Alter Bridge—The Sky’s The Limit

In 2005, while working as VH1 Classic’s Senior Writer, I opened an e-mail inviting me to a hallway performance by a new band. These performances, which happened from time to time, featured up-and-coming artists, many who have since become superstars. When I read that this particular band, Alter Bridge, featured former members of Creed, I figured they would sound like that band with a different singer. As the elevator doors opened at the 15th floor of the MTV building, however, I was immediately awestruck. Singer Myles Kennedy’s voice coupled with Mark Tremonti’s underrated guitar playing were creating something truly special. Immediately hooked, I have been a fan ever since, who has closely followed the band’s steady rise in popularity.

Despite releasing a half dozen consistent albums, Alter Bridge still headline theaters and large clubs. This reflects the current U.S. music industry, however, and not the band, who, after completing their current stateside tour, will head over to Europe to headline large arenas.

Hopefully, this distinction will change with the October 18 release of Walk the Sky. Arguably the band’s masterpiece, it contains 14 metal-tinged hard rock tracks, including “Godspeed,” “Forever Falling,” and the epic “Dying Light” that are certain to dominate rock radio throughout the fall and throughout 2020.

On the eve of Alter Bridge’s Victorious Sky tour, Tremonti spoke with The Aquarian about songwriting, meeting fans, and his band’s past, present, and even brighter future.

With the frequency in which Alter Bridge tours, when did the band find the time to write and record Walk the Sky?

We write while we’re on tour: when we are in the dressing rooms or when we are on the busses. When we’re home, we write after our kids go to sleep.

The record has been referred to as “a musical look back through Alter Bridge’s career.” Doesn’t that sell Walk the Sky short?

You never go into [the creation of a new album] looking to write a specific way. It’s all subjective.

When was it recorded?

We recorded it in five weeks earlier this summer. Myles and I had completed demos beforehand, because we knew we had a short amount of time in the studio.

It doesn’t sound rushed. Each song sounds rich and layered.

Myles and I have always layered what we do. We have never copied what the other guy is doing just to get it done.

Although Alter Bridge once again recorded in your hometown of Orlando, Florida, long-time producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette didn’t collaborate with the band on songs.

We’ve never actually collaborated with him on songs. Myles and I will [conduct] pre-production with Elvis, where he’ll tell us which [of the demos] are his favorites and which songs’ bridges are not up to par.

An ordinary producer-artist relationship.

Exactly. I would not be comfortable working with outside writers. The songs must come from either me or Myles and the producer helps pick out what the best parts are among our ideas. I love writing new songs and I would hate to hand that [responsibility over] to anyone else. It’s a thrill for me to create something out of nothing and then see how people react to it.

If Walk the Sky was created during the nineties, it would be certified gold within weeks of its release and spawn multiple hit singles. Talented musicians and songwriters with talented singers struggle in the current musical climate. Alter Bridge need to get that album out there.

It is a different world out there [than it was during Creed’s heyday]. A lot of that is because of streaming.

Record companies, however, are on track to make five billion dollars in 2019; the largest amount in more than a dozen years. I wonder if the artists are seeing any of that money.

Perhaps the Taylor Swifts of the world [are reaping those rewards]. Any artist who is bringing home a check these days is doing a good job.

Is that the reason why, in addition to major touring, the members of Alter Bridge have other projects, including the band Tremonti and Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators?

Tremonti is just an outlet to get another side of my writing out there. I grew up a metalhead. Each time I throw down a speed metal riff, the [Alter Bridge] guys look funny at me. Brian [Marshall, bass] and Scott [Phillips, drums] are not speed metal guys, so when Myles was heading off on the road with Slash for three months, and I had nothing else going on, I decided to record some of my old ideas and have fun with it. That turned into the Tremonti project.

I assume that project will now go on hiatus.

Yeah. Each time Alter Bridge puts out a new record, we will put everything on the side for about a year and a half.

What if Walk the Sky has a life passed a year and a half?

Well, that would be a good problem to have.

“Would You Rather” is the album’s first single. “Dying Light,” the epic closing track, is my favorite.

“Dying Light” is the type of song Alter Bridge fans really like. It is, however, a bit too drawn out for radio airplay.

As has become the band’s trademark, the new songs are positive and uplifting.

We try to write lyrics that are as real to our own lives and as real to our art as possible. We do not sing about sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

As a fan, it’s going to be interesting to see how Walk the Sky does. It has all the ingredients to be a monster success.

I hope it grabs people’s attention and takes us to that next level. We are always trying to gather new fans by traveling the world and doing this concert thing.

Some bands do meet and greets and other fan-related things on the road for financial reasons. Is that why Alter Bridge not only meets with fans, but you also conduct guitar and songwriting clinics?

The music industry is changing everyday and for some bands to survive without record sales, they have to [conduct] meet and greets. I simply like to meet our fans. Today, bands get much more personal with their fans. It’s no longer like the old days, when no one could go behind the curtain. We know our fans very well. We see some of them dozens of times while on a tour. When you see familiar faces, you feel more comfortable. They’ve become our friends and it is good to see friends. There are fans who met at shows and are now married. Some have travelled the world together to see Alter Bridge shows.

man walking between two seas

What goes into your “Guitar and Songwriting Clinics”?

When I am on the road, I like to stay busy. If I am away from my wife and kids, I’m not going to be sitting around playing video games on a tour bus. I’m going to be doing clinics, meet and greets, or writing songs. It is what I love to do. My manager put me up to the clinics. I said, ‘When you put it on our web site [] don’t list ‘songwriting’.” He said, ‘Ah, already did.’ It’s impossible to teach someone how to write songs, so [during the clinics], I am going to show them how I do it. I’m going to answer as many questions as I can and, hopefully, get them excited about it.

How did you learn to write songs?

When I moved as a kid from Detroit to Florida, I absolutely hated it. I had no friends, but I had a guitar and a four-track recorder. When I came home from school, I would be mad at the world and I would take it out on my recorder. I credit those years of my life with shaping my songwriting ability. I spent hour after hour in my bedroom writing song after song. After a while, I stumbled across a song that was actually good and I thought to myself, ‘I can do this.’

Trial and error.

Exactly. For a lot of songwriters, it takes that one song to build up the confidence to go farther. Even great songwriters are not going to write hits every time. They may write five bad ones before writing one good one. Songwriters must develop filters to know what’s good and what is bad without having to run it by other people.

With Alter Bridge you have the advantage of Myles Kennedy, a great singer who can transform songs.

He can do it all. I wanted him to join the band back in the day because he had such passion in his voice. He can deliver the rock thing and his falsettos are so emotional.

You also have a great voice [as heard on “Forever Falling”].

My songs are like my babies. If I was to sing them, they wouldn’t reach their full potential. When Myles sings them, they do.

Was “Forever Falling” a song you just had to sing?

Myles said I should sing a song on the record and said, ‘You should do that one.’ I tuned all the music on the song down a step so I could hit the notes. Essentially, I wrote half the songs and Myles wrote half the songs for this record. I sing on my demos, but I often have to pitch them down [from how they eventually] appear on record. There were a few songs I had written that Myles was still not familiar with and we had limited time left in the studio. “Forever Falling” was one of my favorite tracks, so he said, ‘Go sing that one.’ I recorded the vocals after singing all day, but just couldn’t hit the notes on the chorus. So, the producer said, ‘Why don’t you go home and rest up. We’ll nail it tomorrow.’ Myles had to leave [to head back on tour with Slash] so he stayed and recorded his parts, including the chorus. It was perfect, so we shared the vocal.

After the American tour ends, you are immediately heading over to Europe with Shinedown and Sevendust.

We have many more fans there than we do here. Whereas, in the larger U.S. cities, we will draw crowds of three thousand, in London, we play arenas.

Rival Sons and Black Stone Cherry are among the other bands with larger followings in Europe than the U.S., which I find frustrating. 

European audiences have sophisticated musical taste. There are a lot of great bands that do well over there, but not so great over here. In Europe, they like the strong vocalists and they like big guitar solos. The like the rock ‘n’ roll from yesteryear, which is great, because it’s what we grew up on.

Were Alter Bridge’s October 2017 Royal Albert Hall shows among your favorite live performances? 

Yep. It was nuts being on that stage playing these songs you worked so hard on, backed by a 52-piece orchestra.

How did that come together?

We are always trying to do different things, so our manager suggested ‘the orchestra thing.’ I pushed back saying it could be a disaster. There were a lot of logistics involved, but when we found the Parallax Orchestra and heard what they were going to add to our songs, we fell in love with the idea. We headed into it all guns blazing and were happy we did it. It was a magical night. I had my family there and I had a bunch of friends who flew in from the States. Unless you were a part of it, it is impossible to explain how it felt.

If the opportunity presented it, would you do it again in the States?

I’d like to do it again, but the best way to do it would be in a festival setting.

It has been a steady climb in popularity for Alter Bridge in the States.

But it has been a slow climb. The last time we played in front 1,200 people in some places, this time it will be 1,350 people in those places. It certainly has not changed overnight. But we enjoy it. We feel that we deserve what we have. We have played in each city so many times and these fans are not just going to go away. They are going to be here forever. Bands that have just one big hit, and are the flavor of the week, their fans are going to disappear on them. We’ve developed a loyal fanbase during the last 15 years.

Alter Bridge has always grown, but it has never been easy. The first few years were particularly difficult. There have been a lot of changes in managers, business managers, and record labels. We were painted into a corner at our first label, Wind-Up Records. We either had to buy our way off the label or kiss our career goodbye. We bet on ourselves, but we’re still paying that debt.

When Wind-Up started it was perfect for me. The guy who started the label [the late Alan Meltzer] was passionate about music and put all his attention into getting this little band named Creed off the ground. We had all the label’s attention; they had a hungry staff and it all worked out. Like any label, however, they eventually thought they were going to have success with every band they put out. When Alter Bridge started, they wanted “Alter Creed.”

The label initially pushed Alter Bridge’s debut [2004’s One Day Remains].

The label loved the songs, but when the album didn’t sell a million copies, when it didn’t perform like a Creed record, the wind came out of their sails.

Now that singer Scott Stapp is healthy and musically active, do you see Creed reuniting for a tour in the future?

You never know. It is a matter of timing. The next few years, however, will be all about Alter Bridge.

Catch Alter Bridge’s Victorious Sky Tour on September 24 at New York’s Terminal 5and on September 25 at The Met in Philadelphia.