When Alter Bridge
launched their debut album in the fall of 2004, the last thing that Myles Kennedy
, Mark Tremonti
, Scott Phillips
and Brian Marshall
could have expected was the need to start over yet again. Perhaps things do happen for a reason, because what could have been a curse turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After Alter Bridge
's first album, One Day Remains
, was met with critical acclaim, the band set off on tour in the fall of 2004, playing through the end of 2005 for fervent crowds all over the world. Simultaneously, however, cracks began to tarnish the relationship between the band and its label, Wind-Up Records. Believing that their label did not share the same vision, the band determined their only recourse was to ask to be released from Wind-Up.
The label's objections prompted Tremonti
, using their personal funds, to successfully negotiate and buy the band out of their contract. The band's focus and determination was rewarded in June of last year, when they finally signed with Universal Republic Records. Out of the chaos, tumult, and uncertainty, Blackbird
, Alter Bridge
's sophomore album, was born and released. Like their highly praised debut, Blackbird
too, was met with critical acclaim. With the band busy touring behind their latest opus, Joe Matera
caught up with Alter Bridge
's Mark Tremonti
for this interview for Ultimate-Guitar. Here, Tremonti
discusses his new found songwriting partnership, gives readers an insight into his amazing tone and reveals his many sources of inspiration.
UG: The band's recent album, Blackbird displays a solidified songwriting partnership between you and Myles Kennedy?
Absolutely, and it was a lot of fun to work together on this record. On the first record, we only had a few months to figure out what roles we were going to play. But when it came to making this record, we had like two to three years of touring behind us already, and that really help define each other's roles.
Do you and Myles tend to do much writing while out on the road?
Yeah we write every time I pick up a guitar. And that is regardless if I am working on my guitar playing or working with Myles. We already have plenty of material to get a start on the next album. It is not quite done yet, but we're half way there with the songwriting process to it.
When it comes to the songwriting process within Alter Bridge, how does it compare with the songwriting process with your previous band Creed?
Back in the Creed days, if I didn't bring in an initial idea, a song wouldn't exist though Scott really worked mostly on the lyrical stuff and some times, did help with some of the melodies. But in Alter Bridge, I now have a writing partner in Myles. He is one that also offers up ideas too and so we can work together as a team.
Going back to Blackbird, the album seems to bring out more of who you are musically and it is a lot more adventurous in scope. Whereas when it came to Creed, it seems a lot of the music was influenced by the dictates of your record company. Is that an accurate assessment?
Yes and because we have just grown as musicians too and we no longer have the politics of a record label. And with Alter Bridge, we have something that is completely artistic and it is not from a point of record sales or from writing songs for radio. We're writing whatever we want to write. I do think the success we had with Creed though, offered us the ability to do whatever we want to do and that is precisely what Alter Bridge is all about.
Let's speak a little about the evolution of your gear from your days in Creed to today with Alter Bridge?
|"With Alter Bridge, we have something that is completely artistic."|
Back in the Creed days, I primarily used Mesa Boogie Rectifiers as well as, at times, Dual Rectifiers too. I also used two 1955 Fender Twin reissue combos with 2 X 12s in them for my clean sound. I also had a Fender Showman which had 2 X 15s in it that I used for the stage. Later on, Mesa Boogie recreated that same cabinet for me and I eventually used the Mesa Boogie recreation in its place. Now that I'm doing the Alter Bridge thing, and because it has a lot more guitar solo stuff, I took that Mesa Boogie out of my chain because it didn't work too well for lead tones and I replaced it with a 4 X 12 cabinet instead though I still have the Fender Twins for my clean tone. Nowadays, I'm also using some Bogner amps. I have a Bogner Uberschall coupled with the Rectifier for my rhythm tone. And for my lead tone, I recently bought a Two-Rock Custom Signature 100 watt head. And I have been loving that very much.
And you're still using your famed Paul Reed Smith guitars?
Absolutely as they're the best guitars as far as I'm concerned. I have probably got a good 25 of those guitars in my collection now. I actually recently spoke to the guys at Paul Reed Smith about doing a guitar with single coils for me because there have been times, when I needed to get that Fender Strat tone, that bluesy Stevie Ray Vaughan type of tone and I would normally try to get that tone out of my PRS. So they agreed to make me a maple neck, alder bodied model, with three single coils and gave that to me and it is incredible. They have also made another one for Carlos Santana and he has absolutely fallen in love with it. Hopefully, they'll start mass producing these guitars very soon.
You utilize a Bradshaw Switching system so you can get your differing tones by switching between various amp heads?
I'm using the Ground Control Pro now, as it has much more the ability for you to be able to change it and alter it than the Bradshaw system. With the Bradshaw system, you petty much have to know exactly what you want, and once you have it setup, it is hard to change. While with the Ground Control Pro, you can constantly throw in new gear in there. And that makes more sense for me as I'm always combining my tones in many ways. If I'm looking for a rhythm tone, I like to use the Mesa/Boogie and the Bogner Uberschall. The Mesa/Boogie has a nice scooped in your face punch while the Uberschall has a more, big spongy low end and because of that, they tend to fill each other up. And I think you get a much better sound that way, than if you used just two duplicate amps for the same tone. It just fills the aural spectrum better and sits better for the overall tone.
Is there any particular settings you adhere to when you're EQ-ing for either the live environment or the studio?
When I'm playing live and doing my rhythm stuff, I keep my low end around 7, 8 and with the mids, I scoop it a little bit to about 3 1/2 to 4 while my treble is on 6, 7. When I'm playing lead, all I do is take my low end down to about 5 and move my mids up to about 7.
How many guitars do you normally take out with you on the road?
When I tour, I take about eight guitars with me. Live, I need to have a guitar and a back up for every tuning I use on a song because I use a lot of different tunings. So far, we've been writing for the next record and I've come up with a few new tunings so that means even more work for the guitar tech!
Speaking of tunings, do they provide you with a source of inspiration?
|"We write every time I pick up a guitar."|
Yes. Back when I first started messing with tunings, I'd try and get something sounding to how I heard it in my head by tuning the strings differently. And then I realized, tuning it differently opened up so many new possibilities. And once I got messing with the drop D tuning, it really got me inspired and so I kind of took it from there. From that tuning, I later found the open D5 tuning which became one of the most inspiring songwriting tunings I ever ran into. From there, I moved to other tunings such as the open G tuning that I found because of Jimmy Page. Recently I came up with a new tuning that I really don't know if it has ever been used before. It is a strange tuning but it has really inspired the next album. If I ever get a writer's block the best thing for me to do, is to stumble on some new tuning. It's almost like starting over again on guitar and recreating all these, different chord voicing that weren't available to you before or you had even thought of before.
You've stated that working with producer Michael Elvis Baskett on Blackbird really changed your whole approach to recording guitar?
Yeah Michael likes to record with the gain scooped, and turned down a little low so you don't loose any definition. That way it is real punchy and real tight. So we cut the gain back to half of what I usually would have set it to. And it definitely came out really punchy and sounded a lot more right in your face.
How do you approach constructing your guitar solos?
I first listen to the chord progression in my head and then I'll try and come up with a bit of melody to it. I will play around with it until something cool happens and then I will fill in the gaps. If something inspiring happens while I'm improvising, then I'll keep that part in there. And I will keep building upon that until the whole thing is inspiring. It is always important to come up with some kind of melody in the solo, but a lot of time, it is purely hit and miss. With this last record, I think I had about a week to do all the solos and had to put them altogether in that time so I had a deadline to adhere to. And if I got into a rut, I would go and learn a bunch of other solos to get inspired so that I could find some new ways of doing things. And they would influence me in getting my solos down.
You're in the midst of releasing a guitar instructional DVD?
That is right, and I will hopefully receive the final edit tomorrow and once I approve the final edit it, it will take about two more weeks to produce it. It should be out in the next few weeks after that. People need to register at Fret12.com. We already have a bunch of people who have signed up for it. So once it's ready to go out, we'll be sending out an email blast and letting people know when it is going to be shipped.
Interview by Joe Matera