Mark Tremonti is one of the good guys. Giving off an easy-going charm, the Alter Bridge guitarist greeted MetalTalk with a warm smile despite being the end of a very long day of press interviews for their forthcoming Pawns and Kings album. If he’s tired, he doesn’t show it. His bandmate, singer Myles Kennedy, is equally chipper and away talking to another representative of the press. It doesn’t take very long to see that here is a man passionate about the music he makes but also someone who genuinely cares about those around him and the fans.
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Having seen him many times on stages in front of tens of thousands with both Alter Bridge and Tremonti, you get the impression that here is a man deeply content with his role and never happier than with a guitar in his hand. Truth be told, it’s not always been like that, and throughout a career that’s spanned almost thirty years, massive lows have counterpointed the highs.
In 1994, aged twenty, the Detroit-born Tremonti formed Creed with singer Scott Stapp, drummer Scott Phillips and bass player Brian Marshall completing the line-up. Their career seemingly took off with frightening speed. Their debut album, My Own Prison, sold over six million copies and thrust them into the stratosphere, the guitarist and vocalist writing team paying massive dividends both critically and in sales. Each album and tour became bigger than the last, the outfit hitting mind-boggling, multi-platinum figures and the arenas and stadiums packed with fans all eager to sing along to the hook-filled material that walked a fine line between grunge and bombastic hard rock.
As the audiences grew even larger, so did some of the issues that were to eventually split the band as Stapp’s ego and use of recreational drugs started to spiral out of control.
When Brian Marshall left the band to enter rehab for his own issues, extra pressure was put on Tremonti to keep the band together and afloat, the issues with Stapp causing massive rifts between them as the singer became more and more unreliable. In the end, something had to give, and after four albums and a decade of wild success, Creed went their separate ways, Stapp immediately starting a solo career whilst Tremonti, Marshall and Phillips considered their next move.
Having enjoyed each other’s company and knowing they worked well together as a band, the three musicians formed Alter Bridge and brought in former The Mayfield Four vocalist Myles Kennedy who provided not just a phenomenal voice but also offered a perfect writing partner for Tremonti.
Launching Alter Bridge in the shadow of such a hugely successful band was to have its issues, not least in their home country where Creed had been ubiquitous yet divisive. Fortunately, in Europe, and particularly the UK, the weight of their past didn’t cause similar issues. “We owe our careers to the UK….people heard us for what we were and not what we used to be”.
This was born out of the rapturous reception the band received during their first full tour of these isles to support the 2004 debut album One Day Remains, and there seemed to be a much happier and relaxed vibe coming from the stage. Tremonti laughs when MetalTalk tells him that they saw the band at Norwich, and the guitarist messed up the intro riff to Metallingus, causing the whole band to grin at each other and start it again. You get a distinct feeling that had that happened with Creed, the response from Stapp may have been a little different.
Things certainly grew from there, and sophomore album Blackbird, released in 2007, received yet more critical acclaim, the solo on the title track played by both Tremonti and Kennedy named the greatest of all time by Guitarist magazine in 2011.
The band started to hit a speedbump with the record company, and in 2009 the unthinkable happened when Creed reconvened for a reunion tour and album. Despite the success of the dates and new album Full Circle, the return of the band was short-lived, and the much hoped-for fifth album never materialised.
Whilst Kennedy had spent the time working on his solo material, the Creed experience cemented the feelings of the other three about their commitment to Alter Bridge whilst certainly being open to continuing things as before. With a Grammy already under his belt for Creed’s With Arms Wide Open from Human Clay and the writing relationship with Kennedy continuing to blossom, Tremonti aimed for the future, building the brand.
With the external issues they were battling, AB III was a much darker album, reflecting where they were at the time and searching their souls., the whole a cathartic experience that would either make or break them.
Alter Bridge were far from done, though, and their rise has continued apace since then with a string of best-selling albums and venues that got bigger and bigger. From fulfilling a lifelong dream to play The Royal Albert Hall through to their slots as special guests, playing just before the headliners at festivals like Download, it seemed like Tremonti and the rest of the band were unstoppable, yet always having their feet firmly on the ground.
Never one to rest on his laurels or able to quell that constantly creative spirit, the guitarist also got involved with a number of other projects and formed his own titular band, and Tremonti has now racked up five acclaimed albums running from All I Was to last year’s Marching in Time.
An outlet for his constant writing, the outfit has generally had a harder edge than Alter Bridge. Their ferocious live shows a blend of sweat, volume and kinetic excitement. At first, seemingly many were surprised just how good a vocalist Tremonti is, mirroring the realisation of just how good a shredder bandmate Myles Kennedy is. A very special project has further proved this: Tremonti Sings Frank Sinatra.
A genuine labour of love with purpose, the spirit of Ol’ Blue Eyes leans into this recording with a smile, a tip of a hat and a raised glass of Scotch. Teaming up with members of Sinatra’s band, the album shows a remarkable understanding of just what an incredible interpreter of songs Francis was, Tremonti nailing the nuances of the vocals with breathtaking skill.
This unexpected hark back to the Rat Pack era is a lush and immeasurably classy outing, a million miles away from the thrusting, stadium-filling hard rock of Alter Bridge and Tremonti, but it is filled with the same care and attention.
This writer was fortunate enough to see Sinatra play his last UK show at the Royal Albert Hall and asked the guitarist if he’d ever seen the Master: “Sadly, no, but I would have loved to. It’s awesome that you caught him.”
We briefly discussed our love for the Capitol and Columbia recordings, and you can see a real sparkle in his eye, musical memories coming to the surface. Just as important as the music itself, this project turned into a fundraiser for Down Syndrome, Tremonti’s daughter Stella having been born with it, the album and Sinatra shows continuing to bring in money.
With so many things going on, it’s amazing that he finds the time to breathe, let alone pick up a guitar or stand behind a mic, but with not just one but two hugely impressive albums released within a short few months, there’s no rest until at least some time in the new year.
With tickets selling at blurred speeds for the Alter Bridge UK arena tour, where they’ll be joined by Halestorm and Mammoth WVH and a Sinatra show at the Indigo theatre at the O2, Tremonti will be hard to miss.
We finished our interview and chatted about our children, my son being a huge Alter Bridge and Sinatra fan and Mark showing me the beautiful photo of Stella that’s his phone wallpaper. I was taken over and introduced to Tim, the manager of Alter Bridge, Tremonti vowing to meet up with us again when they’re next over here in December, and after a quick couple of photos with him and Kennedy, MetalTalk head off, leaving the musicians to rest after their very long day. But one where their smiles, enthusiasm and courtesy never slipped once.
Despite all the battles and the wild rollercoaster ride that is the music business, Mark Tremonti has seemingly very much found his happy place.
From the dizzying and sometimes sickening heights of Creed to the joys of Alter Bridge and his solo career, here is someone who lets the music do the talking.
Whilst he still has challenges to face every day, this is a man who will never give up. Despite what you hear, nice guys DO come first sometimes.