What’s New With Alter Bridge’s Mark Tremonti: The Interview
By Andrew Catania
Mark Tremonti is a successful musician. He’s a family man, humble, very outgoing, lyricist, and guitarist. One thing he’s good at, he’s good at putting out good music. Whether it’s Alter Bridge or his solo band Tremonti, you’re going to get a good album. I sat down with Mark to discuss Alter Bridge, his solo band, and his future tour and recording plans.
Hi, Mark! How are you?
Hi good, how are you?
I’m doing fine thanks! Doing fine! I hope the tour is going well. Rusty Cooley texted me last night and said he was with you.
Yes! Nice! I got to see him briefly last night for an hour in Albuquerque
How’s the tour going? Your new album sounds great!
Thanks, man! It’s going well! We’ve got about five more shows before the US leg is done and head on over to Australia
So my question I’ve wanted to ask you for years is how did you go from guitar player in one good band in the late 90’s early 2000’s to the guitar in an another awesome band, you’ve had a solo record, you’ve worked with Wolfie Van Halen and your solo album was heavier than the previous two albums you did with both your bands. How did you do all this? What is your success to all this? You’ve had very successful music come out.
I think it’s all about the songs. I love writing songs. I spend a lot of time writing at any given moment, and I don’t think I’ll ever release all the idea’s I’ve ever written, but I try to get the idea’s out, so they don’t go to waste
Is it true you keep a file on your computer of song’s you might not have put out on a Tremonti album or an Alter Bridge album to keep them there in case your next record comes up, and you go through your files
I’ve just got a bank of you know like a hard drive bank of parts you know not completed songs. I keep them in parts and when it come’s time to do a record I arrange them
Do you write the lyrics or the music first?
I do the melodies and then the music first. Sometimes the melodies will have some key phrases that I’ll work on but most of the time I do the lyrics last because you know you can sing one part about going to school and another part about driving a bus and it won’t match so you’ve got to rewrite lyrics, so it lets you know if these parts are going together.
Take me back to early on when you started to play guitar, who influenced you to pick up? What was the first kind of guitar you had? How did all that come about?
I just was drawn to it every time I would hear a guitar breakdown in a song even in a pop song. When I was a kid I remember hearing Boston songs, and even like J. Geils Band songs it would just drop down to a guitar riffing out, and I’d just loved the sound of it, and I was obsessed with it, and my buddy had a brother who played guitar and he’d always have his door closed and I ‘d hear it through the door and I asked my friend do you think he’ll let me play it? And he was like, “hell no my brother will kill you!” So for years, I asked for a guitar for Christmas, and finally, I bought one for $10 from my buddy.
What kind was it?
It was an imitation, Les Paul. It was a Tara
Oh wow! OK! When you had that, did you take lessons or were you self-taught?
I took one lesson, and I asked if he could teach me how to play Metallica back in the day, and he said no, I don’t know that song, I’ll show it to you next time. After my second lesson, he didn’t have it prepared for me, so I quit!
He tried to teach me the Mel Bay 101 book, and it wasn’t what I wanted to learn
So you just taught yourself what you wanted to do?
Yes! Self-taught and I’m glad I am now because it was a process that gave me my sound. It didn’t move me into a guitar teacher sound.
Do you consider yourself a shredder? Or a different kind of player?
It’s crazy! Like some of these guys like Rusty is my good friend, a freak of nature on the guitar. I’m a much different guitar player. We all have our different strengths and weaknesses you know, and I think if you play the guitar for years you’re going to have a lot of the various experiences than other guys. I consider myself a songwriting guitar player, and that’s most exciting.
You can hold your own because you’re not just a guitar player, you’re excellent lyricists as well.
Alder Bridge, Tremonti even yourself with Creed. Your lyrics are just phenomenal.
Thank you very much!
The Alter Bridge record is your best to date. I’m not saying that some of your other stuff isn’t good, but this is good!
Thank you very much. Yes, we worked hard on it, and if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, I’d always say. You’ve got to make your new album better than your previous ones.
Tell me about your gear. I know you’re a Les Paul fan but what are you using for your tour? What’s your set-up?
I have a signature model PRS that I play, guitar-wise. Amp-wise I have for years now I’ve used a Mesa Boogie triple rectifier paired up with a Bogner Uberschall, and it’s a very simple rig. It only has just a few pedals in front of it. I’ve got my signature Wah pedal in front of it, and my tube screamer and that is pretty much it. I pretty much run two halves stacked at all times. For clean I just dial back the volume and clean it up that way
I used to have a real complicated rig, but now I just feel like since I’ve done my solo project I simplified the rig and I just kept it that way for Alter Bridge.
Getting back to what you’re saying, you are a different kind of guitar player because I’ve seen you in interviews, I’ve followed you for a long time, you’re just like a regular everyday person. You write good music; you play guitar, you’re a very approachable person. Do you think that has a lot to do with the success that you’ve had? You seem very humble about it; you’re not like one of the ‘ego ‘ kind of guys
It’s just not my personality. I’ve never been that kind of person. There’s always for every great guitar player there’s always going to be 1,000 people better than that player. I’ve seen it over and over again. If you look on Instagram or YouTube or whatever, you’re going to see guys you’ve never heard of that blow your mind. They might not do what you do as good as you do it but they do their own thing, and you’ve got to respect somebody that develops their sound and have something that you want to add to your sound
If we were going to have a conversation say 15 years ago or that would you believe that you’d be as successful as you are today with mainly two bands and a solo album? Would you think that if we talked 15 years ago?
I’m not sure you know. I probably wouldn’t have believed it before my first band got a deal. I just kind of seen that if you work hard and have previous success and try to repeat it with the same work ethic you can kind of keep going as long as you keep your head in the game and keep a solid fan base you know, you keep your fan base happy and give them solid music, you’re not just spitting stuff out there, you can keep going.
In Alter Bridge, who is the one who writes the most lyrics? Is it you, Myles? Do you guy’s share most of it?
Well, Myles and I write everything for Alter Bridge. Usually, we’ll write parts, and we’ll give them to one another like I’ll write a chorus, he’ll write a verse, and I’ll write a riff, he’ll write a bridge, and we’ll piece it together like puzzle pieces, and then he’ll go and finish the lyrics I’ll write parts with melodies and I’ll have some filler songs and I’ll let him kind of suit the words to the overall song.
Are you doing any guitar clinics while you are out on tour?
Yes, I do one every day. Every show day I do one around 2:00 right before so I run up to sound-check at 4:00 I start at 2:00 and then it’s usually scheduled for an hour and I like to double it, so it’s a real time roughly
Who are some of the guitarists that you listen to these days? I know you’re a big Joe Bonamassa fan, I’ve read that.
Yes, absolutely! Joe is amazing. Joe is about the best there can be and then Derek Truck I think is amazing. There’s Shawn Tubbs he’s a guitar player that I’ve discovered that I’m really into at the moment. Eric Gales, another good player. Yes, I mean there’s just so many.
You’ve got a lot of touring going on. What is 2017 going to bring? Are you going to be doing another Tremonti album? Or are you just pretty much going to concentrate on Alter Bridge this year?
I’m going to be writing a Tremonti album. After this tour is over, I’m going to have the guy’s come to town and start writing and just kind of pick our moments to keep writing and probably get a record out next year
OK. Are you going to have Wolfie (Van Halen) back in the band?
I don’t believe so; he’s doing his project right now. It’s either he’s playing bass in somebody else’s band, or he’s singing and playing bass and drums and everything in his project right now, and I’m sure he’s going to want to put all his efforts into promoting that.
Do you have any sound direction you want to go with the next Tremonti album?
In a perfect world, I want to kind of split it up. You know I don’t want to get trapped into having to do massive records all the time because it’s something I really wanted to get out with the solo project was the heavier side of my writing but I don’t want to abandon some of the melodic atmospheres of stuff altogether so I ought to do just like I did the last time, do two albums and have two different sounds. Have one be more atmospheric in music, acoustic, real melodic and have the other one be straight up heavy
Regarding when you’re on the road, do you play your guitar hours on end in the day? Are you writing on the road?
Yes, I play guitar as much as I can so you know when I go out on tour I look at it as a window of time where I can dive into the guitar a lot. When I’m at home it’s tough because I’ve got two kids and responsibilities at home, so if I get in an hour and a half at home I’m lucky, when I’m on tour I can put in 6 hours a day you know which is definitely a good day Yes, kids will keep you busy.
When you’re playing do you improvise much at all or do you pretty much stay where the core of it all is?
No, I mean I love to improvise. I wish I had done it at a younger age. I’m the kind of player that will always make other solo’s and try to mimic them note for note, and I was never thrown into that situation where there’s a blues band or something that I had to improvise with. I try to improvise a little bit every day just to try to break out of that regime of a guitar player and just kind of flow freely you know. I want to be invited to play with a great blues player you know to hang. Metal was always my thing I never knew the blues style of playing, but as I get older, I love it!
Regarding your playing, how would you describe your playing would you consider yourself blues?
Rock / Blues-ish. It’s based on metal, but the tunings I use are the way I play. It’s just really experimental. I try to go places where I think other people are not going to go when it comes to writing parts and finger style patterns and what not. When I do my clinic’s, I show people how I try to make mistakes. I try to come up with chord voicings that I’ve never heard before, or somebody would never want to hear before. Try to make something sound as bad as possible, and when you’re doing that for a half an hour or even 10 minutes, you’re going to come up with something amazing by just stumbling down the path that nobody’s ever been down.
Do you have any pre-show warm ups that are original to you?
I used to go through our set list and just knock out each solo a couple of times just so they were fresh in my mind but now I’m just doing whatever I’m trying to learn, and I’ll just be jamming on that and learn on that until the show starts up and by then I’m pretty warmed up.
When you have a song list, do you ever skip over or tell your band mates we’re going to try something else and kind of switch things up?
We switch it up every night. We try to, you know we have a lot of fans that follow us from show to show and so we want to make sure there are a couple song’s different every night we’re always rotating stuff
Are there songs that you won’t play live?
No, they’re just song’s that when we play a song live we’ve got to take a couple of days to rehearse it because we’ve got five albums now, so there’s no way for us to pull them out at any given moment we have to go back and re-run them.
Where do you see Alter Bridge going from here? You’ve got a strong album out. You have high sales You’ve got a successful tour going on. What would be the next step for this band, for Alter Bridge for you and Myles and the guys?
We’re just really digging into this tour. It’s been about the most touring we’ve ever done on an album, and we’re only half way there, so we’re going to keep going through the end of the year and take a breather after that and then do a normal cycle and let ourselves live a little while before we write the next one but we’ll never stop. We’ll always be writing for the next record, so there’s a lot of idea’s that are sitting there right now that won’t materialize until the next Alter Bridge record comes out
Very nice! And just as you’re a parent and you’re a musician, is it hard to balance family life with on the road?
That’s the worst thing about what I do it’s any day I feel away from my kids is a wasted day. Playing the best show of my life is not as special as spending time with my family. Just last week I rented a tour bus just for them, and they came out for a week, and whenever I can get them out, I beg my wife to bring them out but now that they’re getting older and with school, it’s tougher to get them away. I try to plan.
We just drove into Albuquerque and no fool you, 5:00!
The thing that I get from your fans and what I get is you have an A section of Alter Bridge fans that are on one spectrum all the way to the other. Have you seen that at your shows?
Oh yes! We have fans that also love very different styles of music. We’ve got people that like heavy stuff, we’ve got people that like soft stuff, we’ve got old, young and people from all around the world. It’s great to see that there’s something for everybody
Guitar pics, I was going to ask you, are you one of those who likes the 2mm thick ones? Or are you like the jazzy thin. What kind of pic’s are you using?
I use a 1mm nylon
Yes, it’s a pretty standard pic. I went the jazz three route for a little while, it was good but then I just kind of think I didn’t have one around, and I went back to my 1mm nylon, and it just felt like home to me, so I just stuck with that.
Are you endorsed with PRS?
Yes, I’ve had a signature model now for 16 years or so
Who else are you endorsed with?
Morley Pedals, T-Rex Pedals, D’Addario Strings that’s about it.
What string gauge are you using on your guitar?
The gauges are all over the place. Each of my guitars has a piece of tape on the back that has the listing of the guitar gauge because we use so many tunings the guitar measures’ strings are all over the place but if I’ve got a guitar at home I’m just writing on or playing on I use on the E, A and D string I the strings from a set of 11’s and G, B, E and I’ll use a set of 10’s
Nice! And D’Addario strings how do you like them? I’m kind of new with D’Addario. They came standard on my Ovation and my Rusty Cooley RC7. Do you think that D’Addario is a premier product? I mean I know you’re endorsed by them, but I just started using them. They seem pretty nice.
Yes, you know someone told me a long time ago that there are only three string manufacturing plants and there’s a bunch of companies that use them. To my knowledge, I should probably study this more and experiment with it more, but I don’t think there’s a huge difference between string companies, to be honest with you. I heard there’s some new fancy line out that has a lot more definition and shelf life going, but I don’t know what that is. I’ve just been so used to D’Addario’s for so long. You know I played Blue Steel’s when I was younger, they all seem the same to me, I don’t know.
Do you have any advice to any of your fans that are starting to play guitar up and coming that want to hit the instrument and start playing the instrument for the first time? Do you have any advice for them?
Yes, I would say to try to be a writer right off the bat. There are so many great guitar players out there that just focus on the guitar but not the songwriting side of things. That gives you longevity being able to do this and being able to make a living at it Excellent advice.
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