ALTER BRIDGE – Check Mate – A Discussion with Myles Kennedy

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“For all of the hope that it brings and though we’re pawns, we could be kings. If we believe. Against all odds we will survive” – Alter Bridge, Pawns & Kings

Myles Kennedy

The release of Florida rock band Alter Bridge’s seventh studio album Pawns & Kings has been welcomed with open ears by fans and is dubbed as their heaviest record to date. Since the band’s formation in 2004, Myles Kennedy (lead vocals, guitar), Mark Tremonti (lead guitar, vocals), Brian Marshall (bass), and Scott Phillips (drums) have become a force to be reckoned with. While both Kennedy and Tremonti have ventured out into their own solo projects, their mutual passion for all things Alter Bridge is ignited and provides endless possibilities to continue to evolve as a whole, which is apparent on the new album. Pawns & Kings holds the nostalgic wave that fans love while stepping up in a heavier way.

Screamer Magazine sat down with lead singer & guitarist Myles Kennedy to speak about the consensus of Alter Bridge’s new album. It’s definitely heavier than previous albums and according to Kennedy, there were many different factors involved in the writing process. “I do agree with what everyone is saying. When we started the whole process, one of the things we wanted to make sure of was that the album wasn’t too dense from a production standpoint,” Kennedy says. “You have to force yourself to make sure that the skeleton of the song and the riffs are very refined and that there’s not a lot of extra fairy dust that you’re sprinkling on top of it. Once you’re in there experimenting in the studio, that kind of forces a certain intensity that you might not get otherwise.” Kennedy goes on to confirm that the Pawns & Kings brought on fresh ideas and none of the songs were leftover ideas from their Walk The Sky album, and that most of them had been written this past December. “As songwriters, you tend to have ideas that have been put on the back burner for years, but it was just an inspired period that had so much to draw from.”

There were many elements in making this album that were instrumental in getting Pawns & Kings done the way Kennedy and the other members of Alter Bridge wanted. “It was great to work with Michael “Elvis” Baskette again because there’s a certain level of trust and comfort in knowing that he’s gonna beat the helm. Having worked with Michael on our other records and on my own solo projects it was important that he work with us on this album too. I am glad he was on board to take the same approach that we wanted as a band and that the album wasn’t going to be overly produced which allowed us to keep it very focused and tight. I feel like when it was all said and done, he hit it outta the park and he did a wonderful job. It was an absolute pleasure getting to work with him again.” Another familiar piece of the puzzle was working with director Ollie Jones again on the music videos for the title track  Pawns and Kings. “It’s one of those things where you can take the animated realm and you can do so much with it that you probably couldn’t do if you were trying to integrate actors and actresses and whatnot. You can let your imagination run wild. Silver Tongue was an interesting one because the whole concept came about one day when I was on tour this summer and my wife and I were hanging out in Vienna. We were getting ready to go to the museums like we always do when we travel. There was a moment where I began thinking about how cool would it be if we started this video off with someone looking at a picture and then this picture essentially seduces the person into stepping into that realm. You could tell a whole story from that perspective so that became the genesis of the concept. A few weeks later Mark and I got together with Ollie and we started riffing about how we could run with this concept. It turned out great and we’re happy with how that video ended up coming to fruition. It’s certainly dark but I feel like it accompanies the vibe of that song. We didn’t want to have a song that’s as heavy as Silver Tongue and have a bunch of puppies and ponies running around,” Kennedy quipped. Well, Mission accomplished!

As he opens up about the writing of Silver Tongue he explains the process and evolution of the track.  “It’s funny” Kennedy says. “As a writer, what I’ve learned after doing this for a few decades is that you really wanna maintain a certain amount of perspective and avoid getting seduced into thinking everything you’re creating at the moment is gold, so I always follow this approach where if I’m demoing something I like to step away from it for a little while. I was demoing a track, stepped away from it for a week or two, came back, and listened and as I was listening to it, I realized that most of the song is not moving me for whatever reason, but when it got to the bridge section, there was this riff that stood out and I thought that riff was it. This is the money shot [so] then I took that riff out and wrote an entirely different piece based on that, which ultimately became the Silver Tongue track you hear on the album. With that said, I wanted to leave a spot open in the middle because I also knew that Mark had tons of ideas that would fit the feel. I knew he would have something great to go along with it, so I put the song idea up and he had a great riff to go along with it.”

Lead guitarist Mark Tremonti has been stepping into the lead vocals role in Alter Bridge allowing Kennedy and Tremonti the chance to switch roles so to speak. Kennedy has been the frontman for both Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash’s band Velvet Revolver, as well as Slash and the Conspirators, while Tremonti has opened himself up to doing his own solo music including lead vocals through the name Tremonti and he recently released a Frank Sinatra album all in the name of charity to raise money and awareness for Down Syndrome. On Pawns & Kings, Tremonti has once again stepped into the lead vocal role for the track Stay which has allowed Kennedy the chance to take over on guitar. He concedes that he loves playing guitar as much as he loves to sing, “I started as a guitar player way back in the day, and lead guitar was my main passion for many years until I started writing songs and then shifted my focus. But it’s fun to go back and tap into all the time spent developing that skill and being able to use it in this context. For Mark, it’s the same thing. I remember when we first started hanging out together and working on songs he would sing an idea and I thought, ‘well, why aren’t you singing more because you’ve got a great-sounding voice?’ I think initially he was just shy and as the years have gone by he’s embraced that so it’s great for us both to get to wear those various hats. Mark and I started experimenting with switching roles and whether Mark is singing or me playing more guitar solos began when we recorded the album Fortress and that’s when we started to do more of it and ever since we have tried to have at least one song that Mark sings. It’s wonderful for me because I get to step back when we’re playing live shows and give my voice a rest. Mark loves to sing like I love to play guitar so it’s been great to see how that has continued to play out moving forward from record to record. I think the fans embrace that element. There’s a certain level of unpredictability there which is nice. You’re not just hearing the same vocals on an entire record or during an entire show. I always like to look at bands that have multiple singers and how that interplay adds a certain dynamic to the record. Be it Deep Purple when David Coverdale and Glen Hughes were singing together or you could even look at The Beatles or even Mastadon. It’s been going on for a long time and I think makes things more interesting,” Kennedy admits. 

With terrestrial radio and MTV being a thing of the past because of streaming channels like YouTube, and Apple Music, bands do not have to be so concerned with cutting the creativity to ensure a song fits radio or video length standards. Bands and artists can have their own channels allowing them to give fans longer versions of their songs and more creative music videos with less restriction. “You can have Fable of the Silent Son clocking in it over eight minutes or Blackbird which is a long, lengthy song but when it comes to writing, it has been a challenge,” Kennedy expresses. “Sometimes I find it hard to keep a song within a certain amount of time. There is more focus on videos and you have the freedom of being able to just take a song and let it go. To bring more to the song and make it a longer song so it becomes more like a story or a journey than just a song. It’s a lot of fun getting to do that. We’re incredibly lucky because our fan base seems to embrace that element of the band. Initially, we weren’t sure how that would be accepted when we started doing it many, many years ago. But now it’s to be expected and I think our fan base would not be thrilled if there wasn’t at least one epic song on the record. Speaking for myself, I don’t sit down and try and write a song the same way I did when I first started composing what would become Fable and The Silent Son. I didn’t know what it was gonna be. I had this two-minute intro and then I had another part and suddenly I had a seven-minute song and that was not my intention. When we got into pre-production and Mark had a great idea for a solo section we added that and then it became eight minutes long. You just never know what’s gonna happen and you let the process kind of play out and the universe will inform you,” Kennedy laughs. 

When Alter Bridge set out to decide on the sequencing of the record, it was important to them that they bring all these songs together and make them one story.  “The thought process and vision the band members had when they chose the sequencing of the record can affect things,” Kennedy says. “So, I think for us, and a lot of artists do this, you try to put your stronger songs in the beginning, and then sometimes it can kind of go into a different direction as the record plays out, but we wanted to punctuate the record a certain way so that’s why we went ahead and started off with This Is War and ended with Pawns and Kings last because we feel like it was a nice bookend. We felt it gave a sense of finality to the record to end it the way we did because it’s very important that you leave the listener saying, ‘Wow, that was quite a journey.’”

l to r: Brian Marshall, Myles Kennedy, Mark Tremonti and Scott Phillips

When it comes to the lyrics and meanings behind his songs, Kennedy prefers the listener to translate them for themselves. “When you’re writing a song, you’re writing it about your experiences as a songwriter coming from you. But when you learn that a certain song affects every single person differently, it’s inspiring because as somebody who’s learned over the years, how important it is not to dictate what the narrative is in interviews or when people are asking you questions to try and leave it open to interpretation. You learn that people will listen to a song and it’ll have a certain meaning in their life and it can be a profound meaning. It can mean something that helps them in their day-to-day life and if they find out that it had nothing to do with that, then it kind of deflates them, you know? I’ve had that happen with me with songs that I’ve liked throughout my life and then I read an interview and the artist is like, ‘No, it’s about this instead,’ so every time I hear a song, it’s never the same. What’s really funny with this record, maybe more than any record I’ve done up to this point, is that I’m embracing that tactic and learning to just try and remind myself of that. I have started to go off and go into a little more detail about what the lyric might have meant to me initially, but then as this has played out over the last month or so, I’ve realized it’s like we always remember when there was this song or these songs in your life and that you thought it meant something different but you didn’t appreciate it as much. So I am becoming very cognizant of that.”

Alter Bridge has just hit the road on their European tour with Halestorm and Mammoth WVH that will run through mid-December. Then beginning January 25th, they will be doing a 30-city North American tour with Mammoth WVH, Red, and Pistols at Dawn. After having their last tour to support their Walk The Sky album cut short due to COVID, Kennedy expressed how lucky he feels that Alter Bridge can go out and play with these bands on tour and describes the history they have, especially with Halestorm. “I think it’s a support system and it’s been great seeing them take over the world in a lot of ways. Speaking about our European tour, those bands we will be playing with are just bright shining stars in my opinion. They’re just so talented and they’re gonna have such a long run which is incredibly inspiring and wonderful to see. They’re also just good people. I’m looking forward to just hanging out and shooting the breeze and having a good time,” Kennedy excitedly announces.  “I’m looking forward to playing and I’m curious how This Is War is gonna feel to play live. I’m excited to give that a shot. I think Sin After Sin is gonna be cool too. Somehow we’ll integrate Fable Of The Silent Son and then we’ve got a lot of other songs to get under our belt and get comfortable playing from the album. But there’s going to be a lot of challenges and it’s not gonna be an easy record to pull off live, but we’ll get it down,” Kennedy concludes as he assures us that they will also be playing a good amount of songs from the Walk The Sky album, as well as the classic, Alter Bridge songs. “We just want to make sure we are not doing a disservice to the albums, but we also know there are fans who want to hear those songs live,” he confirms.

After such a long break from touring, Kennedy is torn between loving the idea of being back on the road and staying home, since he had a chance to really pause and learn to appreciate the downtime these past few years. “If only I could clone myself so that I have one guy stay home, hang out, and watch TV every Saturday night with my wife and dog, and then another guy to go out and live the rock n’ roll dream,” Kennedy jokes.  “It’s funny because I have come to embrace domestic life in a way that I don’t know if I ever thought I would. I love being home and I’m just so incredibly lucky to have the life that I have. At the same time, I feel the same way about touring. When we released Pawns & Kings we did a preview album listening party with some of the die-hard fans and it was just a reminder of the passion and the kind of rapport we’ve developed with these folks over the last few decades. It made me aware and reminded me how lucky we are to have that and it is hard to come by. We’re very grateful for it. I did miss this and I didn’t realize how much I would miss it.”  As the wise Tom Kiefer sang , Kennedy sings the famous line “You don’t know what you’ve got Till It’s Gone.”  During quarantine, Kennedy tried his hand at photography but felt he wasn’t that great at it. “I’m okay at taking pictures of flowers, but other things I struggle with it. I have an aunt and she’s an amazing photographer for nature and whatnot. She’ll send me these pictures and it’s at such a level that I know I’m never gonna be at. I still use the camera just for like Zoom interviews and whatnot, but other than that, I’ve stepped away from photography, so now I’m trying to figure out what my next hobby’s gonna be,” Kennedy says with a sigh.

While photography is not Kennedy’s point of inspiration and he may never inspire anyone in that aspect, his music career speaks entirely different volumes. He has become one of the most well-known, powerful, and influential voices of the rock n’ roll genre. Kennedy continues to showcase a talent that is not of this world and as his music inspires others, we asked him who has been the most inspirational person in his career.  “I know we grow as people and especially with what’s gone on in the last few years, we’ve all completely just changed course on a lot of things. I don’t know if any specific artist has inspired me that much, but this is a really good question because I’ve learned to be careful because I don’t want to be inspired by someone else’s music,” Kennedy admits.  “I’m the kind of guy who will listen to an artist too much and then I end up regurgitating it and it ends up sounding too similar. With that being said I have gone through a Beatles phase lately. George Harrison in particular has been something inspiring to me. We’ll see how that inspiration plays out on subsequent recordings. If you were to ask me that in 10 years I would have a much better idea. I’m too close to this record now and I learned my lesson about picking a favorite. I remember doing press for one of our older records a few years ago and I was like ‘Oh, this is my favorite Alter Bridge record,’ but now I’m like I don’t know if that was my favorite record, I was just too close at that point. I can say I’m very happy with how this turned out, but I’m not willing to step out on a limb and say this is the best one. I think time will tell.”

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