bill bodkin talks with Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge about the band, Creed, his new side project and modern-day guitar heroes …
It’s hard to break out from the shadow of a hugely successful band. We’ve seen it innumerable times. David Lee Roth’s solo career never matched his work in Van Halen, the DeLeo Brothers’ Army Of Anyone never achieved the success of Stone Temple Pilots … we could go on forever.
In the early 2000s, Alter Bridge was that kind of band. Comprised of 75 percent of Creed, the hard rock quartet was bashed (despite commercial success) for its first recording sounding way too much like the band its core members came from.
And the group could’ve easily kept that formula going — it wasn’t broke, why fix it? But they chose instead to blaze a new path of sonic glory, and now years removed from the initial barrage of criticism, Alter Bridge has become one of the banner carriers of hard rock.
The beauty of Alter Bridge is the one-two combination of a bombastic hard rock sound and some of the best vocals in hard rock, period. It’s a wonderful balance of melody and mayhem, and with every record, the band just keeps getting better and better.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Mark Tremonti, the founder and lead guitarist of Alter Bridge as they roll into Pop-Break’s backyard (Camden, N.J.) with The Carnival Of Madness Tour (along with Theory Of A Deadman and Black Stone Cherry). We spoke with Mark about the band, its comparisons to Creed, his solo project and the current state of hard rock.
Pop-Break: I consider you one of the real guitar heroes of this generation. I think you’re one of the few guys left who still plays a lot of solos. For someone who grew up a fan of ’80s metal and is disillusioned with the current hard rock and metal scene, who would you say are some of the guitarists people like me should pay attention to?
Mark Tremonti: The first guy that comes to my mind would be Mikael [Akerfeldt] from Opeth. I think he writes some really unique, great stuff. From talking to him, he’s not a real big theory guy — he just kinda goes by ear and creates some great, magical stuff. I think one of the new guys to hit the scene in Joe Bonamassa [Black Country Communion] — I think he’s amazing. I think Matt Scofield, I know he’s probably being playing around, but I just heard him this year and he blows me away as a blues player. Guthrie Govan, I think is a monster guitar player in the shred world. I could go on and on and on, but that’s just handful.
PB: Now, I’m a big fan of your first, record One Day Remains but I’ve read a lot of negative criticisms about it. A lot of music writers felt it sounded way too much like Creed. How did you handle this? Did it inspire you to evolve the sound of the band? How have you’ve grown as a band since that first record?
MT: We heard all that criticism and it was inevitable — three out of four us came from Creed. And to their defense, it’s the most similar to Creed of all our records. I think we took that criticism and tried to make Blackbird [the band’s sophomore record] something completely different. I think it helped us develop our sound and we had to reinvent ourselves, think outside the box a little bit. I think we developed our sound on Blackbird, and on ABIII we took that sound and make it a little more dynamic.
PB: So in essence, you had to reinvent yourselves a bit. Was this something you found frustrating, or did you look at it as a challenge that you wanted to take head on?
MT: It was a challenge. It’s frustrating. I didn’t know how long we’d be under the shadow of Creed’s success. I didn’t know if we’d constantly have to fight that battle, but we were going to do our best to not have to fight that battle. That’s when we worked as hard as we could on the Blackbird record.
PB: In my opinion, Myles Kennedy is probably one of the most underrated and most supremely talented singers in the rock scene today. How did you discover Myles, and what inspired you to say this is the guy we want as our lead singer?
MT: He was in a band called Mayfield Four that opened up for Creed years and years ago. We remembered from back then how great he was. And when Creed was kinda falling apart towards the end there, we started hunting around for who wanted to start a band with. A buddy of mine actually said, ‘Do you remember this guy [Myles Kennedy]’ because he toured with us back in the day and he remembered how good he was. He brought out a CD and we played it in the car, and I was like, ‘This our frontrunner right here.’ I had a few people come out to the house to do auditions and what not, and everybody was good. We had one guy come out that sounded like a badass Bon Scott and we thought that was great for a frontman. But for this band, we needed someone who could do the falsetto thing and had the passion in the voice and had a lot of dynamic. And Myles was the perfect guy.
PB: Since you’ve updated your sound from the first record, you have produced two records: Blackbirdand ABIII. Wich of these is your favorite?
MT: I think it’s a toss-up for my favorite Alter Bridge record between the Blackbird record and the ABIII record. I think it’s a tough to say. My favorite song I’d say is by far “Blackbird,” and I still the love the Blackbird record just as much [as I did when it was first released].
PB: You released this album on Roadrunner Records. You’ve released your other records on Wind-Up and Universal. That’s three labels for three albums. What does being on Roadrunner do for you guys?
MT: We’re on Roadrunner internationally and EMI here in the States, and both labels have been very enthusiastic about the day from day one and haven’t let up. It’s just great because they always have new, clever ideas to help the band. Our last record label just left us out there hanging, tried very little, and that made us very unhappy. We’re glad to see we have fans of the band helping and have creative ways to help make things happen.
PB: I saw on your website that at your shows at Abbey Road, you actually handed out flash drives containing the audio of the live performance to your fans for free. Is that something you guys plan on continuing, or was that specific to those shows?
MT: No, we’ve just done that this year. I don’t know if we’re going to go forward and continue to do that. It’s just something we did on the last run, so it was a first for us.
PB: I’ve never heard any band do that before. Is that nerve-racking? I mean, there’s no editing — it’s just you guys in the raw, and the audience takes that home with them.
MT: You know, the first show I was very unhappy because I just thinking way too much, not being able to enjoy myself, just trying to play perfectly which makes me play, so … I played horribly. When I’m not thinking about it and I’m having fun, that’s when I play better. By the second show, I just figured, just play like you usually play — like nobody’s recording. After the show, where I thought I played terribly, they gave us a USB drive to listen to, to get an approval on going forward with the mixes. It wasn’t half as bad as I thought it was — it made me feel a lot better about it and we did it.
PB: Speaking of touring, you guys have a ferocious touring schedule. You play all over the world. I saw you guys did something crazy like 20 straight shows in Europe. How do you stay passionate about the music and keep your energy up on stage?
MT: Usually on stage … that’s what we live for. When you’re in front of new a crowd of thousands of people chanting your band name, it’s impossible to not get jacked up. The only downside of it is sitting all day away from your families in a different countries where it’s tough to find food sometimes and tough to get around. Once we get on stage, it’s all better.
PB: I read in an article that you guys prefer playing smaller rock venues as opposed to arenas and amphitheaters. That article was from a few years ago — does that notion still hold true to this day?
MT: I like a mixture of venues actually. I still like doing the festivals, the 50-100,000 range, where it’s just a massive show. Arenas are fun, as well. But there’s something about a small club that has tons of energy and it can be more intense than an arena show for some reason.
PB: I saw on the band’s website through some of your videos that you have a solo record coming.
MT: Yeah, hopefully the beginning of next year, I’ll start releasing songs for that. The record itself will probably come out during the summer, but we’re going to release two songs a month leading up to it.
PB: Is this going to be an instrumental album? Who’s going to be in the band?
MT: It’s a full-on record. I’ll be singing all the vocals, Eric Freedman will be on rhythm guitar and Jared Whitlock will be on drums.
PB: Are you going to tour with this band? And will be called Mark Tremonti, or will it have a different name?
MT: Right now, it’s just called Tremonti. I haven’t come up with any other band names yet. A lot of people have been telling me to just use Tremonti because it’s more recognizable. Our fans will recognize it, they might find it confusing to have three different band names. Trying to think of something real cool to call, but I’m going to stick with Tremonti for now.
PB: How will this differ musically from your other bands?
MT: It has more of my early influences, my metal influences in there. It’s definitely not a metal record, it’s a hard rock record. It’s definitely got more speed metal-like drums and guitar riffs sprinkled in there.
PB: Who are some of those early metal influences?
MT: Early on, it was Megadeth, Exodus, Forbidden, Death Angel. Speed metal, thrash metal.
PB: General music question: In the early 2000s, you were part of one of the biggest bands in the world in Creed. Ten years later, the hard rock genre is no longer the dominant musical genre — pop, country and hip-hop dominate the world. Is it harder to be a hard rock band these days in terms of selling records, gaining fans and selling out venues, or do you find that you guys are insulated from all this?
MT: I think if it wasn’t for Europe, we would’ve had a real tough time surviving. Over in Europe, rock is very strong — it has been and always will be, hopefully. That’s what really saved us. It’s been tougher than it’s ever been for a rock band in this day and age. I think mostly because of technology and not getting any sort of revenue from record sales, just having to rely on touring and merchandising. Usually, back in the day, a band would come out and have to have a big hit on radio and sell a bunch of records to give them some cash to keep the whole machine going. [They’d] use a little for tour support because bands usually are at loss [financially] when they’d be touring. They’d have to go out there and eat that loss or go out and find some sort of investors. Now, it’s go out there and rent vans, have no techs, do it yourselves and go to the clubs and play. The bands that do make it nowadays you got to respect that.
PB: You come from a band that was so huge that you could’ve stayed with them and played greatest hits tours and just made buttloads of cash. But you keep going back to Alter Bridge creating music, touring like crazy. What is it about this band that satiates you creatively?
MT: I guess I’m a multifaceted songwriter. I have different ideas floating around that don’t necessarily all fit into one band. That’s why it’s a great thing for me to do a solo record because there’s some songs that don’t fit into either Creed or Alter Bridge that I put on that record. I also like writing for other people. I just have so many ideas floating around that I’ll never get to the bottom of them, and it’s great to have these different outlets to get them out there.
PB: Final question: What’s in store for the band in 2011?
MT: We’ll be touring until December and hopefully we can squeeze some tours in January and February and then we’ll start getting busy on Creed next year. A few months squeezed into Alter Bridge and then we’ll start writing for the next Alter Bridge record and do a new record for Creed during next year.