Sons of Apollo – MMXX
By Dave Schwartz

Sons of Apollo

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 go. I

Sons of ApolloFrom 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 each song.

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 that!  (laughter)

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. 

No. Title Length
1. "Goodbye Divinity" 7:13
2. "Wither to Black" 4:45
3. "Asphyxiation" 5:08
4. "Desolate July" 5:59
5. "King of Delusion" 8:48
6. "Fall to Ascend" 5:07
7. "Resurrection Day" 5:52
8. "New World Today" 15:51

  • Released:  January 17, 2020
Sons of Apollo - MMXX 

Sons of Apollo is:

Mike Portnoy (drums & vocals)
Derek Sherinian (keyboards)
Jeff Scott Soto (vocals)
Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (guitar & vocals)
Billy Sheehan (bass)

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