Once again I am given the opportunity to speak with Detroit native Mark Tremonti in advance of the release of his second solo disc, Cauterize and just a couple days before his band Tremonti packs up and heads out for a month of dates to play the new tunes and others from his previous effort All I Was for his fans. This time around Mark sheds some light on his writing style, the recording of two discs at one time, and how much time he actually spends practicing guitar... yes, I said practicing!!
Toddstar: Mark, thank you so much for taking time out for us today.
Mark: Thank you.
Toddstar: Let's talk about the new disc. You’ve got a lot going on right now, but let's talk about the new disc Cauterize. I've had the privilege of hearing this thing from top to bottom and I love it. I'm listening to it right now. What can you tell us about the disc that you might not pick up on the first or second listen through?
Mark: There's a lot. My record is going to take you a few listens to really get everything. I know I gave it to my friends and family and it takes a few weeks for it to really settle in. We put a lot into this record and into Dust.
Toddstar: That's what's interesting. You came in with about 25 songs, give or take, and you actually ripped off two discs, ready to go. What was the thought process with that?
Mark: I've always had this worry that I'm going to be this angry old man saying, "You worked here your whole life and had all these ideas and now they're all just going to waste because you never recorded them." I knew I had Elvis [Baskette] for a certain amount of time, so I wanted to do all the work I could beforehand so I could go in the studio and be as efficient as possible and get as much done as possible. I wanted to make sure most of my favorite ideas were looked at. Then, we came up with 24 general song ideas before we went in there and narrowed it down to 20. We were going to record, and then I cut them into two ten song records. I didn't want to release a 13 song record and then have 7 songs left over and have people think that they were B-side tracks, because all the songs are meant to be album tracks. I think a ten song record is actually a nice length. It's nice and digestible. I think sometimes when people put out 15 song records, you get lost a little bit.
Toddstar: I am dating myself here, but five songs, flip it over, five songs.
Mark: Yeah, even four songs. Four songs or five on a lot of them.
Toddstar: Right. How different was it going in and doing this album than it was doing All I Was, which you released about three years ago? Other than the fact that you had Wolfgang with you this time, what was the mindset difference? How different was the whole approach to the recording of this versus that first solo disc?
Mark: We a set aside a ton of time for this album, for the production process and the writing process. Elvis, our producer, gave us a lot more time for pre-production. Recording 20 songs is a colossal feat, so we really set aside a ton of time and got together with the guys for about 40 days before even going to pre-production. A lot of these things or ideas are written before even that. A lot of these ideas could be years and years old, it's just a matter of getting together with the band, seeing what flows right and then going into pre-production. On the first album, All I Was, we didn't really do pre-production. On this record, we really dug into every song and really ironed them out as well as we could. I think on the first record, we were a brand new band not knowing how it was going to sound, how it was going to turn out, because there was new chemistry with three guys. Now that we knew what we were capable of with this album, we went at it full force and knew what our strengths were.
Toddstar: That's a great insight. I've had the pleasure of listening to these ten; I don't know anything about the other ten songs, other than what I read about them. Looking back to the ten songs that are on Cauterize, which is being released June 9th, are there any songs you're finding yourself going back to and just saying, "That is a killer track," or "I really like this about this song"?
Mark: I really love "Flying Monkeys." That's probably my favorite song on the record. That was actually going to be my first choice for the single, but you're never always right on your hunch. That's why it's good to have outside forces listen to your songs and then see what people are gravitating towards and see what people who aren't necessarily musicians feel is the strongest song. "Another Heart" was chosen for the single and I'm glad we did. "Flying Monkeys." "Providence" was a big feat for us to get that done on this album. Our first record didn't have a song like that, the big, drawn out, long, more epic sounding track and I think this band needed it. I'm proud to have knocked that one out. I think "Radical Change" is another one that stands out.
Toddstar: Okay, I love "Another Heart." "Flying Monkeys" is very cool. I also like "Dark Trip." What I'm finding in the songs that I really dig is some of the lyrics are very personal and have a very personal tone to them. What was it like for you to be able to write these songs that you need to have this really personal edge versus just writing a rock tune about partying or whatever?
Mark: It's always how I've done it. This time, I was dead-set on recording a ton of songs, but when you finally go after it and you realize, "Oh no, now I have to write 20 songs worth of lyrics," which, in the past, I would've thought would've been impossible to pull off in a few months. I just developed a new style of writing lyrics where I just sat down with my initial ideas on my hard drive. When I write melodies and stuff, I just let lyrics flow off the top of my head, almost like a freestyle rapper would. I just spit them out. When I wrote most of these lyrics, I would listen back to what I did initially and I would try and come as close to what that nonsense was and turn it into something intelligible. You'd be surprised if you heard the original stuff versus what's there now. It's very similar. Sometimes I'll just spit out a line that really sinks in and really defines what that song is going to be about. Then, I go through phases where I'll try and write one round of lyrics very fast and go through the whole record like that, make sure all the lyrics are done so I could sing demos. Then, I'll go back through them again and make sure song ideas aren't repeating themselves or using the same word too many times or what not and then really fine-tuning them in the end. Doing the personal approach is just really the only way I've ever tried to do it. Either that personal approach or observing other people or just turning on the news and seeing what's going on in the world. I've never really been about singing about lots of partying and things like that. I don't know. I like the passion behind music to be more on a serious note.
Toddstar: You talk about a serious note, even a song like "Fall Again," it's just so introspective. That's one of the magic components of your music, I believe.
Mark: That's definitely one of my favorites on the album. It probably has my favorite solo on the record, too.
Toddstar: That's a classic solo, that's for sure. You mentioned talking about news. There's big news in the Tremonti world in that in two days, you guys kick off your Cauterize tour in Orlando, Florida. At this point, you're two days out; you've got ten new songs that the fans haven't heard yet and won't have their hands on for the length of this tour. How apprehensive are you going into it, knowing that you're going to be playing songs that the crowd isn't familiar with yet?
Mark: We're going to play three new songs right off the bat. Then, once June 9th hits, we'll probably stick another four in there. We just thought it wouldn't be a great idea to let everybody hear the album live before it comes out. I think it's better to have people be familiar with it before we play it live. We've already played "Another Heart," "Flying Monkeys," and "Cauterize" live, so we're going to continue playing those three songs until the release of the album.
Toddstar: I'm very excited that next Wednesday, a week from yesterday, I get to see you at the world famous Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan [http://www.themachineshop.info/].
Mark: Nice, I think that might be the first headline show we're doing.
Toddstar: Let's talk about that. This will be, I want to say, your fourth time playing The Machine Shop. You played with Tremonti, you played with Alter Bridge. What's it about the Machine Shop, man? What keeps bringing you back?
Mark: It's just a fun place. The staff and the owners there are always so nice to everybody that comes through. They make the bands want to come back. You never leave The Machine Shop going, "That was a bad time." It's always a good time. It's very near Detroit, which is where all my roots are. Even though I've been in Florida for, I don't know how many years now, I still consider Detroit where I grew up and made me who I am. I'm proud to play in that area as much as I can. Flint is just next to home.
Toddstar: Speaking of touring, when you're getting ready to go on a tour, again, you're going on about a month run right now before the album hits, what are the things that you're thinking to yourself, "Okay, I've got to remember to take this with me. I've got to take that with me"? What are the things that you're already prepping and packing up?
Mark: When I go on tour, I just make sure I've got, I don't know, 20 black T-shirts and 5 pairs of black jeans with a ton of socks, a ton of boxers, all my toiletries, probably 3 or 4 good books, my laptops. I'm really into art these days. I'll probably have some kind of instructional drawing book or something that I'll do in my off time. Then, just my little practice guitar, my headphones. A real Pandora's Box that I'll take on the bus, so I can write and practice.
Toddstar: I don't play guitar, I don't pretend to play guitar, but it's funny to me, I've been watching and listening to you for so long, to hear you say that you still practice.
Mark: Oh yeah, I practice, especially when I'm on tour. When I'm at home, it's tough because I've got two kids. When they get out of school, it's in the backyard playing soccer or doing whatnot until they go to bed. If I'm lucky, I can start playing guitar at 9:00 and just get an hour. When I'm on tour, I do clinics. Every time we do a headline show, I'll do a clinic at around 2:30 and then right into sound check, right into meet and greets, dinner and then back to the guitar. I get a lot of hours on the guitar when I'm gone. I really consider touring time a time to really get a ton of work done, since I've got a lot of down time.
Toddstar: Okay, looking back, Mark, at everything you've done, huge career as a solo artist, huge career with Alter Bridge, huge career with Creed, with everything you've done, if you could go back and pick a couple things that you're most proud of, what are those moments in your career that you're proud of?
Mark: I think when we played our first arena shows back in the day with Creed, I was real happy to get there. It's just a surreal kind of thing because when you're a kid, thinking you want to be in a band, you envision that and I finally got there. I think even prouder was the time when we got Alter Bridge to the arena level. We played Wembley Arena. It was a big night for us. Personally, when I got my Signature Model PRS guitar, it was a big moment for me. That really lit a fire under me to be a better guitar player. I didn't feel deserving at the time when I had that guitar because I think that was on our second record with Creed. At the time, I spent most of my time songwriting, which I still do, but I really kicked in with the lead practice a lot more once I got that Signature Model to help out. You could probably say it's probably just to have fans that appreciate what you do and to be able to keep on doing what we do is what makes me the happiest.
Toddstar: That's a great sentiment. It's nice to know how humble you are, and that comes across. Who still inspires you, Mark? Other than your own music and what flows through your head and your hands, is there anybody still out there inspiring you to grow as a guitar player or as a singer?
Mark: Yeah, mostly, I get inspired by guitar players, not necessarily songwriters. Like I said, 90% of what I do is songwriting and working on that, 10% of what I do is digging in on the guitar. In the songwriting world, I stay in my own little bubble as much as I can. Guitar-wise, I'm very inspired by stuff that doesn't really sound much like me, like Derek Trucks, to me, is just one of the most inspiring players alive right now. Then, Joe Bonamassa came through town a few months back and just floored me on how good he was. I like players like that. I like Warren Haynes and Audley Freed and Robben Ford, Larry Carlton. Guys that might not necessarily play in the same style as what I do. I spent most of my life playing more of the speed metal stuff mixed with all my instructional guitar videos that I bought from Paul Gilbert and Vinnie Moore, more shred style stuff. The older I've gotten, the more I've focused on phrasing and feel and vibrato and classy stuff that guys like Larry Carlton bring to the table.
Toddstar: All right, the other side of Mark Tremonti.
Toddstar: Listen, Mark, I know you're a busy man. I know you're trying to get out there and promote Cauterize all you can. We wish you well with Cauterize, which will be released on June 9th on Fret12 Records. We wish you well and safe travels, until we see you next Wednesday at the world famous Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan.
Mark: Awesome, man. Be sure to say hello.
Toddstar: We will, Mark.
Mark: All right, take care, man.
Toddstar: Thanks, brother.
Mark: All right, thanks.