The release of Alter Bridge's sixth studio album, Walk the Sky, this past fall may have marked a turning point in the band's history: after 15 years, Alter Bridge is finally being recognized by critics and fans as its own entity and not being compared to Creed.
While the members of Alter Bridge never shied away from their history, Creed cast an undeniable shadow over the band's early years.
But success in the music industry comes neither easy nor often, and front man Myles Kennedy says Alter Bridge's ascent is no accident. He says the unique musical rapport between his band mates, guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips, was evident from the very beginning.
"I was watching soundcheck and it was just the three of them, Mark, Scott and Brian," Myles recalls of a mid-'90s Creed soundcheck. "I remember just listening to the rhythm section and thinking, 'Those guys have something very special.' It's one of those things that you're either born with or you're not."
Alter Bridge has maintained the same lineup for 15 years, and Myles' eagerness to compliment his band mates' "incredible gifts" is instructive of the environment the band built at the very beginning.
Myles checked in with Q104.3 New York's QN'A ahead of Alter Bridge's February 'Walk the Sky' tour with Clint Lowery to talk Rush, staying healthy in a traveling petri dish, building a setlist, sharing writing credit and more.
Read the full interview below.
(Photo: Getty Images)
How were you affected by the news of Neil Peart's death?
Yeah, that was a big surprise. They definitely kept it under wraps that he'd been ill. Definitely a massive loss. As a drummer, obviously, it goes without saying, he had an incredible influence on so many drummers. But as a songwriter, a lyricist in particular, he was one of the best, in my opinion.
I remember hearing "Subdivisions" as a kid and being drawn to that and really connecting with that lyric, just that feeling of alienation. He did such a beautiful job telling that story and expressing those emotions through his words. He was a very gifted lyricist. It was heavy for sure, losing him.
There is something heartening about his passing, which was that they were able to keep it a secret. It goes to show how tight-knit and trusting that band and its circle was.
That's a good point. It's pretty incredible that they were able to keep it quiet. Oftentimes when public figures get ill, that leaks out pretty quickly. But that's part of what was so shocking about it; it kind of came out of nowhere.
This is a bad segue, but you were sick last time I saw Alter Bridge here in New York.
(Laughs) Oh yeah, I was definitely a hurtin' unit that day. It's such an important show, it's New York; you want to put on your 'A' game. I was not feeling super hot that day for sure.
Even though you were under the weather, it didn't really show in your voice or your guitar playing. How do you deal with getting sick on the road?
Yeah, it happens. It happens a lot because you're traveling in a petri dish. You're on a tour bus; you've got 12 people in there — it just takes one person to get sick and then the whole bus gets sick.
As a singer, you tend to freak out because it tends to have such an effect on your voice and all that. For me, over the years, what I have learned is most important is to not stress out about it too much because that's only going to make it worse — make your immune system more susceptible.
Just keep a level head and do what you can, drink your fluids and stay away from too much sugar and take your Vitamin C. The show must go on.
Do you kind of go through the set and think about what notes you're not going to be able to sing?
Oh yeah. I'll do my warmup before hand, and that'll give me an idea of how I'm going to approach things later on that night — what melodies I might change a little bit if my voice is starting to feel beat up.
You put out Walk the Sky since last we spoke. How have some of those songs grown on you as you've been playing them live for a few months?
Yeah, "Pay No Mind," I really enjoy — though I always liked that song. The more you perform them, the more confident you get. The more it's second-nature to you.
When you saw us play...it was really early in the tour. A lot of those songs, they weren't second nature — the new ones — a lot of times you're thinking about the chord progression or how to articulate this particular passage that's coming up.
That's something I'm looking forward now that we're heading back out in the States, we've played the songs enough to where it's second nature and it should be a little easier.
Walk the Sky is a hefty album — 16 songs — which is a lot to drop into your catalog. We talked about this last time. Funny enough, as I was leaving that show, I heard a guy complaining that nothing from The Last Hero made it into the set.
How are you balancing the complaints with all the things that the band wants to do?
(Laughs) Oh, the complaints we typically hear from our manager; he's the guy who will go online — we kind of learned not to journey into that territory.
The Last Hero is something we've neglected on this album cycle, though I don't know why. I feel like there are some really great moments on that record. Hopefully we'll be more aware of that from this point forward and get a few more tracks on that record on there.
Yeah, but you have six albums now.
Yeah, six albums, so that makes it really difficult. What's going to make an hour to two-hour set.
It seems like early on in your career, the band agreed to share songwriting credit. I understand that you and Mark do most of the writing. Can you explain that decision to share credit and why you've stuck with it?
Yeah, that was a decision we made early on. It's one of those things where it can be tricky, trying to go through each song and [ask] who did what, especially when there's such a collaborative thing with Mark and I, so how does that work?
We just figured it would be easier to just kind of have a broad stroke, 'Yup, the songs are written by Alter Bridge.'
When we talk about it in the press, you kind of have an understanding that Mark and I are the songwriters.
But what Brian and Flip bring is their incredible gift and their feel to the backbone of the songs. The parts they inject the songs with do Alter Bridge-ify the tracks. They're very important. And they do a lot in helping dictate which songs and what ideas will make the cut.
Mark and I will sometimes get too close to the genesis of the idea. It's great to play the tracks to those guys, and also producer [Michael "Elvis" Baskette], and have them say, 'Oh, this is good' or 'This doesn't quite work.' It's definitely part of the process.
So it's a Mick Fleetwood/John McVie kind of dynamic.
With some bands there's one member or unit that is the sound of the band, and it's not always the songwriter(s). It's interesting that you hear that in what Flip and Brian do.
I mean, I remember, way back in the '90s I was in a band and we were on tour with Creed. And I was just sitting there and, at the time, we were playing a glorified bar because that was before they were into arenas.
I was watching soundcheck and it was just the three of them, Mark, Scott and Brian. I remember just listening to the rhythm section and thinking, "Those guys have something very special." It's one of those things that you're either born with or you're not.
Was it difficult to share the lyric-writing with Mark when you started with Alter Bridge? For some singers the lyrics is their chance to impact a song; for others it's a burden and they want someone to take the pressure off.
On One Day Remains a lot of those lyrics were Mark's. And then on this record, except "Godspeed," I think I came up with the rest of the lyrics. But it is really nice to have that occasional track where it does lift the burden off the singer.
Especially a track like "Godspeed," which is about a friend of [Mark's], so it's personal to him. ...The gravity of that, I feel like Mark can get into that deeper. For me, there were enough songs along the way that are about [my] loss, there's "Blackbird" or "Watch Over Your" or "Wonderful Life."
You kind of feel like you've touched on that particular theme so many times that it becomes redundant if it comes from you. So it can be nice.
You've been self-deprecating in the past with regards to your singing voice. How has your comfort level with being a singer changed over the years?
I still consider myself a guitar player first. I've used the voice mainly as a function of getting the point across in a song. It's taken me a long time to find where I'm most comfortable as a singer, especially from a range and an inflection standpoint because I went through so many phases.
Truth be told, I just spent more time developing myself as a guitar player than as a singer in the beginning. But now after doing it for decades, I feel comfortable with it. I probably enjoy it more and I have a better understanding of my instrument and how to utilize it most effectively for me.
If you asked me 10 years ago, my answer might have been different because I was still trying to find where I was more comfortable. As a seasoned artist, I'm a little bit more comfortable in my own skin.