By: Robert Cavuoto
It has been three years since Alter Bridge’s last studio album, ABIII, and their fans have been eagerly awaiting their return. With Myles Kennedy on vocals/guitar, Mark Tremonti on guitar/vocals, Brian Marshall on bass and Scott Phillips on drums, the band returns on October 8th with their fourth album, Fortress.
Fortress builds upon the sound that Alter Bridge has been known for with their uncompromised vocal melodies, untouchable dueling guitar work and explosive rhythm section.
From the opening acoustic guitar work on “Cry Of Achilles” throughout the other 12 songs, it is clear that Alter Bridge are back to reclaim their place as one of hard rock’s marquee bands.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with both Mark Tremonti and Myles Kennedy while visiting New York for a press run. Mark and I talk about the inspiration behind Fortress, well as how he has evolved as a guitar player since his days with Creed.
Robert Cavuoto: I love Fortress and think it’s by far your most aggressive and dynamic work.
Mark Tremonti: Thank you very much. I’m very excited about getting it out there.
Robert: What do you think your fan’s reaction to it will be?
Mark Tremonti: We’ve been lucky enough to have all these listening parties with fans and the response has been tremendous so far. Hopefully, that’s a good indication.
Robert: Do you think it’s your most aggressive CD to date?
Mark Tremonti: Yeah, it’s the highest energy we’ve put into an Alter Bridge CD.
Robert: Are you stockpiling riffs and then bring these to the table when you and Myles connect?
Mark Tremonti: Most of the stuff was written beforehand, with the exception of two or three songs. When we get together, we’ll play each other our favorite ideas and within about a week-and-a-half, we have an outline of the record with all the parts. We get with the rest of the band, get arrangements together and go to production. I think we spent about a month just tearing into these tunes and make them the best they could be.
Robert: Do you write any of the lyrics or does Myles handle? I ask because you recently put out your solo CD, where you did it all.
Mark Tremonti: Myles does the bulk of the lyric writing. I wrote some of the lyrics, but the thing that I enjoy the most is writing vocal melodies. Myles writes vocal melodies and then put them together. When I write melodies, I kind of just throw whatever comes off the top of my head at him, and then he’ll either run with that idea or start from scratch. On “Waters Rising” I wrote all the lyrics to that song, because I sing it.
Robert: How many songs did you write for this CD and do you tend to over write?
Mark Tremonti: No, we’re not one of those bands that writes 25 songs. We wrote 13 or 14 songs. If we’re not feeling a song, we won’t keep drilling it. We just kind of drop it. We only keep the good stuff.
Robert: I’m intrigued by the title track, “Fortress,” and the CD artwork. Is there a special meaning behind it all?
Mark Tremonti: “Fortress” is a play on words, as people thought we were going to have a big castle on the cover. The real meaning is all these things in life that you feel are eternal and are never going to go away. Everything is vulnerable, and everything ends at some point. My funny example is Santa Claus. As a kid Santa Claus will live forever, but he’s not real. Or Rome, it was the most powerful force in the world, and sooner or later everything comes and goes.
Robert: My two favorite songs are “Cry of Achilles,” and “All Ends Well.” I think because of the melody. Can you tell me a little bit about each of their backgrounds?
Mark Tremonti: For “Cry of Achilles” I was sitting down with Myles and he picked up an acoustic and started playing that intro part. I said to him, “Man, we’ve got to really work on that and put that into the song. Most of that song came together when we were in pre-production, eighty percent of it came up on the spot there in the studio. That song was like catching lightning in a bottle.
“All Ends Well” is a song that was the very last song we put together. We really wanted to put something dynamics on the album. Most of the records seemed to be heavy and aggressive, and we knew we had a portion of our fanbase that liked that kind of uplifting, melodic finger-picked kind of song. We decided to put that one together.
Robert: I actually like the way “All Ends Well” ties the CD together and brings some hope to the aggressive story.
Mark Tremonti: Yeah, we wanted to have some positivity on the record. We wanted to show the other side of the band that we think is so important.
Robert: Looking back at all four of Alter Bridge’s releases; One Day Remains, Blackbird, AB III, and Fortress, can you share your insights into them?
Mark Tremonti: They’re all just a snapshot in the life of the band.
On One Day Remains we were in survival mode. Creed was splitting up, and we had to get back out there and save our careers, save what we love to do so much. One Day Remains was us working as hard as we could to put out the best record as fast as we could.
Most of the material was written before we even had talked to Myles. So when he came down, we completed the album and put it out. At that point he wasn’t playing guitar. I think the biggest negative about the first record was that we were trying to get out from the shadow of Creed.
People said three out of the four guys were of Creed; this is Creed Part II; Creed with a new singer. So, we took that as we need to take this band and make it sound unique and different from Creed.
What can we do to make it sound like its own band? Myles jumped on the guitar. He’s a phenomenal guitar player, and we didn’t really know it during the making of the first album. I think one day I came upon him playing some jazz and I said, “You bastard, I didn’t have any idea you were this good a guitarist.” So, that became our secret weapon on the second album. That was very special to this band. I think everybody thinks our best song we’ve ever done is “Blackbird” on that album.
I think that AB III was a step forward into the more experimental sound of the band. Then with this album, I think we really pushed and tried to make it unpredictable. People have responded very well to it so far. I think “Blackbird” and “Fortress” are my two favorites.
Robert: Do you feel Fortress is setting a musical precedent for future CDs?
Mark Tremonti: I think we’ll take this idea of trying to change up what we’ve done and keep it exciting and not fall into any patterns. But, you never know. You never know what’s going to happen. Maybe we’ll write a bunch of ballads that we’re just feeling at the moment, but I doubt that will happen. [Laughter] I just think we’ll try and push ourselves and not keep doing the same thing over and over.
Robert: That kind of leads me into my next question. You’re such an amazing guitar player, do you feel the need to re-invent yourself CD after CD? Are fans expecting that from you?
Mark Tremonti: On leads for sure. I really dig in, especially before I do my solos, I’m really into learning as much as I possibly can and try and take away some new techniques and abandon old techniques. On this album I made sure I didn’t use any wah pedal on my leads. That ended up being my security blanket. I kind of wanted to make sure I didn’t do absolutely any of it on the lead stuff. I still love my wah, but I just wanted to do something different.
My secret weapon when it comes to the leads became my legato runs and after doing that for two albums, I wanted to make sure his album didn’t have any of that. It ended up being once in the “Cry a River” solo where I do a descending legato run at the end. But it only happened once, so I tried to just not keep doing the same. I don’t want to be predictable.
On the rhythm side of things, and the songwriting side of things, I try not to think about it too much. I’m trying out so many different styles. I hopefully will naturally write stuff that’s not just sounding the same all the time.
Robert: Overall, do you think as a guitar player you’ve evolved and grown since Creed?
Mark Tremonti: Yeah, definitely. In the lead department for sure. When I first started out with Creed, I couldn’t really play solos too well. I couldn’t bend a note with nice vibrato. I could play exercises that I learned in high school, junior high and college, but I wasn’t very good at playing the blues.
Once I got my signature guitar from Paul Reed Smith, that’s when I really said, “Damn, I really need to learn how to play this thing.” [Laughter] I’ve been a songwriter since I was 11-years-old, and that’s still my main focus. I’d say guitar playing makes up maybe 25% of my focus; 75% goes into the writing. It isn’t technical at all. It’s just running vocal melodies and setting moods.
Robert: That’s pretty incredible and inspiring for a lot of musicians. What advice would you give to young guitarists who are maybe in the same spot as yourself when you were in Creed, trying to make sense of it all?
Mark Tremonti: I’d say try and develop your ear and learn as much as you can. Improvising is probably the biggest thing that’s helped me. When I was growing up, I would buy instructional DVDs, and I would get out the metronome and play the same lick a thousand times. I could play individual licks, sweeps and all these fancy riffs, but I wasn’t good at just putting on a backing track and playing.
If a band called me up onstage, I couldn’t play with them. I think that’s what the most important thing is for a guitar play to just be able to express themselves at any given time, and not have to play exactly what you have planned out to play.
Robert: That’s great advice. What guitars and amps did you use on Fortress?
Mark Tremonti: I used two guitars; both are my signature models; one of them with the fixed bridge; one of them with a tremolo. The fixed bridge I used for all the rhythm stuff. I’m tuning all over the place.
For the lead stuff, I like to have a bar, just in case I want to mess around with that during a solo. Amp-wise I used a Cornford RK 100 for a bunch of the rhythm stuff and a bit of the lead stuff. I layered that with some Uberschall and a Rectifier, as well.
Robert: Was there a conscious decision to not making Fortress sound not like your solo album? I know you used the same producer.
Mark Tremonti: Yeah, Alter Bridge and my solo stuff just have different vibe. Alter Bridge stuff is more dreamy and atmospheric and experimental. My solo stuff is more aggressive and in your face and straight forward. I try to bring out as much of my younger roots as possible. It’s still a focus on vocal melody, for the most part.
Robert: What songs are you going to be performing live off Fortress?
Mark Tremonti: We’re not quite sure yet. We haven’t put together a set list. We’ll see. The first show we’re doing is coming out in just a few weeks, and we haven’t rehearsed any of them. I think we’ll probably only play about four of the new songs, because the album won’t be out yet, and we don’t want the first listens for the album to be all live. We want people to have the album first.
Robert: Is the tour going to be expanded to the U.S. anytime soon?
Mark Tremonti: We’re heading over to Europe for a month. Then we’re planning on taking December off, and then there’s talk of putting something together for January. We just have to put our heads together. It will probably be a short tour in the States. We’ll be planning on coming back and doing the seven festivals here in the States in the spring. So, we’re going to do as much as we can.
Robert: You’re an amazing, accomplished guitar. What would you have done had you never picked up the guitar?
Mark Tremonti: I was studying finance in college, so I would have probably had some sort of financial or accounting career. When I was in school, math was always my strongest subject. I would have done something along those lines.