Mark Tremonti Discusses Concept Album 'A Dying Machine': Exclusive
Frontman is writing a companion novel with award-winning author John Shirley.
Tremonti’s upcoming album, A Dying Machine (arriving June 8 on Napalm Records), means more to namesake guitarist-frontman Mark Tremonti than an addition to his band’s catalog: It’s intertwined with a major item on his bucket list that he’s finally scratching off. Like so many of us, Tremonti has long dreamed of writing a novel, and the upcoming concept album soundtracks a book he’s penning with Bram Stoker Award-winning author John Shirley (Borderlands: The Fallen, BioShock: Rapture) that he hopes to complete in time for A Dying Machine’s street date.
“For years, I thought how great it would be to publish a book, and I get to kill two birds with one stone and do an album with a book,” Tremonti tells Billboard. “It just seemed like the perfect time. The stars aligned.”
Things finally fell into place while the singer-guitarist was warming up prior to a show in Hungary with his other band, Alter Bridge, and started playing a chord progression that eventually became the title track’s chorus. “The story kind of formed in my head, and I kept on developing that song,” he recalls. “I remember being onstage kind of having that in my mind in between songs, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the dressing room. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the show, always, but I was dying to get back to writing the song.”
Tremonti explains that the book — he describes it as “a sad story” that’s “science fiction-esque” but leaning “on the more dramatic side of it and not so techy” — is set during the turn of the next century. It features a technology called a vessel, which is “a lab-grown synthesized form of a human being with mostly human parts, but they’re loaded with data and traits specifically chosen by their owners that we call primaries, and no two are alike. They’re processed through human DNA and they’re as unique as humans, but over time, some of the vessels in the first phase start to resist and disobey their owner.” A recall is issued that sets in motion a war between man and its creation. The hero of the story is one of these vessels, who was created and programmed by a man to love only him in order to fill a painful void caused by his ex-wife’s death.
Because A Dying Machine centers on a concept, Tremonti says he tried to make the music fit the story as much as possible, but he also wanted casual listeners to enjoy the album. “It’s not something [where] you have to read the book or you have to get into this kind of thing to enjoy the songs,” he says. “Some songs were kind of hard to wrestle into this theme.”
One of those songs is “Take You With Me,” whose exuberant mood and uplifting message differs from much of the propulsive, hard-hitting album that shows the band rocking with as much vigor and intensely as it did on their well-received 2016 collection Dust. “It’s about someone convincing someone else to be proud of their scars and their imperfections and never forgetting where they came from and who they are, and convincing them that they are stronger than they imagined," he says. Tremonti admits he’s a little apprehensive about its inclusion: “I know it’s a song that fits radio just as much as any other song on the album, but I don’t want it to take people’s attention off the storyline and the whole concept of the record.”
Below is the video for “Take You With Me,” which Billboard is exclusively premiering in the United States today (Apr. 16):
Tremonti’s booking agency, UTA, paired him with Shirley after he attempted to write the book solo and realized that he couldn’t do it and record an album at the same time. UTA has a literary division, so Tremonti asked his booking agent, Ken Fermaglich, for assistance in contacting the department to screen potential collaborators. Tremonti chose Shirley because the subject matter of Shirley’s previous books “is perfect for this. He’s got a very human side to his writing, and he’s a brilliant sci-fi writer.”
The pair created a 29-page outline after having multiple lengthy phone conversations. “He sent me back the outline after I kind of narrated it to him, and then certain things were different in my mind than his, and we would push back and forth on that and finally got to the point where I [thought], ‘This is a good story arc,’ ” explains Tremonti. “Then he wrote the first chapter, sent it my way with all the points we had talked about, and I loved it … He’s done an excellent job.”
Once the first half of the novel is solidified, Tremonti intends to shop it to publishing houses. In the meantime, he plans to self-publish it in hard copy. “I never, ever read online or read on a tablet. I have to have the books,” he says. “I even want to do the hardback, all different versions of the book. If people want to do it digitally, they can do that. [But] when I’m 80 years old, I want to have that book to hold on to.”