At a time when the music industry is openly questioning the viability of rock music and whether the reign of the electric guitar is at an end, Alter Bridge is poised to drop the latest testimony atop of a mounting pile of evidence demonstrating that rock isn't finished yet.
Kennedy and lead guitarist Mark Tremonti have built their career together disguising metal with melody and delivering it to people more apt to sing along than bang their heads. But their latest effort, Walk the Sky (available October 18), is their most drastic shift in the latter direction in 15 years, as one of the most ferocious helpings of radio-worthy thrash metal in the history of the format.
Tremonti and Kennedy can't help but craft soaring vocal lines, and Walk the Sky certainly checks that box. But new songs like "Wouldn't You Rather," "Native Son," "Indoctrination" and "Pay No Mind" unfold in a succession of some of the most creative and heavy-hitting guitar moments of the year, proving that Kennedy's six-string chops didn't atrophy while he was on tour with Slash and Tremonti didn't dilute his bank of song ideas by doing his latest solo album.
During a recent interview with Q104.3 New York's QN'A, Tremonti chalked up the band's 'reinvented' sound on Walk the Sky to being a product of the distance between himself and his singer for so much of the writing process. Because Kennedy has been on tour for most of the past 12 months, he and Tremonti were particularly diligent about smoothing out their demos before arriving at recording sessions.
"This time around, me and Myles had demos that were very well put together before we hit the studio," Tremonti says. "Usually we hit the studio more loosely and can spend some time ... together kind of last-minute finalizing arrangements and stuff. But this time around, we had put some time into some good demos and hit the ground running."
Elsewhere in the interview, he and Kennedy discussed some creative processes behind the new album, the complications of making time for Alter Bridge and how they're trying to grow as a veteran band.
Myles, after doing so many shows with Slash over the past year, it must be night to hold a guitar onstage again.
Myles: You have no idea! With Slash there are actually two points in the set where I play guitar, play rhythm guitar. And I literally can't get to the guitar fast enough. Yeah.
Mark: He doesn't even get to play a lick; it's all strummy stuff, though, right?
Myles: Yeah. Hey, I'm fine with that, as long as I have a guitar in my hands. We just actually rewatched some footage of [Slash and the Conspirators] from the first tour that we ever did in Europe. At that point, [the band] didn't realize I played much guitar, and so I did most of the set without a guitar, and it's absolutely excruciating to watch how awkward it is.
Because you just didn't know what to do with your hands?
Myles: I don't know what to do with my hands; I don't know what to do period. It's really bad.
Mark: I couldn't imagine having to do that myself.
Myles: Oh yeah, it's funny.
One thing I like about Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators is that as the band goes along, more names get added.
Myles: (Laughs) It is the longest name in all of music right now, yeah.
Mark, a few years back you explained to me a system you have of organizing your ideas and saving everything you write. Do you find that those old ideas often resurface in new songs that make it to albums?
Mark: Yeah, I will label what kind of parts [I have] and what tempo they're at; what tuning that's in; time signature sometimes. Then later on, you're writing a song that you have almost finished but you need just one cool riff or one cool part, you can always go back to your thousands of ideas and dig through 'em.
And with any given tempo or tuning, there's gonna be... Say you needed a riff, there's gonna be hundreds and hundreds of riffs that you can log though and see. You know, a lot of times, I'll just go though and be like, all right, these 15 will work. Let me, let me keep on whittling it down to the best ones.
In a perfect world, you start an idea and you can finish that idea. But a lot of times if you force it too fast, you’re just selling that song short. Sometimes going back to some of those old ideas makes it a better song.
Doing all the stuff that you do outside Alter Bridge, when you come back to the band, it is easy to get back in the groove? Do you feel creatively exhausted? Is it a breath of fresh air? Or are you in the zone from a creative standpoint from doing so much music?
Mark: It literally is yes to everything you just said... It is all of that. I mean, there are times when it's just like it's a breath of fresh air, and there are times when you feel rejuvenated. But there are times when you feel tapped out, and you're just beat. It kind of depends on which moment you ask. But those are certainly dynamics that play a big part. All of those things are a big part of the emotional process of being in so many bands.
I imagine there are times when one of you just came back from like a 50-day tour and someone else has been on the beach for a month...
Mark: Exactly the situation. I've been off for the last three months and Myles has been touring since [we recorded the Walk the Sky].
Myles: Before that.
Mark: He's pretty crispy [right now].
Myles: I've been gone, essentially, for the past 30-plus weeks. I was at home once for a few days. So, yeah, you just get to a point where you're just kind of loopy.
When you're tired of being on tour, Myles, do you just look at Slash and say, 'Well, if he can do it...' He's been on tour for like three years, right?
Myles: Yeah. No, he definitely has time at home and takes time at home. The mistake I made... I'll just be totally honest, is putting out a [solo] record, then going right into Slash and doing...I mean, it's literally like you are just never home. And it's like, you have to really ask yourself, are you just crazy or do you just love to rock?
Myles: Yeah, exactly.
Do you think the new album, Walk the Sky, is a reaction to the solo projects and the Slash thing?
Mark: No, I think it just kind of happened naturally. Whenever we do a record, we try to do something a little different than we've done in the past, constantly try to reinvent ourselves to an extent — keep the fans guessing and keep ourselves challenged.
This time around, me and Myles had demos that were very well put together before we hit the studio. Usually we hit the studio more loosely and can spend some time, me and him, together kind of last-minute finalizing arrangements and stuff. But this time around, we had put some time into some good demos and hit the ground running.
"Pay No Mind" is pretty pointed, lyrically. Is that about, or to, a particular person?
Myles: It was actually inspired after seeing a movie called The Big Short. And, and it was just kind of the frustration with that situation. With lyrics, often times you just try to make it broad where it can cover a number of different [topics], so it's not pointed towards one particular person or situation. But it expresses a certain amount of frustration, without a doubt.
With the previous album, The Last Hero, which was released before the 2016 election, did you get more comfortable tackling social or political questions in your music?
Mark: I think when that record happened, you couldn't get away for the circus of the presidential race and it was just jammed down everyone's throat, so it was kinda hard to not have that reflect in, somehow in your music. You know, we've always been very careful not to show our colors as to what sides or whatnot, politically, or religiously, or anything like that.
I think that's dangerous ground. But in general the "Show Me a Leader" song, I think is, just about [having] us something that you can believe in. You have all these clowns running for [office], trying to be the hero that's gonna lead. All we see are these fronts.
Myles: Yeah, we had no idea that the storm that was gonna be caused once that song came out. But, you know, a lot of people were like, 'They're pro this guy or they're pro this girl or this,' No, we were just trying to... It was written during the whole, you know, campaign cycle.
Mark: It's like a reality show
Myles: Yeah, yeah, but we weren't picking a side, no.
To that point, Mark, was Creed miscast as a “Christian” band?
Mark: You know when you have somebody doing the bulk of the lyric writing, I think the general public thinks that's what the whole band is about.
Mark: I'm not into organized religion. I just feel like it's antiquated and very black and white; there's no gray areas in between 'em, and I just think people just painted us in a corner as this Christian band. If you would've told me when I was a kid, that people are gonna think that [my] first band is a Christian band... I grew up listening to Slayer and King Diamond and Venom...
And I know you guys love Gojira nowadays.
Mark: Incredible band.
Myles: Love Gojira. So good.
Mark: But that being said, I’m open-minded to everybody. I think everybody should have their beliefs and their opinions and feel free to express them.
Walk the Sky is your sixth album, and when it's released, that's 14 songs being added to your catalog at once. There's a bit of paradox, because longtime fans always have more experience with the older stuff. How do you feel your fans are responding to the new songs?
Mark: I like to think our fans are still more excited about the new stuff coming out… There are some old bands that you just want to hear the classics from and [they’ll] maybe play one or two new songs.
I think our fan base still wants to hear a lot of the new stuff live. They’ve heard so many of these songs so many times, we definitely have to play their favorites. But I like to think of us as a current artist.
Interestingly, you both kind of have one foot in both worlds. You must have felt some of that in the past. Myles, I saw you with Slash & the Conspirators this summer play Guns N’ Roses’ “Night Train” at Heavy Montreal. That got the biggest reaction of your set.
Myles: Yeah, you certainly see that. And it’s something that goes though my mind a lot, especially as the years go on. You wanna keep the fans happy. But at the same time, I still get the need to continue to try and evolve creatively.
If you’re just going up there and playing songs that you were part of 20 years ago, you know, how connected do you still feel? And when does it just feel like you’re phoning it in? You wanna still be new and exciting and have those moments to look forward to, where you have to stay on your toes.
So we’ve been really lucky that we have fan bases that are still wanting to hear the new tracks and still embrace that.
Mark: But when the day comes when they don’t care anymore, then we’ll have the discussion and it’ll be interesting how we navigate through those waters, you know?
How do you see the current state of rock music in the world today?
Mark: You know, we don't really get into the business stuff as much, but we hear about it along the way.
I've heard recently, that active rock spins now are up to over 2,000 spins on the charts. And that's up 500 – 600 spins from not too long ago. So I think a lot of promoters, and a lot of agents and people are saying that rock is having a bit of resurgence. It's not like gonna be an overnight thing. But I think it's stuck it out.
It hit, I think it hit rock bottom, as far as viewership and listenership. But I think it's bouncing back a little bit. It's on the upward trajectory, hopefully.