everything was brand new for this record. I’m just
over the moon about how this record came out. Especially a
song like “New World Today.” To me, that’s my “Bohemian
Rhapsody” as far as I’m concerned.
DB: I agree, it’s a very cool song.
It’s the last song on the album and it’s just epic. It’s over
16-minutes long and there’s plenty of time for everyone to shine.
The melodies and counter-melodies all build off each other.
Talk a little bit about putting a song like that together.
JSS: The strange thing about that
song, I swear, I listen to it from soup to nuts and it doesn’t feel
like 16-minutes to me. To me, it’s as long or short as any pop
song because there’s so much interesting stuff going on there.
And like you said, everybody shines. There are so many
sections where everybody gets to shine. There are so many
sections in general to that song that makes it interesting. It
takes me back to the first time you listened to the entire first
side of Rush’s “2112” album. You listen to the side as one
song with an overture. And that’s what “New World Today”
sounds like to me. It’s massive. While recording it,
very time I was singing I would go to Derek and Mike and go, "Guys,
I can’t believe I’m singing on something like this!" This is
one of the grandest moments of my career, my life. I
absolutely love that song and can’t wait to perform it live.
DB: You said something that I think is
very important. You mentioned that the song feels the right
length to you. As you know, there are 3-minute songs that the
listener wonders – "when is this thing going to end?"
JSS: Yes, exactly. (laughter)
DB: So, it is interesting that you
wrote a song – beginning, middle and end – that all fits together
just so perfectly that the listener disregards time.
JSS: Right, and kudos to those guys.
Everybody’s input on that song. Musically it’s about the
musicians on that song. I don’t take credit for anything that
did. I wasn’t apart of that writing, nor would I want to.
I’m not going to sit in a room and try to tell Bumblefoot or Derek
Sherinian or any of those guys what to play. Those guys are
masters at their game and, again, those guys trust that I’m a master
at my own when it comes to the lyrics and the melodies necessary to
complete the picture. Kudos to every one in this band for what
they do and how they do it.
DB: You're scheduled to head out on
tour pretty soon, have you already started on rehearsals?
JSS: No. Everybody has
commitments at the NAMM show this coming weekend.
Unfortunately, I’m not going. I have a show in San Francisco.
We start rehearsing on Sunday, right after NAMM. As soon as I
get back in town from San Francisco I go straight to rehearsal.
We have 3 days to get this show road ready. But again, because
we already have the music under our belts, we already have the
chemistry and we know what to expect live, we don’t need a week long
rehearsal. I know that we can wrangle this and pull it all
together organically and be ready to hit the stage.
DB: That’s exciting, do you have any
idea how many of the new songs you plan to play live?
JSS: Yes. And I’ll leave it at
I want to thank Jeff Scott Soto for calling
into DaBelly. His candor and excitement regarding the new
album were palpable. The band is on the road right now and
will soon be heading to Europe. Make sure you watch their
socials for upcoming news and live shows.