It was only last year around this time that I was able to finally speak to one of my favorite guitar players of the present day when he was on tour with his band Alter Bridge. I’m talking about Creed and Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti. This time around, Mark is on tour with his solo project appropriately named Tremonti, where he is still the guitar player, but he’s also the singer and has a guy named Wolfgang playing bass for him.
Back in May, Tremonti released the follow-up to his 2012 release, All I Was, with the highly-anticipated Cauterize, which did not let down. Cauterize would be the first CD featuring bassist and son of the legendary Eddie Van Halen, Wolfgang Van Halen, who joined Tremonti back in 2012 as a touring bassist when bassist and Alter Bridge/Creed bandmate, Brian Marshall, left the band. This past June, it was announced that Tremonti would be hitting the road this fall with the mighty Trivium as part of the Hard Drive Live Concert Series, which makes a pit stop at The Emporium in Patchogue, NY on Sept. 20 and here at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Sept. 23, with Wilson and Ronin in tow for the Starland show.
I got to sit down and chat with Mark again to talk about the past year since I last saw him and to also talk about the new CD, Cauterize, the tour with Trivium, and will we be seeing a new Alter Bridge record moving forward. Here’s what he had to say:
First of all, congrats on the success of Cauterize. These songs are pretty incredible!
Awesome! Thanks, man! I appreciate it.
This is the first Tremonti record that Wolfie played on, right? What was that experience like?
Yeah, on the first record it was just Eric [Friedman, rhythm guitarist] playing the bass, so we were just a three-piece. And then he came out with us on tour and then kind of became a member as the tour went on and tracked both Cauterize and Dust. The experience was nice. We’d already been touring for a while, so everyone had already been used to playing with one another. So, when we got together to write, usually he’d come down a couple days after we’d get started and he’d catch up real quick because he’s such a quick learner and he’d just lay down his parts. Actually, when he laid down his parts in the studio, I was writing my guitar solos or whatever, so I was never really in the studio when he was tracking, but I was there when we would get together to do pre-production for almost two to two and a half weeks. So I could hear what everybody was playing and it sounded great at pre-production, so it sounded even better on the album.
Did you do anything differently when recording Cauterize? Or do you have a certain methodology that you follow when you record?
Well, with this record we had that long period of time to do pre-production. On the first record, we really didn’t do that. We just organized the songs in my studio and then took them over to Elvis’ studio [producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette] and played them pretty much how we had them, but with this album, I really wanted to dig into each song. Pre-production can make a big difference in an album. When you tear those songs apart and put them back together 10 different ways until it sounds right. Sometimes, your initial thought you had was right and sometimes they’re not and it’s just good to challenge each song to make them better.
I feel like Cauterize is like a rollercoaster of musical emotion. On “Radical Change,” the riff gave the song an old school Metallica thrash feel, but then you go into the sludgy riffs of “Flying Monkeys” and then back into the thrash feel of the title track…It felt like a thrill ride just to listen to the CD!
Yeah, I think dynamics are really important when laying out the track sequence. I think during the mixing stage, that’s when everyone kind of makes playlists for themselves. So, I would do that every night and kind of listen through the beginning and the ending of each song in the order that I had them and every day come up with a new playlist. And then on the very last day is when everyone gets together and I lay out what I think should be the song order and everyone throws their two cents in and we came up with that sequence.
By the way, I’m not sure if it was that I didn’t pay as much attention to the first CD as much, but your vocals are killer on these songs. Did you go through any vocal training or did you always have this voice?
Well, I think the difference between the first record and the second record, when I tracked vocals on the first record, I’d never been a frontman out there singing on tour, and that really helped me improve as a singer is getting in front crowds every night and singing full blast up there. It really changes your voice because when you’re up there surviving as a vocalist, you tend to develop much quicker than if you were just taking vocal lessons and sitting at home with your piano and your singing training buddy.
As I was listening to the title track and its melody, as well as the song “Sympathy,” I noticed that it was very Alter Bridge-ish, which led me to believe that you do the majority of the writing in Alter Bridge including vocal melodies because I can totally hear Myles singing that hook as well…
Well, vocal melodies are my favorite things to write. That’s always been something I was frustrated with. In my career, people always considered me as just the lead guitar player. I’d always kind of remind people that I write vocal melodies. That’s my favorite thing to do beyond guitar soloing or anything. Vocal melodies are the most important thing to me. So, it’s good to finally be in a band where I can finally sing them. I always felt that I didn’t want to write a vocal melody that my voice would limit the potential of it. That’s why I never doubt that Myles could ever sing so perfectly, but with me, I have limited range, so I always have to tune this stuff down so low to be able to hit all the notes, but that’s just what we have to do.
Has anyone told you that before? Especially on this CD that some of these hooks sound like something Myles would sing?
Well, it makes sense. Like I said, I’ve had a lot to do with the melodies for Alter Bridge, but at the same token, Myles writes a lot of the guitar riffs for Alter Bridge. I write a lot of vocal melodies, he writes guitar riffs and guitar solos. We kind of just share everything when it comes to songwriting. There’s probably a lot of guitar riffs that people would never think that Myles wrote that he actually wrote and there’s probably a lot of vocal melodies that people thought Myles wrote that I wrote. We both write parts and then we put them together like puzzle pieces when it comes time to record time. I think Myles is finishing up the tracking on his solo record this year, so you’ll really get to see the two sides of the coin with both of our input on the songwriting.
Now, you had so many songs to record that you’ve even finished another new CD called Dust, which is set to be released soon as well. What’s with that?
Yeah, we’ll release that early next year. I just wanted to make the most of our time with Elvis in the studio and we planned on recording 20 songs. So, we put together about 25 songs before pre-production and we just chopped off the ones that weren’t quite as polished and then recorded 20. I didn’t know if it was going to be a 12- or 13-song record and I didn’t the rest to be considered B-sides, so that’s when I decided to do two 10-song albums, and I’m glad we did it that way because it’s just so much more exciting to have a whole new record than a handful of B-sides. Plus, it feels good to just have it done. It’s already been mixed and mastered. Now that I’ve gotten to live with it for a while, I have to go back and have it re-sequenced because I feel that the sequence that I have it in now might be better, so we’ll have to throw it back to the mastering.
Your band hits the road in Sept. as part of the Hard Drive Live series with Trivium. That is an amazing bill! You hit our shores on Sept. 20 at The Emporium in Patchogue, NY and on Sept. 23 at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ. Are you excited to share the stage with Trivium and were you a fan of their music before?
Yeah, I’m really excited. It’s good because I think that both bands are kind of trying to gather the other bands fan base because I think that Trivium has gone from the extreme metal stuff to the more melodic side of things and with my history, we’re coming from the more commercial stuff into the metal side of things. So, it’s a good mixture. I thought when Trivium first came out, they really had a lot of hype behind them and they’ve really blown up in Europe and have done really well. So I’m excited to get out there and see it in person every night.
It also looks like the Van Halen tour will end halfway through your tour. Will Wolfgang be joining you once the VH tour ends?
Yeah, that’s the plan. I think what makes the most sense is to have him just come out with us when we hit Europe. I don’t know if he’ll come half way through the U.S. tour or not, but definitely when we go back out and start a new tour probably in November.
I guess you plan on touring as Tremonti for a while since you technically have two Tremonti CDs out or coming out soon.
The plan was to tour through the end of the year with Tremonti. Then January, February and March, record a new Alter Bridge record, but then it takes four months to set up an album, so me and Myles will split off and do Tremonti and Slash in those months and then come back, and when it’s time to do the press runs to promote the new Alter Bridge record and then go on tour with Alter Bridge and then just kind of fill the spots with Tremonti tours and Slash tours whenever there’s gaps in the Alter Bridge tours.
Well, I guess you answered my next question about a new Alter Bridge record! Great to hear! Now, on a personal level, your former partner in crime from Creed, Scott Stapp, made some headlines last year with some crazy video and has since cleaned himself up. Have you, Brian or Scott been in contact?
Yeah, you know, I actually ran into him. It was my wife’s birthday and we went over to the Hard Rock Hotel to just hang out by the pool with the kids and up walks Scott and his family. They came up from South Florida to do the same thing to do a little vacation at the Hard Rock, so just by coincidence we ran into one another, and this was after he’d cleaned himself up and gotten straight. So we talked for a good hour and a half or so and he’s doing well. I’m glad to see that he’s turned the corner. After we had that chance meeting, I think the record label that bought Wind-Up that had the Creed contracts are talking about putting out some sort of box set, so we’ll be in contact to discuss that.
One last question since I didn’t get to ask you last time we spoke: What is Mark Tremonti listening to these days?
Oh, jeez! Just a little bit of everything. I still listen to all the old stuff I grew up on. One new record that I found the last few years that I really dig is a Candlemass record, King Of The Grey Islands. It’s one of those albums that I would have loved as a kid and still I still do. It’s that doom metal. I listen to a lot of guitar-driven stuff like the Derek Trucks Band. I think Derek Trucks is one of the best rhythm guitar players out there. I also listen to Joe Bonamassa’s stuff (Mark actually got me into Joe’s stuff from the last time we spoke) and the Black Country Communion stuff just to get inspired to pick up the guitar.
Catch Tremonti live with Trivium on Sept. 20 at The Emporium in Patchogue, NY and at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Sept. 23. Don’t forget to pick up or download the new Tremonti record, Cauterize! It’s Tre-mendous! Visit Tremonti at MarkTremonti.com.