The late 1990’s were a troubling time for rock music in general. The entire decade had seen a revolving door of popular genres, none of which seemed to really cement themselves in the public psyche. As 1980’s hair metal gave way to the sensation of grunge, a trio of Seattle bands dominated the first half of the ten-year period. About midway through, flannel shirts, cargo shorts and Airwalks seemed less in vogue and the fickle youth of America turned their attention to the alternative scene. This new movement seemed to have no particular identity, no associated fashion statement and didn’t really have much to say, except that life sucked and the music wasn’t much better in most cases.
This confusing time for rock music in general, which had no particular identity is possibly one of the darkest and most directionless from a creativity standpoint. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the 1990’s were a decade of little turmoil and hardship. It was an era of unprecedented prosperity. There were several military skirmishes, which were very sanitary and did not create a terribly large amount of dissention stateside. It isn’t that there weren’t some shining stars that appeared to illuminate the dark sky and serve as a navigable beacon to the rest of the ships seemingly lost at sea. One of those brightly shining astral bodies was Creed. Creed’s time in the night sky came and went quickly, in spite of its tremendous brilliance. As music consumers, ever so whimsically migrated to whatever was the music du jour, Creed became one of those bands that people either loved or hated. As contrarian attitudes pervaded in this time period, it became very chic to hate what was loved the day before.
As Creed seemed to implode like a supernova as quickly as they ascended to prominence in the night sky, the remaining particles would transform to create something different. From the astral ashes of Creed rose Alter Bridge. The remaining members of Creed, minus vocalist Scott Stapp, felt they still had some music to make. Lead guitarist Mark Tremonti and drummer Scott Phillips reconnected with bassist Brian Marshall, who had actually departed Creed before its first demise.
To round out the quartet, the three joined forces with guitarist and vocalist Myles Kennedy. Kennedy grew up in the Pacific Northwest and was no novice in the music industry. After his previous group, The Mayfield Four had disbanded, Kennedy was available for a full-time gig with Alter Bridge. In addition to Alter Bridge, Kennedy also has spent much time in the last ten years touring with Slash as the vocalist of Slash, Featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators as well as solo work. And if that isn’t enough to impress you, Kennedy was also briefly working with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham in a post 02 Arena show version of a Led Zeppelin offshoot.
Fast forward to present day. Alter Bridge is about to release their sixth studio album, Walk the Sky, and are already in the midst of a tour which began on September 19th. Prior to the start of the current tour, Kennedy shared his thought on the new record as well as the recording process and reconvening with Alter Bridge. We also got his thoughts on Dirty Honey, the unsigned Los Angeles quartet who are already turning heads nationally.
Alter Bridge finished up their last tour in December of 2017. The conversation kicks off with a question posed to Kennedy regarding what it is like when the four members get together to work on a record. Kennedy begins by saying, “Well it’s kind of like if you don’t ride a bike for a long time and then you get on a bike, and your body just automatically knows what to do.” Alluding to the chemistry that the four have together, he continues, “It’s the same sort of process where we can put things on the shelf and everybody goes and does their various projects and then we reconvene and we pick up where we left off. That’s a good thing because you don’t have to take a long time to get re-acclimated and get back into the process, which is something we’ve done now for a decade and a half. We just kind of get on the bike and start pedaling.”
As is very common today, many professional recording and touring musicians have multiple projects that fill the space between other projects. Much of this may be due to the financial realities of the music industry today, where the lion’s share of income comes from touring. It also appears that artists seek outlets for different expressions which may not be as easily expressed within the confines of one vehicle. The query was posed as to whether there are creative ideas that he feels can only be fulfilled through Alter Bridge, and Kennedy concurs. “Yeah, there are songs that I knew the only place for them would be in this band. One thing I learned after doing this solo record, which was acoustic based primarily, that it was really a challenge to get back into the electric guitar realm and turn it up and write riffs again. So, that was something that was really good in terms of the creative process of this record.”
Following up on that, when asked if they come into the studio with fully formed song ideas, or if they try to create organically, Kennedy explains, “Generally Mark (Tremonti) and I always have ideas ready to go that we present, because if you just get in a room together and hope that some kind of magic will just evolve, that’s pretty time-consuming. We usually have a finite amount of time to make records.” He adds, “Mark and I definitely do our homework and walk in pretty well prepared. On this one, Mark and I actually demoed a lot of songs separately, we brought in completed tracks, which we hadn’t really done much of in the past.” As a point of interest, the question is posed if those tracks presented almost complete stay in that same basic form or perhaps morph into something else entirely. He responds, “I feel like most of the things we would bring in separately came to be what was established on the demo and still had those hallmarks. There’s a track called Indoctrination that I wanted to leave open for a bridge section, because I knew Mark would have some really good ideas to put with that. Another song was Native Son where I wanted to leave a certain amount free so that there could still be some collaboration.” Including another example, “There was a track which became Dying Light, Mark had a verse and a chord progression, he brought it into the band and then we kind of assembled it as a band, and it became a totally different thing. It really depends on the track.”
With Tremonti and Kennedy being the primary songwriters, the subject of how Phillips and Marshall participate in the songwriting, he explains, “They add what they do. They are a great rhythm section, and they bring their feel, which to me is a really important part of the sound. Frankly, I feel like they don’t get enough credit. When those two play together, they have something really special. Their pocket is very unique and only those two guys play that way. So Mark and I are lucky to have a rhythm section like that.” When presented with the theory that even though there are two primary songwriters, but it is a four-cylinder machine, Kennedy retorts, “I totally could not agree more!”
Alter Bridge has released videos for almost a full third of the songs on Walk the Sky prior to its release date of October 18th. So, if you are looking for a preview of the record, you can find videos for In the Deep, Dying Light, Take the Crown, Wouldn’t You Rather and Pay No Mind on YouTube very easily. With that large of a portion of the record available for sampling, there is still a larger portion not accessible as of yet. A record for a musical group can tend to be a reflection of what is happening in the lives of its writers as well as their particular emotional, mental or spiritual goings on. Kennedy was asked to attribute a personality to this forthcoming record, for anyone who perhaps has heard none of it, Kennedy shared, “I feel like this record is not as dark as some of our previous records. I don’t want to say peaceful, because it may come across as a Kenny G record. But some of the angst that has been on previous records, I don’t sense on this record. I feel like a lot of it is coming from a place of better understanding and a certain solace and a certain healthy awareness. I like that the record is unique in that sense, because if you just continue to put out records with one flavor emotionally, it can be a bit redundant.” Clarifying the point, he offers assurance that the new record has variety and surprises by saying, “There are certainly twists and turns, songs about loss like Godspeed. There are songs that are more storytelling, like Indoctrination which is about this crazed cult leader, so there are twists and turns, but overall there’s definitely a lot more of this kind of enlightened state of mind throughout the record.”
Kennedy is asked to explain to what he attributes the absence of angst for this particular record. He offers this very personal and open response, “I think personally, I’m on my journey as a human being. I think that I’ve just chilled out myself. I’m not an angry young man anymore. I’m in a really good place as a human being right now and that has come out lyrically.” He thoughtfully continues, ” With that being said, I feel there’s still an edge there. That’s always the fear that you’ll get content and go soft, there’s still that hunger, that drive. I feel much happier overall and I still long to create something that is pure and put effort into it, and not just phone it in.” On the subject of whether conflict is good in songwriting, he adds, “I have been through phases as a songwriter where I felt like if I wasn’t suffering it wasn’t good as far as the songs went. That’s something that young artists tend to fall into. I get it, because you have these intense emotions and they come out through your craft. I find it a challenge to touch on these other dynamics, other sides of the human emotional realm, as opposed to frustration, angst, sorrow and sadness, and try to create something from the other side of the pendulum swing and that’s turned out to be a really fun process.”
Asking an artist to name their favorite song is like what Paul McCartney is quoted as saying, that’s like being asked to name you favorite child. Instead, the idea of if there was one song from the new record which might have more significance personally, Kennedy shares, “I think In The Deep I keep going to, even though it’s not a particularly profound lyric, there’s just something that evokes a certain peacefulness to me, it’s essentially about meditation. When I hear that song it kind of triggers these positive vibes. Godspeed is also a wonderful song that Mark wrote for a friend of ours who passed away. So that has some real importance just because of the theme of the song. That would be a few that stand out to me.”
Although not explicitly a title track, one might wonder what it was about the song Walking the Sky that caused its allusion in the title of the record. Kennedy points out, “I spoke earlier about this enlightened state of mind and the phrase walk the sky can coincide with that, even though the song is really about of of the sky walkers, the kind that put their life on the line and walk the tightrope. There was a movie, where the guy walked between the World Trade Center towers. But, if you extract the phrase, it can allude to the things I was talking about earlier.”
Recently there has been a resurgence of younger bands and artists who have adopted the feel and sound of that classic era of rock n’ roll and are bringing it to the masses, creating this interest in things old, that have become new. Greta Van Fleet comes to mind for a lot of people as perhaps the genesis of this movement. Another such group who is accompanying Alter Bridge for a good portion of their tour is the Los Angeles quartet Dirty Honey. Kennedy shares his thoughts on Dirty Honey specifically and the resurgence in general, “I’ve toured with them quite a bit already, with Slash. Yeah, I love these guys, and besides the fact that they’re a great band, they’re also just good dudes. They all play their instruments well, the vocals are incredible, I mean, they’ve got all the boxes checked. I think they’re going to have a real bright future, so we’re stoked to have them with us on this tour.” On the reemergence of the classic rock sound, he exclaims, “I think it’s great! For those of us who grew up during that time, it’s really nice to hear the next generation embracing that. It’s also great for the guitar, because people aren’t just relying on a laptop anymore to make music. It’s going back to the six and four strings and the drums.”
Kennedy provided a lot of insight to the new Alter Bridge record as well as into him as a person in the relatively short amount of time it took to complete this interview. His responses were very thoughtful and engaging, and his demeanor is quite contrary to the perceived persona of a lead singer in two pretty hard rocking bands. The glimpses provided create anticipation for hearing the new record in its entirety as well as seeing Alter Bridge perform live. Links provided below to see when Alter Bridge will be performing near you.