Trying to figure out what makes Alter Bridge tick can be tricky; could it be that they are the perfect mix of talent and understanding; or is it just a ‘knowing’ of who they are as a band in this world? Since their formation, they’ve put out one great album after the other, the songwriting and arranging is always impeccable, there have been no line-up changes, and they all have other projects to work on when Alter Bridge is on hiatus. Okay, so do a lot of other bands—and from the outside, it looks like they all have it together; but on the inside, it’s a whole different world and on a warm and breezy day in late September, when the sun was high in the sky, lead vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy is in good spirits as he explained life with Alter Bridge.
“I was just talking about this the other day,” laughs Kennedy, “that Spinal Tap has become the story of our lives! A lot of bands say this and I have friends who can’t even watch Spinal Tap; they don’t even think it’s funny because it hits so close to home. I mean, I’ve certainly been lost and not been able to find the stage so yeah, so much of that rings true. And as far as nightmares go I think the hardest thing for me when you’re touring and you meet a lot of people and you’re exposed to a lot of what’s going around especially as a singer, touring in the winter when you get a cold or a flu—it’s such a drag to stand before a bunch of people and not be at your best or be able to deliver, that’s definitely a nightmare. I mean, being a perfectionist the last thing I want to do is let any fans down and so you just have to push through it and do your best because it’s going to happen–you’re human.”
And human they are; all the members of Alter Bridge have experienced the all too familiar ups and downs of being a collective group with no unity in the past. Guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips had just come off the heels of internal strife with Creed when they formed Alter Bridge in 2004 in Orlando, Florida, with vocal powerhouse and guitarist Myles Kennedy. And according to Kennedy, it’s the best move they could have all made. Everything about the band just worked and he felt the name suited the band very well. As the story goes, Alter Bridge is a bridge in Detroit and when Tremonti was a kid, it was the bridge that basically separated what he knew [his part of town] from the other being the unknown [the other side of town]. So it became a very fitting way to look at Alter Bridge when the three members came off the success of Creed and brought on a new vocalist. The band now had to step out into uncharted territory with a new and different singer, and that’s always a risky thing, but fortunately everything has turned out alright; Alter Bridge definitely fit well.
“We’re friends and that’s important, I think. We are definitely a band that hangs on the road,” says Kennedy, “and everyone gets along. You’ve got our rhythm section; they love sports so you’ll find them on the bus watching a game and then there’s Mark and I—we’re not really sports guys; so we’re definitely off geekin’ out somewhere on music; either playing or listening but we definitely have a good time together and we’ve realized that it’s a very positive thing overall to have these other things and projects to get to be a part of. I think it’s just helped us grow and evolve a lot as players; I know the amount of touring I’ve had the opportunity to do with Slash has taught me a lot about me as a singer and Mark’s the same way. The more you do something, hopefully the more you will evolve so we’ve all been very supportive because I think it would be a drag to have it the other way around and have it be an issue.” One does wonder though, do the lines ever cross? “They’re such different entities as far as the feel goes; with Slash and the Conspirators it’s definitely a blues-based scene and with Alter Bridge there’s definitely a metal under current so I never really find the lines being blurred. It’s been easy for me to separate the two as an artist.”
Growing as a band, Alter Bridge have risen to the upper echelons of the rock world thanks to a mixture of supreme songwriting talent and musicianship coupled with an absolute collective belief in the power of music. The band’s first three albums – One Day Remains, Blackbird and 2011’s ABIII – have helped Alter Bridge to accrue a huge international fan base as they’ve put out one remarkable release after the other and their latest venture, Fortress, is no exception. Fortress hits the streets on October 08, 2013. It’s a bold, ambitious and powerful collection of songs that refines and redefines their trademark sound while simultaneously raising the bar. “We really became aware during the arranging process,” explains Kennedy, “that we wanted to push ourselves and not kind of go down the ‘old stand-by’ approaches that we had used in the past so when you do that, it’s a little risky and you never know what’s going to happen; you leave the rehearsal space kind of frustrated because you may not get there—you’re in kind of uncharted territory as a band so we were very cognizant of time to push ourselves musically and not use formulas that we tried with different records and in the end it came together,” Kennedy lets out a huge sigh followed by a little laugh, “but it was a little scary at first.”
Continuing their tradition of writing highly accessible hard rock songs that are also more than heavy enough to appeal to metal fans, Fortress is a dazzling collection of sublime melodies and jaw-shattering riffs. Fortress takes on a different flavor than their previous albums and according to Kennedy, the songs were writing around a specific time in the band’s lives, both collective and personally. “Well”, says Kennedy as he ponders for a second and then answers with a philosophical tone to his voice, “I think the ideas came about when Mark and I were both touring in our separate bands and that was last year. As far as the lyrical content; most of that came about as we were arranging the songs so it would have been early this year. I think for me personally, it was just a lot of taking a step back and seeing situations around me with a lot of people I knew and what they were going through in their lives and looking at myself and situations that had happened to me. It’s a pretty diverse set of themes on this record; some songs deal with things like betrayal and seeing the frustration go down with people who I knew.”
“And actually it did pertain to my life in that instance and then there was a song called Calm The Fire, which was inspired by stumbling onto this racist website by mistake and it really upset me; it really bummed me out as I started to read through this forum and I was made aware that racism is definitely alive and well in many parts of this world.” Kennedy pauses for a minute to take breath and continues. “And it was just a real…intense dialog going on in my head at the time. So that song kind of documents that experience and how I worked through it. So there are different themes on this record. We were hoping it would sound different while still retaining those certain characteristics we have as a band because it’s a risk that you run when you try different approaches because you don’t want to upset your fan base and I think that’s the scariest part about it because you don’t want to be completely self-indulgent. So it’s a balance at the end of the day of pushing yourself creatively while still maintain the loyalty from the people in the beginning.”
Alter Bridge is a band committed to taking their music to the people. The release of Fortress will herald the beginning of an extensive bout of touring that will once again reunite the band with their devoted admirers around the world. After just getting back from a successful tour with Slash and the Conspirators [Kennedy is also the lead vocalist with Slash’s touring band], Alter Bridge is now gearing up to take it on the road in October, in support of Fortress. Their virgin show for Fortress will be in Florida and it will be the first time the band will play new tunes off the CD. “Yeah, yeah we’ve got our maiden voyage on this album cycle,” enthused Kennedy, “I believe October 4th where we’re doing one show in Orlando and then we pack up and start the tour in the UK on the 16th of October. We’ll be doing a tour here in the United States next year; early next year. I think we decided to start with Europe and the UK because we’ve spent so much time over there and we’ve built it up to the point where it just made sense. We do alright here in the states but we’re doing an arena run in the UK versus a club and/or theater tour here in the states so we figured we’d start there first and come back here hopefully a well-oiled machine come January or February.”All too true; when a band develops a sound and songs similar to each other, they build a fan base used to hearing them a certain way and if a band rocks the boat a little with a different take on what made them great, the relationship shakes with what we’re all too guilty of; monogamy. Kennedy’s laughter fills the room as he agrees. “Right yeah, yeah! I mean could you imagine if a band like AC/DC decided to make a ‘prog record’; I mean there are bands that have such a distinct sound. AC/DC is an example of a band that has done a great job of really staying true to what they do and not veering too far away from it and maintaining their fan base for a very long time and for a band like Alter Bridge, the key was to take a side road, but not alienate at the same time.”
The excitement in his voice grows as Kennedy continues, “Right, the maiden voyage! Yeah, we start rehearsals in about a week and a half or so and we start in Florida and I’m looking forward to trying out a few of the new songs and I’ve actually been sitting here this afternoon playing along with the record and re-learning my parts and all that stuff but yeah, we’re stoked to get out there. The only time we played Addicted to Pain, Mark and I was for an acoustic thing we did in New York last week and we played it a few times in Europe but we’ve never tried it as a band in front of people and we’ve never done any of the songs [from Fortress] as a band in front of people so that should be fun!”
“As Alter Bridge yeah, there’s still a lot of the world we haven’t seen,” continues Kennedy, “but touring with Slash and the Conspirators we’ve definitely hit quite a few places that I’ve always wanted to see but with Alter Bridge we still have yet to go to South America, parts of Asia—in fact we haven’t been to Asia at all so we still have a lot of places to see and play. I also believe the internet is definitely your best friend and we’ve seen people come on board via the internet but I still feel at the end of the day the best way for the best to exposure to a band’s music; especially a rock band is to just get out and play you know, just take it on the road and be ‘road dogs’ because for whatever reason that’s your best bet if you want to grow your fan base.”
You know we’re definitely a band that doesn’t use a lot of production; we are definitely more about the music and the songs.
It’s a very visual world out there and while most bands love a big theatrical theme running behind them on the stage to convey the show, Alter Bridge is just a group of guys writing phenomenal music who just want to get on stage and play. They don’t need no stinkin’ stage antics as Kennedy explains. “You know we’re definitely a band that doesn’t use a lot of production; we are definitely more about the music and the songs. I think the latter works when you’re in a certain size arena; oh I’m sorry—“ he chuckles a little, “certain size venues but like in the UK where we’re playing arenas, knowing that you’re playing to 10,000 people not 2500—it’s just harder to connect so we’ll have to integrate a little bit more to keep everyone happy and connected to the band but that doesn’t mean we’re going to be using big giant stage props or anything like that; it’s just not how we roll at this point but maybe one day will have a giant inflatable bunny in the middle of the stage,” Kennedy breaks into laughter, “but for now it’s just Alter Bridge.”
Acoustic shows have always been a favorite and Kennedy is of the same opinion because left to his own devices, if he had a choice between doing it all unplugged or plugged in, he’d love to do it acoustic but then again, in his heart of hearts, there’s nothing like a forceful guitar riff. “Yeah…. you know that’s a really good question,” ponders Kennedy. “As a singer, strictly from a vocal standpoint, I would rather do acoustic because I feel it’s just easier to convey the emotions that way but as a guitar player, I do really enjoy crankin’ up and playing a good heavy riff; I mean there’s something very compelling about a fun riff; wow, that’s a hard one that’s a really tough question.”
Though the tour starts in the UK, Alter Bridge is an American band and they have a broad fan base here in the States as well; so taking off to Europe on the release of Fortress feels a little risky as they won’t be here for five or six months. So how does that play in order to keep them as fresh as their new release when they begin their trek across North America? “Yeah… we’ll probably announce something in October but we won’t be here until next year. When you start a tour overseas you don’t want to forget the place you’re from, you know we’re an American band and we don’t want anyone to think that we don’t care about our American fans because they’re total die-hard people; that’s definitely not the message we want to send. I think for a number of reasons it just worked out the way it did and for whatever reason we’ve been able to build up a huge fan base overseas and with trying to schedule the tour, it sort of put us in a position to start there; sort of the right move at this time but with that said, we’ll definitely be here next year and we’re not turning our back on the U.S., we’re gonna bring it; and bring it very soon. Did I really just say that?” laughter breaks out all around as Kennedy continues, “Did I really just say, ‘we’re going to bring our rock n’ roll here very soon?’ Not the most eloquent thing I’ve ever said!”
So again, in trying to figure out what makes Alter Bridge, the formula below is the best this journalist could do; as he is to ‘eloquent’, she is to ‘math’.
ALTER – To change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way.
BRIDGE – something that is intended to reconcile or form a connection between two things; be a bridge over (something).
a place that is protected against attack : a fortified place.
= 1 damn good band and 12 kick-ass songs to seek refuge in.