Sons Of Apollo
Sons Of Apollo have certainly enriched the music sphere since their formation in 2017. It says much that the huge talent involved immediately combined with a cohesive and recognisable individual stance on debut album 'Psychotic Symphony', acknowledged as one of the finest releases in '17. And in 2019, the band put out the glorious 'Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony'.
Now, though, Mike Portnoy (drums & vocals), Derek Sherinian (keyboards), Jeff Scott Soto (vocals), Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal (guitar & vocals) and Billy Sheehan (bass) are ready to take everything to a new level with second studio album 'MMXX'.
“Stylistically, we have followed the same path as the debut,” outlines Portnoy. “But we feel that it has come out stronger, simply because we know one another better. 'Psychotic Symphony' was the first time the five of us had worked together, so there was bound to be an air of experimentation happening. Now, we can draw on having the experience not only of recording that album, but also of touring together a lot. And now there is clearly a lot more obvious chemistry going on.”
“We did 83 shows on the last tour,” adds Sherinian. “And it was so worthwhile, because we came out of it with a stronger bond, and that is certainly reflected in what we wrote.”
The writing process began at the start of the year, as Portnoy, Sherinian and Bumblefoot got together.
“The three of us were at my home studio in Pennsylvania,” explains Portnoy. “And it took about three weeks to get all the music written. That was a very smooth process. The last time, it certainly must have felt a little weird for Bumblefoot to be writing with Derek and me, because we were strangers to him. Now, we know one another better and that helped things push along.”
Sherinian reveals that at least two of the songs began to take shape even earlier than January '19.
“I am always writing, and started to come up with ideas straight after we finished work on the previous album. The tracks 'Asphyxiation' and 'Desolate July' definitely date back to that period.
“I agree with Mike on the way things were smoother this time around when writing with Bumblefoot. The first time I ever met him was when we started getting the songs together for the debut. He walked in, we shook hands, then he put on his guitar and we got right to work!”
Once this part of the equation had been successfully resolved, things quickly went to the next stage.
“We demoed everything and then did the pre-production process,” continues Portnoy. “Once this had been worked through, Derek and I went back to Ocean Studios in Burbank for me to do my drum tracks. It's also where I did them in 2017.”
As with that debut, 'MMXX' was produced by The Del Fuvio Brothers, who are...
“That's Derek and me, using the same pseudonym as we did first time around,” laughs Portnoy. “I got my drum parts done by the end of January, because I had a lot of other commitments coming up. Then the rest of the guys fitted in what they had to do as they had time available in their busy schedules.”
“Because we all have our home studios, it meant everyone could record there as and when they had opportunity,” continues Sherinian. “We all had the luxury of being able to take our time to get all the parts done, which was a huge help in the way the album's come out. I suppose in all, it took about eight months to record everything.”
The lyrics were written by Soto, who also came up with the melody lines with input from Sherinian.
“While Jeff was left to come up with the words on his own, as the melody lines are part of the music, it made sense for me to be involved with that part,” says the keyboard player.
The mixing stage has once more been handled by Jay Ruston, who also oversaw the mix for the first album.
“We leave Jay to get on with the mix at his home studio in Sherman Oaks,” explains Sherinian. “He then sends wav files through to us, and we come up with tweaks when necessary. It doesn't take long for it all to be agreed.”
There are eight tracks on the album, with variations in length.
“The final song is 'New World Today, which is 16 minutes long,” says Portnoy. “This one has elements similar to 'Opus Maximus' and 'Labyrinth' on the previous album. It has some insane, brilliant instrumental moments, which I am sure the fans will love.”
“We wanted to do something epic here, as we did with 'Opus Maximus' last time around,” adds Sherinian. “You have to remember that Mike and I come from Dream Theater, where we never bothered about how long a song was. So, for us doing a 16 minute track is not a problem.”
There's also 'King of Delusion', which clocks in at nine minutes in length.
“This opens up with a piano solo,” explains Portnoy. “And it also has a middle section where Derek and I do a piano & drum duet.”
“I have actually played more piano on this album than I have ever done before,” delights Sherinian. “This fitted nicely with what we were aiming for. I am also so pleased that I get to play a lot of Hammond organ this time.”
The first single will be 'Goodbye Divinity'...
“This is seven minutes long,” says Portnoy. “And we have also shot a video for it.”
The album title was inspired by a chronological fact.
“This will be released in mid-January 2020,” outlines Portnoy. “That means it will be one of the first releases in what is a new decade. So I came up with the idea of calling it '2020', except having it written in the Latin form of 'MMXX'.”
The artwork, which has been done by Thomas Ewerhard (who was responsible for the cover design last time out), inevitably reflects the title.
“For the first record, we had a mythological feel,” explains Portnoy. “This time around, though, there's a much more futuristic style to what we've got. It has a very 21st century appeal. And the band crest is more polished, cleaned up and a lot more modern than last time, when it had an old fashioned look.”
Portnoy and Sherinian are very happy with the way everything sounds.
“I have never thought we were a progressive band as such,” insists Portnoy. “I would define Sons Of Apollo as a hard rock band, with occasional prog moments. I would compare us to Rainbow, Van Halen and Aerosmith with some crazy shredding musicianship on occasion and touches of progression.
“There's a very balanced and good mix of material here. It's a 60 minute album, which I think works nicely when you have eight tracks. And we will certainly aim to do much of this live. The last time out we had to put in covers for our live set list. But when we tour again, we won't have to do that at all. All the material we play onstage will be original. That's a very positive thing.”
“Each member of this band has their own signature sound on their instrument,” adds Sherinian. “And when you put all of this together what you get is a wonderful five-headed beast. It makes this a sonically special band, which is definitely what comes across on 'MMXX'.
“You can hear odd time signatures and amazingly crazy performances here. And I feel that personally I have gone deeper musically than I have ever done before. For instance, you'll find some great harmonies. Overall, we've been satisfyingly more adventurous this time than we were before, and I know people are sure to love what we've done. 'MMXX' is an album I am proud of.”
London, October 2019