Hailed as one of rock's top guitar players, with Tremonti he has also been able to stretch his vocal cords by singing lead on all the tracks of the band's two albums - something that took him well outside his comfort zone. Now, he looks forward to singing his words alongside his melodies, with second guitarist Eric Friedman, bass player Wolfgang Van Halen and drummer Garrett Whitlock accompanying him on tour [Wolfgang is currently on tour with Van Halen; Tanner Keegan is playing bass during his absence].
Speaking just prior to the start of his current US tour, Mark talked about some of the songs he helped create in Creed, Alter Bridge and on Tremonti's 2015 Cauterize album.
Mark Tremonti: Well, my songwriting has remained pretty similar. I've always focused mainly on vocal melodies. That's always been my favorite thing to write. This is the first band where I am actually singing those melodies, but I've been writing melodies all along.
So my writing style hasn't changed. The only thing I tried to do over the years is not repeat myself too much and try to keep on coming up with new ideas that I haven't done, and that gets tough. I've done 11 studio albums, so I'm constantly trying to reinvent myself.
Songfacts: You're more aggressive sounding in Tremonti.
Tremonti: Yeah, it's what I grew up with. I always loved speed metal, all kinds of metal, and with my past two bands I really couldn't push it to the limits that I would like to in some instances. So with this band, I wanted to really dig into that side of who I am.
Songfacts: What came first for you, playing guitar or writing lyrics?
Tremonti: Playing guitar and playing melodies right off the bat. When I was 11 or 12 years old was when I first started trying to write my own stuff, and I never really learned other people's stuff. My brothers used to make fun of me because I couldn't play any other people's songs from start to finish [Laughs]. But it didn't really bother me because I wanted to write my own. I was more excited about coming up with new stuff than learning somebody else's.
And I have always been a songwriter - it just excites me more than anything else. One of my biggest frustrations is being considered a lead guitar player all these years instead of a songwriter, because that's what I really am. Sitting down with a guitar, 90 percent of the time I'm singing and writing songs. Then people usually attribute the song and the vocal lyrics and everything else to the singers of bands and a lot of times it's not always that case.
Songfacts: What triggered you to start writing with lyrics?
Tremonti: I had a 4-track when I was real young. I would record songs and I'd have my drum machine and my guitar and I would layer my guitar tracks. I didn't use a bass but I'd sing over my tracks and I needed lyrics right off the bat, so at first I wrote really bad lyrics and over the years I got a little better at it.
Songfacts: What was the first song that you heard where the lyrics really popped out to you more than the music?
Tremonti: I think songs like Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is." I love the lyrics to that song. There are just certain artists that when they write a lyric it's always real deep, and some bands don't put as much effort into it. Even a simple commercial band like Counting Crows, they have great lyrics. Of course Bob Dylan had wonderful lyrics. Me, I grew up in that mixture of '70s soft rock and speed metal, so the lyrics were just something I came up with on my own. I didn't really get too much inspiration from outside, like with other people's stuff.
Songfacts: Do you feel more compelled to write about reality over fiction and fantasy?
Tremonti: Yeah, but I would never put boundaries on anything. If I come up with something that's a fictional story I will go with it and not worry about it not being true to life. But most of my stuff is inspired by either what I've gone through or seen other people go through.
Songfacts: Aside from "In Loving Memory," a song you wrote about your mother's passing, which song of yours would you say means the most to you in terms of what it's about?
Tremonti: "Shed My Skin" was one that really meant a lot when I was going through that. When I was young my parents moved me around a lot so it was the first time in my life I was truly alone. I grew up with two older brothers in Detroit, and then one year my parents moved me down to Florida and my brothers stayed there.
I was 15 years old and I didn't have any friends or brothers or anybody, so I was really alone. That's when I really dived into the songwriting because I didn't really have any friends. So that song is pretty much how I felt at that moment.
From Creed's ashes, Tremonti, Marshall and Phillips formed Alter Bridge, bringing in Myles Kennedy to sing vocals. They debuted with One Day Remains in 2004, two months after the official announcement that Creed had broken up. Alter Bridge have produced four studio albums to date and work around the members' other musical projects.
Tremonti: Well, with Scott, he's a singer and not an instrumentalist. When I get together with Myles we'll both throw out ideas. Like, I'll have a part that has the music and the melody and the lyrics to it and I'll throw it at Myles and he'll do the same thing to me. He'll throw out a part that has his music, melodies and lyrics on it and we'll just put it together like a puzzle.
So we're both bringing to the table whole parts, whereas with Scott, I would bring in the music, melody ideas, certain lyric ideas and then he'd kind of run with the lyrics and change them or use some of it, not use some of it, stick to the melody for the most part or change it.
But the music was always mine in Creed. All the music came from me and I'd get together with him and work out the remaining melodies and a lot of times he'd just rewrite the melody or lyric. It just depended on the song.
Songfacts: Did you ever feel that Scott was ever too naked or too raw with his lyrics?
Tremonti: No, I don't think anybody could be too naked in lyrics. I think they're more poignant that way.
Songfacts: "What's This Life For" was your first #1 single [on the Mainstream Rock Chart, where Creed held residence].
Tremonti: I wrote "What's This Life For" when I heard the news that one of my best friends growing up - his older brother was friends with my older brother - committed suicide, and it just struck a nerve.
I just wrote about that and got with Scott and finished it up. I think I wrote the lyrics for the verses and choruses and he came up with the bridge. But it's a song about suicide and kids searching for that meaning of life. It's tough sometimes for kids in high school, junior high school, to go through a lot of the depression he went through that led him to commit suicide. So I wrote about that.
Songfacts: One of your biggest hits with Creed was "One Last Breath."
Songfacts: Fortress is Alter Bridge's most recent record and the first single off that was "Addicted To Pain." What can you tell us about that song?
Tremonti: That song was built around the opening riff, and we were happy once we got it done that we had a song that we felt could be a first single - it was the first song we wrote for that album.
It's about a person who is in a toxic relationship that doesn't have the nerve to get out of it and change things. Sometimes you feel that people like that enjoy being in the situation that is constantly causing them grief.
Songfacts: Does it help to put all your feelings into a song more so than keeping them to yourself?
Tremonti: I'm not sure. I think it's a double-edged sword. I think when you vent these issues, you're also digging into it. When I'm writing, a lot of times I'll get in a very dark place and stay there for weeks at a time because I'm just in that mood for writing music. Then when you stop writing music you're still kind of in that mood. If I was writing Jimmy Buffett songs maybe I'd be a happier person [Laughs].
Songfacts: Cauterize is Tremonti's second album and "Radical Change" is your new single.
Tremonti: Yes, that's the leadoff track on the new record. It's a song that I wrote about anybody going through a huge change in their life. For me, it was when Creed was coming to an end and not knowing what the hell we were going to do or where we were going or how we were going to do it. Just feeling the weight of the world crashing down on us.
This was our career, this was our passion and our love, but we knew it was time to make a change. So it's a song about that experience.
Songfacts: What can you tell us about "Dark Trip"?
Tremonti: "Dark Trip" I've had around for a little while, a few years. It was a song I've always really loved. It's a song about a personal relationship I had with a very close friend. Our families were close, we were close, he worked for me business-wise. But he left me hanging and it was a shock and it was a big blow for us as a family, so it's a very personal song.
Songfacts: You have an interestingly titled song called "Flying Monkeys."
Tremonti: I've had that riff for years. I used to go to soundcheck and play it to just check my gear, and our drum tech at the time would come out and say, "Man, that reminds me of 'The March Of The Flying Monkeys' from Wizard Of Oz." [Laughs].
So for years when I logged my ideas on my hard drive I would just label that riff as "Flying Monkeys." When that song finally got put together, it couldn't be anything but "Flying Monkeys."
Songfacts: Are you one of these guitar players that has a lot of riffs lying around that you like to go back to more so than using new ideas?
First Concert: Iron Maiden with Ace Frehley's Comet opening when he was in 7th grade.
First Purchased Album: Love Stinks by the J Geils Band.
First Musical Instrument: Recorder.
Followed By: Trumpet.
First Band: Diversion when he was 13.
Major at FSU when Creed was Signed: Finance.
But that being said, we do write. There is always two or three songs that get written mostly on the spot in the studio. But I like to come prepared.
Songfacts: Are you comfortable writing on the road or do you prefer to do it when you're home?
Tremonti: I like to write all the time. On the road sometimes it's tough to find a spot alone on the bus, but I'll find it. I think everybody understands when I go in the back lounge and shut the door, that's usually when I'm writing, and then people will kind of come back and be quiet when I'm recording something.
But a lot of times I can just write with the whole band out, doing whatever they do. I can write riffs and stuff and kind of hum when people are around, but when I really sing, I like to be alone.
Songfacts: Will Wolfgang be out on the road with you?
Tremonti: Well, Wolfgang is on tour with Van Halen right now until the middle of October. So when we go over to Europe the plan is to have him come out.
Songfacts: Is he a good fit for you guys?
Tremonti: Oh, he is a tremendous bass player. You couldn't ask for a better player.
Songfacts: I think he is better than some people want to give him credit for.
Tremonti: Well, you have all these old-school people that just want the original members of a band, and that's understandable, but you can't take anything away from how good Wolfgang is.
Regardless of who you want playing in Van Halen, he is a tremendous bass player and you can't take that away from him. Just because some from back in the '80s are wanting Michael Anthony back in the band doesn't mean Wolfgang is not every bit as good as any bass player on the planet.
Songfacts: Any plans in the works for Alter Bridge in the near future?
Tremonti: Yeah, we're going to get in the studio next year and come out with a record at some point next year.
Songfacts: Who are your Three Wise Men of songwriting – the three songwriters that have inspired you the most?
Tremonti: You know, I've always kind of been in my own little bubble as a songwriter. I've never really turned to anyone for inspiration for songwriting. It's always been my own imagination.
I don't think I've ever in my life heard an idea in a song and gone, "Oh I want to try and do that myself." I've always tried to do the opposite. I try to do stuff that nobody else is doing. That's why I like alternate tunings so much. I know stuff earlier in my career were more mainstream and more commercial sounding, but especially with all the albums I have done by now, I need to get more and more into new territory and not be too inspired by other folks. Just go down my own rabbit hole.
September 17, 2015
Alter Bridge website
Live Photos by Leslie Michele Derrough; group photo by Ashley Maile
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