As guitarist for one of the biggest hard rock bands of the 1990s, Mark Tremonti has been drinking freely from the fountain of success for over a decade. With Creed, he charted number one singles, multiple gold and platinum selling albums and reached heights of success that few of today’s pragmatic rockers can even dream. Then, when the band broke up in 2001, he and bandmates Brian Marshall (bass) and Scott Phillips (drums) decided to refocus, find a new singer and get back at it.
It would be irresponsible not to think that a band made up of three-quarters of Creed wouldn’t achieve some level of mainstream recognition. But, in a day when rock albums simply don’t sell by the millions, Alter Bridge has consistently topped charts, and even converted many Creed-haters in the process.
With the infinitely talented Myles Kennedy at the forefront, the band is going as strong as any. Their thrash-affected rhythms, uninhibited use of flying guitar solos and memorable choruses make them a mainstream rock band for the jaded underground rock fan.
In the following conversation, Tremonti talks about the commercial rock label that so many scoff at, his instrument, his proudest musical moment (maybe not what you’d expect) and just wanting to rock. An admirable goal.
One of the first things I noticed about ABIII, was that it had 16 tracks. You don’t often see rock albums with that many songs. Did you ever think about shelving a few for the next one?
No, we had to release the record over in Europe first, because of all the record label switches that we were doing. We wanted to get it out before all the mad rush for Christmas happened, and in doing that we had to make sure that when the album came out in America, we had put a little something extra on the album to make sure people would go out and get it. So, we wanted to make sure that they had two bonus tracks on there to make it something special for them.
What do you think is the best song on the album?
I’m not sure. I think “Show Me A Sign” is probably my favorite song. I don’t know if it’s the best, but it’s probably my favorite. I think that “Ghost Of Days Gone By” is another favorite and I think that’s probably going to be our next single. But, I don’t know, I think everybody has their own opinions on it.
Do you have a song from your personal catalogue that you think is especially brilliant?
Well, I think the song that we all think is our crowning achievement is “Blackbird,” off the last record. Every time we play it, there’s just something special about it. It’s probably one of the highlights of the show every night.
You seem to play the songs a lot faster live that they are on record. Have you ever considered playing to a click track for more consistency?
Nah, we just like to let it go and just have fun with it. We’ve tried to slow it down—sometimes we get ahead of ourselves—but we don’t want to be constrained by click tracks. We just wanna rock, you know?
I was wondering if you’re someone who is really into music theory, if you had a music education and if you take that into account when you’re writing songs?
I know my music theory, but I try and not think about it when I’m writing. I don’t want to try and play by any rules. And a lot of times when I’m writing, I’m in altered tunings, so most of the theory goes out the window. When you’re in open-tunings all your scales and stuff kind of go away unless you’re relearn them. But yeah, I like to throw away technique and theory, and all that stuff, and just focus on melodies.
So, when you’re writing and you’re not in a standard tuning, do you tune to chords or how does that work?
It just depends. Sometime I’ll be in standard. A lot of times, what happens is, I’ll be in standard tuning when I’m just practicing the guitar and I’ll just start working on ideas. If I hit a wall, and I’m not feeling inspired I’ll first go to drop-D tuning, then if I’m not inspired I’ll go to open-G tuning, then an open D5-tuning, then open-E tuning, and just keep floating around until something inspires me.
When it comes to playing leads in different tunings, do you then go and relearn the scales?
Yeah, well that’s always a fun adventure, you know? Most of the time, in the alternate tunings, I’ve only really done solos in the open-D5 tuning—and of course drop-D tuning, but there’s only one difference in the strings there—but, open-D5 is fun; the scales are very symmetrical, you can pretty much take the same scale shape down through all the frets because of the way it’s laid out in most cases. You play patterns that you wouldn’t normally hear on a regular guitar, so it sounds unique.
Do you have a favorite scale or mode that you go to a lot?
I guess, depending on the song, I’ve been fiddling around a lot with dominant ideas. But I’ve been practicing a lot of bluesy stuff and just focusing on the dominant chord tones and making sure I can follow the chord changes with the right sweet-notes.
Do you have a favorite solo of yours?
On this record, I think the “All Hope Is Gone” solo is probably my favorite one. On the last record, it was probably “Brand New Start” or “Blackbird.”
Do you play the entire solo for “Blackbird?”
Myles does the first part, and when the dirty guitars kick in, I do the second part.
Because Myles is such an amazing singer, I always wonder if he was that good at guitar when you guys first hooked up with him?
Yeah, he was. He was an amazing guitar player and we didn’t even realize it. He was in jazz bands since he was a kid—working with guys in their 40s teaching him jazz. He was in a band called Cosmic Dust, which was a jazz quartet, where he learned a lot and he’s been doing it for a long, long time.
You achieved so much success with Creed, and now you’re continuing that success with Alter Bridge. What, at this point, are your long term goals musically?
Just to keep on making better albums and become a better player and there’s a couple other projects that I’d like to see happen. I’m gonna be working on a solo record here, in this next year. I wanna get that out, I wanna do an instrumental record one day. Just trying to be better and come up with better songs.
Are you going to be singing on your solo record?
I’m gonna attempt it, we’ll see what happens.
Is that you singing on “Words Darker Than Their Wings?”
Yeah, that’s me.
Well, it sounds like you definitely can do it.
Oh, well, I’ve always had range issues. And when I write melodies, I write in my falsetto, in which I can go as high or as low as I want. I just never want to put something on a record that doesn’t get its due—doesn’t see its full potential. And if my voice can’t do that, then I’ll just leave it off the record and leave it for something else.
Does that go for Alter Bridge as well?
Well, with Alter Bridge, everything reaches its full potential because Myles can hit every note he ever wanted to. So, if I can’t do it, then I’ll just leave it for another project.
How to do you feel about the term “commercial rock” being used to describe the band?
I think the first record might have fit that better than we do now. I think this record—we really didn’t try to conform at all to any kind of commercial sound. We just wanted this to be an artistic expression, we weren’t thinking about radio singles. It’s funny, the first time we don’t think about radio singles, we have our best chance at getting a number one rock single out of “Isolation.”
So, I think that’s where we came from. Creed was a commercial band, but I think Alter Bridge is getting further and further away from that commercial sound.
Did you start Creed with the intention of being a commercial rock band?
No, it just was what it was. At the time, it wasn’t the commercial norm on the radio. When we came out it was bands like Third Eye Blind… kind of lighthearted, college party music kind of stuff. When we came out, [we’re one of] the only bands that were singing more somber-sounding songs.
Do you find audiences in New Jersey and New York to be much different from audiences elsewhere in the US or in Europe?
Jersey crowds are great. In the States, Jersey crowds are definitely one of the most active and one of the best out there. I think Texan crowds are great, Chicago crowds are great. You get them all over the place, but Jersey has always been great for us.
We’re excited to come and always look forward to the New Jersey crowds.
ABIII is available now via Alter Bridge Recordings and Alter Bridge will be playing Starland Ballroom on Friday Dec. 17 and the Gramercy Theatre on Dec. 20. For more info, atlerbridge.com.