Getting access to a band is always much easier when a new album is ready for release, and getting the opportunity to speak with Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti is no exception. This guy is busy - with two huge bands that he actively records and tours with in addition to coming off a year that saw the release of his first solo album and following tour and we are grateful he took the time to speak to us about the new Alter Bridge disc Fortress.
Mark: Hey, how are you doing?
Toddstar: Great Mark, yourself?
Toddstar: Good, good. Well, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule; we really appreciate you taking time out for us today, we know you’re a busy man right now.
Mark: Well thank you very much.
Toddstar: Plus I always like to talk to a fellow Detroiter.
Mark: There you go [laughs].
Toddstar: Well, let’s jump into it: Fortress. This things about a month out from release, and I’ve been lucky enough to listen to it. But let’s start off with the fans that are gonna get their chance to listen to this, when they finally get their fingers on it and they go all the way through, what are some of the things about the album that you can tell us, that the listener might not get the first or second time through?
Mark: I think there’s just so much information on the record that it’s hard to digest the whole thing in one listen. It’s not as straightforward as some of the stuff we’ve done in the past, it’s a bit more experimental, with the arrangement of ideas, the rhythmic patterns and we just tried to mix it up a bit, so people won’t be able to digest it is as quickly as the last few albums.
Toddstar: You mentioned the experimentation, even you’re opening with “The Cry of Achilles,” isn’t your typical Alter Bridge sound. When you’re looking for an album kick off, it kind struck me as a ‘Wow they’re really branching out a bit,’ but staying true to the Alter Bridge feel. Is that something you guys really went into, with a real eye on ‘let’s change it up, but make sure we touch on what is expected.’?
Mark: Yeah, we didn’t necessarily want to touch on what’s expected, but we as song writers feel that melody is the most important thing to any song and that’s kind of our core in our song writing, and that will always be there. We wanna take that and push our boundaries as far as we can, throw some progressive elements in there, and like I said, make these songs unpredictable and exciting.
Toddstar: There’s no denying that Myles has a certain sound and your playing definitely stands out, whenever you’re playing. So its gonna be hard to get away from that sound, but what I like is songs like “The Uninvited” or “Cry A River,” kinda branch out like we’ve talked about. How did you guys go at the writing process, and say, ‘OK, we’ve done this, let’s do something different.’ How did that differ in the writing process for you guys?
Mark: When we started changing things up it was when we were into the preproduction phase of things, me and Miles would get together and put together the essential parts to solve for a rough arrangement, then we’d get together with our band mates and come up with a tighter arrangement with those ideas, and they you get to preproduction. So we knew we had all the base elements for l the songs, and rough arrangements, and I just wanted to take those arrangements, throw them out the window then piece them back together 20 times, and make sure that even if the arrangements were good initially, make sure that we got everything out of the songs and then experiment and throw everything we could at each of the tunes.
Toddstar: How much influence did Elvis (Baskette) have on this disc?
Mark: He becomes band member number five when it comes to preproduction [laughs], he challenges us, even if I’m saying, “I love the arrangement, it’s ready to go,” he's like “yeah, yeah. I love it too, but let’s tear it apart and see if we can throw it down the stairs and see if we can put it back together like 15 more times.” So at first, it’s kind of nerve racking, but once you see what happens on the other end, I think we were very open minded as the record process went on.
Toddstar: Someone like yourself, you’re a seasoned Vet - in and out of the studio - how hard was it, or alternatively, how easy was it to give up control, like you might say, ‘this is awesome, let’s roll with it,’ and someone else might say, ‘yeah, but let’s try something different.’ Was it easy or hard to give up control in that situation?
Mark: On this record we were all very open minded, if we kept the control that we always had we would sound the same. We just as much wanted to do this as Elvis, we were all just five guys just trying to rearrange our arrangements and make them untypical, and like I said, once you had a song that was pretty solid and you start messing up; you’re nervous. So once we found that that worked we were all much more open minded, I tried not to stress through the whole thing, it was a very stress-free album to make, it was very exciting, everyone was kinda on the same page, everyone contributed creatively to the record and we’re happy with the outcome, so that’s through that process of tearing songs apart.
Toddstar: Having listened to every note on this more than once, from the beginning of Cry of Achilles to the end of Fortress, I’m glad you guys did it because it’s an exciting album to listen to and the fans are gonna eat it up [I appreciate it]. Listening to the songs now, are there any songs that stand out to you like “wow, this sounds nothing like what we started with,” other than the lyrics maybe?
Mark: No, I mean the original kinda vibe of the song always ended up being true in the end, but I think the song that came the furthest was “The Uninvited.” That was one that we kinda had on the back-burners, maybe a B-side track, but me and Miles both layered in our vocals and added the ‘trance-y’ intro and all that became a special song.
Toddstar: It’s funny you mentioned it, it’s actually one of my favorites on the disc, I couldn't imagine it being a B-side on any album, let alone the newest album. The song just lights up, it seems to pop from the speakers a little bit.
Mark: Yeah I’m glad we gave it the full attention it deserved; it really came alive in the studio.
Toddstar: You guys I’m sure are planning to take this out on the road.
Mark: Yes we are.
Toddstar: As far as a new album - you see it more and more these days - when a band has a new album out, they really promote it, and instead of playing one or two songs, they’ll throw out four or five new ones. Are you kinda already thinking that whole thing through as far as touring this new material?
Mark: Yeah, I’ve just been relearning all the songs, I’ve still got three or four more that I have to get under my fingers. Myles and I are actually flying up to Chicago to shoot a DVD on how to play the album. So, we have to learn the entire record for that so we’ll be prepared to play any song off the record live. But this records pretty new so we’re gonna have to play a lot of the old favorites as well, but we’ll probably play five or six of these songs straight off the bat.
Toddstar: Tell us a little bit more about the DVD, is it like instructional or is more for the fan? Tell us about the DVD.
Mark: It’s both. It’s got one side that’s a documentary making of the record, with talking from us, and kinda more of a documentary side of things that will probably be a 45 minute deal. Then on the flip side, it’s gonna involve teaching our individual solos for the record, and then we’ll sit together and teach our rhythm parts on the record, so you’ll have both guitar players showing you. So if you kids wanna learn the songs or cover them, you’ll know exactly how we do it.
Toddstar: Wow, it’s something I’ve never heard before, sounds like an interesting and exciting thing to be on the ground floor with.
Mark: Yeah I mean a few guys do it, I did a song and a story with the Blackbird record, and it did very well and people really dug it, so since then you’ve had people like Jim Root from Slipknot do it and then Josh from Stone Sour has just done one too.
Toddstar: Awesome. So, let’s talk about you for a minute Mark. You say you’re gonna put out this DVD for people who wanna learn the songs. What’s it like for you to see people come up to you and say, “you’ve inspired me, you made me wanna pick up a guitar,” when I’m sure the guys who made you wanna pick up a guitar are still playing. How does that make you feel as a performer, as an artist?
Mark: It’s amazing, you remember when you were that kid in the day, and it’s just an honor to fill the shoes of those people that you looked up to.
Toddstar: On that note, if you had to name a guitarist who made you wanna pick up the guitar, who would it be?
Mark: There’s a few, I was so young, I was 11 years old, I wasn't a full on heavy metal kid yet, but you know, I was listening to my older brothers play records You had Ted Nugent round the house all the time, you had ACDC and Zeppelin, then Iron Maiden and Queen. All these things mixed up as a kid, and when I finally picked up the guitar that’s when I finally got into Metallica and James and Kurt, especially the rhythm stuff. And as I grew older I got more into the shred stuff, I think even watching that movie Crossroads really blew me away and made me wanna shred; like Steve Vai [sure], or Ralph Macchio [laughs], and I used to watch Back to the Future and saw Michael J. Fox chaining that song at the school dance, and that was when I thought the guitar was the coolest thing in the world.
Toddstar: It’s odd that people would mention movies and the influence they have. Do you find that today, that maybe the other arts, what you read or what you see in movies, do you find that it still influences you as a writer?
Mark: It’s good to get inspiration from different movies or books, but as far as writing, I’m pretty good at staying in my own little bubble, and just writing without having to use too much of an outside influence. Since I was kid, it’s been easy to use my imagination and take my mind to different places.
Toddstar: When was the last time you crossed Alter Bridge?
Mark: It’s been years, I took my kids to show them where I grew up, probably about four years ago.
Toddstar: I wonder how many people know that it’s a real bridge in the Detroit area.
Mark: Yeah, all the die-hards know the story [laughs].
Toddstar: And all the people who grew up here know the stories too [laughs]. So you say you’re flying out to Chicago and you guys are gonna probably start lining the tour up soon, throwing some dates out there. When you hit the road, what are the couple of things from home that you take with you, that you just can’t live without?
Mark: I have to have a guitar that I can take to the hotel rooms. I have to have my laptop so I can get online, I usually bring a few guitar CDs that I’m really interested in at the time so I can learn some licks and keep learning as a guitar player, take a couple of great books with me for sure, and that’s about it, I spend a lot of time playing guitar and writing. And reading, always have a book.
Toddstar: If you could go back in time, and play on any piece of music in the history of time, what would it be Mark?
Mark: Oh jeez, I wouldn't want to mess up my favourite parts! [laughs] But if I could, I’d go back and play on the Master of Puppets record, that’s the record that got me into metal.
Toddstar: If there was one band that you could join on stage, as a guest guitarist who would it be?
Mark: Probably Metallica.
Toddstar: OK, so you are a die-hard Metallica fan?
Mark: Yeah, you know, they kinda pushed me over the edge and turned me into a music fanatic.
Toddstar: Let’s return to Fortress, I know you’re a busy man and you’ve got things to do. The last one on Fortress, it’s odd that the title track would be the closing track on the disc. For me, the title track always sets the mood for the disc, whether it is the attitude or lyrics or whatever. Was that intentional, was that something that when you guys went through and did the tracking it made the most sense?
Mark: I initially thought it should have been a couple of tracks earlier, and I think All Ends Well was my initial choice for last song. I came up with the initial order for the album, I was just the first one to do it, then Miles just gave me some feedback and moved around four songs, and that’s what we came up with, and I just thought that’s good with me. I think that bookending the album with two epic songs seemed right to me, and because Fortress is one our favourite songs I worried about it being last, but seeing as it’s the title track we knew people would listen to it.
Toddstar: Well the thing I like most about it, and this is why I asked the question, the minute you listen to the whole song - again it clocks in at 7 and a half minutes - it makes you want to start the disk over because it doesn’t feel like it’s over yet. I didn’t know if that was in your guys’ head or what, but it certainly makes me want to press play on the disc over again, just to get the whole experience again.
Mark: Well that’s a good sign, thank you [laughs].
Toddstar: Well listen, I know you’re a busy man so I’ve only got one more for you. It’s 2013, almost 2014, you got probably one of the most ambitious albums of the band’s career, and this thing has been met by great praise so far, things seem to be on the uptake for you guys. At this point, what is the meaning of life?
Mark: Just happiness you know, just living every day and trying to make the most of it. My kids are the most important thing in my life. Music’s always been my main passion, but when you have kids you know you’re priorities and balancing them. My meaning of life is to stay happy and keep those happy people around you.
Toddstar: Well again, I appreciate you taking time out of your day for us, I can’t wait to watch the music loving public to eat this thing up when it drops next month. And I certainly can’t wait personally to see you guys hit the road and end up in Michigan.
Mark: Yeah man, can’t wait.
Toddstar: Well thanks again Mark we wish you the best this holiday weekend.
Mark: Yeah, thanks very much.