INTERVIEW: Mark Tremonti of Alter Bridge

AB III is a landmark album in the still quite young career of Alter Bridge. Far more than just ‘Creed with a different singer,’ the band has always had its own thing going on, but AB III kicks it up a notch. It’s loud, angry, hurt, dark, mysterious and heavy, yet at times it’s also bright, optimistic, reassuring, even straight-up happy. I spoke to guitarist Mark Tremonti, who was in the midst of a European tour.

You know how good the album is, right?

(Laughs) Thank you very much! Appreciate it!

How do you feel about it?

We feel great! It was a good time that we put into writing and recording it, and it turned out the way we wanted it to. The response from fans has all been overwhelmingly positive so far.

You’re releasing the album yourself in the US on November 9, but it’s in the very capable hands of Roadrunner for the rest of the world and has already been released in other territories. Why?

We had to look at all our options, and our managers deal with that side of things, and they felt that was our best option for the States. At first we tried to be on Roadrunner both in the States and internationally, but I don’t think they thought we had a radio single for the States, that it was more of a European-sounding record, so we went a different route.

It is a very European-sounding, dark album.

I think it’s just a combination of where me and Myles were at. I grew up listening to heavy, dark music and I’ve always been a fan of darker music. Not that we’re dark people, but we like to evoke emotion, and either write a song that makes you feel really good or write a song that makes you really think and feel really moody. It’s just a combination of me pushing dark-sounding atmospheric music and Myles writing the darkest lyrics he’s ever come up with, and it’s just a perfect storm.

Well everyone needs their Empire Strikes Back, y’know?

Yeah! Hahah!

Just don’t go filling the next album with Ewoks.

Haha, exactly. Yeah.

There are lots of cool middle eastern-sounding scales on the record.

I think both me and Myles just played to fit the song. We weren’t really thinking of any scales in particular. I know that on my end, for the guitar solos and whatnot I was just trying to fit the chord changes. I just played for the song.

Do you have a favourite guitar part or solo?

I think the solo for All Hope Is Gone is my favourite solo. Favourite guitar part in general would probably be the intro to Life Must Go On. It’s a part that’s been floating around for quite a while.

What gear did you use on the record?

I used pretty much the same gear as the last album, except this time I used a Fender Tonemaster layered on top of the Bogner Uberschall and Mesa Rectifier.

What’s your approach to tone? I notice you’re using amps that have a shitload of gain on tap, but you’re holding back.

Yeah, it’s something I learned from Elvis on the last record: to record with a small amount of gain to really get stuff to cut through, so you can hear every bit of whatever riff that’s happening or whatever part that’s happening. If there’s too much gain you lose that clarity. It makes a big difference.

What about guitars?

I just used my signature model Paul Reed Smith. I think the only other guitar I used – other than acoustic Taylors – was on some clean tracks. PRS made me a guitar, like a Strat-style, three single coil, maple neck guitar that sounds really good on clean stuff. Sometimes I’d layer with that. That was about it.

Have you tried the baritone 8-string Taylor?

No I had not. Didn’t know it existed. Wow, I’ll be calling them when I get off the phone! I need to get that for sure!

You have a lot of guitar technique – how did you develop that? Were you always technically minded or did you hit a point where you decided to really work on that stuff?

I just always try to learn something new every day. I’m a big fan of the guitar so everywhere I go I have tonnes of guitar instructional DVDs. I still look for new ones that come out. No matter what style it is, I’ll buy it. If it’s something I don’t have, I’ll get it. If I’m getting on a plane I’ll watch country chicken pickin’ DVDs or whatever it is, because you can learn something from everybody. I’ll also get on sites like guitarinstructor.com or bluesjamtracks.com or YouTube or I’ll search everywhere I can looking for inspiration. Sometimes you’ll find it in the least likely spots, from some guy you’ve never heard of.

What are your favourites at the moment?

Right now I’m putting a lot of time into Robben Ford. Years ago I would have thought you couldn’t use a lot of his approach in hard rock, but I think you can if you learn the right tunes. He does a lot of blues-based stuff that you can use right away. I’m into him lately, I’m into a guy named Matt Schofield that not a lot of people that I’ve talked to have heard of, but he’s great. Audley Freed is a big one for me over the last few years. Warren Haynes. I went through all my shred years and just kinda switched gears a couple of years ago, going for the more old-school approach to bluesy phrasing and chord tone soloing. Lately I’ve been trying to step into the jazz world, not to play jazz but to try to understand more of the theory side of things and to have it readily available whenever I’m playing. I’ve looked at some piano lessons and there’s a guy named Charlie Banakos that taught a lot of jazz guys, so I’m trying to dig out some old exercises that he’s taught.

Any plans for a solo album?

I’ve started to put together some songs. With the last couple of years with everything that’s happened – Myles going out with Slash, the Creed reunion and everything else – there’s going to be some downtime when we’re waiting for Myles to get done so we can get back out on tour, so in those times I’ll be putting together a solo record. At this point I think I only have about five songs I’ve demoed, and every time I have a couple of months I’ll put together a handful of songs and see what happens with it.

What kind of direction?

It’s going to be mostly just melody, song-based stuff. It’s not going to be like a progressive instrumental record. It’s going to be more of a melody-driven, song record. I do want to do it at some point, I’ve just got to find the time.

What are your favourite instrumental albums?

Alien Love Secrets was a big one for me. I spent a lot of time with Tender Surrender. I spent four months learning that song, and now I’ve forgotten it! I like a lot of the Larry Carlton stuff, the Robben Ford stuff… for me it’s like, songs instead of records. I’ll just dwell on one song for a long time. There’s just so much of it I don’t know where to really hone in on! Paul Gilbert had a lot of influence on my learning to pick and shred. Intense Rock was probably my favourite DVD for a long time.

Any plans to come to Australia any time soon?

We actually just talked about that with our agent the other day. They were talking about maybe targeting October of next year. We’ve just gotta see what happens next year. We have to plan so far ahead with the Slash tour and our tour, so we have to just let our agents point their finger in the right direction for us.

Yeah, I guess you couldn’t force Myles to do double duty and wear the poor guy out.

We’ve talked about it – have Alter Bridge open for Slash.

NEWS: Wanted – 1 Led Zeppelin singer

So I see over at Blabbermouth.net (via eGigs) that the rumours are true: Led Zeppelin are looking at touring with a different vocalist (and, dare I venture to guess, a different name, so fans don’t get all uppity about it?) because Robert Plant is too busy taking over the country music world through his bluegrass project with singer Alison Krauss.

At the Mansons Guitar Show in Exeter, Devon, UK, bass player John Paul Jones confirmed the band’s intentions, and said they’ve been trying out various singers. Jones is quoted as saying “I’m afraid, there’s no final answer yet. As you probably know, Jimmy [Page], Jason [Bonham] and I are actually rehearsing and we’ve had the odd singer come in and have a bash. As soon as we know — which we don’t — we will let you know. But we really hope that something is going to happen soon because we really want to do it and we’re having a lot of fun, actually, just rehearsing. Jason is actually tremendous… he’s really taking chances. He is a very brave man… Every other drummer in the world was watching him thinking [at the reunion show], ‘That could have been me.’ He’s creative and really fun.”

Rumour has it that singers to rehearse with the band include Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters, and Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge. Interesting to note that both of these guys are quite proficient guitarists too: Could it be that Jimmy Page is open to the idea of having a second guitarist to more accurately reproduce his studio guitar orchestrations? Led Zep were always into the one-guitar thing live, but I guess if they’re willing to go out there and play these songs without Plant (or the zombie of Bonham), they might as well make further tweaks to the sound.

Jones also hinted that there’s a chance Plant might rejoin the band in a few years, when his commitments with Krauss have concluded. “We really want to do something and Robert doesn’t want to do this sort of thing, at least for the moment,” he said. “I don’t really know what his plans are. He is touring with Alison, as you know. . . He really doesn’t want to make loud music anymore. We do. I mean, I love acoustic music, but it doesn’t stop me from turning something up . . . And what we’ve done so far sounds absolutely fantastic. When it does come, it will come, and you’ll know about it.”

Personally I’m a huge fan of Plant’s solo work, especially the albums Fate of Nations and The Mighty Rearranger, and I’d love to see him perform his solo stuff one of these days. But maaaaaaaaaaaaan I’d love to see him with Page and Jones, so I hope he gets bitten by the rock bug again soon.

Photo: Getty Images via NME

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