Alter Bridge's Sixth Album 'Walk the Sky' Is a Flip Side to Band's Darker 'AB III'

Alter Bridge
Dan Sturgess

Alter Bridge

Singer-guitarist Myles Kennedy has found what he jokes is “new software" that helps him navigate life.

Although Alter Bridge’s third album, AB III, has been in the rearview mirror for nine years, the emotional odyssey that it captured is far from over.

The 2010 record -- which featured the Billboard top five Mainstream Rock Songs hits “Isolation” and “Ghost of Days Gone By” -- was the first time the band had veered into darker lyrical territory like spiritual conflict and personal desolation. Singer-guitarist Myles Kennedy describes AB III as a journey of someone who “has a lot of doubt regarding faith in particular, or a lack of faith, and the things that we were raised to believe as absolute truths, and suddenly realizing that that might not be the case.”

Recording AB III was a “pretty dark period” where he questioned a lot of things that he had been raised to believe. Now, Alter Bridge’s sixth album, Walk the Sky (which arrived Oct. 18 on Napalm Records) documents that journey’s progression. Fortunately, Kennedy has discovered what he laughingly calls “new software that seems to work and help me navigate through life. And it feels good.”

He recalls that while he was raised in a very religious household, seeing the PBS series The Power of Myth as a teen set him on a path to realizing that there are other perspectives about life. “I think that, after nearly 30 years of looking into some of that stuff and trying to understand it and reading books, I finally found something that worked for me that really made sense,” the frontman says. “To keep it simple, a lot of it leans toward Eastern philosophies and the idea of living in the moment and being very present.”

Guitarist and fellow songwriter Mark Tremonti liked the thematic direction Kennedy was following because, to him, “faith and religion and finding positivity in your life, it’s more of an existential thing.” His outlook on spirituality is, even if one doesn’t believe in God, one should “at least believe in something good and positive, and try to make the best out of your life and your surroundings.”

That might surprise fans of Creed, since Tremonti’s former band was tagged a Christian act -- a situation that was conflicting for him because he “grew up a heavy-metal kid -- and then you find yourself in a band where the lyricist is spitting out Christian-style lyrics.” Creed singer Scott Stapp’s father used to have him write essays about Bible verses, and Stapp would put them into lyrics, and it “kind of pigeonholed us into being this Christian band.”

“I don’t believe in organized religion,” Tremonti explains. “We have people on such opposite sides of the fence in every religion, and in politics as well. I like to just kind of accept everybody and look for the positive in everything as much as I can and not be bogged down by any kind of strict rules.”

The spiritual backdrop of Walk the Sky doesn’t mean that Alter Bridge doesn’t shred some serious hard rock -- but another unexpected influence appeared. Tremonti was in a friend’s car listening to satellite radio when he heard “Tech Noir” by British synth-wave act Gunship. He texted it to Kennedy, writing it was one of the best songs he had heard in a long time. Kennedy agreed, so Tremonti “started chasing down that kind of mood on a couple of the tunes.”

Kennedy thinks other bands have felt a similar influence due to Netflix’s Stranger Things and its soundtrack drawing from his generation’s upbringing, “when there were especially a lot of the John Carpenter films, who would use the synthesizers.” Alter Bridge was shooting for “adding that eerie element to certain songs or to a song like [second single] ‘Pay No Mind,’ which is more of a riff-based song, but adding that element takes it into a whole new territory.”

Indeed, “Pay No Mind” opens with a thick synth vibe. Keyboards also introduce music like the slightly midtempo “The Bitter End” and “Godspeed,” and percolate in the background of such cuts as the fiery “Take the Crown” and “Indoctrination,” which has a menacing tone. But there’s plenty of the rafter-ripping guitars that Alter Bridge fans crave: see the body-slammers “Clear Horizon” and first single “Wouldn’t You Rather,” the band’s 10th top 20 hit on Mainstream Rock Songs.

“It’s always been part of what we do,” says Tremonti of Alter Bridge’s intense dual-guitar approach. When he and Kennedy are writing, they consider what will be fun to perform night after night. “A lot of times, [it’s] the heavier stuff; it’s fun.”

Whenever Kennedy and Tremonti compose, they sometimes don’t land on the same creative page. But “if we were always in absolute agreement, I think that there would be a lack of creative tension that ends up defining a band,” says Kennedy. He attributes Alter Bridge sticking together for 15 years because if he doesn’t get one of Tremonti’s ideas, he’ll say, “‘OK, well, let’s see how this plays out,’ and vice versa, and then you let things blossom. If someone really believes in something, then let ’em run it up the flagpole and see what happens. Often times, it ends up turning out to be great.”

But Tremonti can’t resist attempting to pull a fast one over his bandmate. “When I try to play mind games on Myles, I’ll play him an idea, and if he doesn’t get it immediately, I’ll come back two weeks later and be like, ‘Hey, I got this new idea…” he says, laughing.

Another element in their songwriting success is the ever-present Michael “Elvis” Baskette: Walk the Sky is the fifth Alter Bridge album he has produced. Kennedy’s relationship with him goes back even farther, for they met when Baskette was working under producer Peter Collins (Queensryche, Rush) on 2001 album Second Skin for The Mayfield Four, Kennedy’s old band. “The tones [Baskette] gets, the performances he pulls out with us … The trust we have in somebody is a very personal thing,” says Tremonti. "Writing music, it’s hard to bring somebody else in. It’s like letting somebody read your diary."

One of the guitar parts that comes sawing through “Wouldn’t You Rather” was borne of frustration after Baskette told Kennedy, “You gotta bring it, bro,” because they needed a song with a certain feel to fill out the album. It was a soft-spoken tongue-lashing, jokes Kennedy.

“The thing that Mark and I really like about him is he knows how to drive the best out of us,” he says, comparing Baskette to legendary director Stanley Kubrick when it comes to tapping into an artist’s psyche to extract what’s needed. “There’s stories of when he did The Shining with Shelley Duvall. He was brutal to her psychologically. Like he would just play with her mind because he wanted her to be all worked up, so he understood the psychological element of getting the best out of his actors.”

Kennedy and Tremonti also give props to engineer Jeff Moll, Baskette’s literally silent right-hand man. “He’s a quiet guy. That’s probably why we don’t talk about him much, because he’s just very hard-working,” observes Tremonti, before adding with a chuckle, “But he’s the perfect Ed McMahon to Elvis’ Johnny Carson.”