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Interview with Tremonti


Interview by Dave Bott

During a 20 year career Mark Tremonti's reputation as a world-class guitarist has been cemented with Creed, Alter Bridge and also his own self-named band. His role as a lead-singer came as a surprise to many, but during the course of four Tremonti albums his vocals have been a strong feature that complement the muscular nature of the material perfectly. The most recent 'A Dying Machine' release is a conceptual set of songs that marry Mark's love of Science Fiction authors with his better known musical stylings. Fireworks caught up with him before a recent show in Manchester, only to find that a last minute decision to record and film the night's events had re-shaped the usual daily schedule. Despite the additional pressure that comes with knowing the show is to be recorded, he was in a relaxed mood and keen to discuss all things Tremonti and Alter Bridge.

Tremonti Interview Fireworks Rocktopia

I do feel the extra pressure, but I've done this so many times now. I was very nervous when we recorded the Heineken Music Hall show for Alter Bridge's first live release and it can be quite intimidating when you see all the booms and guys with cameras. When we came to do the Wembley show a few years later it was a little better. The Royal Albert Hall show we did with the full orchestra, which came out a few months ago, was probably the most intense and generated the greatest amount of pressure. It's important to try and tell yourself that it's just another show, but you still have to stay focused throughout. When you're recording and filming, as we are tonight, you generally have to make the show longer and add 4 or 5 extra songs to the set-list. It means that things don't flow as they do normally, so I just hope everything goes okay and we get a good reaction from the crowd. I don't think we'll have any worries about that because the UK is like our musical home away from home and we love playing here.

With so much footage now available on YouTube and other websites one can question whether live releases are still as relevant today as they were many years ago, when bands would use them as stop-gaps between studio albums. Alter Bridge have released 2 live CDs since their last set of studio material, both to critical acclaim.

The visual aspect, professionally shot and edited, is a great way to appreciate a live performance and I only decided yesterday to record and film this tonight. I've no idea when we'll do the mix or the editing. I just wanted a live document for myself, so I can sit down with the grandkids when I'm 80 years old and say, 'Look what your granddad used to do' [laughs].

Concept albums are usually associated with Progressive Metal bands and more often than not when the concept is taken to the stage the album is performed in its entirety. With 4 albums worth of material to choose from, and the recording and filming in mind, the prospect of playing 'A Dying Machine' was never a realistic option.

Even though everyone is familiar with the new record now I think they still want to hear the older songs. If we were a bigger band and the record had sold millions then maybe we could have played it all the way through, with a more theatrical stage production to do it justice. The reason I wanted to film the show tonight is that it might be several years before we can come back and do another headline tour of the UK. We are heading home after these shows to do a tour in the States with Sevendust, but we should be back in the summer to do some festivals. We've been on the road for a long time now so this is the best opportunity to capture the band. It has meant a lot of last minute preparation, but we have the show nailed down so it is the perfect time.

Tremonti's last full UK tour was 3 years ago and at the time, speaking to Mark, there was still an element of unease being the frontman of a band rather than just the guitarist. With more touring that role has become a little more natural and it is clear that it is now something he relishes, despite the challenges it brings.

You're obviously well-practiced at what you do, but it took a long time for me to become comfortable on stage, firstly as a guitarist and now again as the frontman of the band. I was always the shy guy, but as the frontman I'm much more aggressive. It's almost like you're playing a role and when you're out there you get into character. You still enjoy what you do, but you have to leave the everyday side of you in the dressing room for a couple of hours. I love singing, even though it took me so long to fall into the role. Melodies are the most important thing for me when I'm putting a song together and to be able to express yourself by singing them how you imagine them in your head is such a unique feeling. For a long time I imagined I might be doing a disservice to the ideas I was writing. It could either be me as a B- or someone like Myles (Kennedy) sing them and make them an A+.

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'Live At The Royal Albert Hall featuring The Parallax Orchestra' is a CD/DVD release (September 2018) that sees Alter Bridge, as the title alludes, working with a full orchestra. It is not a new concept and several bands have adopted this approach in the past with mixed success. Mark has fond memories of the collaboration (the show took place in October 2017) even though there was a great amount of trepidation that came with it.

There have been lots of 'flagpole' occasions within my career and the Royal Albert Hall show with the orchestra is probably the best live show I've been involved in. We actually spent very little time with the orchestra. In the lead up to the show we were receiving ideas and these featured programmed orchestral arrangements over the studio versions of the songs we were planning to include in the set. It only took 3 or 4 tracks to realise just how great it sounded. We thought we would have to spend a lot of time working with the orchestra, but it was clear they knew what they were doing and this made things so much easier. We went with their arrangements, figuring that when we got to rehearsals we would still have to go through each song multiple times. The hardest thing was working out just when everyone came in, because if someone comes in on the wrong beat it is just a complete mess. Obviously the orchestra has all the music written down so they have to follow that exactly. Over the years we have tweaked the songs slightly when we have been playing them live and this meant the arrangements were slightly different to the studio versions everyone was familiar with. We also decided to stay away from some of the heavier songs and concentrate on those which would have a more epic atmospheric feel when accompanied by the orchestra. Some of these we had not played in a long time, if ever. It was as much a challenge for us as it was for them. It was unfamiliar territory for us in many ways and we had to really bring our 'A' game as we were playing high-stakes shows. It was very tense on the first night we played, but we captured it and this meant we could relax more on the second night and really enjoy it. Unfortunately we didn't get too much time to hang out or socialise as it was all over so quickly.

'A Dying Machine' is possibly the strongest set of Tremonti songs to date, regardless of the conceptual aspect attached to the project. The 14 songs act as a short-form version of a story that will be released as a full novel and Mark is enthusiastic as much about this as he is about the album.

I'm a massive Science Fiction fan and look up to authors a lot for inspiration. Writing a book was something I'd always dreamed of doing. The song 'A Dying Machine' is a twisted love story between man and machine and I really enjoyed being in that world and that mind-set whilst I was writing it. I was curious about where else the story could go and I thought I could create some kind of mini-concept within the album. Once I had 3 or 4 songs I just decided to do the whole thing and it meant I had the freedom to change songs around to fit the storyline or change the storyline to fit the songs. After the album was completed I wanted to tell the story in its long form so that is how the idea for the book I wrote with John Shirley came about. A lot of people have said it is open to be developed further, so TV or a movie would be such a fantastic prospect and I would love it to happen. As an artist this last 12 months has probably been the most satisfying creatively, with the record and book both coming together at the same time.

Alter Bridge and Tremonti are well established and even though Mark is an influential and vital part of the writing process for both, the musical styles are different for each band. Michael 'Elvis' Baskette produces both bands, and his contributions are another important factor in the creation of the songs.

I love Speed Metal, so when I started my own band it was just so I had an outlet for the songs that weren't really working for Alter Bridge. Some of the riffs were too heavy and the ideas were not the kind that could be developed further when putting an Alter Bridge song together. This band is just perfect for that and I get to play the kind of music I grew up listening to. I try and write as often as I can and when there is time I'm always putting ideas down. We'll be starting work on a new Alter Bridge record sometime in 2019, so hopefully I can have enough ideas for 12 great songs, and Myles will be in a similar position so we can combine these together. We work well with Elvis now and however good you think a song is, you just know that when he's finished mixing it, it will be even better. If you get into working with a different producer there's no knowing how things will turn out. It works for us, so I don't see any reason to change.

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