Life has never been easy for Alter Bridge, the quartet having had to fight tooth and nail for every victory and doing things the hard way. Given that three of the band came from one of the biggest rock acts in America of the last three decades, Creed, it may be presumed that they already had their place assured. But, if anything, the association with their previous act was one of the biggest hurdles of all, such was the divisive opinion. Fortunately, a determined spirit and huge talent saw AB win the hearts and minds of legions all over the globe.
With the former Creed bandmates guitarist Mark Tremonti, drummer Scott Phillips and bass player Brian Marshall teaming with singer Myles Kennedy, magic happened, and successive albums and tours have seen them play to hundreds of thousands as the band rose. As mentioned, it’s not been a stroll in the park as the darker themes on AB III hint at, but here was a collection of musicians who knew they had something good and were determined that nothing would stop them from spreading the word.
With a knack of writing songs that could fill stadiums but yet touch the most hidden of hearts, Alter Bridge have risen through the leagues to be world beaters, and anyone who’s ever seen them live will attest to their power. To hear the gigantic riffs, the titanic rhythm section and one of the very best voices in rock whilst shoulder to shoulder with several thousand other people is a mind-blowing and heady experience. You get the feeling that this is what electricity was invented for.
With their incendiary and ambitious seventh studio album Pawns & Kings due for release in a few days, MetalTalk’s Paul Monkhouse grabbed the opportunity to catch up with the very amiable Mr Tremonti during a recent visit to discuss the new album, their forthcoming tour with Halestorm and Mammoth VH, their journey so far and what the future holds.
With the summer Tremonti solo tour in England turning the heat up to a volcanic level, MetalTalk enjoyed the Shepherd’s Bush Empire gig. “That was a fun night,” Mark says. “‘It was at the end of the tour. I was like, man, why is it going to end? Because every time you switch gears, it feels like you’re starting over, and by the time end of the tour happens, you’ve got it dialled in, just having a good time. With Alter Bridge now, I’ve got to get it all back up and relearn everything. By the end of the Alter Bridge cycle, it will be, darn it, why has it got to end.”
Pawns & Kings is out this Friday. It is a staggering new opus in an already glittering career. With everything happening globally, the writing and recording were not different in terms of how they write as a band, just how they shared their ideas.
“Myles and I usually work separate at first,” Mark says. “We write on our own and then present ideas to the band and to one another. The first idea shared was Silver Tongue. Myles put it in a dropbox file. I turned in six or seven ideas for him.”
The bridge section for Silver Tongue was Mark’s contribution and the process was reversed on other songs. “So that’s a common thing where you’ll hear the beginnings of the song by one member and then the bridge sections of the other,” Mark says.
Even from the early days, this was how they worked. The Kennedy and Tremonti collaboration meant that each song was a 50/50 effort. “I think that was healthy and good because when you’re performing, you want to feel like every song you have ownership and you believe in it,” Mark says. “So we try to make our Alter Bridge songs feel like it’s an Alter Bridge thing. It’s not just his song or my song kind of thing. As time has gone by and we’ve become more independent with technology, we try to ensure everything is still a shared effort.”
The atmosphere of their seventh album, Pawns & Kings, is refreshing, and the songs show a real progression from the first album. The band have spoken in the past of AB III being quite a dark album where they were searching a lot. How does Mark feel they have progressed through the album cycle?
“I think AB III was definitely our darkest record,” Mark says. “The Fortress was a little bit more of a progressive record for us. I think that’s when we introduced that sound, and then The Last Hero was a record that I think was capturing lightning in the bottle. It was one of those things where we purposely came in, leaving everything loose and writing everything in the moment, which I don’t like doing. I don’t like writing like that. I like to be over-prepared for a record.
“Then Walk The Sky came out, our first number-one record and the world shut down. When people are coming to concerts more and more, and tickets are selling more and more, we had to turn everything off. So when this record [Pawns & Kings] comes out, I hope we can continue that way. We will see what happens because it’s been over two years since we’ve done a show.”
Mark and Myles handled the Covid-19 break well. Both had solo albums out, with Myles also recording with Slash. Both had UK solo tours too.
“There were silver linings in Covid-19 for sure,” Mark says. “I think everybody’s biggest benefit was spending family time. Even your normal business folks learnt that they could work from home. They can get rid of the retail space, and everybody can still be productive. So the world’s changed a lot.”
The UK has warmly embraced Alter Bridge. They have played some incredible venues over here. How does he feel about that relationship?
“I say it on the mic all the time,” Mark says. “We owe our careers to the UK. When we first started Alter Bridge, we fought and fought for every bit of ground we could gather in the United States and then when we came over to Europe, it was almost like we were welcomed right away. People heard us for what we were and not for what we used to be. There were no preconceived stigmas or anything like that. It was just a brand-new band. So right out of the gate, things went well here, and within a couple of record cycles were already on our way up. We’re very grateful.”
After the first Alter Bridge album, things wobbled a little bit. There were problems with the record company and the whole thing with Creed sort of coming back on tour. But Alter Bridge pushed past that as a band and got stronger and stronger. It must have been difficult at the time to keep focus, and you do wonder if part of AB III was because of the experience of the first album.
“That was one of the toughest moments of my life,” Mark says. “We were in survival mode. We had to beg to get out of a record deal and had to pay huge amounts to get out of that deal. We had put all this time in on our careers and were trapped in this contract. We can either pay to get out of it or retire.
“So we paid to get out of it. We just finally paid that loan off. Not to be too forward about it, but people don’t see the behind-the-scenes things that have happened. We parted ways with our managers, so we were just guys floating on our own. We then signed a deal with Universal, which went south as well. We had to buy ourselves out of that contract. We were trying to write the best records we could.
“Look at Blackbird. That was a record written out of survival. We were trying to write the best things we could because we didn’t know if we were going to continue in our careers. AB III, maybe we were just disheartened and mad in general about how the band had been treated professionally behind the scenes.
“I think the dark side of that was just spiritual questions, Myles especially. The song Words Darker Than Their Wings came about my feelings on the whole subject. I think it was a perfect place for that song, too, to have both of our points of view about faith and spirituality. But still to this day, it is our darkest album.
“After that record came out, that’s when I finally felt secure with my career again. I felt like as long as we keep working hard, we’ve got this fan base we built up, and we were finally gathering strength again. Everything since then has been upwards.”
It would seem quite a catharsis making AB III, almost like getting it out of their system. It was of the moment, but they would grow stronger from the experience.
“I really enjoyed that record,” Mark says. “I like some of the moodier, darker stuff. I haven’t listened to it in a while, but I need to go back and check it out again.”
Alter Bridge have played at some incredible venues. The huge space of the O2, some huge festivals. I first saw them at the UEA in Norwich. They played at The Royal Albert Hall, which was incredible.
“I would say in my entire career, the two most special things I’ve been part of were The Royal Albert Hall performance and the Frank Sinatra record. When I’m a little old man, and I’ve got my grandkids sitting on my lap, I’ll say, ‘look what grandpa did’. Those will be the two things unless something cooler comes from here. And until then, those are the two highlights.”
The Royal Albert Hall has so much history. Everyone wants to play there, and you are aware, when you walk out on that stage, of the people who have stood there like Sinatra.
“We were very nervous the first night,” Mark says, “because its a lot to get a 52-piece orchestra up there. They had a camera crew, as there was no way in the world this wasn’t being filmed. This is going to live on forever. You better perform well. You better perform well the songs that you hardly ever play live. We didn’t play the songs we usually play. We played the songs that would fit better with the orchestra.
“So, at sound checks throughout the tour, we played the songs we had never played before to get ready for The Royal Albert Hall. It’s a huge difference between performing and rehearsing. When you perform the song live, the lights go down, there’s a flash, and you’re moving around. You are emotional, way different. Thank goodness it was good.”
Alter Bridge has the tour coming up soon with Halestorm and Mammoth WVH. How does Mark feel about this?
“That will be amazing,” Mark says. “With both of those bands, we feel like we’re big brothers. I remember the Halestorm guys crashing at my house when it seemed like they were kids when they were first starting out. To see where they’ve come since then is so exciting, and they’re just dominating. And I think Lzzy Hale is one of the most powerful voices in rock and her voice is absolutely stunning.
“I first saw Wolfgang at a Madison Square Garden show when he was seven or eight years old. I was able to open up for Van Halen, and Eddie gave me a guitar that day. Years later, he came to an Alter Bridge show, and then we became friends. He invited me to a Van Halen practice, which was nuts.
“He joined my band and played on two of our records. But he was destined to do his own thing. He wasn’t destined to be the bass player in somebody else’s band. He’s got way too much energy and talent not to front his own thing. Now he’s a Grammy-nominated artist, and I couldn’t be happier. Myles and I have talked about maybe doing something at the end of the set to bring members from each band up.”
With such a huge love for the band worldwide, they have been mentioned in the same breath as Black Stone Cherry and Five Finger Death Punch as the legends of tomorrow. How does Mark feel about taking that mantle on?
“For the last 5 to 10 years, we have been in a good place,” he says. “I think it’s a safe place. We are the band that is called on to be the direct support for monster bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden. Whoever the big headliner is, usually, we get to play right before, and it’s a safe place to be because it’s the biggest the crowd is ever gonna be for the whole show. Everybody is either there to see your band or the main band. If you’re the last band, some people leave early as they have to beat the traffic. But when you’re second to last, it’s one of the key spots. So it’s great. But it would be wonderful to get the nod to headline a festival. Hopefully it happens, but we’re not complaining. Like I said, that second to last spot is pretty sweet.”
Having seen Alter Bridge at Download a few times in that slot, they do make it so hard for the headliners.
“As soon as Metallica drops one note of their first song, everyone’s forgotten about Alter Bridge,” Mark says. “Over here in Europe, it’s so much more open-minded. I remember we were playing Hellfest, and it was Soundgarden headlining, Slayer direct support and us before Slayer. I remember saying, this is a terrible decision. The Slayer fans are not gonna like us. Slayer has the toughest fan base in the world. It ended up being one of the best shows we’ve ever done. So I applaud the European crowds and how open-minded they are.”
With the new album, upcoming tour, and Sinatra shows, how far in advance to Alter Bridge plan? “We pretty much have our schedule planned out through to the end of next year,” Mark says. “We will tour here at the end of this year, and then we will hit the States early next year. Then take a little break, and then do another States tour, and come back over here next summer. That’s not announced yet, but that’s usually the plan. Hit as many festivals as we can, US and European. Then the question mark is at the end of the next year. Do we do a third US tour? Do we go to South America? Do we go to Australia?
“Covid-19 made everything crazy. I know Australia is still kind of tough to travel in and out of. Myles and I have talked about wanting to get to Israel and hit a couple of other places we’ve never been to. I’ve never been to India.
“Along the way, I’ll be doing Sinatra shows whenever there’s an opportunity. I’ve got four booked right now. I am playing in Orlando for a gentleman’s retirement. The guy built the world’s best-sounding theatre in Orlando, and he’s retiring, and they want us to play his retirement party in the world’s best-sounding room. I can’t wait for that. 15 December 2022 in England. There’s a gala in March for Down Syndrome in New York. Then between Christmas and New Year, we’re playing Orlando again. That won’t be a private show, but open to the public. So as many opportunities as I get, I’ll do the Sinatra thing. I love it. I’m writing now for the next Tremonti record, too.”
Mark Tremonti, always busy.
Mark Tremonti discusses the Sinatra project with MetalTalk at https://www.metaltalk.net/mark-tremonti-recording-frank-sinatra-was-one-of-the-best-moments-of-my-career.php