ALTER BRIDGE – Protest The Boundaries That Hold You Down

November 7, 2020, 2 months ago

By Aaron Small

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ALTER BRIDGE – Protest The Boundaries That Hold You Down

“We tried to make use of our time the best we could (during the COVID-19 lockdown), decided to do a little addendum to the Walk The Sky album (originally issued in 2019) with some live versions of the songs, and a new track. Hopefully, you guys enjoy it,” says Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy, speaking about Walk The Sky 2.0, out November 6 via Napalm Records.

Walk The Sky 2.0 contains one new studio recording, a song called “Last Rites” as well as six live tracks, pulled from stops in Chicago, San Antonio, and Boston during Alter Bridge’s recent headline tour of The United States. “Last Rites” was written and recorded while in COVID-19 isolation; that must have been a different experience. “Yeah, you learn to embrace elements of technology, as the kids say,” chuckles Myles. “For me, tracking the vocals, I did all the vocals from my home studio, and through the power of the Internet, was able to send those over to Elvis (Michael Baskette) to have him mix ‘em into the actual track. So that was cool, certainly something that would have been way more of a challenge twenty-five years ago. We’re happy with how it turned out.”

The other members of Alter Bridge – guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall, and drummer Scott Phillips – had a much more traditional experience recording “Last Rites”. Reason being, “Those guys literally live ten minutes away from Elvis and his studio. So, for them, it’s a much different situation. I know Mark had some guitar things he wanted to… for him, it was just a matter of hopping in the car, going down the street. That was much easier; I’m 3,000 miles away from everyone. They live in Orlando, Florida. I live in Spokane, Washington; less than two hours from the Canadian border. I’m kind of an honorary Canadian, my friends from Canada love to tell me that.”

Lyrically, “Last Rites” certainly seems to be inspired by the pandemic. “Yeah, it was inspired by the current state-of-affairs. I thought taking the word rites, which depending on how you spell it, can obviously have very different meanings; it’s an interesting play on words, thought I’d explore that.” There’s some pretty grim lines in that song, including: “You don’t know where this goes, wait until tomorrow,” “Say goodbye to the only way of life you’ve ever known,” and “Protest the boundaries put in place that hold you down.” If that isn’t 2020 in a nutshell, what is? “It’s definitely one of the things, as a lyricist, you try and find inspiration from current events, watching the news or reading things. Obviously, those are concepts that are very relevant right now, something that a lot of people are trying to make sense of and deal with… it just made its way into the song.”

Musically, “Last Rites” revolves around a thick, chunky riff. It’s one of Alter Bridge’s more aggressive songs as of late. “Yeah, that’s definitely a Tremonti riff. To me, it’s kind of reminiscent of Alice In Chains,” admits Myles. “I think that the overall vibe of that track, and that riff, is definitely a tip of the hat to those guys. It was a riff that actually we heard as we were making the Walk The Sky demos and pre-production, Mark had that. We liked it; it was just a matter of trying to find a place for it on the first version of Walk The Sky. It felt like it might not have the same overall vibe, so we chose to put that on the backburner. Then when it came time to do this addendum to the record, it made perfect sense to revisit that and complete it. So, here we are.”

The EP is rounded out with six live tracks, all of which are songs from Walk The Sky, that nobody previously had, unless they’re bootlegged recordings of an Alter Bridge concert. “That’s the beauty of touring, and always having a multi-track recording, so that you can document the tour. If you have some nights that feel particularly good, you can go back and revisit them, and then release them to the fans. It’s funny, for the longest time I didn’t realize that we were recording the shows,” laughs Myles. “I would just go up there and perform – okay, that was a moment in time that’s come and gone. Little did I know that the old hard-drive was capturing all of it.”

One of the live tracks on Walk The Sky 2.0, “Native Son”, bears resemblance to “The Dissident” from World On Fire by Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators, in that both songs utilize a catchy “Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh” vocal. “Oh yeah, I could hear that,” agrees Myles. “It’s funny, the call and responses vocal has become a major part of how I think about melodies. It may stem from the era that I grew up in. Your formative years, especially when you’re listening to a lot of pop radio, there are certain things that will get burned into your musical psyche, and you may not even be cognizant of it as the years go on and you start writing your own music. The other day I was listening to the radio, and I can’t remember what it was for the life of me. It was some big track from the ‘80s where it was that same kind of big call and response where you’ve got a melody and you’ve got a response after, the big gang vocal. I remember thinking to myself, that’s probably where you get a lot of this from. If you think about ‘The Dissident’ or ‘Native Son”, think about ‘The Last Hero’, it’s something I use a lot melodically. I think it probably stems from when I started listening to music and what was popular on the radio.”

There’s a remarkable new video for “Native Son” which actually does not feature Alter Bridge. “Thank goodness,” jokes Myles. “No one wants to see us.” The clip utilizes stop-animation and origami to tell the story. “Yeah, I’m very happy with how the video turned out. We enlisted a gentleman by the name of Stefano Bertelli to do that. He did an incredible job, taking the lyric and coming up with a narrative that I initially wasn’t thinking when I wrote that lyric. But I feel like he made it way more contemporary, and way more relevant; something that would resonate with people. I was really moved when I saw his interpretation of it. That, in conjunction with how great it looks, I would say it’s one of my top two or three of all the Alter Bridge videos for sure.” This new “Native Son” video tells the story of a farmer losing his land to industrialization and the creation of skyscrapers. Wheras Myles’ original narrative was the Native Indians losing land to “European settlers – you are absolutely right! You hit it right on the head. So, it was interesting to see how he was able to look at it from… it’s the same thing. It’s the idea that the world around you is changing and shifting. Really impressed.”

Each of the six live tracks transition incredibly well from studio to stage, not surprising given the fact that Alter Bridge excel in both areas. On 2.0, there’s something extra special about “Godspeed”. Can’t quite put a finger on it… it’s almost like you can see the smiling faces in the audience while listening to the audio. “That’s great. That’s a song the fans definitely love. You’re probably sensing that palpable energy and good vibes. It was fun once we started to incorporate that song into the set, see people sing along. That’s always the best part about it. When you take the songs that were recorded in the studio and you perform them, and you get to feel that profound energy that you get from the audience, after they’ve had some time to live with the records. So, I’m glad that translated with that track.”

Had Alter Bridge been able to continue touring as planned, before COVID-19 forced the closure of concert venues worldwide, would each of the 14 songs from Walk The Sky eventually have been played live? “Yeah, that’s usually what we try to do. We try to feature each track in the set at some point. It’s interesting because, given that we’ve been a band now for 16 years, and we’ve got six records to pull from, it’s getting harder and harder to do that because you’ve only got so much space in the set, and the fans have their favorite tracks they want to hear, and we don’t want people to leave disappointed. It’s difficult, but we still attempt to carve out a slot in the set where we can feature one of the new songs. It keeps it interesting for us. It also, I think, keeps it interesting for the fans who, we refer to them as our Deadheads. They will literally go to every single show on a tour! If they see the same set night after night, it gets a little bit redundant. So, if we surprise them, it’s always fun to see the expressions on their faces.”

The artwork for Walk The Sky 2.0, created by Dan Sturgess, has the image from 2019’s Walk The Sky branded into a wooden chest, then 2.0 appears to be added as a sticker. “For me, that image, I think it kind of sums up a nice, almost transcendence,” reveals Myles. “That’s what a lot of Walk The Sky is about for me personally; exploring a certain emancipation from worry and anxiety, and discovering mindfulness and a more enlightened state of psychology. My interpretation of that visual is a representation of letting your cares go, and becoming present, and learning to live in the moment.”

During this pandemic, numerous bands have done live stream pay-per-views; yet Alter Bridge has not. “It’s certainly something we’ve talked about. I think we’re just waiting to see… it is a little more challenging because we don’t live in the same town; I live all the way across the country (from the rest of the band). If we were to do something like that, there’s certain logistics that have to be put into play that would make it a little more challenging. We’ll see how this goes. I think we would all prefer to play live if it were possible.” 

The only other alternative at the moment seems to be drive-in shows. “It’s certainly a creative way of doing it; it’s not the worst idea. It’s very similar to… we have a deal here in the States called Sturgis, which is where the bikers have their big get-together. I’ve played that a few times. I remember initially, even though it’s not a drive-in, in the sense where people are in their cars, most people are on their bikes. I’ll never forget, after we finished the song, I’ll never forget this! We finished the song and all of a sudden, I hear vroom, vroom. The way they would applaud is by revving their engines. I think that concept of being in your vehicle of choice and being entertained, then using that vehicle to express your appreciation is something very intriguing; I find it charming and kind of cool. It’s certainly something that I appreciate. I think the drive-in approach is great. If things don’t go back to normal soon, I think that will be the new norm for quite some time.”

When touring resumes safely on a large scale – we don’t know when that will be – will Alter Bridge go back on the road, or will the focus be elsewhere? Specifically, Tremonti, Myles Kennedy solo, or Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators. “It still remains to be seen. What I can tell you is, my plans for all of 2021 initially were to be doing my solo record and band. I don’t know how this is all going to play out. I don’t know if everything is going to be moved back, or just shift altogether? It’s frustrating, I’m not going to dance around that one. The fact that Alter Bridge only got to do three tours total for this record, which we’re all so proud of. There were so many great things that seemed to be coming into play, and then it gets shut down. But, with that said, at least we got to put it out and tour to some degree. I have friends, and bands I’m a fan of, who released records just after this happened, and as you well know, when you put out a record… people don’t buy records anymore, people stream records. So, the only way for an artist to really make the gain they need to provide for their families is to be able to tour on those records. It’s a lot of time and energy to put into something when you can’t round it out with the tour, and it’s frustrating to see that. But for us, at least we got to utilize some of it. So, I’m not going to complain. If it means we only got to tour three times, so be it. We’ll just start thinking about the future.”

Shifting gears, Myles provides a progress report on his second solo album, the follow-up to 2018’s Year Of The Tiger. “We’re just waiting on the mixes right now. When all of this started to happen with the lockdown, I had no idea how long it was going to last. All I knew is I finally had a pretty decent window to write and record, so I figured I’d be productive. I chose to lock myself in my studio and write and record non-stop. I did that for about five months, then ended up driving to Florida, cause I didn’t want to fly. Gear in tow, and my drummer Zia (Uddin), we met Tim Tournier, our bass player and manager – jack of all trades. We met him in Nashville. It took three days to drive, in the beginning of August; it was crazy! We did the entire thing, nearly 3,000 miles, in three days. It was absolute insanity! But it was fun. Zia and I, the first two days, it was just the two of us. It was interesting, I didn’t turn the radio on once; we talked the entire time and laughed. It was a nice escape. Then we met up with Tim and drove to Orlando. I spent seven weeks down there recording that with Elvis (Michael Baskette). Then came back home, about four weeks ago. Now I’m just waiting for the mixes, then I’ll master it, and start thinking about artwork. Hopefully, provided the world kind of gets back to normal in the next year, we’d like to release it at some point in ‘21.”

Lyrically, Myles’ first solo album was a concept record about the passing of his father. Word-wise, his sophomore solo effort goes in an entirely new direction. “Different narratives for this. Obviously, given the times we’re living in, some of it was informed by that. Some of it was social commentary, to a degree. Other tracks were derived from family experiences and touching on some of that. It’s tricky at this point, because I can tell you I recorded 14 tracks for this album, and I’m trying to decide which tunes will actually make the cut. That will definitely affect the overall vibe of the narrative, depending on what ends up being on the record, it could sway the mood dramatically. I know that’s speaking cryptically, but it’s just one of those records where there’s some songs that have such an impact for me lyrically, that to put that on the album would then shift the overall vibe; if you were to listen to the album from start to finish. With all that said, people typically now – when you look at streaming analytics, people typically listen to the first seven songs and then move on. That’s just how people digest music now. But I’m still old school in that sense, I set out to record full bodies of work. Full albums that take you on a journey for a good 45 minutes to an hour. So, we’ll see how it comes together. But I am very excited about it! And it’s definitely more of a guitar record, a lot more guitar solos. A lot of improvisation and stuff I’ve been wanting to do for a while as a guitar player.”

Finally, Myles offers insight into the current status of Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators. Just like everyone else, Slash has been stuck at home because of COVID-19, so it’s safe to assume he’s been writing feverishly. “Slash is always writing. Like any good songwriter, when you have down time, you try to use it to create, Take the scenario and be productive. With that said, I think time will tell as far as what the future holds for SMKC. I can say, years ago when we were touring on the Living The Dream record, there were ideas floating around back then. There are things there, I can assure you that. But I will say that as far as releasing new music any time soon, it’s pretty challenging to give any definitive answer, especially with the pandemic. As far as the order of things, I’m going to need to put out the solo record and work that first before I can consider doing anything else. Like I said, I’m pretty excited about that one.”

(Top photo by: Dan Sturgess)

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