Alter Bridge's Mark Tremonti: 'It Was Us Against The World'

artist: Alter Bridge date: 01/05/2008 category: interviews
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Alter Bridge's Mark Tremonti: 'It Was Us Against The World'
You might assume that being a former member of any well-known band would be a huge plus in terms of future musical endeavors, but ex-Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti experienced quite the opposite when he formed Alter Bridge in 2004. Although he attempted to leave the Creed name behind, Tremonti couldn't help but notice that his label wasn't generating a lot of talk about Alter Bridge's debut album One Day Remains. The album has since gone 3 times platinum internationally, but achieving that success was an uphill battle because of problems behind the scenes. Fast forward to 2007 and you'll notice that Tremonti is more carefree and easygoing than he's ever been in his lucrative rock career. With the release of Alter Bridge's sophomore record Blackbird, Tremonti told Ultimate Guitar that his new label Universal Republic Records has backed his work 100 percent and vocalist Myles Kennedy's equally impressive guitar skills have taken songwriting to a whole different level. And for as many jokes as you might have heard about Creed, the critical acclaim for Blackbird may allow Tremonti to maybe, just maybe, leave the Scott Stapp punchlines behind. UG: When you began writing Blackbird, did you have the intention of taking the music in a completely new direction? Mark: The only agenda we really had was to not sound anything like our past. If an idea came up that did sound like that, we would nix it right away. When we wrote Ties That Bind, that kind of set the tone for the record. That was one of the first songs that kind of set the aggressive sound of the album. We were going through a lot of business stuff that was really tough to get through, so the album is a snapshot in the life of the last 2 years of our lives. It wasn't the most pleasant 2 years. We're glad it happened because the record came out the way it did. The frustrations that we had going on with the business side of things kind of spilled over to the record. I read that Wind-Up Records had pressured you to reform Creed again. Is there any truth to that? We heard lots of rumors. We were just slugging it out by ourselves and nobody was giving us a hand. It was us against the world. In this day and age, you need a record label to support you. We had little or no support through the whole project. It's just frustrating when you're putting everything you've got into something and then you start hearing the rumors like, Yeah, they just want their breadwinner back. You have your promoters and radio folks all saying that the label hadn't contacted them or done anything for any kind of promotions. It was tough. Between the 2 Alter Bridge records, I understand that you collaborated with guitarist Michael Angelo Batio. Considering he is one of the masters out there in terms of technical skills and speed, what was that experience like? He's a great friend of mine, and we've been friends for probably 4 or 5 years now. He had asked years ago if I would play on his record. I think it was about 2 years ago when I did that. Of course, it was an honor to play on his record. It was one of those things where I was on tour when I recorded it, so we had to record it at soundcheck! But he's just a great player. I just played with him a few weeks ago in Milwaukee. Every time we go through Milwaukee, him and Troy Stetina will come to the show. We'll all sit there and be guitar geeks all day.
"The only agenda we really had was to not sound anything like our past."
Were you taking guitar lessons from Troy Stetina recently? Me and Troy will get together, and he'll give me tips. I've never really taken lessons. Now whenever I'm with any guitar player, no matter what their skill level, I'll always ask, What are your go-to riffs? What are your favorite things? I'll ask everybody. I'm always a student. You can learn from anybody. When your fans approach you and ask about your favorite riffs or techniques, what do you say in response? As a guitar player, I always turn everybody on to Rusty Cooley's Legato Workout. It's probably my favorite left-hand workout that I've ever come across. There was actually a band that played with us last night that asked, What can I do for my guitar playing? I told them, Try Rusty's Legato Workout. It does wonders for your left hand. Other than that, it's just having patience and not trying to tackle too much at one time. How old were you when you first started playing guitar? I was 11. I understand that you're self-taught and spent a lot of your time learning through tab books. Yeah. I bought DVDs - well, at the time VHS tapes, tab books. Well, tab books did more damage to my playing than anything. They're all wrong! I remember one of the first tab books I ever bought was Metallica's Master Of Puppets. I wanted to learn the record, and I'm sitting there and wondering why I don't sound the way the guys did. I was playing the notes in the book, but now that I look back on it, they're all wrong. Tab books are a farce. I talked to Troy about it, and Troy has done a ton of tab books. They just don't pay enough for these guys to tab books out to make it right. They give them a couple weeks to turn out a book, and then they can't really digest it enough to make it right. So I make sure that when we do tab books, I request Troy. I show Troy exactly what I'm doing so that the tab books that we put out are right. The first couple Creed might not have been, but once I got kind of frustrated with the tab books not being right - because I know how much that hurt my playing when I was younger - I wanted to make sure that nobody went through the same thing with our books. There are quite a few posted tabs that often get disputed by UG users. Do you ever look through the online tabs out of curiosity? I don't look at anything! I just look at our tab books when they come out and correct them. But I'll never look at anybody's tabs anymore. I just learn it by ear. I think the best thing for any guitar player is to reach the level of ear training where you don't have to rely on anybody except for your own ear. Even if somebody tabs it out that is a great player, your ear is going to hear it different from them. It's just much easier for me now. How long did it take you to become completely comfortable learning by ear? A long time. It was probably 4 years ago. I haven't had it for a long time. It's tough. It's not a bad idea to learn from somebody else a bunch of solos. Once you start learning a bunch of basic pentatonic ideas, when you learn a solo, you know that, Okay, that must be E minor pentatonic. As you learn more, things make much more sense and you can connect the dots better. Everything becomes much more obvious.
"The record just came out exactly how we wanted it, even better than we wanted it."
Talk a little about the song Blackbird, which has an epic-type feel to it. The guitar line for the verse I had written for a long time. It was one of my favorite finger-picking patterns at the time. The problem with it was that it was in 6/8 timing, so it's always been hard for us to find a really good chorus to fit. So we had put together the verses for the song and the melodies, and then me and Myles went into different rooms. Myles had come back in with the chorus to Blackbird, and we loved it right off the bat. I think that same day me and Myles both had an idea for the bridge musically, so we put them together. Myles has his guitar part and I have my guitar part. They are just 2 separate parts, but if you put them together they fit great. We added a 3rd additional part. It took a long time to put that song together. Once we did finish the song, we felt like the album was done. That was our favorite song. It still is our favorite song. It's fun to play. It's one of those songs that is going to be hard to top on the next record. How long did it take to write Blackbird? It was one of those things that you kick around. I had that finger-picking pattern for a couple years before the song was done. It was one of those patterns, where every time we came up with an idea, we would throw it right at that pattern to see if anything else would fit with it. It's like putting a big puzzle together. Once we had the chorus there, it didn't take long after that. But it was a year, a year-and-a-half or so. A lot of people are now just finding out that Myles is quite an accomplished guitar player himself, and ever has been an instructor in the past. He used to win all sorts of guitar competitions in the Pacific Northwest. What was it like writing songs with another guitarist who could match your technical ability? It's a whole new world of playing. The good thing about Myles is that guitar-wise we come from different schools. He's more of a jazz-based player. He likes all of the heavy classic-rock stuff, too, but his take on things is different than mine. I've got more of the metal approach to it. So we don't step on each other's toes. He comes up with something unique that I wouldn't come up with, so it's cool. It's another layer that we've never had. You mentioned that Myles often draws on his jazz background. What styles or specific musicians influenced the way you play? Growing up, I liked all of the heavy speed metal bands. I really did a lot of the rhythm playing. Guitar solo-wise, I grew up playing Paul Gilbert and all of the shred guys. I just tried to jump in the deep end and learn the hardest things that I could find, but it never helped me with my improvisation. It still hurt me to this day to not sit back and learn some of the basic stuff. You learn all these technical, hard runs, and you can't use it in your every day playing. If someone lays down a groove and says, Improvise over this - you can't take your huge sweep patterns and throw them over somebody's blues jams. Since I've matured a little bit as a guitar player, I've gotten more into blues guys. Lately I've been listening to a lot of Joe Bonamassa. Audley Freed is one of my favorites. I just found out about Eric Gale, so I've been checking him out quite a lot. I'm looking for guys with lots of phrasing and class. All the technique stuff is what I worked on my whole life and I don't need to work on that anymore. I just need to get the feel and the phrasing stuff down a little better.
"Tab books did more damage to my playing than anything."
Can you ever see yourself participating in guitar clinics or making instructional DVDs? I'd have to get a little more training under my belt before I'd feel comfortable sitting down and teaching 80 people at a time. Maybe a couple years from now I'll feel confident enough to do that. I'd have to work out a routine. In the future do you foresee Creed ever getting back together? If it ever happened, it would be 10 years from now. It definitely wouldn't be anywhere near when Alter Bridge was touring. Alter Bridge would have to be done and gone, and none of us want to see that happen. So hopefully, no. When you compare Blackbird with all of your other past albums, do you think it's your proudest achievement so far? Absolutely. Blackbird is definitely my favorite record of our career. I think it's everybody's favorite. When we recorded the record, it was pretty much the 4 of us against the world. We had to make it the best record that we could make it. All the stars aligned and the producers, mixers, record labels just worked out right. The record just came out exactly how we wanted it, even better than we wanted it. So we're real proud of it. Now we just have to start thinking about the next one! Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2007
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