“The more we toured and the more Myles played guitar onstage, we began to realize how good of a guitarist he actually is,” says Alter Bridge guitarist and mastermind Mark Tremonti about the band’s lead singer and co-guitarist Myles Kennedy. “He became our secret weapon and he helped our sound evolve, ultimately forging our own musical identity.” The group’s new album, Alter Bridge III [Roadrunner], indeed goes a long way in distancing the band from Tremonti’s old outfit, Creed, with Kennedy and Tremonti forming a formidable 6-string attack that balances intense, brutal riffing, a keen pop melodic sensibility, shred, and, thanks to Kennedy, more detailed textural elements and a bluesier guitar vibe.
Kennedy, who is also the lead singer for Slash’s band, made headlines in 2008 as he was invited to collaborate with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Jason Bonham. As of yet, there are no plans to release any of the material, but it does prove that Kennedy is a highly sought after musical commodity. “Working with Page and those guys was an unbelievable experience,” explains Kennedy. “I’ve been lucky over the past few years to have worked with some amazing people. Believe me, When I first walked into the rehearsal studio and Page was standing there, it was a bit overwhelming. But you can’t be the silly star-struck fan. You have to be professional. We’re all just artists after the same thing.”
Mark, have you modified your playing now that Myles is playing more guitar?
Tremonti: Not really. I do what I always do. Myles’ specialty is layering and effects— the candy on top of my riffs. We’re a good team because he plays differently than I do, so we never step on each other’s toes. Plus, we get the benefit of two totally different sounds going down on the record.
Kennedy: I generally defer to Mark when it comes to guitar, but he’s always pushing me to play more, and I appreciate that. A lot of guys would be more territorial, but he’s always been open to having another guitarist. I know what my role is as a guitarist in Alter Bridge—providing colors and soundscapes— which is something I’m very comfortable doing because the players I liked growing up such as Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Daniel Lanois, are masters of texture.
Do you obtain textures with effects, chord voicings, or both?
Kennedy: Both. Fortunately, I have a good grasp of different voicings and inversions and how they affect the overall harmonic content. One thing I do is to play a lot of 9ths over Mark’s power chords. I find it adds richness. As for effects, our producer and I sit with an arsenal of pedals and experiment to see what happens. I don’t want to get too out, however, because I’m always aware that I have to pull it off live. A lot of guys have their tech switch the effects, but I still do it myself.
How do you guys approach solos in the studio?
Tremonti: I’ll typically map out some ideas. Sometimes, I’ll do a rough outline and experiment and improvise my way out of mistakes and hope it works, but for the most part I want to have my homework done before I walk into the studio. I like to know that the main parts are going to be in there, even though I’m always trying to throw in new stuff. I never want to let any good ideas get away. Between every record I try to learn as much new stuff as I can so I’m not always regurgitating the same things.
Kennedy: I try to keep it spontaneous. I come from a jazzfusion background, which is all about improvising. I’ve tried to work stuff out before, but it never takes. For example, on the track “Isolation” from the new record, I actually tried to work out a solo. But on playback it just sounded stale. I try to capture the moment and the vibe because if it doesn’t sound like you’re in the moment, what’s the point? I got to jam with Gov’t. Mule a couple of months ago, and before the show we were going through the arrangements of the tunes we were going to play. When we got to the solo section, Warren Haynes said, “Keep it short so you don’t use up all of your ideas for the gig, which is when it counts.” That really made a big impression on me.
Myles, growing up you were into Pat Metheny and Mike Stern. What do those influences bring to your playing in the context of a heavy rock band?
Kennedy: Both Stern and Metheny made me concentrate on actually hitting chord tones and playing over changes. The solo on the title track of our second album, Blackbird, is a perfect example of that. You weave the chords together rather than staying in a blues box or doing a modal thing. I really gravitated to Stern, because he’s an intense rock player who can speak the complex harmonic language of jazz.
Have you ever gotten too jazzy for Alter Bridge?
Kennedy: [Laughs] Sure. Sometimes I want to use these chromatic passing tones and it’s like, “Yeah, we’re not staying true to the genre.” It happens with my vocals, too, because I was influenced by soul singers. Sometimes I will add an inflection or phrase in a way that doesn’t fit in a hard rock context.
Mark, how do you merge your heavy guitar style with your hooky songcraft?
Tremonti: A lot of people think of me as just a guitar player, but I think of myself mostly as a songwriter. The lead thing came on over the past seven years, simply because I just wanted to become a better player. But when I’m at home sitting down and playing the guitar, I’m writing. The soloing is fun, but I don’t spend as much time on it.
My influences are all over the place. Growing up I listened to speed metal, black metal, and thrash metal, and that informed my guitar playing. But when I wrote songs, it didn’t sound like that type of music other than the riffs because the vocal melodies I write are influenced by the music I heard riding in the backseat of my mom’s car: stuff like Rod Stewart, Gerry Rafferty, and Journey. So my writing style is a mixture of the extreme side of metal and the melodies I was exposed to on commercial radio.
Did you use any alternate tunings on Alter Bridge III?
Tremonti: Yeah, we used open G minor, a first for us, on “Words Stronger Than Their Wings.” We also used the usual dropped-D and dropped-B tunings, as well as open D5 tuning, which is D, A, D, A, D, D.
What did you guys use to track the new record?
Tremonti: On past albums we experimented endlessly on every song with about 20 different amps to choose from. That began to be too much, so this time we stuck with a few amps for the whole record. I used a Bogner Uberschall with 6L6s in the power section, a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier, a Fender Tone- Master that I bought from my favorite living guitar player, Audley Freed, and a Two-Rock head for solos. The Two-Rock is unreal. It’s got amazing note definition, yet it’s also forgiving. For clean tones we used a Fender Twin Reverb and a Vox AC30. We always run a D.I. as well, in case we want to re-amp the signal. For cabinets, I used the same Mesa/Boogies loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s that I tour with. They’re so broken-in and transparentsounding that whatever amp you plug into them sounds like that amp. For guitars, I used one of the first signature models PRS made for me almost exclusively. It has a fixed bridge and stays in tune perfectly.
Kennedy: I plugged my PRS 245 right into a Diezel Herbert and a Mesa/Boogie Mark IV running through a variety of cabs including Diezels and Boogies. We used an armada of pedals—I can’t remember them all, but lots of MXR stuff as well as the occasional T-Rex unit.
What do your stage setups look like?
Tremonti: I have a Bogner Uberschall, two Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifiers, two Fender ’65 Twin Reverb reissues for clean tones, and a Two-Rock head for my lead tone. I have a big square that I set up with four Mesa/Boogie 4x12 cabs loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s s in an upside down “T” with the Twin Reverbs on the outside. My pedalboard has my signature Morley wah, a signature T-Rex phaser, a Dunlop Uni-Vibe, and a Digital Music Ground Control switching system. In the loop for my leads is an Ibanez TS808HW Hand Wired Tube Screamer and I just got an Electro-Harmonix Micro POG and I’ve been running a small touch of the lower octave on all of my solos. It thickens it up a bit.
Kennedy: I keep it simple. Mark uses a lot of frequency bandwidth, so I’ve had to find my spot to sit in the mix. I use a Diezel Herbert head into a Diezel 4x12 cab loaded with Tone Tubby hemp-cone speakers. I’ve been using the same pedalboard for almost ten years. It’s got Fulltone Ultimate Octave and Clyde Wah pedals, along with Line 6 DL4 and MM4 units.
Mark, what do you feel are your strengths as a guitarist?
Tremonti: My strength is my right hand. The fast, speed metal, galloping horse kind of thing is something that comes very naturally to me. It will never go away, and I don’t have to work hard to keep it up. I think a lot of players are like that. If they spent a ton of time on a certain thing when they were kids, it kind of always sticks with them. Over the years I’ve tried to get everything else up to the level of my righthand rhythm chops.
What specifically have you been working on?
Tremonti: Well, I’ve worked on my legato playing so much, I feel like I’ve finally gotten it where I want it. The thing that has been the toughest for me is the bluesier side of my playing. See, the guys I’m into the most are the guys I struggle to play like—Stevie Ray Vaughan for example. He’s my favorite, but I struggle to get through a whole tune of his and make it sound like an authentic blues. The shred thing is so much easier for me than blues. The bluesy thing will always be my weakness. It’s a tough habit to break because you get into these spots in a tune where you just want to burn, and it’s easy for me fall back on shredding. I was working on the blues stuff by learning Robben Ford and Stevie Ray solos, but I just stared tracking my solo record, which shows off a lot of my speed metal roots—so I’ve been tapping back into that aspect of my soloing.
Myles, has playing with Mark changed your style at all?
Kennedy: Being in this band has certainly helped my metal chops. When I first started playing I was into Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, but as the years have gone on, I kind of lost touch with the more modern approach to metal. Mark has an amazing speed metal right hand. It’s mind-blowing. I come from more of a blues background, but our sounds complement and bring out the best in each other. That makes us a good team because it’s not two players with the same strengths—it’s two guys with totally different approaches.