Alter Bridge Q&A: On Building a Metal 'Fortress,' Taking Risks and Future Projects
Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti talk about their aggressive-sounding new album, plus upcoming solo and Slash-related releases
Since it announced itself with its debut, "One Day Remains," in 2004, hard rock band Alter Bridge has built its audience with such hits as "Open Your Eyes" and "Watch Over You." Today (Oct. 8) marks the arrival of its fourth album, "Fortress." Michael "Elvis" Baskette, who produced the group's subsequent albums "Blackbird" and "AB III," returned yet again to helm "Fortress." Alter Bridge leans in a decidedly metal direction on its latest project: For example, one cut, "The Uninvited," channels Tool, and songs like "Cry of Achilles" and the title track run beyond six minutes, letting the act indulge in some muscular sonic workouts.
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Singer/guitarist Myles Kennedy, guitarist Mark Tremonti and drummer Scott Phillips have also been active outside of Alter Bridge. Kennedy has forged a successful partnership with guitarist Slash, landing a hit with "Anastasia" from Slash's solo album "Apocalyptic Love." Tremonti has toured and recorded with Creed (along with Phillips and Alter Bridge bassist Brian Marshall and singer Scott Stapp), and also stepped out as a solo artist, while Phillips launched another band, Projected. Below, Kennedy and Tremonti discuss how "Fortress" came to be and what they hope fans will take away from the album.
The new album is more aggressive than previous Alter Bridge records. Was that a conscious decision?
Myles Kennedy: I don't know if it was so much conscious as it was just where we were as writers. Mark has always loved metal riffs; he's really great at writing them, and early with Alter Bridge he'd bring a lot of that stuff in and we'd try to find places where it would work. A lot of it ended up on his solo record. On this record, when we got together and started writing, Mark was kind of expecting me to come in with more of what I normally would bring in and I actually ended up bringing more riff-based, aggressive stuff and he was like, "Fantastic!," and he had plenty as well. So we just decided, "All right. Let's see what happens," and just rolled with it. In the end it turned out better than we could have imagined.
Mark Tremonti: When we first started putting the album together me and Myles kind of kept in mind that we had to play each song night after night and wanted to keep it a high-energy, fun record to perform live. That kind of steered us to writing those songs a little more aggressively.
Mark wrote a lot of the material on Alter Bridge's first album, and on the second one Myles contributed more. How has the songwriting process evolved since then?
Kennedy: At this point Mark and I, as far as the basic songs structures go, that's our job. The thing about Scott and Brian is, they're a really great rhythm section with a really unique feel, I think that in a lot of ways is kind of unrecognized in just how much they do bring to the band, because they have such a unique pocket that I've always loved. But also they really help Mark and I a lot in kind of filtering through all the ideas as far as what will stick and what will work with Alter Bridge. It's an important part of the equation when putting these songs together to have those two in there.
Tremonti: [Myles and I are] songwriting partners and we’ve learned how to work with one another very well. We try to write parts and pieces so when we come together we both feel like we’ve contributed to each and every song. I don’t come to Miles with a song and say, "Here it is. Learn it." He doesn’t come to me and say the same thing. We say, "Here’s one of my favorite parts. Do you have something that fits with it so we can both contribute?," and then the rest of the guys get in on the arrangements . . . they’re just great at sitting with us and organizing the songs and being filters. It’s good to have folks to bounce ideas off of. You can see the excitement level for each song.
What is it about the relationship the band has with producer Elvis Baskette that makes it keep returning to work with him?
Kennedy: He is one of those producers that not only are very gifted as a song guy and an [arranger] but also sonically he's got such an awareness of what's going to work at the end of the process, what's going to literally come through the speakers and just grab the listener around the neck. That's something he's very cognizant of, and I think the fact that he's one of the few true rock producers that understands how to do that is why it's very important to have him onboard when we make records. He's kind of the unofficial fifth member.
Tremonti: He’s just the best producer we've ever worked with. All the guys we’ve worked with have been great, but I get a sense that in general producers like to try and simplify what bands do to get their songs on the radio and that’s not really our focus at this point. We just want to expand our boundaries and experiment and not sound like the same band for years and years, and Elvis is great at pushing us and seeing that vision through with us.
Mark, you sing on the song "Waters Rising" on "Fortress." What made you decide to do that?
Tremonti: It think it came up because we were kind of running into some time restraints, and Myles had worked on a bunch of lyrical ideas. That song he didn't really have anything for and I had already written the lyrics to the chorus and he said, "Why don't you go ahead and finish it and sing it?" After I had done my solo album and whatnot I think it just opened that door and fans were inquiring if I was gonna sing on a song. We thought we'd throw something out there that we hadn’t done before to keep people guessing.
What do you hope fans will get out of "Fortress"?
Kennedy: Hopefully they will embrace the risks that we took as musicians. I think that for us we really wanted to challenge ourselves and not fall into the same patterns and formulas that we used on previous records, and when you do that you run the risk of alienating fans who’ve come to expect a certain thing. So what we're hoping is we're able to satiate our own needs but the fans will find it compelling as well. That's always a risk when you kind of step out artistically on any body of work, so that's what we're hoping for.
Tremonti: I just hope that they know what we’re trying to keep pushing ourselves and we’re not just relaxing and feeling like we’re settled in our sound. We just want to keep growing as musicians and hope people can hear that in the album.
Mark, Do you plan on doing anything else as a solo artist this year?
Tremonti: I'll be getting with the guys and trying to find a window maybe in December or January just to write some material, but as far as touring we've got a busy schedule with Alter Bridge. The next time we tour [as my solo band] Tremonti will probably be after we get some new material done, so it will probably be at least six months till we play some shows.
Myles, I understand you're already thinking of doing another album with Slash?
Kennedy: We've already started chipping away with that. Slash is sending me his riffs and ideas, so I've been [sending parts to him] via the old phone voice memo. We're just keeping it very simple at this point. We'll probably get together here later with the other guys, start chipping away at some things, and the goal is to record it next year.