Whoever said you could have your cake and eat it too must have been talking about Mark Tremonti. The high-speed player recently returned to Creed for a reunion tour where they played big arenas all over the country. And on the other side of the musical spectrum he has Alter Bridge, the group fronted by Myles Kennedy the singer Slash has tapped to go out on the road with him playing in theaters and intimate clubs all over the UK and Europe. He has just completed recording AB III, Alter Bridge's third album, and has plans to tour with them as well as return to the road with Creed at the beginning of 2011.
So, Tremonti has it all. But it's not an easy task balancing the two bands and forging a unique identity within each one. He talked about that in this lengthy interview where he revealed what it feels like to win the lottery twice.
UG: Mark, when we last spoke you had said, The biggest challenges I've had since breaking up the first time, talking about Creed, was having Alter Bridge not sound like Creed. Now the challenge is, since we have all this new experience over the last six years were we've really come a long way as musicians and songwriters, is to not song like Alter Bridge when Creed got back together.
Mark Tremonti: Right. When we did the Full Circle record, you know, we kinda dipped into the waters how can I put this? You know, the new tricks along the way that we had learned over those last six years. We wanted to show that we had growth in Creed, but not necessarily going too much in the direction of the Alter Bridge sound. You know, the Alter Bridge sound is just a little heavier, more complex, and we wanted a little bit of that to come across on the Creed record. I think maybe there's about three songs off the Creed record that could get somewhat into the Alter Bridge territory. But for the most part with the addition of Myles in Alter Bridge on the guitar, layering, and just the difference in vocals make it just sound so different that I think it's safer now for us to experiment a little more with Creed without worrying about that as much.
Could we talk more about how the Creed thing came about? One of the things you had said to me was, We were selling millions of records but it was no fun at all. I understand things were a little uncomfortable when things broke up, but how did the overture come to sit back down with Scott? Were you basically open to the idea from the start?
Yeah, I think it just was a matter of us taking the time apart and growing up a little bit. Everybody, you know, me and Scott Phillips our drummer, all had kids. I think looking back on all the years, it's easier to recognize the success you had when you step out of that band and go somewhere else. It's just that much more difficult. You see how it is, the kind of struggle that most bands have out there, and then you realize just how well you had it and how much of a shame it would be just to throw away being able to tour arenas and amphitheaters and to live that kind of touring lifestyle. You know, it's fun. Now we have to go out and do that with Creed here in the States for the most part and in Europe go back to the theaters and the big clubs and whatnot with Alter Bridge and really get the best of both worlds.
So what were those first sort of rehearsal sessions like? What did it feel like? Was it like being back with your buddies? Did it take a little bit of getting used to one another again?
When we got back together we really didn't rehearse for the tour as much as we tried to rush getting a record done. We had talked about just doing a summer tour and then we decided if we're gonna go for it we might as well do it the right way and get an album out there to support the tour. Just show people that we wanted to stay relevant and not just a band that relies on their legacy, you know, of the past and all the radio tunes that we have. We wanted to have something new out there. So we gave ourselves a real short period of time to get it done since the tour was already scheduled. So essentially we pretty much had three months to write, record and rehearse for a tour, so it was a lot of work. But you know, me, Scott and Brian have been together for so long that it's easy for us to get into a room and arrange a song. We would do two or three songs a day sometimes and then Scott would go home and work on lyrics. He'd come in the next day and we'd say, Hey, check out these three songs we got put together. We'd work like that till we got to the studio, I think, with fifteen or sixteen songs.
A lot of the stuff we were coming up with, me and Scott would sit down and he writes lyrics like poetry. You know, he'll break out 40 pages of lyrics and we'd throw them out on the table and me and him would go through them and I'd kinda try and single out which lyrics would fit the melodies right and he would choose his favorite lyrics. We would just kind of put em together the same day as we'd be recording them. So it was different then we'd ever done it but the excitement in the studio, something so new and fresh, kinda comes through on the recording. You know, if we'd had all the time in the world we'd of done it different, but I think for the time that we had it worked out alright.
So what were those first shows like? Being back out on the road and doing some of the big songs and the new songs? How did that feel?
Well, the first show is always nerve wracking because you haven't done it in so many years. We really didn't rehearse but maybe two or three days with all of us. You know, with all the time we were in the studio we didn't allow ourselves much time to rehearse for the tour. So we had to kind of rely on muscle memory and practicing on our own to really get it. You know, this last tour was plug and play. We're very well versed with the sets at this point so it was much easier now, much more fun. You can relax and have a good show. But, you know, first couple of weeks of the first tour last year were just making sure the production and the show and your personal performance and everything was right. You had to concentrate more, which is not as fun as letting it flow, but we got there after a few weeks.
So this new tour this year is the 20-10 tour?
Yeah, I think our performances were much better on this tour. Everybody got real comfortable with the set. I think this tour was a lot better than last year's tour.
I've heard talks of South America next year? Would you be up for another Creed tour?
Yeah, we were talking to promoters down in South America and we're just kind of waiting on the business folks to figure out something that makes sense for us. You know, Myles is gonna be busy next year on and off with Slash, which gives us time to see what falls in the gaps. I'm also gonna work on putting out a solo project myself. So if I don't have a Creed tour going on and Myles is out with Slash, I'll be piecing together an album just cause I don't like sitting idle, you know?
Certainly it's in the early stages, but can you comment at all about this solo record you might be doing?
Well, I'm a songwriter, and I've got a ton of material sitting around and I just wanna get it recorded. I dunno, I've got a couple of guys that I'm working with. Eric Friedman and Garrett Whitlock. Eric Friedman on guitar, he plays guitar on the Creed tours with me; pretty much the little brother I never had. I've been real close with him for years now. He's a real talented player. We get together and record all the demos. And Garrett Whitlock used to play in a band called Submersed. He's a great drummer. And I'll be singing and playing guitar. So it will be an experiment but we'll see how it works out.
How would it be positioned in terms of what Creed and Alter Bridge are doing?
We put together about five songs at this point. Mostly melody driven; some heavier stuff. It's tuned down a little lower cause I've got a lower voice. So everything's down at least a whole step. A lot of stuff's tuned down to C, so that lends to a nice heavy guitar sound. But we'll see. It's not all gonna be heavy. It's either gonna be heavy or melodic, one of the two. Probably a mixture of both.
When we spoke last you'd mentioned when you came up with the track Blackbird, that that sort of became the anchor song for that album. That you were now able to build this record around this song, that it was such a strong song. Can you look at a song off the new record as being that anchor track? Might it be Isolation, the first single?
I think Isolation is just a fun, heavy rock song. It's gonna be a fun live song. Just an energetic tune. But I think there's other songs on the record that are much deeper, you know. My favorite song on the record is Show Me a Sign.
Yeah, that's the one that gets the most emotion out of me. But on the ballad side of things, and on the emotional side of when you hear a song and it really move you, I think Wonderful Life is about as emotional as it gets for Alter Bridge. When we were writing this record I was really pushing in the direction of let's not chase down radio singles. Let's keep everything as artistic as possible and not conform in any way, shape or form. Then the last week of pre-production came around and our producer and a couple of the guys in the band and everybody's talking and we're like, We've got the heavy stuff, we got the long, epic kind of rock song, all the moody stuff. Let's try to come up with something a little more light-hearted, a little less heavy, just to make the album dynamic.
At first I was a little against it but then I'm glad I went with it because a song like Wonderful Life came out and now it's one of my favorite songs on the record.
There are some acoustic guitars in there and certainly the picking thing is really one of the more identifiable elements of your playing. The guitar playing on the record seemed a little more seamless. You talked about not going after the radio single, and your playing reflects that. Was it a conscious thing to bring the playing to a new level?
You know, I'm just always practicing, always playing. Every record that comes out you've got a few years in between of growth. I think of this last cycle, it's just what I've learned in the past three years since the last Alter Bridge record. We'd be piecing together a song, and wherever the solo [fit] we would just kinda go into it. It was never a planned thing. We know in Alter Bridge that solos are definitely a part of the sound. If there are no solos on the record it just wouldn't be Alter Bridge. That's one thing that kind of separated us at first from the Creed sound. I dunno, I just try to go in different directions with the guitar. I grew up trying to play as fast as I could. I really didn't have any feel or vibrato, and really any class to my soloing. I've always been a melody writer, so I just thought, Why don't I really try to get into learn better phrasing and trying to play some more blues and jazz. Just try and get my feel and phrasing and class up my guitar a bit, that's all I've been working on.
Where do you think that happened? Did it happen with the Creed stuff? With the first AB record? Could you feel the shift away from the kind of shred thing to this more melodic style of playing?
I think in the last four years is when I really stopped trying to, you know, play individual licks as fast and as clean as I could. Now I'm just trying to improvise as much as I can, which makes a huge difference in my playing. I think every guitar player should, you know, if they're playing for an hour a day, spend half that time improvising. So I think it's the most important thing for me at this point. I think there's a lot of learning you have to do before you can just sit down with a guitar and improvise. But I think I was at the level where I had all the road maps on the guitar: I know all my scales; I knew what fit where. And it was a good time to just apply and let it flow. Cause at the end of the day I wanna be able to get called up on the stage by any kind of band or guitar players or whatnot and be able to just improvise my way through it. Before when I was younger there was no way in the world that I could do that [laughs.]
I remember talking to Myles and he's like, Man, you spend all this time doing all the painful, horrible stuff that I hate to do and you never have fun with the guitar and just play. He didn't realize that the painful stuff that he didn't like was fun for me. I like setting the metronome and playing the same thing for an hour to make sure it's perfect. I guess half the guys are like that and half the guys just say, Screw it. I'm just gonna improvise and see what happens. Those guys get better feel and better at improvising, and that's what I'm really going after these days.
"We wanted to show that we had growth in Creed, but not necessarily going too much in the direction of the Alter Bridge sound."
You bring up a really great point. I don't wanna bash anybody out there, but I think most of the bands tend to lean a little more on the shred/solo thing as opposed to integrating the guitar as an orchestral tool and the improvising thing. I don't hear a lot of it. We don't have to name names, but do you hear guys kinda going more after sheer technique than style or character?
I think most people my age or younger are mainly relying on technique and stuff that they've pre-learned. You know, when we play live I'll play the solos like they are on the record; maybe little changes here or there to make it flow better. But just in general when I'm playing alone and trying to become a better player that's when I'll throw the improvisation in there. I think most bands you hear on the radio, there's not a whole lot of improvisation going on. I think the best guitar players are the ones that do it. I mean, a guy like Joe Bonamassa, that guy can improvise for days and sound like it's the best-written solo in the world. That's how I wanna be. That's the kind of style I'm after. I'm after the Warren Haynes; I'm after the Audley Freed. I'm after Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, these guys that have an endless bag of tricks.
Interesting, because all these guys you describe aren't really rock guitar players. I mean, Joe is, but he's really more of a blues guy and Larry's more of that jazz thing. These kinds of players are where you're taking your input?
Yeah. Right now as we speak I'm learning Up the Line by Robben Ford, which I've been able to pull outta there a lot of great ideas. Usually he's real jazzy but on this tune he's more, you can use it for rock and roll; he stays mostly pentatonic but he does it in a way I've never really seen it before. He comes up with stuff that you're just like, Wow, that's something different. I wanna learn that. But at the same time I'll learn a Robben Ford song and I'll realize if I spend a month mastering this song, I wanna throw a different style in there as well, so I'll learn a Michael Schenker song. So I'm learning Rock Bottom at the same time. Just trying to keep it mixed up. You know, you fall into one guy, one player, one style too much and I think you start losing sight of the big picture.
A song like Ghost of Days Gone By almost has that country feel in the verse. And again, the solo was great; very melodic. Was that sorta of the moment?
That song is in open D5 tuning. It lets you come up with crazy, different voicings. You know, you can't go and play your pentatonic scale on a D5 tuning cause it scrambles it all up. So it's a great way to create something that sounds very different. I was just experimenting with it and I've kinda gotten used to that tuning where I'm comfortable with it now but I can still stumble on to new territory and try to come up with cool new chord voicings and whatnot and I found a nice chord in that solo that I just could arpeggiate in the middle. That's probably my favorite part of the solo.
What about a song like Make it Right. Again, kind of more acoustic stuff with a really great solo over the outro. Sounds like you're doing some of those Hendrix two-string pulls kinda moving up. Was that just kinda going in there and press record and kinda going for one?
Make it Right was from the first round of writing we did. Probably a good four months or so before we got back together to finish writing, and I improvised the solo. We were just putting the song back together for the first time and it kinda just stuck with me. Cause there's something magical sometimes when you improvise the solo and you're in the moment, and I just went back and pretty much three quarters of that solo is from that first tape of the improvised solo I did when we first wrote the song. It was one of those things where why fix it if it ain't broke?
There is a fair amount of acoustics on the record. I mean, you've always been kind of an acoustic guy, right?
Well, I do a lot of writing on acoustic. We layered on the songs where it made sense; we would layer some acoustic underneath, you know, when you have a verse that's arpeggiated or whatnot, we would always put some acoustics underneath it.
We'd talked during our first interview about wanting to integrate Myles more into the process in terms of his guitar playing and his contributions on guitar. Do you think you brought him into the AB thing on this record in the way that you wanted to?
Oh, yeah. Ever since the first record he's been a hundred percent in on the guitar playing of both the last two records and it makes a huge difference. On this record we didn't have a whole lotta time to live with the songs and rehearse em a lot. It was pretty much write and go into pre-production. When I was writing my guitar lines for this record I wrote as if I was the only player, like it was a Creed record. Not like it was a Creed record, but I played like I was gonna cover all the guitar parts with my one guitar. Probably make it sound as big and dynamic and full as possible. Then when Miles comes in, he had such a different style than me, that it just maybe gives it almost like a 3D quality to me. It adds a whole other layer and he's got a really good way of not ever crowding things or making things sound cluttered at all. It always sounds much better when he puts his parts down. Him and Elvis [Baskette; producer] are very good at getting in there and throwing down a 100 different pedals and effects and just coming up with cool sounds. I still don't know what the hell they did cause I wasn't in there when they did his guitar parts, but every time I'd hear one I'd love it.
Can you point to some of Myles' parts that struck you as being particularly cool?
Gosh, all his solos on the record; he's got such a great style of soloing. You know, like his solo in Isolation, you know, that's classic Myles, real behind the beat, cool, jazzy kind of player. Anytime there's a song with any kind of layered guitar over the top of the verse that comes in on the second half of the verse or in the second verse or in a chorus, that's always Myles and it always just fills the song. I'm real glad that he's playing guitar now cause he really is an incredible guitar player. Even on this last record you still don't get to glimpse how good he is on the guitar. When he's just sitting down improvising the guy is as good as anybody I've played with. I mean, he's a much better improviser than I am.
Yeah, you said that last time we spoke as well.
He's our bread and butter; he's just a great, great improviser.
So when you did this new record, the Creed tour was over?
Yeah, it was over, and then we got right into getting this thing finished. We had about five or six songs we needed to finish and we ended up recording 17 songs. I think we had put together 22 total. It works relatively quickly with us. You know, me and Myles will get together at first and put together a handful of songs and then we'll get in with the rest of the band and make sure it all flows. Sometimes we'll put together a song that we were sure was gonna be a great one, then with the whole band it just doesn't translate from acoustic to electric, and that's always a bummer. But, you know, we work pretty well together.
Was Myles done with the Slash thing when you guys were recording?
Yeah. You know, we just have to plan ahead these days. This whole next year is already all planned out for us. So we can schedule our Alter Bridge tours and whatnot and Slash can go ahead and schedule his.
"A lot of the stuff we were coming up with, me and Scott would sit down and he writes lyrics like poetry."
Real quickly, sort of the main guitars you used on the record?
Most of the tracks I used my single-cut PRS; it was the second single-cut PRS ever made. It was my signature number two guitar. So it's got a nice, big heavy sounds; it's got a fixed bridge; it stayed in tune very well when I recorded. And we pretty much did all the big heavy stuff with that. Clean guitars we used that guitar as well. PRS also made me a three single-coil Strat-style guitar. I think it's called the 305? I'd asked PRS, I said, You know, my guitar is my favorite guitar in the world by far. The only time I wouldn't use it is if I was learning a Stevie Ray Vaughan song or a blues tune. You know, I need that outta phase, single-coil, maple neck kinda tone. So they made me this guitar and it has really nice clean tones, so we recorded with that as well.
Where there certain effects? Pedals, delays, etc?
On this record the only effects I used were the T-Rex Phaser and my Morley guitar wah. I tried to lay off the wah on this album. That's one thing when we put out the last Creed record, I've got a buddy of mine, his name is Troy Stetina, and he's done just hundreds of instructional guitar stuff. I've always put stuff by him cause he's a real critical ear for me on the guitar, and he's like, Yeah, I like all the solos and stuff, but I'd like to hear a little less wah, [laughs]. So I'm like, Eww, ok, so that really stuck with me on this record. So I told the engineer I was recording the solos with, I said, If you see me step on my wah just smack me, cause I wanna lay off of it on this record. I used less wah on this record. I used a Dunlop Uni-Vibe, which was probably my favorite discovery on this album.
I love that pedal. Elvis, our producer, had one and said, Let's try this out, and I said, What is that? I gotta get one of those. I like that one. You can hear that on the beginning of Slip to the Void and a few other songs. One of the songs that didn't make the record, Zero, had it on there as well, but I love it. That's pretty much everything that I did. Everything else was post.
And your main amp rig?
My set up is the clean guitars I use Fender Twins, and for my dirty rhythm tone I'd use a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier along with a Bogner Uberschall (cab). I've got the 6L6 version that I think, for me, is much better than the EL34 version. But that's my rhythm tone. Oh I also, on a few of the songs we'd layer a Fender Tonemaster in there as well, that I actually bought from Audley Freed, one of my favorite players. And then for leads I used the Two-Rock Custom Signature 100, which is just a beautiful amp.
So it must be a little bit of a balancing act, sort of doing the Alter Bridge thing, the Creed thing, solo records, and working around Myles' work with Slash?
Yeah. I've been organizing ideas for the past month or so. I've got plenty of material where I can, at any given moment, if something needed to be recorded, you know, I'm prepared for that. I think the most difficult thing was switching hats. You know, once the Creed tour was over I had that Creed set down so good, it was such an effortless thing to play and it's great to feel that way where you could just get up there and have fun. Switching back to relearning all the Alter Bridge songs from three records now and all the new songs, it's gonna take a while to get that as comfortable as when we did the last Alter Bridge tour.
Alter Bridge will be touring next year?
Alter Bridge will be touring in about three weeks.
Yeah. Our first show is October 16th. We head to the UK first. We go all the way through Europe until December 5th I believe, and then we're gonna schedule a tour here in the States in December/January. We'll be touring right up until the next Slash tour in the second half of January.
So maybe Alter Bridge will open on the Creed tour?
Nah, you know [laughs], that was something we'd thought about when we were putting together the Creed tour, but it just didn't work out. But, you know, if I have downtime and he's out with Slash, I think I'll be putting together my solo stuff and, you know, just moving forward. Just trying to get it all done. There's a lot of things I wanna accomplish in my career and a solo record is one of them. I also wanna do an instrumental record one day, but we'll see. It's just a matter of finding the time to do it all.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"The first show is always nerve wracking because you haven't done it in so many years."