After six studio albums and fifteen years together, Alter Bridge has forged a reputation as a band that efficiently blends elements of hard rock and heavy metal into their distinct sound. Walk The Sky, the group’s sixth album, is scheduled for worldwide release on October 18th via Napalm Records (pre-save/order a copy here). The fourteen-track full-length is a creative highpoint for the quartet comprised of Myles Kennedy on vocals/guitars, Mark Tremonti on guitars/vocals, Brian Marshall on bass and Scott Phillips on drums. Walk The Sky lifts from elements of each of the band’s past five studio efforts, from the opening vocal melody on “One Life” to the moving finale of “Dying Light.” Tracks such as “Godspeed,” “Indoctrination,” “Native Son,” and “Walking On The Sky” are destined to soon become staples amidst the Alter Bridge touring live set.
Alter Bridge are currently in the midst of the United States leg of their first worldwide tour in over two years as co-headliners on the Victorious Sky Tour alongside Skillet with special guest Dirty Honey opening. The European headline tour billed as the Walk The Sky Tour is scheduled for November and December and will feature Shinedown, Sevendust, and The Raven Age. The band is also a part of the inaugural Exit 111 Festival in October and as a headliner of the sold-out 2020 sailing of Shiprocked. Ticket information for all shows can be found here.
While in Toronto (read our show review here) as one of the dates of their “Victorious Sky Tour,” Mark Tremonti graciously invited PureGrainAudio into his change-room to field a few questions around the release of Walk The Sky. That interview is included here, along with the audio via SoundCloud, for fans interested in hearing Mark’s voice as he responds to these questions.
“Dying Light” is the fifth single released off of Walk The Sky:
Why don’t we start off with how you and Myles approached this album. Because I understand that you approached it a little differently than your previous albums.
Mark Tremonti: “We had we had a five-week limit in the studio so we knew we had to come in differently because usually me and Myles would get together and I’ll present to him some of my favourite parts. Never like, ‘Here’s an entire song. Please sing it for me.’ Because we wanted both of us to feel ownership in every single song. So he’s not going to say; ‘Here’s a song; play the guitar on it. It’s already done. I already wrote your guitar parts.’ That’s just not how we operate. So on this record, we kind of had to do that. You know, we had five weeks in there. Me and Myles always split it 50/50, the writing on this band’s music.
So this time, I wrote eight demos, and he wrote eight demos. We wrote more than that, but there were eight demos that really made it. And we put them on Dropbox. Start to finish, you know, lyrics, melodies, music. Everything put together, and then we take the best of those, teach them to the band, and then in Alter Bridge style, we’ll tear these songs apart and put them back together. A lot of them are the same songs you heard from the demos, but some of them are changed just to give everybody their input from the band. So it’s still a collaboration between me and Myles. But this time, it’s more like a batch of his and a batch of mine thrown together.”
Because you had that five-week timeline, did you feel that that process did speed things up appropriately?
Tremonti: “Yeah, I think that helped us. You know, at first, I was like, ‘Five weeks! That’s B.S.! We need more time to be artists and have time to breathe.’ But it forced me and Myles to work really hard on demoing ideas. So I wrote a lot. I was much more strict with my schedule, and every day I’d wake up and have goals. And so when we came in our producer was pretty much like, ‘Yeah guys! This is great. You got everything we need for this record.’ So yeah, I think it helped out in the long run.”
Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti at Rebel (Toronto, Ontario) on September 30, 2019:
Would you say it was easier? Or do you think it was a harder process?
Tremonti: “It’s just about the same. You know I didn’t like the way we wrote the last record. That’s the only one I wouldn’t do the same way. On the last record, we came in and tried to capture lightning-in-a-bottle in the moment. To come up with maybe one random idea and build it there, in the studio. And it was just constantly a race of like, ‘let me try and write this quickly. And Myles can write a part quickly. Okay, I got it. Okay, you got it. I got it.’ It was kind of a frantic writing process. I like to be prepared. I like to know that a song is gonna be great before even giving it to the producer. You know, I hate just getting in there and saying, ‘Let’s create now.’ I like doing that by myself. I can create and then say, ‘Oh, here are the best things I’ve created. Let’s record this.’ So yeah, I like being prepared, which is my long story short.”
Are you going to play any of the new songs tonight?
Tremonti: “Yeah, we’re playing three of the new songs. We’re playing the single and ‘Pay No Mind,’ and ‘In The Deep.’”
Ok. Those are all available already. Those are streaming at the moment.
Tremonti: “There’s four that are out now. Yeah. And then as the tour goes on, I think we have another song coming out next week I believe. And once that comes out, we’ll start rehearsing it, getting it ready.”
I guess you have to say that every new album is “your best album,” but I feel like there’s some real moxie on this album. I like “Indoctrination.” The time changes on that are just a little off-kilter from what I would expect from Alter Bridge. And I like it for that. And I like the guitar kick-in on “Native Son.” I like the way that song just kind of goes, “Bang! Right in your face,” and it doesn’t stop.
Tremonti: “Yeah. No, I hate that too. Like you said, everybody says, ‘our new record is our best record.’ I mean, I’m very proud of this record. Is it our best record? It’s one of them. I think Blackbird is our best and most recognizable record. It’s the thing you see tattooed on people; the bird. So I think that’s the most important record for us; the Blackbird record. But this one I’m very proud of. I think it’s one of our best.”
Released in the summer, “Wouldn’t You Rather” was the first single and music video released off of Walk The Sky:
Can you talk a little bit about working with Michael (Baskette), and what he brings to the Alter Bridge equation? You’ve worked with him for four albums, I believe? Or five albums?
Tremonti: “I’ve worked with him on... nine records now?”
You’re counting your solo records too.
Tremonti: “Four solo records and five AB records. Myles used him on all his side projects, too; I think two Slash records and a solo record. No, he’s awesome. He’s just the kind of guy that if you put together a demo when you love a song that you’ve demoed, and you know it’s going to be that much better when he and Jeff, his engineer, get their hands on it. He actually is the type of producer who gets in there (and) writes music for people, but he doesn’t do that with us. We’re not the type of band that is ever gonna write anything that comes from anybody outside the band. He’s more of the producer that helps us filter. It’s like, ‘alright maybe this song’s bridge; it’s like I’m losing it. I love this song, but it gets to the bridge, and I’m turning the channel. So Myles and Mark, go find me another bridge or something.’ And if we feel strongly about it, we’ll say, ‘no, you’ve just gotta live with it for a minute,’ you know? But we consider his opinion all the time. He gets the best take out of you. He’s got a great bedside manner.
As far as like when you’re in there singing, he makes sure you’re getting the best vocal performances. If you’re doing your guitar leads, he’s a good cheerleader in there, rooting you on, or getting the better performance out of you. He’s critical when we get our final arrangements done. He’s great at transitions. You know, it’s like, ‘on this last chorus; let’s just do this wild thing to make that last chorus pop.’ Me and Myles write an album every year and a half. Elvis is in there non-stop writing with all these other bands, so he’s got so many fresh ideas all the time. So if I’m like, ‘hey, how do you think we should get into this bridge?’ He’s always got great ideas on transitions. His mixing is top-notch. The tones he gets when he’s recording the original takes are incredible. If you listen to his records backed up to other people’s records, you can really see how great he is.”
Alter Bridge’s sixth studio effort Walk The Sky is due out October 18th via Napalm Records:
Alter Bridge is a band with repeated singles. Can you talk a little bit about any possible pressure you might put on yourselves to repeat single success when you’re creating new songs?
Tremonti: “You know, we’ve never had huge success with singles. I think ‘Isolation’ is our only number one. But ‘Addicted To Pain’ maybe got number two or something, but we’ve never been a big huge radio rock band. We’ve gotten radio play; like I think our single now might be #14 or something on the charts. But we don’t count on radio being the thing that pushes us. We count on our fan base enjoying what we do. We’re an album-based band. The pressure we put on ourselves is to always introduce something new into our sound and not repeat ourselves. We try to outdo what we’ve done in the past, just keep moving forward, and be satisfied artistically with what we do.”
How much work in advance was it for you to realize your material with the orchestra when you put out that orchestrated album? Was there a lot of rehearsals and alterations to the songs for that?
Tremonti: “We when we first started putting that together, conductor and his first chair, the first violinist chair, and the conductor were the ones putting together their scores. They gave us the first score, which was ‘Addicted’ or ‘Cry of Achilles,’ and we heard it, and were so blown away. It was perfect. So they would give us this programmed thing, and we’d have to assign our own synth to each one of their sounds. So it took a little bit of doing. But once we heard the first three songs and they were spot on, we let them just do their thing. ‘You got it. You know what you’re doing.’ So we thought we’d have plenty of time to go through these songs before we recorded it. We did a lot of work on our own, practising together, just as the band.
And then when we got to London, we got in a room with the orchestra, and we played each song once before we recorded that DVD and that live record. We thought we’d go through it many many many times, but with so many moving bits and pieces and an hour-long increment of somebody fixing something, it took us two days straight to get through just one performance of each song. So the hardest thing, and the most important thing was this; the orchestra is gonna play this stuff spot on. They always do. I mean somebody might have missed the note here or there, but nobody’s gonna notice. It’s a 52-piece orchestra. They’re professionals. They read their music, and they play that verbatim. But that being said, as we perform our songs, the songs morph into a live version of the songs. And the orchestra’s playing strictly album versions. So we had to make sure everybody starting on the one (count). Because sometimes we’d start doing our own loose thing and then the orchestra was coming in on a weird one, and everybody'’ like, ‘Wait! Put on the brakes. What the hell just happened?!’
So the toughest thing and the most important thing was the beginnings of the songs. Is everybody starting at the same time? ‘Ghost of Days Gone By’ was a good example. We’d go and meander a little bit and then start the song. They weren’t meandering, they’re coming right in on it. Everybody was clashing. So we made sure everybody started at the same time, and once they got started, they played perfectly through the end.”
Alter Bridge (w/ Skillet, Dirty Honey) at Rebel (Toronto, Ontario) on September 30, 2019:
That’s interesting. I would have figured that there was a lot of rehearsal.
Tremonti: “None. Hardly any. Just one time through each song.”
Are there tracks on that on that recording that you feel are flawed?
Tremonti: “No. I love it. I love it. You know, when you do a live DVD, sometimes you’re like, ‘ah, here’s three or four things I’ve got to fix.’ I didn’t hear anything. We just ran with it. Just there were two nights we recorded one night and the next night. So whoever was mixing it, Brian Sperber mixed it, if something was messed up from one, then we could take it from the other performance. But he said this is mostly 90 percent the second night.”
You’ve toured with some of the very best bands in the world. How social is touring with some of these bands? Do you exercise together? Yoga together? Search for memorabilia together? That kind of stuff.
Tremonti: “Sometimes, it depends on the band. Some fans we’re really close with. Some bands we’re not. We’re just getting to know the Dirty Honey guys, but like the guitar player (John) and me sit and play guitar together. I was just cruising around with the singer (Marc) just talking. We were out with Sevendust in Europe. We’ll hang out with them all the time. They are some of our best friends. I love it when another band has a guitar player that likes to play guitar because I’ll play guitar all day long and it’s great to have somebody to shoot the shit with while you’re playing.”
What would you say has been the biggest hurdle that Alter Bridge has had to overcome as a band?
Tremonti: “When we just when we first started out, it was a tough, tough beginning for this band. We came off of the success of Creed and thought we’d have this open door to continued success, but we hit a wall. I mean, it was this; we were now the guys from Creed with everything to prove, no love in the world. At the end of Creed, there were a lot of haters on Creed. You either loved it or hated it. But when we started Alter Bridge, it was people just saying, ‘No. We’re not playing that band. We’re not booking that band.’ In the States, it was hard to get a start. You know, it made me angry when people would call us Creed Part Two doing this and that. When we did our best to hire and find the most different singer.
Myles is the most different you could ever find in a singer from Scott. We were trying to go in a different direction. So it took us until maybe our third Alter Bridge record before we dropped that. Now we’re Alter Bridge. We’re no longer those Creed guys. We had the respect. We went from a band that sold millions and millions of records, but the critics liked to take their shots, to a band that didn’t sell many records and then the critics liked. So I’ve kind of been on both sides of that fence. I’m glad I’ve gotten to live both of those lives because no matter how many records you sell if somebody doesn’t appreciate what you do, it’s going to leave you bitter in the end. So I’m glad to have been able to dive into another art form and continue chasing down different sounds and different songs.”
“Take The Crown” is the third single from Walk The Sky as well as one of the real album standouts:
And in retrospect, like fifteen years in the rear-view mirror, Myles Kennedy is a wonderful frontman.
Tremonti: “Oh yeah.”
And you’re about to release your sixth album. It just feels like the momentum is continuing. You keep bettering yourselves.
Tremonti: “Yeah. You know, in the beginning, we were definitely dragging a rock uphill. Now, like I said, on the third record, I felt like this; ever since I started as a professional musician, I felt like the next single or the next record could be the end of my career. And I love writing music, and I love doing this. I always worried about getting that taken from me. So I think it was well until AB III, where I finally was like, ‘you know what? I can do this forever now.’ You know, my fans are gonna be there forever as long as we don’t put out garbage. And we always work hard. It was a very liberating experience not to be like, ‘alright, if your next record fails, you’re gone.’ That’s a no. We have worked hard for many years to establish a solid fan base finally. That fan base is even bigger nowadays, and it’s still growing. It’s never been an overnight thing though it’s been a slow, slow, slow rise.”
What’s one of the strangest things you’ve ever been asked to do as a band? Like an appearance or a press request? Something like that.
Tremonti: “We did a funny skit on WWE. We were backstage with the Edge. And the skit was we were playing a song, and he was sitting there jamming with us, and then someone interrupts him because he’s got to do something then he attacks the person. So that was kind of cool. Another different thing, we were playing a gig on a mountaintop. Where there is a snowboard competition going on in front of us, and the crowd is behind the snowboard competition.”
Tremonti: “That was different. Yeah, it was a tragic day, though, because that was a day when at the bottom of the hill it got icy and, I think the next day it was, I think Pearl Jam played the show, and then some people got trampled. Died. It was that same thing.”
Practically a classic now, watch the music video for “Broken Wings,” off of Alter Bridge’s 2004 debut album One Day Remains:
Can you talk a little bit about what preserving your integrity as an artist means to you personally?
Tremonti: “Just always working hard and put out the best music you can. And never doing it for the wrong reasons. Never doing it because somebody tells you you need to write a three-minute song singing about a breakup or something. Just do it for the right reasons.”
Are your sons musically inclined? Are you seeing that yet?
Tremonti: “No. My kids are, that generation man. Like there’s only one friend of my son that likes rock n’ roll. He’s a guitar player, so he’s the lucky kid who gets all my stuff. I’m like, ‘hey, you want an amplifier? Do you want a guitar? I don’t use this pedal, so take this pedal!’ He’s got to feel like; ‘Every time I go over there, I’m like here’s this cool thing.’ So no, my older son played drums when he was younger because I had a V-Drum set. He loved that you can make all the effects with it. He got really, really good. My friends would come up to me and say so. He liked playing the Blue Man Group. We bought the DVD of the Blue Man Group, and he played along with it.
And then I bought him a real drum set, and he stopped playing. So, I still have that drum set. And then I taught him, and my other son, how to play (the song) ‘Iron Man’ after the Marvel movies were so big, and their eyes lit up. They could play it immediately. And then I said, ‘here. I'm not going to push you to play. Here’s a guitar in your bedroom. Here’s an amplifier. Here’s a cable. Here’s how you turn it on. Practice whenever you want. I’m not going to push you on it.’ And they just don’t do it. So, I’m not going to push it on them. They have to want it. They want to play soccer.”
And my last question; how much direction do you give your brother Dan for any of your album artwork?
Tremonti: “We tell him the themes and the stuff we’re looking for. And then he kind of uses his own imagination. You know, first I talked with Myles. I’m like, what key things can we bring to Dan to have him search for, and we said, ‘some kind of Zen. Some kind of uplifting freedoms, and kind of enlightening zen-like thing.’ And then I went online and Googled fifty pictures of just random Google-searched images and gave Dan everything that I thought was cool. And then the image they came up with was completely nothing like any of those images. I think he turned and maybe like 20 or 30 different ideas. Because, the first round of twelve, we’re all like, ‘yeah, they’re cool. But nothing that could be the album.’ The next round, ‘they’re cool.’ And then the third round everybody immediately said; ‘That’s the image.’”