Alter Bridge: underneath the fortress

Alter Bridge seems to be following their older brother (both bands share three of their members) Creed’s way to success. Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti’s band is clearly having the wind in its sails, and knows how to make the most of it in order to mature their music that keeps getting better and better as time goes by. Fortress shows this perfectly: heavier and even darker than their previous effort, this is the work of Alter Bridge as their peak to this day. In the following interview, Myles Kennedy, the band’s classy frontman, comes back on the record’s genesis, and especially the meticulousness it needed.

Kennedy is not only a singer especially in fashion now, he’s also a guitar player. A role dear to his heart, he confesses, and that he wishes to improve to reach some kind of balance with fellow guitar player Tremonti whose voice we can hear more and more. And last, we took the opportunity to ask him about Slash: a new record is in the making, and the first riffs would already be written…

« The term “fortress” represents something that seems safe, something you would hide behind, something that is steadfast and invincible. […] Things that make you feel safe – and what happens when those fortresses finally crumble. »

Radio Metal: Given the huge success of AB III, your previous album, what was your state of mind before writing this new album?

Myles Kennedy (vocals and guitar): It’s just to try not to overthink it, to just let it flow. Things did go relatively well on our last album cycle, so it has been easy to psych ourselves out. We just tried and keep the ideas pure, you know. On top of that, we tried to push ourselves musically and make sure that we were attempting to try and grow and have the band evolve. That was really important to us, pretty much paramount.

Didn’t you feel any pressure about that?

That was definitely one of the things we tried to avoid, just not to overthink. It’s part of being in the business: what you do will eventually be taken to the fans and scrutinized. If you’re always thinking that part of it, it can stifle the creative output. We just tried to live in our own creative bubble, and bounced ideas off one another and off Elvis [Baskette], our producer. It turned out pretty well that way, just shutting the rest of the world out.

Apparently you spent a lot of time on the pre-production this time around. Did you need that to have more hindsight on the songs?

We definitely wanted to make sure that we didn’t rush that process. It’s really the most important part of the whole thing, other than writing: to get in there with our producer and make sure that everything is where it needs to be before we commit to tape. I think we spent probably about three weeks getting everything straightened out, and then we started recording.

The new album is called Fortress, which is kind of an ambivalent title. It symbolizes power, but also the will to hide from others behind thick walls. Is it the reason you chose this title?

Actually, it’s a good question. We chose this title because the term “fortress” represents something that seems safe, something you would hide behind, something that is steadfast and invincible. The actual lyrics talk about when you’re a part of something like that – and it can pertain to many different things: it can be relationships, marriages, institutions, governments, or countries, things that make you feel safe – and what happens when those fortresses finally crumble. Given enough time, eventually, a lot of it will. Life is fragile, and institutions are fragile. That’s part of the reason why we have this kind of derelict shack on the album cover. Essentially, it was once a fortress, but that’s what happens after time takes its toll. We thought it was an interesting concept.

AB III was already a dark album, darker than its predecessor, and this new album is also very dark. Can we expect a lighter musical atmosphere for Alter Bridge in the future?

That’s a good question! I’m not sure. As the years go on, the music we make together seems to resonate with fans. Sonically, the music tells you a story as a lyricist, it helps point you in a certain direction. So as long as we continue to get heavier and a little more adventurous musically, maybe the lyrics will kind of be congruent with that. But it’s not to say that we don’t have uplifting moments on a record. A song like “All Ends Well”, the second-to-last track, is that song on this record. We put that in there for the fans who love that part of the band. We try to keep all the fans happy and not alienate anybody.

« AB III was a very autobiographical record lyrically, and this one is really about what was going on around me. »

There are a few songs on the album that seem to talk about the Apocalypse. Is it something you’re thinking about, something you can picture?

There’s one song called “Bleed It Dry”, which isn’t so much about the Apocalypse as it’s about the idea that corporate greed and people not being conscious of what we’re doing to the environment will ultimately bleed this planet dry of its resources, the things we need to sustain life on this planet. I don’t know if that’s really apocalyptic, but it definitely shows how things could be if we don’t become aware of that.

Some songs are also about betrayal. Is that something you experienced yourself, so you wanted to talk about it on the record?

That’s definitely something I think everyone has experienced at least once. The thing for me, at this point in my life, was to try and look at the world around me, look at people in my life, friends, family, and see what they were going through, as opposed to my own struggles. AB III was a very autobiographical record lyrically, and this one is really about what was going on around me. And seeing that people I love and care for were in situations where you can use the word “betrayed”, as a writer, it made me want to write a commentary on that. But I’ve also been there myself, we all have. Hopefully it can resonate with me, and with a lot of people at the same time.

Mark Tremonti had some vocal lines on the last album, but with this record, it’s the first time he’s the lead vocalist on a song, namely “Waters Rising”. Is this a special song for him?

Yeah, I think Mark sounds great on it. His voice fits this style of music well, so hopefully he’ll do more of that in the future. He’s certainly proved he’s a great singer on his solo record. We’re going to continue to tap into that. It’s great for me as well, because it will allow me a break vocally when we’re on stage, which I will enjoy!

So, does this mean we can expect a more important role for Mark on vocals in the future?

I think so. As time has gone on, I started playing lead guitar in Alter Bridge, so it makes sense for us to bring in another vocalist as well. I think it’s part of what will help us evolve and make it interesting for the fans.

Michael “Elvis” Baskette produced the album once again. Do you think he’s the perfect guy for Alter Bridge, and that you will stick to him on the next albums?

Yeah, he really is an amazing producer. I think it’s just the perfect chemistry for us. We kind of consider him as the unofficial fifth member of the band. He has a strong sense of songs and arrangements, and he also gets great, huge sounds that really help us sound good. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, that’s kind of our motto, so we’ll keep working with him.

About Mark Tremonti: « As time has gone on, I started playing lead guitar in Alter Bridge, so it makes sense for us to bring in another vocalist as well. »

You mentioned in an interview that it would be possible for Alter Bridge to release an acoustic EP. Is there already something scheduled, or is it just an idea you have?

It’s still an idea, but hopefully we’ll make it happen. I personally love doing the acoustic side of things, I think it’s a lot of fun. But right now, we’re staying focused on the tasks at hand for the near future, promoting and touring the Fortress record. We’ll see what happens after that.

Even if you’re more recognized as a singer that as a guitar player, guitar is actually the first instrument you learned, if I’m right, and it’s also your favorite. Aren’t you tempted to have a band where you would only play guitar?

That was kind of my role a few years ago, when I started recording a solo project: to do all the guitars, to quench that thirst to play guitar. But the cool thing with Alter Bridge is that I do get to play guitar a lot, on all the songs, on record and live, and I get to do a fair amount of solos. That’s certainly been a good thing as a guitar player, it helps me keep my chops and not totally forget how to play. But hopefully one day I’ll put out a solo record to show that side of me as well.

You started a collaboration with Moscot to release sunglasses. A share of the proceeds will go to the Moscot Mobileyes Foundation. Can you tell us how this collaboration started in the first place?

I met those guys a few years ago. I hung out with them at their shop, and we just really hit it off. They’re wonderful people. They came to me a few months back and brought this idea to create a frame. Then we talked about incorporating the sales of that with the Moscot Mobileyes Foundation, which helps kids who can’t afford eyewear. They make it so they can have that and be able to see, which I think is important. Then we talked about doing an acoustic performance. I did a show at their store in New York on September 12th, and then I’m going to do an auctioned off guitar lesson, all to raise money for the Mobileyes Foundation. So I’m really honored today that they asked me to be a part of it.

Do you see yourself as a fashion icon?

(laughs) No, I’m not really a fashion-conscious guy. I need some work there! (laughs)

« No, I’m not really a fashion-conscious guy. I need some work there! (laughs) »

Do you have any news from Slash? Any update regarding the follow-up to Apocalyptic Love?

Yeah, we actually just started gathering ideas a few weeks ago. So the ball is rolling. I’ve got to put my parts on it and get it back to him, but we’re definitely looking to get the next Slash record out in the future and just continue forward with that.

So you’ve already got some songs or riffs ready?

Yeah, he’s got lots of riffs. I’ve actually been jogging down lyrical ideas.

What can you tell us about what’s happening musically in those songs?

It’s still too soon to tell. We’re still kind of at the genesis of all of it. There are just ideas and parts that we jammed on when we were doing the Slash tour. But it’s still very early to tell what we’ll make of it. It’s exciting, and I’m very curious where that record is going to take us musically.

Interview conducted by phone on August, 20th 2013 by Metal’O Phil
Transcription: Saff’
Introduction: Alastor

Alter Bridge’s official website: www.alterbridge.com

Album Fortress, out since September, 30th 2013 via Roadrunner Records.

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