Between Rock And A Heavy Place: A Conversation With Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti

Coming off their most successful world tour to date, Alter Bridge will release their “Live At The O2 Arena + Rarities” album worldwide on Sept. 8 via Napalm Records.

The quartet of Myles Kennedy (vocals/guitar), Mark Tremonti (guitar), Brian Marshall (bass) and Scott Phillips (drums) deliver blistering live versions of tracks such as “Cry of Achilles,” “Addicted to Pain, ” “Isolation,” and the requisite fan favorite, “Blackbird.” In addition, the package contains a CD of 11 “rarities,” including the never-before released tracks “Cruel Sun” and “Solace” that were recorded during the band’s 2004  “One Day Remains” sessions.

Tremonti first stepped into the limelight with Marshall, Scott and the talented-but-troubled vocalist Scott Stapp as members of Creed in the post-grunge era mid-1990s, rocketing to stardom on the heels of the multi-platinum-selling album “Human Clay,” which hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Internal tension led to the band disbanding in 2004, and though Creed has stopped and started on multiple occasions since, things have never been the same.

While Creed sputtered, however, Tremonti, continued to deliver, putting together Alter Bridge in 2004, and later showing his heavier metal side with his first solo album in 2012, “All I Was,” under the band moniker Tremonti.

The 43-year-old Tremonti sat down with ListenIowa to talk about the new live album, his love of 70s soft rock, and where things stand now with former band mate Stapp. 

Live albums can be hit and miss. If you go back and correct too many mistakes in the studio, it’s not really live anymore, but on the flip side, if you can catch those nights of “lightning in a bottle,” and really display what the band is about, you’ve got something. Why a live album at this point in Alter Bridge’s career?
There are some songs that don’t get as much attention as others that I think we do well, so it’s good to be able to present those, and with the rarities, some of those tracks were B-sides or Japanese releases that people might be hearing for the first time, so I think it’s a good time for this. I think it’s just an overall good picture of what we do live. It was nice to capture it. At that point when we recorded it, we were in the middle of our touring cycle and had things down pat. It’s nice to able to record when you have your game down. You don’t have to overthink things.

“Cry of Achilles” is one of your tracks that really comes across well on this album. Talk about that track.
Yeah, that’s actually one of my favorite songs to play live and has turned into one of our staple songs. It’s right up there with songs like “Blackbird” that will always be there. A fun song to play in the set.

And tell me about another track, “Metalingus.” What does that mean, exactly?
Way back when we were putting that track together, we had columns for songs that were in the process of being put together and ones that were completed. When we finally finished the arrangement of that song, in the time it took me to put down my guitar and walk to the board, I just thought, “OK, what am I going to call this? Let’s just call it ‘Metalingus.’ ” I don’t know why that came to me. When the record label came down, and we played these songs for them live, I told them that the song title says “Metalingus,” but that’s just a filler title until we come up with final lyrics. But they said it was a great name, so we kept it. (laughs)

Tell me about working with Myles Kennedy. Not only is he an outstanding vocalist, but he’s a great guitar player as well. Many people might not know that based on his work with Slash, where he’s strictly the vocalist. Does he push you from a guitar standpoint when you two are in Alter Bridge mode?
I think, without either one being aware of it, we push each other in learning each other’s styles. As far as the studio goes, we’re so bogged down with our own parts that I’m not really hearing what’s going on with everyone else. We could have back-to-back guitar solos, but at that point I’m not really hearing what’s going on in the big picture. Myles writes some blazing stuff, so sometimes I’m glad I’m in my own world and not thinking I have to come out blazing, too. I always want my solos to tell their own story and work as a little composition within itself except when there’s some back and forth stuff going on, then I can use that last note of his to set up what mine will be.

How does songwriting take place for you, Mark? Are you a guy who likes to write at home then bring it in to present to the band?
I have to write alone. Myles does the same thing. I think Myles has taken on the style of writing that I have. In the Slash world, I think Slash will write a complete music bed, and then Myles will sing over top of that. In Alter Bridge, I’ll write parts, and he’ll write parts, then we’ll get together and say, “Here’s my favorite chorus. It’s in this tuning. What do you have that will fit it?” Then we’ll go through our favorite choruses or bridges and connect the pieces.

Do you keep a working library of everything you write, then?
I’ve got it down to an organized system in which I have files of riffs and tempos and tunings for all of them. I have files of choruses, and files of verses, and ways of ranking them so when we get together and he throws out an idea, I’ll go through the ideas on my phone and have ideas to throw at him. It’s kind of like fitting a musical puzzle together with Alter Bridge. That way we both feel inspired that we’ve both written every song together. It’s not a whole song written by him or me.

Expanding on your method of organization, you also have your solo gig with Tremonti. When you come up with a riff, do you have to think, “OK, that’s going to be an Alter Bridge riff,” or vice versa?
Not really. I just write what’s best for the moment and then reflect back on what I’ve written. I’ll take that and try to organize the song structure from there, then decide. A lot of the stuff that is over the top and falls into the metal realm, I’ll say, “This is a metal idea,” and that usually doesn’t work with Alter Bridge, which is more of a hard rock thing. The horse gallop and speed metal things are usually for the solo band.

So does it just end up being what frame of mind you’re in at the time, or does it fall into a, “I’m not on tour with Alter Bridge right now, so I’m going to play metal?” How does it work out for you being one-half metal and one-half hard rock?
It’s funny, because I’m running into that issue now because I’m doing my next solo album, and a lot of the things I’ve written, I feel, are important parts of me as a songwriter. But some songs are much lighter and melodic and wouldn’t fit with what we’re doing (in Tremonti). I’m kind of trapped in between the heavy metal and the hard rock. I grew up loving 70s soft rock. I love Gerry Rafferty (“Baker Street,” “Right Down the Line”). I love the old-school Rod Stewart. I still love all that big, melodic 70s rock. I’m trying to mix that together with the speed metal stuff I fell in love with, so I’m trying to think of how I can release this next solo album. Maybe it’s a traditional album of 10 songs that are more along the hard rock line, then maybe an E.P. that is more my old 70s influence.

What is it about 70s soft rock that you enjoy so much?
When you watch the Time/Life commercials of the 70s soft rock, that’s it right there. I love them all. That’s what I grew up with in the back of mom and dad’s car driving to school hearing. It reminds me of my childhood, and that’s what I love about it.

Anything in the works for the next Alter Bridge studio album?
We are planning on delivering a record by the summer of 2019 to the label. From there, it takes about three months for them to set it up and get it out there, so it might be around September of 2019.

And what about the Tremonti band plans moving forward?
The plan is to get into pre-production in January. We’re writing right now. I want to get together with the producer in January, and whenever we feel like we are ready to go, we will start tracking and get it done with enough time, hopefully, to hit the late spring and summer festivals and hit it as hard as we can. It’s Eric Friedman, Garrett Whitlock and myself once again. We’ll probably handle the bass duties on our own in the studio.

You guys are headed to South America, then to Europe for a special project. South America is known for its rabid rock following. Have you played there before?
Alter Bridge has never been down there. Creed has, so it’s great to finally be getting down there. It’s great because it’s one of our biggest fan bases, other than the UK and Indonesia — places you’d never think as a kid that you’ve have fans in, so it’s great. After that, we head over to Europe almost immediately and start the tour with the Royal Albert Hall Symphony shows, which we’re filming. That will be one of the most exciting parts of our career, to film a 52-piece orchestra with the band. We’re really going to form the setlist to fit more of the atmospheric mood.

Talk more about the challenges of preparing to play with an orchestra.
The idea came up a year ago. Royal Albert Hall is about the classiest place you can do that, so we decided on that and thought it would be great to be able to do two nights in case we wanted to add different songs on the second night, or someone breaks a string on “Blackbird” or something. (laughs) We have everything together, the arrangements are done, and we used a software program and layered the symphony over our songs so we could hear how they will sound and make any decisions we need to make on changes. But with how good the symphony is, other than one or two things, we didn’t have any moments where were had to make changes. It’s just, “Wow, this is going to be fantastic.”

Have you played in an orchestral situation like that before in your career?
Back in Creed, we did “Arms Wide Open,” with an orchestra, but that was a studio thing.

Speaking of which, is there a time when you see yourself working with Scott Stapp again in any form?
It all depends on time management right now. I have such a time keeping up with Tremonti and Alter Bridge, that there’s no way in the world I could fit it in right now, but who knows on down the line what could happen.

Have you had any contact with him at all?
I shot him a message on his birthday. Everything is cordial. We don’t talk everyday, but I wish him the best, and he does the same for me.

“Live At The O2 Arena + Rarities” track listing:
CD1
01. The Writing On The Wall
02. Come To Life
03. Addicted To Pain
04. Ghost Of Days Gone By
05. Cry Of Achilles
06. The Other Side
07. Farther Than The Sun
08. Ties That Blind
09. Water Rising
10. Crows On A Wire
11. Watch Over You (solo acoustic)

CD2
12. Isolation
13. Blackbird
14. Metalingus
15. Open Your Eyes
16. Show Me A Leader
17. Rise Today
18. Poison In Your Veins
19. My Champion

CD3
01. Breathe
02. Cruel Sun
03. Solace
04. New Way To Live
05. The Damage Done
06. We Don’t Care at All
07. Zero
08. Home
09. Never Borne To Follow
10. Never Say Die (Outright)
11. Symphony Of Agony (The Last of Our Kind)

 

 

 

 

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