Chuck Brueckmann

Home for the Holidays with Mark Tremonti

The singer-songwriter-guitarist (Alter Bridge, Tremonti, and the reunited Creed) is celebrating the holiday season with a great new Christmas album as he looks forward to a very shiny new year.

When he was young, Mark Tremonti’s holidays were always a magical time. His extended family – all of whom live nearby in Michigan –would gather on Christmas Eve at his grandparent’s home for a traditional feast and the opportunity to open the first present of the season. The soundtrack for these evenings: traditional holiday classics by Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Donnie Hathaway, Bing Crosby, and the like.

Today, Tremonti’s holidays are still special, though he jokes that he has so many Christmas decorations that he can barely move around in his garage and attic. Whenever his wife buys something new to add to the mess he snaps, “Have you seen how much we have?” The plan is for the pair to take two days this year and sort through their collection, donating whatever they no longer use. As a father of three, Tremonti’s Christmas experiences have taken on a new dimension. Yes, the magic is still in the air, but he now experiences the holidays vicariously through the joy of his children, especially his beautiful two-year old daughter Stella. (Tremonti first spoke with The Aquarian about his daughter at the very beginning of the year on January 4).

Surprisingly, the soundtrack for the Tremontis’ holiday celebrations remains the traditional songs and not tracks from his fantastic new Christmas Classics New & Old. “When it’s just the immediate family, we will tell [Amazon] Alexa to play Christmas classics,” he says. “When we have guests over, however, it is usually my wife who will [sugges I play my Christmas record. [As you and I speak, the family] is just getting into the holiday spirit; we’re getting a tree tonight, so I bet we’ll hear the record at least a dozen more times before the season is over.”

How did Christmas Classics New & Old come about? Was it a result of your successful Tremonti Sings Sinatra album?

I originally thought I could tackle Sinatra because I would sing Christmas songs in his style. One of my dear friends has a home where he built a karaoke stage. I would sing Christmas songs and it just felt good. I didn’t have to push my voice.

I saw a documentary about Frank Sinatra called All of Nothing at All and it inspired me to go back and listen to his catalog. What blew me away was his early career – during the late thirties into the forties – as he became the biggest singer in the world. I became so obsessed with it that I had to cover it. And that, in turn, gave me the confidence to do Christmas songs.

In addition to your Tremonti Sings Sinatra performances, will you now tour each holiday season performing Christmas Classics New & Old?

I hope so. These shows are so hard to put together because they’re a big production. We are going to work with 17 brass instruments, a string section, and a choir, so it’ll be difficult to do more than a few shows each year. I also believe it’s more special when you are only doing a few shows.

With the Sinatra thing, I want to do as much as I possibly can. I was having a discussion with Carey Deadman, who does the arrangements, about working with a smaller band. Perhaps, we can put together a bass, a drum, a piano, and four horns and play small jazz clubs, because the more I get to do this, the better I will get. If I am only doing one show every three months, it’ll be like starting over every three months. Every time I step on stage, I’m a little nervous, but I feel great afterwards and I say, “I wish I could do this tomorrow night.”

The Tremonti Sings Sinatra performances benefit Down Syndrome charities and recently sponsored the opening of a clinic in Orlando, Florida.

I believe the biggest achievement in my life is opening the Smile with Stella clinic. When we did the Sinatra record, we partnered up with the National Down Syndrome Society and were able to raise more than one million dollars during the first year. Then I met a gentleman named Doctor Raj, one of the top board members at Advent Health for Children (who are one of the biggest healthcare providers in the country). I was asking him about the surgery my daughter was about to undergo. She was having open-heart surgery and I was terrified. It was the worst time of my life and my wife and I told him our story. (FYI: The surgery was successful.) He called a few months later and said he was so taken with our story about our daughter that he was inspired to open a Down Syndrome clinic. He asked if we would partner with him, spearhead it, and organize it with him.

After raising enough money, we opened the clinic a few months ago. The good thing about the Down Syndrome community is people are dying for something like this. They want this so much. It specializes in all the needs of our loved ones with Down Syndrome and it’s a life-span clinic, whereas you have to transition from pediatricians to another doctor when you reach a certain age, Down Syndrome patients no longer have to be uprooted. The Down Syndrome world is so generous. I have had people coming out of the woodwork to help. One person donated more than $300,000! It has been really moving to see the generosity and kindness of people.

In addition, the clinic is named after your daughter.

Which is such an honor for us. We have a picture of her kissing the Smile with Stella sign. When I am older – 80 or 90 years of age – I will look back at that as my crowning achievement. 

[A/N: For more information on Smile with Stella, click here.]

It was just a year ago when you began this journey. Look how far it has taken you.

I have been trying to drum up more people to take a chance for charity. Everyone is busy, everyone is doing his or her own thing, but I can show the cause and effect. This is what we did. It was an incredible project, I loved every second of it and, look, my daughter’s name is on a clinic that is going to provide so much help to this entire community. [My friends] don’t need to do a full record. They could do one song and raise a few hundred thousand dollars.

I want to raise 100 million dollars. As of now, we are well on our way to two million dollars, but there is no way I can do it myself. I need to get all of my friends – not just musicians, but anyone with a platform – and raise money. Every little bit helps. It is a win-win for everyone, because you’re not just putting in the charity work, you should be doing something that is fun for you. Think of it as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card if you’re a rock musician who always wanted to do a country song; purposely do something that would be bizarre for your fanbase and come up with something you will be proud of.

“Christmas Morning” is the only original song on Christmas Classic New & Old.

When I was practicing singing like Frank Sinatra, I was thinking about [composers] Sammy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and wondering how hard it would be to write one of these big band jazz songs. Those songwriters came from a different era; they had different influences. I think of four or five-piece bands [while composing], so I decided to sing melodies and just start there. One day I came up with a melody and when the lyrics started coming out, it was a Christmas song. I am sure it was difficult for Carey Deadman to arrange the instrumentation, but it wasn’t that difficult for me to write. When you hear a melody, you hear the chords behind it – you heard what should be there. As long as you have someone, like Sinatra, who had all of his orchestrators over the years, as long as you have an imagination and a person to help put your ideas all together, it is doable.

Have you ever considered recording an album of original big band music?

I have. I will do the same thing I did with “Christmas Morning” – I will just press record and start singing. I don’t have enough to do an album, but I do have ideas for two or three songs. The problem is that most big band songs are love songs. I would have to be writing a lot of love songs. Lyrics are tough and that was the hardest part of composing “Christmas Morning.”

Are you considering a second Tremonti Sings Sinatra record?

I would love nothing more than to do volume two of Sings Sinatra and volume two of the Christmas record. Any excuse getting back into the studio with that orchestra and I would be all over it.

Even with Alter Bridge on hiatus, 2024 may be your busiest year yet.

I have to finish writing songs for the next Tremonti album. I am going to go into the studio in February. I will be there through March after which I will begin rehearsal for the Creed [tour]. That will begin with two cruises. The tour runs from July through September. We will announce some things after that.

Will Creed be releasing new music?

Not at this point. If we were to do new music, it would have been great to have something out now. If we were to record new music, we would have to be in the studio yesterday, and we don’t want to release a new album when we are close to getting back into the Alter Bridge world.

Surprisingly, Tremonti the band is not on hiatus.

We’ve put 10 years into the band and if we skipped a cycle of recording new music, the band would suffer, so I am keeping busy. I am spinning the plates.

Will you finally admit you are a workaholic?

A lot of people will say, “I’ve worked hard, now I can sit down and watch my favorite television show or read my favorite book.” I also like to do those things, but I also like to get things done. I like to accomplish things. When I go to sleep at night, I like knowing that I did something. Even if I have a day off, I like getting stuff done.