ALTER BRIDGE – “Addiction Is A Very Nasty Animal”

October 23, 2013, 5 years ago

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By Aaron Small

ALTER BRIDGE is a band worth waiting for. Their last studio album, AB III, was released in 2010. Once the extensive touring cycle wrapped up, guitarist Mark Tremonti released a solo album under the moniker TREMONTI, and vocalist Myles Kennedy was hand-picked by former GUNS N’ ROSES guitarist SLASH to sing on his Apocalyptic Love album, and travel the world in support of. Now, Mark and Myles have reconvened with their Alter Bridge brethren, drummer Scott Phillips and bassist Brian Marshall, to release their unparalleled fourth album, Fortress. caught up with both Mark and Myles prior to the start of their current UK and European tour.

It’s rather ironic that the new album is called Fortress, yet the cover depicts an abandoned and dilapidated wooden shack in the middle of nowhere. “My brother Dan does all our artwork,” comments Mark. “We were going back and forth with all these castle-like images… it just didn’t speak to us. Then me and (drummer) Scott Phillips were pulling up images on Google, just searching for random stuff, and I came across this nuclear test ground with this little shack that looked like it was about to fall over. I thought – what a good idea to do a play on words, and do the opposite of what everybody would think because the song itself does the same thing. Lyric-wise, it talks about how all these steadfast things in your life and in the world – for example the Roman Empire. Everything has its day, everything comes and goes. Everything that you might think is a constant will have its shelf-life. So that’s why we chose that.” Myles re-affirms Mark’s statement, “Yeah, the title track ‘Fortress’ is basically about the idea that there are things you assume are big, invincible, institutions or structures that will never fall down. But ultimately it will. If you give something enough time, it will crumble down around you. We wanted to show that on the cover; the final outcome and the reality of so many situations – be it your beliefs, relationships, governments, religions. Eventually, so much of that will fall. So we thought that was a logical visual to use for the album cover.”

In an unusual move, Alter Bridge placed the title track as the very last song on Fortress. “I drew up the very first album order and I had ‘Fortress’ towards the middle of the record,” recalls Mark. “But then when Myles gave me his feedback, he switched around three or four songs from where I had them; and he had ‘Fortress’ at the end. I had ‘All Ends Well’ at the end, because of the title. I thought that would be a good closing track for a record. I was a little nervous with ‘Fortress’ being the last track because it was such an important song and people might overlook it. But with it being the title track I felt a little better, bookending the album with ‘Achilles’ – the two big epics. At first ‘Calm The Fire’ was a contender to be the lead-off track on the album. In the end, ‘Cry Of Achilles’ won out as the stronger song.”

‘Cry Of Achilles’ serves as a fantastic introduction to Fortress. Although it’s titled after a prominent figure from Greek mythology, the song itself is not about the hero of the Trojan War. According to Myles, “When we put the song together, we were trying to find a working title for it. The arrangement was so long and epic, I was joking around and said, let’s call it ‘Cry Of Achilles’. It was one of those song titles that ended up sticking. When I actually started writing the lyrics, I tried to bring that into it, but unfortunately that just did not work. So it’s one of those songs where the title has nothing to do with the actual theme; it’s kind of funny how that works out.” The title itself harkens back to Myles’ childhood when he was enamoured with Greek mythology. “I went through a period in the fifth and sixth grade, where I was really into it. We had a teacher come in and tell us a little bit about it; I was really captivated. I remember asking my Mom for all these Greek mythology books, and I would read them. Interestingly enough, I don’t remember a lot of it. But it was something I definitely found compelling. There was a movie that came out when I was a kid (in 1981) called Clash Of The Titans; I loved that movie! That was a special time growing up.” Surprisingly, Myles did not see the 2010 remake because he “wasn’t sure what to make of it,” preferring to stick with the original.

Fortress is being touted by media on both sides of the Atlantic as “the heaviest album” from Alter Bridge. “Yeah, I think it’s definitely the highest energy record we’ve had,” agrees Mark. “There’s songs off other albums that could be heavier than some of the stuff we’ve done here, like ‘Ties That Bind’ and ‘Isolation’, and a few others; ‘White Knuckles’ could definitely fit on this album and match the heavy factor. I think when me and Myles first got together we kept in mind that we’d have to play these songs night after night. Our setlists are usually composed of all the heavier, higher-energy songs, so why not start right off the bat with that in mind. So night after night we’ll have a bigger arsenal.”

Mark and Myles commenced writing the songs that appear on Fortress in January 2013, and the material came together quite quickly. “Me and Myles are kind of the same way. When we’re out on tour, at home, or wherever – we’re always writing,” says Mark. “So when it’s time to do a record, we’ll both come very prepared. We write parts, we don’t write songs. When it comes to solo records, of course you write songs. But with Alter Bridge, we’ll get together and play our favourite ideas. I’ll say, here’s a chorus I really love, throw your verses at me. We’ll match parts and come up with bridges. Some stuff will be on the spot, but most of it will be pre-written. About 80% of these albums are written before we even get together; the parts at least. So it took us just over a week to put the meat and potatoes together for the album, and get with the other guys on arrangements. We were right into pre-production before we knew it. We spent about a month on pre-production, and then we recorded for about two months. It was like a three and a half month kind of thing.”

From an outsider’s perspective, it would appear that working around Myles’ commitments to Slash could be difficult. “He was kind of in and out,” clarifies Mark. “We’d get together and write, then he’d go jump on a tour and we’d just continue when he got back. But when the process works like that, it works out better for me because I don’t have to write everything in a single sitting. But it gets hard because I like to have just as much time working on the album as I do working on the (guitar) solos themselves after pre-production. So it’s good that we had extra time.”

Myles discusses writing lyrics for Alter Bridge versus writing lyrics for Slash. “It is different. With Slash, it’s a different kind of story. With Alter Bridge, it varies from song to song. To be perfectly honest with you, I actually have an easier time with the themes in Alter Bridge. The songs we do with Slash… it’s subject matter I have to work at a little harder, to come up with clever twists of words. It’s just a different kind of poetry. When I listen to someone like Lemmy (from MOTÖRHEAD), I feel he’s really got a good grasp and approach on songwriting, so I’ll try and absorb a lot of that when I’m going in to make a Slash record. It’s a very different mindset.”

Slash, bassist Todd Kerns, and drummer Brent Fitz are currently in pre-production for the follow-up to Apocalyptic Love, which Myles will sing on. Being absent from these sessions “is a little weird actually. So what’s been happening is Slash will send me the demos every night after they’re done. This morning I got up and checked what they sent last night, and started working my parts into it. It’s good to have technology, let’s put it that way. It allows me to be 1200 miles away, and still feel involved. Probably around December, when I finish this year’s touring with Alter Bridge, I’ll head over there and we’ll all get in the same room and continue to work on the songs.”

Returning to the subject of lyrics, ‘The Uninvited’ is the fifth song on Fortress, and Myles shares exactly who that is. “Oh, man. Alright, you want the truth. I’ve actually kind of skated around this issue… but it was actually written after the Boston Bombing (this past April). I was really upset by that. We were putting that song together, and the bombing at the Boston Marathon had just happened that day, and that was the inspiration for the song.” Shortly thereafter, Rolling Stone Magazine put that infamous image of the Boston Bomber on the cover. “I didn’t really understand it; I think a lot of us didn’t get it. I don’t get the logic there. It seemed like it just glorified what they did. But in fairness to Rolling Stone, I never read the article. Maybe there was a reason for it… it was an interesting choice.”

‘Addicted To Pain’ was chosen as the first single from Fortress. “That was one of the first ones me and Myles agreed on with all the parts,” remembers Mark. “After that day, we felt like that could be our first single; as soon as we wrote it. And that freed us up for the rest of the album to be more experimental. That’s why that song is so important. Not only is it our first single, but it let us experiment with the rest of the album. I wrote the initial melody for the chorus and I had that line, you’re addicted to pain. Then Myles ran with it and finished the lyrics and the whole song. Other than that one line, he did all the lyrics. The song isn’t necessarily about somebody that’s welcoming pain. I think it’s just somebody that doesn’t realize that they can change their situation; someone who’s trapped in a vicious circle.” Addiction unfortunately befalls numerous musicians, and it’s something Myles has briefly experienced. “I certainly went through a period about 13 or 14 years ago where I dipped my foot in the pool that I shouldn’t have, and discovered there were certain things I had no business doing. I think some people are more pre-disposed to addiction than others; I guess to some degree I have an addictive personality. But the song is actually not so much about addiction as it is about someone who’s addicted to drama. It’s not necessarily a drug addiction, but a different kind of addiction; somebody who’s a glutton for punishment more or less. But addiction is certainly a very nasty animal. I know a lot of people who have struggled with it, some have survived and come out the other side; others haven’t. That’s the hardest thing about it, when you see someone who’s got that monkey on their back. If it’s got such a grip to where you know they may not be around forever, it’s really heartbreaking. Ultimately, they’re the only person that can help themselves.”

The video for ‘Addicted To Pain’ is a basic performance clip filmed in a warehouse, but the black and white snippets interspersed amongst the band footage makes it interesting and unique. “Me and Myles were doing a press run over in Europe, and the label and management were saying we needed a video yesterday,” confesses Mark. “We had four video scripts on the table that people had put together; and we didn’t like them at all. There was stuff talking about Laundromats, another one had us all dressed in white outfits – are you kidding me? So after our manager saw that we weren’t on the same page as all these directors, he called up Dan Catullo who shot our Live In Wembley and Live From Amsterdam DVDs. He quickly put together a performance video. He first suggested that we go into our warehouse. We have a warehouse where we store all our gear and stuff. We decided we would take our road cases and scatter them all over the place, play in the middle of them, and put videos on the road cases; just scattered images. We were brainstorming saying, let’s get old black and white, creepy circus-freak stuff. So Dan went and looked at all these old stock videos, he went searching and we approved them along the way. When we got into shooting the video, it just didn’t work out with all the road cases. So we put the big screens on the back wall.”

Best Buy stores in The United States are selling an exclusive version of Fortress that comes with a bonus track, ‘Outright, unavailable anywhere else. “Another you heard it here first,” quips Myles. “‘Outright’ is actually the wrong title. I just found out the other day that song was a B-side for Best Buy. I was like, ‘Outright’? That’s an old song of ours from years ago that we didn’t record on this run. What happened is, when we were working on the B-side for this record, once again it was a working title called ‘Outright Two’. It had a part from this old song, so when it got turned in to be mastered, they left it as ‘Outright’. I didn’t find out about it until the record was actually pressed and done. The song is actually supposed to be called ‘Never Say Die’. The term outright isn’t even in the song; so we’re going to try and fix that on the next batch when they print it. There you have it. A total fuck up – that’s why it’s called ‘Outright’.”

Great guitar riffs and killer solos dominate Fortress, yet ‘Lover’ undeniably stands apart due to its sulky, sultry nature. “For me, the most important thing about that song is the change in tempo and pace; overall it’s more simple and straightforward,” testifies Mark. “When me and Myles had put together eight or nine songs, we looked at it and said, we need to get some dynamics on this record; that’s when ‘Lover’ came about.” Myles chimes in with his take on this nefarious romantic number. “’Lover’ is actually a story, a very dark story about someone who’s betrayed. I think to some degree maybe there’s some personal experience involved in being lied to, so when you’re telling a story like that, you try and bring some emotion you might have experienced in the past into the fold. That was actually an old idea that had been sitting around for a while. We kind of stumbled onto it by mistake one night, just going through old song ideas. We’re really glad that it made the record ‘cause it has a different flavour; that was a big goal of ours, to make sure this was a dynamic album. I’m really happy that people are enjoying that song.”

‘Waters Rising’ delivers another unique aspect to Fortress as Mark sings lead vocals on that song. “Because of all the Slash touring and the time restraints we had, that was one song Myles just hadn’t got around to and didn’t really have any ideas for. So I tackled it. I had already written the lyrics for the chorus, so I just had to write the verses. But the part that Myles sings, he wrote those lyrics.” Myles offers his recollection of that tune. “I wasn’t even in the studio when Mark did his vocals. He has definitely come into his own as a singer. Doing the Tremonti record and touring on that, he’s continued to evolve. With anything, the more you do it, the better you get. I feel like Mark’s natural instrument, just the sound of his voice, really works well with his guitar playing. Hopefully we’ll continue to do more of that on future records, ‘cause I think the fans are going to really enjoy it. I know for me, there were bands growing up like DEEP PURPLE – when they had Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale singing, that was so cool! ALICE IN CHAINS is another example; you had Layne (Staley) and Jerry (Cantrell). I think we’ll continue to try and tap into more of that.”

Slash does a similar thing, giving bassist Todd Kerns the vocal reins on a few songs. “Yeah, and it’s great,” proclaims Myles. “I play in two bands now where I’m allowed that luxury. It’s nice to have that because it takes a lot of… just singing a set all the way through, two hours a night wears you down after a while.” Todd’s recently released acoustic solo album, Borrowing Trouble, certainly struck the right chord with Myles. “I think it’s great. I’m really proud of him. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. Not only is he a great singer, he can play guitar and play bass, and he’s a great entertainer and songwriter. But he’s also one of the most humble, kindest people I’ve come across in this business. He’s very charming; I think Canada should be very proud of Todd Kerns.”

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