Mark Tremonti is most famously known for being the lead guitarist for Creed and Alter Bridge. Long recognized as one of the premier metal guitarists around, he has established himself as both an inventive and technically adept player.
What people may not know about Tremonti is that he is also an accomplished songwriter and one seriously talented singer. He co-wrote all of Creed's hits including "One," "Torn," "Higher" and "My Own Prison" and in fact on this latter track he sang a plaintive co-lead vocal alongside Scott Stapp.
Now on his first solo album titled "All I Was," the guitarist brings all his credentials as a formidable songwriter, gifted singer and shredding guitar player to bear. "All I Was" once again teams the guitarist with Michael "Elvis" Baskette, the man who produced the last two Alter Bridge albums. The record combines Mark's metal side with his melodic roots in creating tracks that scream with blistering guitars and at the same time are defined with lyrical vocals and big choruses.
UG: Why did you decide it was now the right time to release All I Was?
Mark Tremonti: It was just a perfect opportunity for me to get all those ideas that didn't necessarily fit the other two bands. I had a three-month window where Myles was out with Slash and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get those things taken care of and get those songs out there.
So these songs were never meant in any form or fashion for Alter Bridge or Creed?
The way I write is I write parts. I've got just a ton of parts and when the time comes to write an album, I'll throw all the parts at the guys and we'll choose our favorites and put em together. It's a musical puzzle. With this all my favorite parts that I had continuously played for the guys and just never turned into a real song, I decided to take all my favorites and use em on this album.
Why do you think the other bands didn't want to use these songs?
I think a lot of em didn't work because some of it was a little bit more metal-based because that's what my roots really were. I really wanted to get that stuff out on this record because some of my favorite parts have always had my roots in it. But at the same time melodies are the most important thing to me as a songwriter. So to try and pack the record and trying to get my favorite melodies as well as my favorite kind of riffage and musical ideas out there as well.
All I Was is heavier than Creed or Alter Bridge. Do you feel more comfortable in this style?
Well, since I was a kid I've always joked about wanting to be in a speed metal band. That's what I was listening to when I was growing up but at the same time I spend most of my time writing melodies and not the speed metal thing. So I think this band was just an attempt to kind of incorporate both of those things in the same project. And just get that all out of my system or just work on it for the future. I think this initially was just gonna be this little fun side project to release without a record label and just on the side on the Internet. But as it started forming we were very happy with it and decided to really make a go of it.
You knew specifically that you wanted to be the singer of your songs?
Yeah, I thought it was the perfect time to do that. I didn't have as much pressure as a singer because people know I didn't put myself out there as a singer obviously. Cause I've been touring professionally now for about 16 years with two other bands where I wasn't the singer. I've always been a writer all these years and I really love writing vocal melodies and I thought it would be very liberating to be able to just sing em exactly how you hear em in your head. Because I've spent most of my career playing my parts for other people and trying to get them to like them and see them through. And with this you're just a one-stop shop for all that stuff and you can make sure it's exactly how you envisioned it. It's not to say it's any better or worse working like that; it's just easier. Working with other people they help put a spin on things that make it better a lot of times. With this it was just very easy and very quick.
You've always sung backup in Creed and even sang that co-lead vocal on My Own Prison.
Yeah, I've been singing since day one but I always felt I had a very limited range. I think most people don't like the way their own voice sounds when they hear it back on tape. And I've always thought I kinda thought I had a very ordinary voice. I think it just took years and years and years of doing it. Actually when I hear the stuff back live now I've kinda masked my natural voice and I can kinda put it somewhere where it doesn't quite sound like my normal voice when I'm singing, which kinda helps. It kinda helps you not squirm when you hear your own voice.
Did it take you any time finding your true voice and feeling comfortable as the main singer?
I loved it and thought it was a blast. It was the first time I really got to sing at full volume with a band behind me. At first I didn't know how it was gonna turn out then once we got practicing for a few weeks, I noticed getting more confident with my voice and having more control and learning new tricks naturally as I was practicing. In that three or four weeks that we got the initial arrangements down, my voice came a long way. I had no idea what was gonna happen but I think just practicing and doing it day in and day out and really focusing on your voice, I knew it was the only way to get good at singing. You don't wake up one day and know how to sing. You've got to get out there and do it at full volume and not just in the shower or in the car but really where you're applying yourself.
Were Myles Kennedy or Scott Stapp any kind of influences on your singing?
I think everything in life and every experience rubs off on you. I'm so used to working with those guys I'm sure a lot of it rubs off. And I'm glad cause I think they're both great.
You brought in Michael Elvis Baskette to produce the album who had worked on the last two Alter Bridge albums.
I just know when I work with Elvis it's gonna sound great and I don't have to worry about that. I know I feel comfortable working with him. He's an easy guy to work with. He's not the kind of guy who's gonna miss any small detail that's gonna stand out to anybody. He's gonna make sure everything is taken care of and he controls the singing. Every time we had done albums in the past and I'd be singing my backups he'd say, Wow, I really love your voice. You have to feel confident about that and you need a producer who kind of works your confidence in there. It makes a difference.
You Waste Your Time is the first single from All I Was. It's heavy and has a great vocal melody. Is this the combination of elements you wanted to bring to the album?
Yeah. I don't necessarily think it's a snapshot of the whole album. I think it was a good choice and the safest choice to go with first for a single. I think after playing it for a ton of people and just seeing the responses, I think it was one of the more successful heavier songs on the album. I think it's what works at radio. You just can't hit em over the head with your most artistic over-the-top song first. You've got to open the door first. If it was one of my friends that liked metal I'm sure they would have picked maybe a different song and playing it for my wife's friends, they would have picked a different song.
Your solos on You Waste Your Time was very cool. When we spoke last time you said this record would specifically have lots of soloing.
I think when we first started thinking of the record I thought there would be more than there actually is on there. But now that the songs get put together like I said what I really love beyond guitar playing and everything else is the writing part of it. Writing the vocal melodies and how the vocals sound on the song. That's what I focused on the most.
You were more aware of your vocals than the guitars?
It's funnymy guitar playing almost kinda took a backseat in this whole process. When I put the rhythm stuff together I would spend the right amount of time making sure those parts were right. And the solos I probably spent a three-week tour putting em all together and making sure the outlines of the solos were all there before I went in and recorded. But it was really the vocals and writing the lyrics and all that stuff that I really focused on. We rehearsed and actually recorded the entire record live on video. The first video that's out there for the album is You Waste Your Time and it's a live video. And there's a video just like that for every song on the album. But as we were rehearsing for that, I never sat and rehearsed the lead parts. I just practiced my vocals because it seemed like that was the important thing. I've already done the guitar thing and the vocal thing was gonna be a new thing for me and I really focused on that.
You've always been pretty zoned in on your guitar playing.
It's funny because in the process, the solos kind of came easier to me than they had in the past and I wasn't worried about every single thing. I was just kinda letting em flow. I sometimes have too much of almost like a military strict practice routine even when I have a limited amount of time and I'll not just let it flow. And I think this time I was so focused on the vocals that I just let the guitar playing breathe a little bit and I think it worked.
How did you technically approach recording the vocals?
I have a studio at my house and I have a little spare bedroom where I go as my vocal room. I just go in there and the first day I sung two songs and the first song was Giving Up. I always thought that song was kind of more on the B-sidey kind of sounding of the songs we had put together and it turned out to be one of my favorites. It's just one of those songs that fit my vocal well and it was a good one to start with because it gave me confidence to move forward. We would just knock down a couple songs a day and take a day off in-between to let my voice come back. Then I went on tour and had em send me out all the roughs with my vocals and there were parts I just couldn't live with.
When you stepped back from the vocals you heard stuff you didn't like?
Some of it was performance and some of it was lyrics so I changed a lot of lyrics on this second round of singing. I went and fixed all the stuff that bothered me. With your first record and it's the first time you're hearing your voice on songs, you've got to make sure everything is not gonna irritate you. And there's still some things on there I wish I could go back and fix but I'd be doing that for the next year. You know? So hopefully the next record I do, I'll have better control with my voice. This is the first time I've done it so hopefully I learn from here.
Leave It Alone was another combination of heavy guitars and melodic vocals. How do you find the vocal melodies to go over the chord changes?
Well they happen simultaneously when I'm writing those parts; I'm strumming and singing at the same time and it's like capturing lightning in a bottle. Sometimes I'll hit a chord change and I'll just hear the melody in my head and I'll record those ideas. And then go back at a later date and complete the song. When I was putting that song together I had the chorus that I really dug so I was fishing for verses. I would just click through all my ideas and when I came upon the verse that made the song, I realized the chord change going into the chorus was what made that special. It was those two parts together and I really loved it. I think every time somebody hears the song what they comment on usually is the chord change when it goes into the chorus. That's what really sealed the deal on that song for me and that song probably has my favorite guitar solo on it.
"Since I was a kid I've always joked about wanting to be in a speed metal band."
Your solo sounds a little bit angry on Leave It Alone.
Yeah, well the whole record's kinda got a little bit of the anger thing to it. I like it when you can have a solo that starts off with some more space and then you can build it up later and really let loose on it. That's the only song on the record that really has that amount of space to play with.
There's a bit of thrash metal guitar-wise in Brains. What was that like recording guitars on the album with Eric Friedman?
Well when we were writing the album, we spent a lot of time doing like the one-take demos. Eric's really good with coming up with the little delayed effects and the layering kind of stuff and not just playing exactly what I'm playing. He's really great at that and he's also got a really good, solid dead-on right hand with the metal rhythm stuff, which is great. So when we tracked, I tracked first and I would just double my take and then he would just double his as well so you're hearing four tracks of rhythms.
What was your down-and-dirty guitar rig?
I'm using a Cornford RK100 and a Mesa/Boogie Rectifier for my rhythms and the Cornford RK100 is the lead amp. With Eric he's using a Bogner Shiva and a Bogner Shiva 20th Anniversary with KT88s in it. So it's a great mixthe Shiva is super spongy and the KT88 Shiva is really super tight. We were gonna try reamping and whatnot because I have a collection of amps that I just love. But at the end of the day when we listened back to it we didn't want to mess with it because it was sounding good the way it was. We didn't want to second-guess ourselves and throw a bunch of amps at it after the fact.
Is it a different experience playing with Eric Friedman as opposed to recording guitars with Myles Kennedy?
Eric's been my friend longer than Myles actually. I've probably known him for 12 or 13 years now. The reason I started this project with him is he's been the guy over the years who has the most patience to sit down as I play through all my ideas. Now matter how long you do this it's always great to have somebody to bounce ideas off of and see their reaction. He's been the guy more than anybody in my life that I've played ideas to and gotten a reaction from. So working in a band with him was like second nature.
The Things I've Seen has some great clean guitar sounds on it somewhat reminiscent of the Creed guitar tones. Have you taken what you learned in the studio recording with Creed and translated any of that on All I Was?
I got so comfortable working with Elvis that we just set up a rhythm tone and didn't really tweak it too much. It sounded good right off the bat. I'll set the amp exactly how I want to hear it and as the song goes maybe he'll [change it.] He's not big on a lot of gain; he likes to keep that gain at 12 o'clock usually so the stuff is right in your face and clear and not too over-saturated or spongy. It's real tight and that's one thing I learned from working with him is record with less gain. We didn't have a lot of cleans on this record so I think I just turned my volumes down on my Cornford and Mesa/Boogie for most of the clean stuff. I think there was only one song, Proof, that had genuinely clean tones going through it.
What about New Way Out?
That was just those other amps turned down. Not the amps turned down but the guitar turned down so it's a slight dirty tone.
Your vocal on New Way Out was cool because it was so naked and you couldn't hide at all behind guitars or loud drums.
That was a tough one to sing because it's a serious song. Obviously it's a serious song so you've got to sing serious lyrics and I think the hardest thing about a song like that is writing the lyrics and just coming up with the whole theme. Getting that song done was one of the hardest lyrically.
Which songwriters have inspired you lyrically?
Umm, I've never been a huge guy to dig into lyrics. I probably get lyrics wrong most of the time because I'm putting in my own lyrics to whatever I hear. I remember seeing lyrics over the years written down and it's like, Wow, that's what they're saying? I thought they were saying something completely different. Throughout all the Creed years, I would throw forth melodies with filler lyrics in there and Scott would finish em off. So I never had to other than a few times completely finish the lyric. And now that I'm doing that you respect guys like Bob Dylan who's insane. His lyrics are probably the best of all time. Paul Simon and some of those old school guys I think had some of the best lyrics. I just didn't want it to be all about strip clubs and singing about ridiculous stuff. I wanted it to be something real so I think it's hard to be real and not be corny or over-dramatic.
"I've been singing since day one but I always felt I had a very limited range. I think most people don't like the way their own voice sounds when they hear it back on tape."
All I Was has that sinewy descending guitar line that really makes the whole song. Where did that come from?
It was just a separate part. There was the main intro riff and chorus riff and that was something I've had for years that I've always loved. I've thrown it at Alter Bridge and Creed and the guys just never completely devoured it. I always did so I went back and searched through all my other stuff and found that other verse lick and I put em back to back and I figured it would be a great verse for that. The problem with that song at first is I thought it would be very hard to put a melody over because the parts are all moving so quick and it wasn't just a strummy type of thing to sing over. But once I really sat down with it the melodies and lyrics came almost easier than everything on the record. That song since day one recording demos, it was one of the best-sounding demos and one of the best-sounding songs coming out of the studio. Every time we recorded it it just worked and it's just an easy song to perform well. Sometimes you worry about a song being good in your head but not down on CD and that happens a lot but that one really came across well.
When we spoke around the time of the ABIII record you'd predicted about your upcoming solo album, It will be an experiment but we'll see how it works out. Now that All I Was is done, how has it worked out?
I've very happy with it being the debut record. I think if I had all the time in the world it would have probably been 20 percent better than it is now. I think every artist thinks that way and works it to death until it's absolutely perfect. But I think sometimes you lose the initial excitement if you do it that way. No, I'm happy with it. I think there's a couple of songs on there I think are weaker than the rest that I might have left out at this point. But I think there's a good 10 solid songs on there and that's usually a good target for a full record.
What All I Was truly reflects is your coming out as a singer. A lot of guitar players have stepped up to the mic with less than enchanting results.
Well, I appreciate it. I've been singing as day one as a songwriter and just never thought I was up to the challenge until recently.
You've also been talking about an instrumental record.
If I ever have a break where I don't have 19 other things around my neck, I'd definitely love to do that. Or if anything maybe on one of the future records with Alter Bridge or Creed, I'll try and get an instrumental in there. Or just one or two instrumentals on the next solo record. I think doing an entire instrumental record would be a humongous undertaking.
You think so?
I think it would be harder by far than the record I just put out. And I don't think it would be as satisfying. I think it would be satisfying but not as much as actually singing a song.
Why would it be so much more of a monumental process than recording All I Was?
I think I'd have to totally reinvent myself with song arrangements that are completely different than a vocally-driven song. Writing multiple guitar leads for each song would take a long time and would tax your lick bag. I think I'd have to learn a lot more tricks before I did that. There's days now where I stress about having to learn some new tricks for every new record I do cause I don't wanna keep doing the same stuff.
What are the plans for Creed and Alter Bridge?
Creed has a handful of songs we're ready to go into the studio with. We're just trying to finalize who's gonna record the stuff and where and when. In a perfect world we'd get em done before this next tour. We got out at the end of July and August with Creed and we're waiting on offers on tours in South America and the UK. Then I'm just waiting for a window to open up to go out and promote this album. September all the way through the end of the year is kind of open but Creed has got the first priority so I'm gonna figure out what that tour looks like then I'm gonna fill in the gaps promoting this album. And in January I'll get together with Myles and write the Alter Bridge record.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"It was the first time I really got to sing at full volume with a band behind me."