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Alter Boys: Alter Bridge

With their debut album, Alter Bridge almost shook off the shadow of ‘feeder’ band Creed. On the eve of their comeback, Mark Tremonti and and Myles Kennedy talk old grudges/new beginnings.

Not long after Myles Kennedy agreed to front the band Mark Tremonti was assembling from the still-warm ashes of Creed, the singer threw himself off a 300-foot ledge in the Florida mountains. He would be saved from certain death by a length of elastic tied around his ankles, of course – the thought of joining Alter Bridge hadn’t been so traumatic as to drive him to suicide – but the symbolic undercurrents run deep. Kennedy, some would argue, is not the first singer that Tremonti has allowed to tumble into the void.

ONE DAY REMAINS 

Kennedy is relaxing now in his London hotel room. Alter Bridge are in town to play the Mean Fiddler, the final date of a UK tour and the singer is disarmingly friendly, and compliant with our questions in a way that suggests he isn’t yet used to being famous. “I love doing interviews,” he says, more than once during this one. “I love talking music.”

Cynics might argue that such a co-operative nature – combined with the relatively low profile of his previous band, the Mayfield Four – is exactly why Tremonti chose Kennedy.

Two weeks before this interview, Classic Rock spoke to former Creed frontman Scott Stapp, in town to promote that band’s posthumous ‘greatest hits’ album. The door was always open, Stapp insisted, and Creed would reunite for a fourth album he predicted. He also made loaded comments that suggested Alter Bridge was born of Tremonti’s frustration in Creed at playing second fiddle to another songwriter. The guitarist had even planned to sing in Alter Bridge, we were told, but was talked out of it by their label.

If Kennedy appeared to be something of a doormat when he was unveiled in Alter Bridge in early 2004, then the band’s debut One Day Remains revealed a more tangible reason for Tremonti choosing him: that voice. It’s a gravity-defying, octave- straddling bulldozer of a larynx. And one that instantly quashed conspiracy theories – fuelled by the addition of Creed bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips – that Tremonti wanted someone who sounded like Scott Stapp but who caused less friction. “That was the last thing I wanted to do,” Kennedy protests when asked if pressure was put on him to emulate Stapp’s vocal delivery. “I made sure there were no similarities there. I wanted to make sure that any phrasing or anything I did was definitely my own. But because Mark was responsible for the melodies in Creed, people are still going to associate me with the previous singer.”

There’s still the issue of control. What would happen if Kennedy arrived at the studio with ideas for a lyric? If Stapp is to be believed, One Day Remains is the first time Tremonti has grasped the reins of a project; he must have thrown his weight around.

“Mark isn’t a control freak,” Kennedy counters, suddenly protective. “It’d be easy for him to be, given everything he’s done over the last eight years, but he’s very open to ideas. He understands the importance of Alter Bridge being a democracy. It’s not some dictatorship.

“We’ve never argued, but I’ll definitely voice my opinion,” the singer continues. “I’ll say if something isn’t my thing. He’ll listen to that and digest it but, at the end of the day, if he trusts his instincts more then he’ll go with them.”

In the past, Kennedy has described his bandmates as the antithesis of prototypical rock stars. “Success changes people,” he remembers of his first meeting with Alter Bridge. “So I was surprised at the three of them. They’re extremely down-to-earth. Before I joined these guys I was back where I live working on my solo record. I’d just got married. I had a dog. So I wasn’t sure if I was going to go down to Florida and find it was all Lamborghinis and wild parties. If it had been, I don’t think it would have worked out. That isn’t me.”

Kennedy’s enthusiasm seems too sincere to be a mask. The three surviving members of Creed don’t fight or fuck. And while that hasn’t given Alter Bridge the same outlaw cool as fellow supergroup Velvet Revolver, it has resulted in a great rock’n’roll debut in One Day Remains, and a band chemistry that so far shows no signs of hairline fractures. And Kennedy is enjoying the ride: “They’re great to be on the road with,” he laughs. “It’s a real laid-back vibe.”

This same vibe will be apparent at tonight’s gig, when Alter Bridge play a goofy cover of Sweet Child O’ Mine and Tremonti and Kennedy engage in a good-natured guitar duel. Without Stapp’s pontifications, the band seem happier, less po-faced. And they sound better.

The happy band vibe also translates to recording: “When we went in the studio for One Day Remains, it came together very easily considering we’d only been a band for four months,” Kennedy recalls. “It was painless. There was one song we had to chase down: Open Your Eyes. I swear we worked on that for months. You start to wonder if it’s ever gonna happen. And there were blues elements on things like Burn It Down that wouldn’t have happened if we’d over-thought it.

“Of all the records I’ve done, this was the most hands-off from the label. There was no meddling in the songs; there was no ‘We need a hit.’ We didn’t hear that at all.”

Of the definite 70s vibe to some of One Day Remains, Kennedy offers: “Well, I never listen to my contemporaries. I think that’s dangerous. So there’s very few artists I consider myself to be a fan of who are relevant today. I’m the kind of guy who goes back and listens to the stuff we all draw from: y’know, the Zeppelins, Beatles, Stevie Wonders... That’s my approach. There was still so much ground being broken in the 70s. It was a ripe time. I feel like now there’s very little where people just go, ‘Wow! What was that?!’”

Asked what he felt about Creed before he joined, he replies: “I did respect where they were coming from, but I wouldn’t say I was a fan.”

Mark Tremonti will probably spend much of the rest of his career running away from his past, but it’s impossible not to ask him about Creed. His former band still looms over Alter Bridge, its shadow lengthened by the sense of unfinished business. Now, as it was during the days of their songwriting partnership, Tremonti and Scott Stapp can’t agree on anything. Stapp seems convinced that Creed will re-form; Tremonti has always denied it. Stapp rubbishes reports that the pair didn’t get along; Tremonti is happy to confirm them. Most recently, Stapp has claimed that Tremonti originally had himself down as the Alter Bridge frontman...

Tremonti stops it there. For the first time in this interview there’s a steely edge to his affable drawl. “No. I was never going to sing in Alter Bridge. That’s just a lie. Those are just made-up stories. I took vocal lessons so I could sing in my studio at home, but I knew I could never be a singer. And everyone else knew I couldn’t.” 

Hence he brought in Myles Kennedy. At the time, some people asked why Tremonti didn’t look for a big name to front his new band. He explains: “We’d tried people locally, and there was a talent agency our managers contacted, but nobody compared to him. It was his passion, and he obviously has the great range that can hit any note you ever write. We were looking for a nice person. When you’re in a band with somebody, you’re in a relationship with them for a decade or more. I just wanted to get a band together where I got along with everybody and everybody was on the same page, and there wasn’t anybody arguing with one person.”

But maybe the guitarist’s idea of getting along simply means him giving orders and the rest of the band following them?

“It’s not like I’m a control freak,” Tremonti protests. “It’s very different to Creed. We’ve started getting together at soundchecks and putting stuff together. Everybody’s there, everybody’s listening to ideas.” He pauses. “Whereas before, it was hard just to get everyone in the same room.

“I compromised a lot in Creed,” he says. “It was definitely a give-or-take kinda thing between me and Scott. Musically, I can now go out and do exactly what I want on the guitar. And lyrically it’s more about everyday life than it used to be.”

Tremonti says he has no idea what Stapp thinks of One Day Remains. “He hasn’t told me,” he says. “I haven’t spoken with him since February, for about a year. We don’t speak. We just don’t get along too well. And there’s not going to be another Creed record.”

So One Day Remains has a put a little daylight between Tremonti and his past. He knows how good the record is, and doesn’t care if it doesn’t match the sales that Creed enjoyed. Alter Bridge has allowed him to explore his 70s leanings that were prohibited in his former band, and start enjoying the daily business of rock’n’roll again.

“It’d be hard to sell another 30 million,” he ponders. “That was before the days of piracy; there was more exposure for rock bands. We just want to stay alive and keep doing it. It’s a struggle for a rock band to achieve success nowadays.”

Some would say that’s why Alter Bridge are important to rock’n’roll in 2005. There aren’t that many new bands keeping the flame alight. “If there are other good bands out there,” Tremonti counters, “I just don’t think a lot of them are mainstream. The labels are swamping radio stations with bands. Nobody’s building artists, they’re just kinda letting them put out one song and disappear. In the 80s, you’d buy an Iron Maiden record and you’ve got four other Maiden records and you knew all the guys in the band. Nowadays you hear a band and you’ve no idea if they’ll come out with another record. That’s why there’s not much egomania in rock nowadays, because there’s not a lot of big stars.”

As our conversation draws to a close, Mark Tremonti lays it on the line: “I realise that if I get really good at this when I’m 45 years old, I’ll never be able to show it to the world. I want to do it now, while I still can. I want to get as good as I can as fast as I can.”

On the evidence of One Day Remains, he’s getting there. Alter Bridge are one of those rare supergroups that are better than the band that spawned them. 

HOOOOOLEEEEEE SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITTT!!

MYLES KENNEDY’S ALTER BRIDGE

INITIATION CEREMONY.

MYLES KENNEDY:

“I had to jump off this thing in Orlando. I think it’s called The Drop. It’s like 30 storeys high. It was terrifying. It was Mark’s idea. He thought it would be funny to watch me squirm. He did a great job. I didn’t want to do it. Hell, no. I hate heights. But I thought, y’know, I will show no fear.”

MARK TREMONTI:

“Well, we wanted to give him some kind of initiation. I like to do the world’s tallest free-fall down in Florida. Every time a friend comes to town, I take ’em out there and try and terrify them. So I did it with Myles. And he wet his pants a little bit.”

OPEN YOUR EYES 

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