ALTER BRIDGE – “This Band Is Not All About Heavy And Complex Songs”

October 18, 2022, a month ago

By Aaron Small

feature hard rock alter bridge

ALTER BRIDGE – “This Band Is Not All About Heavy And Complex Songs”

Pawns & Kings is the seventh studio album from American hard rock band Alter Bridge. Released on October 14 via Napalm Records, Pawns & Kings is being heralded by the label as the group’s “most aggressive collection of songs to date.” Speaking exclusively to BraveWords, Alter Bridge lead guitarist Mark Tremonti reveals what spawned that aggression. “I think it might have been, knowing that we have to play these songs night after night, it’s always in the back of our minds that we want to create songs that are going to be enjoyable night after night. I guess the more fun songs are the heavier, more aggressive songs. Maybe that’s it. But other than that, we didn’t have any plan on making an aggressive record, it just kind of turned out that way.”

Napalm is also touting Pawns & Kings as “career defining.” “I think we’ve probably, at this point, defined what Alter Bridge – the core of what our sound is, years ago. But we’re still trying to redefine ourselves as we go,” explains Tremonti, who along with vocalist / rhythm guitarist Myles Kennedy, bassist Brian Marshall, and drummer Scott Phillips completed the recording of Pawns & Kings in just six weeks. That’s a relatively short time span compared to previous Alter Bridge album sessions. “It’s easier to do that when you’ve got stuff really planned out in advance. We had extensive demoing done before we went in there, so when we got into pre-production, it was all business. We knew what we needed to do, and got it done. We also had to get the recording process finished at a certain point to be able to meet deadlines for all the business things like getting the records pressed, and all the supply chain issues. It needed to be done by a certain date.”

Comprised of ten songs, Pawns & Kings has the fewest tracks of any Alter Bridge album, making it stand apart from the 14 and 13 song epics that Walk The Sky and The Last Hero are. “We knew that this record was going to have a lot of longer tunes,” admits Tremonti. “When I sent this record over to my brother, and I told him there were ten tracks, he was like, ‘No way. You’ve got to have more. Alter Bridge fans get a record every three years, they’re going to want more tracks.’ But then when he heard the record – ‘Ten is fine. There’s so much information on this record to take in, it seems like it’s a much longer record than when you see the ten tracks.’ I think some of these songs are almost two songs in one. Three or four of the songs are over the six-minute range, so it’s still a lengthy record.”

Alter Bridge has actually written their longest song ever, “Fable Of The Silent Son”, which is eight and a half minutes and appears on Pawns & Kings. Mark reflects upon the creation of that tune. “That song was written where it was almost like two songs were put together. Myles was working on the intro to that song and decided that it fit well with this other part that had been brewing. So, they got placed together and fit perfectly well. It’s the longest song we’ve ever done, but all the parts work well together and needed to be there to tell the story. A lot of times, these longer songs happen because you write a cool idea, and then you spend up to a month working on this song. As you write more and more ideas to tell all the different stories throughout the song, you’ve written so many parts that, you don’t want to eliminate these great parts; let’s see how we can make them fit, and still seem like a nice arrangement. At least that’s how I write – I don’t want to eliminate good ideas if they’re sitting there, and they can work in the song.”

Despite it being their longest song, Tremonti insists Alter Bridge will play “Fable Of The Silent Son” live. “Absolutely. We’ll definitely play that one. I don’t know if it’ll be right out of the gate, but we’ll get it in there as the tour gets going. That’ going to require a bit of rehearsal. “This whole record’s going to take a ton of rehearsal,” agrees Mark. “There’s a lot going on. I think more than ever on this record, during pre-production, my brain hurt just from memorizing everything. Because you have to get it down before you can move on to the next song.”

Exploring some of the other longer songs on Pawns & Kings, “Sin After Sin” is just shy of seven minutes, and its unique moody vibe really makes it a stand-out track. “That was the song I probably worked on the hardest on this record. I might have spent three or four weeks on it, just… I wanted to write something deliberately slow, dark, and moody. So, I created a drum loop, put it at a real slow tempo, and went after it. I came up with the main riff, and then I built the song around it, creating the dynamics from there. I wrote the verse next, and then I made the decision to not make the chorus a big four chord sing-along anthem, but make it go off that riff and make that riff the highlight of the song. Then all the other parts… it kind of has a double bridge, and an outro that hasn’t happened anywhere else in the song. So, it has these layers that back in the day, people would say, ‘Edit this, edit that.’ But I think it tells the story the way it needs to. I’m not worried if a song is too long for any kind of format, as long as it’s not too long just for the sake of being long.”

The other long song is the title track, “Pawns & Kings”, at six and a half minutes. Obviously “Pawns & Kings” is a reference to the game of chess; it’s displayed in the lyric video for the song. Does Alter Bridge play chess on the tour bus? “You know, it’s tough because those damn pieces go sliding around when the bus comes to the stoplights,” laughs Mark. “Chess would have to be done digitally, on the screen. But I love playing chess! I don’t know if anybody else in the band really likes playing chess, but if anybody wants to play a game, I’m in.”

Chess pawns are present in the artwork, as well as a crown, which alludes to the King. That image was created by Mark’s brother, Dan Tremonti. It’s very striking, from the skull and snake to the color scheme, it’s an attractive album cover. “So, me and Myles sat down with my brother and went over ideas. It was Myles’ idea to do the big shiny gold and black color scheme. He pulled up this 3D image of a skull with blood dripping down the side that was black instead of red; it was this really great sculpture. At first, we were going to do a 3D image for our album cover, kind of do a similar thing with our take on it. But it ended up being something where once we saw this artwork, it was perfect. Let’s not take the extra time and go down that route in case it doesn’t turn out as good as we want it to, cause we already love what we see.”

Delving further into the artwork, the band name is Alter Bridge, and there a bridge on the Pawns & Kings album cover. If you go back to the debut album, One Day Remains, there’s a bridge on that one as well. It kind of brings everything full circle. “Yeah, and if you look at the bridge – my brother loves to hide stuff in the artwork. If you look at the right side of the bridge, there’s the date of the beginning of Alter Bridge. And on the left is the date of release of this album. So, it shows the arc of our career at this point. At first, the centerpiece had wings behind it, and it looked great. Wings are awesome, but you can’t use them too much. They’re so awesome that everybody uses them, and we already used them on Blackbird – let’s try and steer away from that. My idea was to use flags, one on the right and one on the left, just like wings. Then my brother Dan came up with the bridge and I thought that was great, so we went with that.” Given the skull and snake, if Alter Bridge had included wings in the artwork, it would have looked very similar to Dr. Feelgood by Mötley Crüe. “Oh yeah, good point. Thank goodness we didn’t.”

Going back to the ten tracks on Pawns & Kings; initially there were 16 songs written for this album. The band did arrangements for 14, recorded 12, and ten appear on the album. As excited as Alter Bridge fans are for the new album, they always want to hear those tracks that didn’t make the final cut. ‘What are those two songs? How can we get them?’ Is that perplexing or flattering? “It’s great! Every record we plan to keep a couple to the side. For our self-interest, we can release those songs right before another big tour a year from now, and that would help get everybody excited again. It just gets people talking. For fans, I think it’s great because you have these ten songs to live with, and then you can look forward to something. I think it’s a win-win for everybody. The hardest thing is for us personally, cause we write these songs, and then you’ve got to pick one – we put so much effort into this, and now we’ve got to leave it off the record. But we chose the songs that, not that we didn’t like as much, but the songs that already had that dynamic space on the record. We took songs that might have the same tempo and feel overall and left it off as that space was already filled.”

The song “Stay” features Mark Tremonti on lead vocal. It’s not the first time he’s done that as Mark took the microphone for “Waters Rising” on Fortress, and “Forever Falling” on Walk The Sky, as well as singing in his side band Tremonti. “I wrote the lyrics for what I’m singing (on ‘Stay’) – we like to leave these songs a little loose when we get into pre-production so we can add parts to one another’s songs. So, I left that bridge open for Myles and he wrote those lyrics. That was one of the older songs I’ve been working on for this record; I’m glad it came together.” “Stay” really soars, it has a feeling of elevation about it. “Awesome, I appreciate that. I think that song’s important on this record because that’s a part of this band. This band is not all about heavy and complex songs. I like to have a simple, straight-forward melody-driven song. I love melody and that’s my main driving force as a songwriter, so I’m glad that song got to focus on that.”

A couple of lines from “Stay” certainly pique the ear: “They say we’ll get back to the way it was, before the bitter winds of change. It’s so hard to know where it’s going to go, will you please give me a sign that everything’s going to be alright?” That could easily be interpreted as Alter Bridge’s take on the Covid-19 lockdown and everything that accompanied it in 2020 and 2021. “No, I think it’s more generalized. We don’t want to ever… we never wanted to stick ourselves in a time capsule of the Covid era,” clarifies Mark. “That’s definitely affected everybody’s lyrical content recently, but it’s just kind of a generalized thing. I think the world in general has kind of spun out of control recently, and we hope things settle back to normal. But you know, the world’s problems, they help artists write lyrics sometimes, even though they’re terrible things. It’s good to have things to write about, whether it’s the world’s problems or the world’s joys.”

“Holiday” is the shortest song on Pawns & Kings, clocking in at just over four minutes. That track came as a surprise because it’s the most straight-forward lyrically. There’s really no mistaking what Myles is singing about. That’s a very different Alter Bridge song, compared to the rest of the band’s catalogue. “Yeah, that’s a fun one! I think that’s a good song for – when I say we like to put together records that have a dynamic range, that song is the only song that feels like that on the record. Almost like a rock ‘n roll, off-the-cuff, from-the-hip kind of straight-up song. I think it’s one of my favorite vocals from Myles, he killed it on that one.”

Alter Bridge has released four video clips from Pawns & Kings thus far: three lyric videos, and the animated video for “Silver Tongue”, which was created by Ollie Jones, who Myles worked with on the video for his solo song, “Get Along”. Did the band have any input into the storyline in the “Silver Tongue” video, or did it derive strictly from Jones? “No, we sat down with him when we were playing the Download Festival. Myles was playing his show, I was playing mine, and we got together with the artist and showed him images of what we were thinking. When you see his presentation, he had so many different styles of art. We gave him artists that we liked. We sat there together and said, let’s use this idea of these two folks going into a museum and getting pulled into these art pieces, and into another realm, which is kind of like a hellish thing they have to escape. I think one of the moodiest, creepiest artists of all time is Beksinski, he’s a Polish artist. I showed him (Ollie Jones) a bunch of different paintings by him (Beksinski) and he really dug it and kind of went off that a little bit. Then Myles pulled up some art he liked. We try to get involved as much as we can, but we know our lane, so we try to stay in our lane as much as we can. We’ve never been experts in the visual arts.”

With these four videos, the members of Alter Bridge don’t appear in any of them. “I think we’ll probably do another live one at some point. It’s just scheduling and making everything happen. It’s kind of tough. We do what we can. I think our videos… we’ve never been awesome at creating videos. I’ve told my manager this. That’s one… we don’t have that guy in the band that’s this great visual artist. We don’t have somebody who can sit down and make Alter Bridge the coolest video. It’s not in our wheelhouse. We’ll keep on trying our best, but it always seems like when we do a video, we always take a week or two; there’s never a six-month plan like how we do a record. I think a lot of bands focus more on that and do a very good job at it. You’ve got guys like Marilyn Manson and Ghost, even Mastodon or Gojira. They have these great visuals that go along with the great music. I think we’ve fallen short on that throughout our career a little bit.”

Alter Bridge has six months of tour dates booked from November 2022 to April 2023. The fans seem to enjoy the live Blu-rays and albums as much as the studio material. Is it too far ahead to project another live release? “That’s going to be a hard one to predict at this time. The last one we did was Live At Royal Albert Hall, which is going to be tough to top. That was probably our favorite night on stage ever in our career. We’d really have to line up the right fit to do it again. We’d have to do something that we haven’t done. For example, if we played acoustic, did an acoustic show, we could get a video of that. Something that’s different cause we’ve got Live at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam, Live at Wembley, Live at the 02 Arena, and Live at Royal Albert Hall. We’ve just got to make it different somehow.”

(Photo credit: Chuck Brueckmann)

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