How many times have you seen an artist successfully pioneer three different legitimate bands over the course of their career? (Maybe just Chris Cornell?) As most know, Mark Tremonti, the lead guitar player and songwriter from Alter Bridge and Creed, also has a solo project he simply calls Tremonti. Their first record, entitled All I Was, came out in 2012 and was supported by months of touring. Upon completing the last Alter Bridge cycle, Tremonti was back to work on his next solo effort, Cauterize – released in this past June. The record’s third single, “Radical Change” hit airwaves this week. There was so much solid material during the recording sessions, that it actually spawned solo album number two and three, with Dust slated for release in early 2016.
Although Tremonti has always stuck to his roots and deep love of metal, the difference in his solo work is that he has shuffled about five yards to his right and taken over as the lead singer for the first time in his career. Calling in from his hometown of Orlando, Alternative Nation had the chance to catch up with Mark a few weeks prior to kicking off his fall North American tour. As part of the upcoming show experience, he is giving fans a once in lifetime opportunity to not only watch his jaw dropping shredding skills, but also shred alongside him through a special pre-show lesson offering.
You’ve basically started a successful band 3 times over, all within a similar genre of music. That’s pretty rare.
It’s kind of a life cycle for me. It just seems normal. You start from the bottom and work your way up. It’s a thrill for me to be the underdog. I try to make the projects as different as I can with the tools I’m given. I think the biggest help for me, is having a different rhythm section. And the fact that, with the solo stuff, I get to throw in a little more metal.
My biggest challenge was making Alter Bridge sound different than Creed. That was the first time that I really had to reinvent myself as a songwriter. The first step was having a singer who sounded like the polar opposite of Scott Stapp.
What was it like going from playing large sold-out stadiums to small clubs again?
I enjoyed it. There’s something about playing clubs that’s just fun and exciting. Playing amphitheaters is amazing, playing arenas and stadiums is great too, they are all fun in their own way. It would be a shame not to enjoy them all. Even if all three bands were at an arena level, I would still throw club dates into the mix though.
How different is it for you being a lead singer as opposed to the lead guitar player?
It’s a whole new skill set. It’s not something you can practice at home. You get experience by practicing live in front of people. I always have my eyes and ears open to watch how others entertain a crowd. I’m not really like that when it comes to guitar playing. It’s a new thing for me to be a frontman. I never used to pay attention to what singers do, and now, I have to think of something different to do every night. Slowly but surely, it’s getting better for me, but when I first started it was like “oh no, what do I say in between songs?” I never got into this to be an entertainer. I’m the farthest thing from a David Lee Roth or a Scott Stapp. Myles Kennedy has turned into such a good frontman. I’ve seen him develop and that’s what I hope to do as well.
With your Tremonti band, was the plan always for you to be the frontman or were you initially looking for someone else to sing?
I was definitely planning on singing it. I’ve been a songwriter since I was a little kid. I’ve always loved writing vocal parts; it’s always been my favorite thing to do. One of my biggest griefs as a songwriter is that people always think it’s the singer who wrote the vocal melodies when I’ve written so many of them. People just think you’re playing the guitar so you just wrote the guitar parts. When the guitar solos and the riffs aren’t really what get me excited about writing the songs, it’s the vocal parts that I now get to sing myself.
Had you ever been a singer before?
I’ve always just been the backup and harmony guy. On the third Alter Bridge record, I took a lead in a song called “Words Darker Than Their Wings,” where Myles and I would go back and forth, singing the verse. On the newest Alter Bridge record, I sing a lead on a song as well. Then three records now, I take on the lead vocals with the Tremonti stuff.
As a songwriter, how are you able to determine which song is better suited for Alter Bridge and which you keep for your solo material?
Unless it’s a real deep metal sound, it’s all up for grabs. Whatever is up next at the moment, I usually put the song towards. Once I figured out if it’s an Alter Bridge or Tremonti song, then I adapt more towards that band. Usually if it’s an Alter Bridge idea, it’s easier to take more of an atmospheric type of approach because Myles will deliver a certain vocal part. When it’s fast, up-tempo, double-kick riff stuff, that tends to go towards the Tremonti band.
What’s the writing process in Alter Bridge? Do you write the music and Myles writes the lyrics?
We both write the same way. I’ll sit and write parts. I’ll have a verse with filler lyrics and a melody in place. Myles will do the same thing. I may bring in a verse and chords, and then he’ll have a bridge that matches that. I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve gotten good at organizing my ideas. I’ll give it a name, I’ll give a beats-per-minute, a dynamic based around the tuning it’s in and the time signature. If I then need a part, I know how to shuffle through my ideas, let’s say if I need a verse that is specifically 110 beats per minute. Myles and I will never write whole songs and present them to one another. Almost every album, we’ve contributed to every song and had our own parts in.
You wrote all of the first Alter Bridge record – One Day Remains correct?
That’s the only one that is different. I was kind of under the gun to write a record for when Creed was breaking up and Alter Bridge was getting together. Myles was coming in and four or five of the songs where completely written, then the second half of the record we worked together. Then with Blackbird, he picked up the guitar and that was our secret weapon going forward, adding him on the guitar.
When you started Alter Bridge, was it that you Scott Phillips and Brian Marshall were forming a new band, looking for a singer and Myles Kennedy was the “winner?” Or was it more that you wanted to form a band with Myles?
When all the signs were showing that Creed was coming to an end, I just started racking my brain. My best friend had a Mayfield Four CD and reminded me of how good a signer Myles is. We had only done a handful of shows with them. So this was years later, my buddy played me the song “Summer Girl” and I was just blown away. He was definitely our first choice for singers to go after. I had also reached out to a talent agent who had a recommendation as well. He said this was a “top guy” and would fly down. It ended up being my cousin’s husband’s brother. (laughs) He sounded awesome. Kind of like a Bon Scott, he had this big voice, but Myles was just a tough a guy to beat. He was the choice no matter how good anybody was.
What’s next for Alter Bridge?
I’m touring with Tremonti through the end of the year, and then the plan is to do an Alter Bridge record the first three months of next year. It always takes a few months to put out an album, mix and master it. That’s when we’ll split off again and Myles and I will go off and do our touring with Slash and Tremonti, and then come back together for a couple weeks of press before the Alter Bridge tour kicks off.
Have you spoken to Scott Stapp recently?
We actually just ran into him. Scott Phillips and I were at the Hard Rock hotel for my wife’s birthday, and just by strange coincidence, Stapp was up here during a vacation and was staying at the Hard Rock. We were walking out to the pool and he saw us. We ended up talking for an hour and half. He was clean and sober and doing well. He was happy. His family seemed happy. We’ve had a few texts since then. I think there’s talk about Wind-up Records maybe putting out a box set, so I’m sure we’ll communicate to make sure that turns out well.
Do you foresee any potential to reunite Creed again?
My life is just so busy right now it would be hard for me to do anything else. There were some songs we worked on before things went south. On the last tour, we didn’t see eye to eye to say the least, and then we put a halt on any new music. We had already gotten about nine or ten songs ready to go. It just doesn’t make sense for me though, having two new Tremonti records, a new Alter Bridge record and Myles will have a new Slash record. A new Creed record would be just too much stress.
On your upcoming tour, you have a very unique offering where fans can get a one hour guitar session with you before the show? Will you be doing that before all 32 shows?
Yeah, I do it at every show date. We say it’s an hour but it really goes almost two hours. There will be a room set up where I have two amps and everyone comes in and gathers around. I’ll ask what people want to go through and want to learn if it’s a smaller group. If it’s a larger group, I’ll go through alternate tuning techniques, vibrato techniques, picking techniques and how to go through sonic ideas. We work slowly because there are all kinds of different skill levels. I’ve had beginners and I’ve had Berklee students. Everything from jazz players to metals players. It’s funny, you see so many people who are nervous to plug in their amp, but then when they do they’re great. We also go up on stage and I walk them through my rig. We’ll end by doing photos standing up on stage. It’s always a good time, I’m glad I started doing it.
There’s a second record from your Cauterize recording sessions, entitled Dust, waiting in the wings. When will that be released?
It’s going to be a time early next year. After we record the Alter Bridge record and we have that three or four month gap, I’ll be looking to tour on it to support it. We’ll probably hit the States and Europe before we get going heavily with Alter Bridge. Even still, there will be gaps in that schedule that will allow me to tour on Tremonti as much as we can.
What was the process in deciding which songs go to Cauterize and which go to Dust?
I wanted to make sure both albums flowed dynamically. If there were two slow moody songs, I’d put one on each album, same thing if there were two really heavy aggressive songs, I’d split them up evenly. There’s isn’t a specific theme to one or the other. Each record is mixed.
The song “Arm Yourself” on Cauterize, it’s remarkable how melodic the chorus is over such a heavy riff.
That song was developed around that chorus. I had that idea around for a few years. I remember playing it for Myles and he loved it. That’s why it’s good to also have a solo band. There are so many ideas that get passed over and never get on a record, that are just sitting there and perfectly good enough to make it on a record, but there just isn’t enough time in a day to finish them all. So that was one of the first ideas I brought back when working on this album. When we did pre-production, that was our producer’s least favorite song. We all looked at each other like “you’re crazy, that’s one of our favorites.” By the end of the recording process when it was time for me to cut my vocals, he was like, “this is fun one, I think everyone’s going to be excited about it.” And I said “I told you! You just needed to give it time.” Now it’s one of the fan favorites and one of the five tracks we’ve already started playing live.
Looking into your entire catalog, what songs jump out at you as some of your personal favorites?
I’d say “Blackbird” is probably the number one song for me. I think for everybody in the Alter Bridge camp, that’s their favorite song. Even looking at both Tremonti and Alter Bridge, I still think “Blackbird” is the best of them all. On the Tremonti records, “Wish You Well” is definitely the most fun to perform live. We end the set almost every night with that song, so it’s one of my favorites as well.
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