By: Rick Landers
Explosive gale force performances mixed with melodic interludes define Alter Bridge, a group with the instrumental backbone of Creed and the powerful vocals of lead singer, Myles Kennedy. With the blistering guitar work of Mark Tremonti, tethered to the unyielding foundational percussion and bass guitar of Scott Phillips (drums) and Brian Marshall (bass), Kennedy and crew gather together as Alter Bridge, into a perfect musical storm.
On stage and in the studio, Myles offers up a full spectrum of musical influences that include rock, metal, jazz, and rhythm & blues. And when he grabs his axe he’s Tremonti’s alter ego on guitar and one with a solid grasp of music theory, barreling riffs and nuanced melodies. Kennedy’s talents and stage presence have been given a nod by none other than Velvet Revolver’s Slash, who Myles was touring with on the day of this interview.
Alter Bridge’s 2004 debut album, One Day Remains, was primarily written by Tremonti and was soon certified Gold. But, the group’s second album, Blackbird had Kennedy’s songwriting influence stamped on it and gathered stronger reviews, AB III, the groups third outing released in 2010 on Roadrunner Records, has received solid reviews and it’s first single release off the album, “Isolation”, ratched up the charts to the #1 position in January 2011. The album also hit the #1 rock album spot and #2 place overall on iTunes in the U.S.
After his current tour with Slash, Myles and the rest of Alter Bridge will be prepping to hit the road again, but this time in Europe. Kennedy also told us that he expects the group to perform a series of concerts this year in the U.S.
Since “Isolation” reached the top spot on the charts a couple of days before our interview, we asked Myles about the group’s reaction to track’s success, along with questions about Kennedy’s musical influences, his collaboration with Slash, his association with Paul Reed Smith Guitars and to get an idea when his “back burner” solo project will be completed and out on the street.
Rick Landers: You guys must be really pumped with “Isolation” reaching number 1. Can you tell us how that song came about and are you surprised that it’s doing so well?
Myles Kennedy: I’m really surprised it does so well, because it’s such an aggressive track. We weren’t really sure how it would be received on radio. We had a feeling that our diehard fans would like it, because they tend to like the heavier stuff. But the fact that it’s been embraced into American rock radio has been a pleasant surprise for us.
It came about when Mark (Tremonti) and I first got together and started putting ideas together. Mark played me the riff and I was just sold immediately. I think it was one of the first things he played for me and I knew it was a compelling idea right off the bat, because generally when somebody plays something, even the first time, you get it. You don’t have to hear it a few times. It’s usually a pretty good sign.
Yeah, it just evolved from there. Once we finished the record, it felt like it was the obvious first track to go ahead and release, just as kind of the statement we were trying to make with this record, as opposed to going the pop route or something. We’ve been very pleased so far.
Rick: What I liked about it is it’s a really heavy song, but the lyrics, even though it talks about isolation, it spoke to me as a song about hope. Do you feel the same about it? It says “takes you to the end” but it then says “until you love again,” which means after you get through this, there’s something else.
Myles Kennedy: Yeah, definitely. I think you’re very right. A lot of people haven’t necessarily tapped into that, but I think the record overall is an extremely dark record. There are those elements there. I’m glad you picked up on that.
Rick: Has Alter Bridge ever had a down period when things weren’t happening for you guys, and you questioned whether you should continue or things weren’t really gonna break for you? I know that your first album went gold, but did you ever have a down period where you thought, “You know, this isn’t working,” and you really had to hold together the inner strength of the band to keep moving forward.
Myles Kennedy: Sure. There have certainly been ups and downs over the course of the last seven years and I think that for me personally, I question things because it’s such a tough business. But, when we go out and play, it was a lot of our diehard supporters, the people that would keep coming to the shows.
They would keep me energized and make me realize this is something we can’t turn our backs on, because these people still like what we do. And as long as they’re there, we’ve got to keep making records and touring. Until we’re showing up to the venue and it’s the sound of crickets and no one’s in the building, we’ll keep trying to push forward.
Rick: You’re from Washington right? I used to live on Whidbey Island. The Great Northwest, you’ve got a lot of good music coming out of there.
Myles Kennedy: Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I have a theory that it’s because it’s cloudy so much it forces us all to go indoors and create, as opposed to being out in the sun all day playing volleyball. [Both laughing]
Rick: When I’m home I typically gravitate toward one of many guitars – a ’66 Tele. I’m always picking that up. What do you do at home?
Myles Kennedy: It’s funny. I have a few older guitars, a ’67 Gibson SG and a ’67 335, which I love dearly. There’s this PRS McCarty they sent me about seven years ago, and there’s something about that guitar that I always tend to go to when I’m at home. It just feels good in my hands. It’s just very comfortable. It sounds good.
That one, and as far as acoustics go, I tend to play acoustic probably a little more than I play electric at home. There are a few Taylors. I kind of like to mix it up because I like altered tunings, so I have one guitar specifically for slack key tuning, open G, open D, one that’s standard, so on and so forth. It’s just kind of whatever I feel like trying to pull out that day tuning-wise. That’s where I tend to gravitate.
Rick: You think you pick up acoustic because you think of yourself more as a singer/songwriter than a lead guitarist?
Myles Kennedy: That’s a good question because I started off strictly as a lead guitar player. When I first started playing 25 years ago, that was all I’d do is sit in my room and learn solos. I kind of got an epiphany one day. In fact, it was after this guitar competition that I had performed in. I was with my friend that day and I was like, “You know, from this moment on, I want to start chasing down the songs.” That was really when I started diving into more of the singer/songwriter approach.
Rick: Have you played the new PRS acoustics yet?
Myles Kennedy: I have one. I have an Angelus and I absolutely love it. For me as far as finger -style goes, it’s my favorite of all the guitars I have because it’s very loud, it’s very punchy and it reacts very nice with my right hand. I’m a big fan of that guitar.
Rick: Have you tried their amps?
Myles Kennedy: Oh yeah. They’re amazing. Actually, Paul [Paul Reed Smith] came by the other day to get me on board with their Signature model guitar. I was at a hotel in Los Angeles and he’s so excited about this guitar. I was like, “I really want to hear this through an amp,” and so he had one of his amps out in the car.
He brought it into the hotel lobby [Both laughing] at like 11:00 at night and cranked it. It was amazing. That company has really figured out how to not just build great guitars, great electric guitars, but now the acoustic guitars and now their amps. Warren Haynes is playing their amps now, so that means quite a bit to me. I believe Derek Trucks, as well, so they definitely are doing something right.
Rick: I met you at one of the Experience PRS trade shows. How’d you get to know Paul?
Myles Kennedy: Actually through Mark, when I first came down to Orlando and started rehearsing with the guys. Mark helped get me on the PRS team. I actually had a PRS that I bought back in ’98, but I wasn’t necessarily part of the family at that point. Mark got me on board and I got to know everybody at the company.
It really does feel like kind of a family. I’ve known them for so long and they’re very good to both Mark and me and they make great instruments. I feel very, I know this sounds cliché, but I do feel lucky to be on the team there and be part of all that. Paul’s great. What I like about Paul is how passionate he is.
He’s obsessed with it still. He’s not like, “Oh, I started this company X amount of years ago and I’m just gonna sit there and collect the checks.” He’s still very proactive and so passionate. You should have seen him when he brought this Signature guitar into the hotel. He was just like a kid. That’s what gets me off, to see people who are as passionate about anything involving music as myself. So, that’s been cool.
Rick: Were you involved in the compilation Signature model.
Myles Kennedy: Yeah. I’m part of that guitar, very honored to be a part of that. The pickups are very unique. It’s something that’s gonna be interesting to see how it’s received once people get the guitar in their hands, especially when you flip it into the single coil position, it’s really a cross between like a P90 and a Lipstick.
It’s a very different sound. It’s not something you’d go, “Oh yeah, that’s a humbucker,” or whatever. It’s new. It’s a different tone. Also when you kick it into that single coil mode, it doesn’t get quieter. A lot of times when you do that with humbuckers, the signal drops dramatically. It’s just a very cool guitar. I’m very proud to be a part of it.
Rick: I’ve got ‘52 Les Paul, and the P90s are monsters.
Myles Kennedy: Aren’t they great? I love P90s. That’s what’s in my SG.
Rick: Oh, yeah?
Myles Kennedy: A ’67. Yes. It’s got one P90. There’s something so throaty and raw about those pickups as opposed to like a humbucker, which is a little smoother, has more body. P90 just cuts through a mix a certain way, especially if you’re playing straight-up rock and roll. That’s a fine pickup for sure.
Rick: How about telling us a little bit about your introduction to the guitar and how you grew as a musician? You were kind of a jazzhead, right?
Myles Kennedy: I was a jazzhead. I was more of a fusionhead, I guess, but I certainly tried to absorb a certain amount of history of jazz and I tried to go down the bebop road for a while, but that was so advanced. Try improvising over “Giant Steps” [John Coltrane] a few times and you realize that’s a lifelong mission. Yeah, I started off that way, but when I was in my early teens, I heard “Eruption” one day and was like, “That is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard,” and I begged my mother to give me an advance on my allowance for the next month and go buy that record. [Rick laughing]
So, that was when my love affair started with the idea of lead guitar. From there I dove heavy into Jimmy Page and so on and so forth. I did go through quite a fusion phase. I was really into Mike Stern, Frank Gambale. I’m a big Pat Metheny fan. A lot of people kind of equate that with elevator music. I think they’re missing the point. If you really listen to what Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays did together, it’s just incredible music. So, I definitely tried to absorb as much of that as I could at one point.
Rick: Were you ever into the Funk Brothers sound, or even Curtis Mayfield and those type of Motown type of sounds?
Myles Kennedy: Oh, yeah, absolutely, but more so as a singer. Really, that’s how I learned to sing was all that stuff. When I decided to start singing, basically I had this compilation of Stevie Wonder’s called, Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium, whereby I went and did some more research and discovered Songs in the Key of Life, and that was where I would try and sing with those. I’d be driving in my car and I heard “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. That was, and is to this day, probably one of my favorite records ever. So, as a singer, that was a very big influence on me.
Rick: One of your most recent endeavors, you were working with Slash, right?
Myles Kennedy: Yeah, I’m actually out on the road with him right now.
Rick: Did you know him before you got on the road with him?
Myles Kennedy: I actually met him, I guess it was late 2009. He asked me to be part of his solo record. It worked out well and he basically brought up the idea of touring together, so we started doing that last year. Yeah, it’s been a very cool thing and we’re definitely gonna do more in the future.
Rick: How do you guys mesh creatively? What do you bring to the mix?
Myles Kennedy: It’s cool because he’s definitely got a certain groove and a certain kind of funkiness, for lack of a better word, and that’s something that I really love. As a singer, since I started singing based off that feel, it’s really easy for me to make that transition going from Alter Bridge.
It’s definitely more hard rock metal, very straight and mechanical with some of the guitar parts and whatnot. You juxtapose Slash, it’s definitely more groove-oriented. There’s just a certain vibe that I really enjoy getting to sing over. It’s been good.
Rick: Has there been any discussion about having a live album from what you’re doing now?
Myles Kennedy: No, actually, we haven’t discussed it. I know you can there are a bunch of live recordings out there that we did, but not an official one that’s been released.
Rick: What amp are you using now on the road?
Myles Kennedy: With Slash I’m using the Mesa Mark IV and with Alter Bridge I’m using the Diezel Herbert. I was using the Diezel in conjunction with the Mesa Mark IV in Alter Bridge and basically what was happening is the front of house guy was like, “I’m not running a lot of the Mesa, because it’s so similar sonically to Mark’s sound.”
So I figured I’ll just run a mono signal instead of doing a stereo signal, because it was cluttering things up and the Diezel sits in a certain place, frequency wise, in Alter Bridge. Over in Slash, the Mark IV works fantastic because he’s using a Marshall and Bobby’s using, I believe the Randall Nuno [Bettencourt] amp, so the Mesa sits real nice in that mix.
Rick: When you and Mark play, how do you guys mesh your guitar styles?
Myles Kennedy: Well, it’s evolved over the years. It’s been good for me because he comes from such a metal background and I’m more of a blues-based, jazz background. So, I think putting both styles together creates something that we’re pretty happy with. It continues to evolve. I think, from record to record.
The first record I played on with Alter Bridge was the Blackbird record. By the time we got to AB III, we’ve been at it long enough and touring long enough to where we kind of figured out just how to get the best out of one another dynamically.
Rick: You guys have been together for what, six or seven years now, right?
Myles Kennedy: Yeah, yeah. It’s crazy. We started playing together in early 2004.
Rick: Do you have any plans for a solo album?
Myles Kennedy: It’s funny. When they did the Creed reunion, that was what I planned and I spent all of 2009 putting together this solo record. It’s pretty much recorded. I have to finish the vocals on it, but then I got the call from Slash and so now it’s just a matter of trying to find a window to release it.
Actually the other day Slash and I were talking and he was like, “So, when are you gonna release that solo record?” and I looked at him and said, “I don’t know.” Everything’s just filling up, between Slash and Alter Bridge touring schedules and recordings and whatnot, there’s only so much time.
Rick: Sure. Is it an acoustic album or is it electric?
Myles Kennedy: It’s a little bit of both, but definitely the foundation of it is more singer-songwriter than anything I’ve done in the past or been a part of. Most of the songs are borne out of me sitting with an acoustic guitar. But, once we got in the studio and put the arrangements together, then we, just for the sake of dynamics and whatnot, found that electric just fit in nicely. Hopefully, one day we’ll get it out there and people can hear it.