TREMONTI – “The Sky’s The Limit For How Good You Can Get”

September 28, 2021, a year ago

By Aaron Small

feature hard rock heavy metal tremonti

TREMONTI – “The Sky’s The Limit For How Good You Can Get”

Alter Bridge and Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti has released his fifth solo album under the Tremonti moniker. Marching In Time, available now via Napalm Records, is the band’s gold medal performance! It’s their best set of songs by far. Not to belittle the four albums that came prior, but this sets a new standard. It’s also Tremonti’s most metal album to date. The opening track, “A World Away” is so heavy, then the melodic vocals bring it back to Alter Bridge territory, what a way to begin! 

“It’s kind of been my goal with this band, to make it as heavy and as fun to play as possible; but maintain that melodic approach,” says Mark.

Tremonti has a slightly different lineup this time around, with Ryan Bennett on drums. Bennett replaced Garrett Whitlock, who joined former Tremonti bassist Wolfgang Van Halen’s band, Mammoth WVH. “Yeah, Wolfie stepped out years back when he was working on his solo thing. Then, Garrett had some personal stuff going on back in the day when we took Ryan out on tour with us,” explains Tremonti. “It just made sense for Ryan to continue with us. But I’m really happy that Garrett gets to go out and hit the road with Wolfie. I’m happy to see them out there in stadiums (opening for Guns N’ Roses).”

Although there’s a new guy behind the kit, “It’s kind of business as usual,” states Mark. “I write all the material I can and put it together in demo form. Eric (Friedman, guitarist) is really good with Pro-Tools and Logic so we can get in and make the demos pretty airtight before we hit the studio. So, by the time the demos are done… the drums and all the parts are pretty dialed in. By the time we hit the studio, everybody’s practiced their parts and hit the ground running. I don’t necessarily need to be in there for drums. I’m at home frantically writing my parts and finishing up whatever stuff I need to do. It’s usually the solos. When I do demos, I haven’t written the solos or worked them out yet, just because sometimes if the song doesn’t make the record, I’ve just wasted a week putting something together. It’s usually a race to the finish line with me to write 12 or 14, however many solos are on there. So, I stay at home while the drums are getting tracked. I just call in and ask how it’s going. As long as I get good reports, I’m happy and I continue with what I’m doing.”

Mark Tremonti has worked extensively with producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette through the years, so the trust factor is solid. “Oh yeah, for sure. Especially with this band, having Eric and Elvis in there while drums are getting tracked, I know that they’re going to be solid. When we put these demos together, we program the drums to sound pretty much what they’re going to sound like in the end, outside of Ryan putting his own spin on fills, and putting his own flavor on it. There’s never been a point where I heard something that was a completely different vibe than I was anticipating. Every time I’ve heard it, it sounds great.”

Speaking of guitar solos, Mark’s fingers are just flying on this album, and he reveals his favorite. “I think ‘Let That Be Us’ is probably my favorite solo on there,” admits Tremonti. “Some progressions and moods are just more enjoyable to play over, and that one’s really good, high energy. I’ve been working on new techniques on the guitar, picking-wise, and that song fit the tempo just right for the technique I’ve been working on. Sometimes you work on things for years, then you write an album and none of the tempos quite feel right for what you’ve been working on, and it bums you out. But on this record, a lot of the techniques I’ve been working on fit right in.”

The most energetic song on Marching In Time is “Thrown Further”; it’s so invigorating! “That one came together relatively easily, which is good. Sometimes when a song comes together easily, the pieces were meant to be together. That’s one that we’ve actually started performing; we haven’t done it live yet, but we’ve got it rehearsed and ready to go.”

So much focus is put on Mark’s incredible guitar ability, and the heaviness of these songs, but he also sings some very compelling lyrics. “Now And Forever”, for example, contains the line, “My once jaded heart’s been fortified, but left on empty.” “Yeah, that’s probably my favorite chorus on the whole album.” Delving further into what inspired that line, Tremonti comments, “You just get beat down… sometimes the song isn’t necessarily about everything I’m going through. It could be about another person in my life, a book, or a movie, whatever it is. But I have definitely been in the shoes of the person I’m singing about in that song, where you build up these walls around you cause you have to protect yourself from whatever it is, whatever kind of criticism or things that are in your way at the time. So, you build these walls up and it kind of makes you a different person. If you’re this pure, innocent person growing up, and as you age, you have to put up these walls to keep the negativity out, it somehow changes your inner character.”

But the final song, and the title track, “Marching In Time” is very much autobiographical. It’s written about Mark’s wife giving birth to a baby girl during the pandemic. “Yeah, lyrically for sure. We found out that she was pregnant during 2020. Turning on the news and watching what was going on in the world was just disgusting at the time. People were attacking one another. Nobody could have a conversation anymore; it was you’re wrong and I’m right, no grey area. So, it’s a song about having a child during these times and trying to keep their purity, keep them from being affected by how negative the world is at the moment. I’m just trying to teach ‘em the right way of living.”

Despite all of the COVID restrictions, Mark was present in the hospital room for the birth of his daughter. “I was there. It was awesome! You could only have two guests, so it was me and my sister-in-law. There’s a silver lining in the whole pandemic lockdown, I’ve got to spend six months, every single day, with my new daughter. That would have never happened since 1997 with me touring as much as I have.”

When it comes to vocals, none other than Frank Sinatra serves as inspiration for Mark while preparing to hit the studio. Elaborating upon this unexpected influence, Mark reveals, “He was probably my biggest vocal inspiration. I just love Frank Sinatra, and I love singing Sinatra songs. It’s just a good way of controlling your voice, looking into phrasing, pronunciation, vibrato. When I sing the hard rock stuff, I’m always stretching my voice out and really having to push, which if I sat down in front of a proper singing instructor, they’d probably tell me I was doing it all wrong. But when I sink Frank Sinatra stuff, I feel like I’m doing it right and I’m in control. What it did for me on this record was, ever since I was younger, I didn’t like my voice and I would try to stay away from hearing my real voice on a record; that’s why I’d always push my vocals. But now, I’ve finally come to peace with my lower registers on this record. The way I approached vocals on this record was different than I’d ever done before. Usually, I just write the melodies, write the lyrics, and sing it almost unrehearsed. But this time, I really charted out all my vocals and made sure I knew all my vowel placements, where I was going to go vibrato, how I was going to phrase it exactly. I remember when Myles told me years ago, ‘I’ve got to work out all my placements for this song.’ I had no idea what he meant, until now.”

Presumably, Myles would be an excellent teacher, as he’s one of the best rock vocalists there is. “Yeah well, the funny thing is, his voice is so different than mine; it’s hard for me to learn from him. He sings very softly and he’s a very well trained, operatic, kind of a bel canto style singer. So, I never really learned much from him other than just seeing how brilliant he is at singing, and know that the sky’s the limit for how good you can get if you work hard enough at it.”

Looking back at laying down vocals in the studio, Tremonti recalls, “Usually, it’s at least one song a day, and then if I was feeling good, I’d push forward. But Elvis has a really good way of making sure that you don’t blow your voice out, so that you don’t ruin a week of recording. Even if he hears a hint of strain in your voice, ‘Alright, let’s come back tomorrow.’ When we were doing the demos, I had all my vocal parts worked out, all my lyrics, all my melodies and whatnot. Then when it came time to doing vocals, that’s when I started really going after it and making sure the way I was going to approach tracking was thought out beforehand. As I was doing that, I was also writing guitar solos. The rhythm stuff, all that was already well worked out. The most stressful thing for me on every record pretty much, is the moment you’ve figured out – in pre-production – which songs you’re going to go forward with on the record, then you make a chart of how many guitar solos are going to be on the record. You have to attack the guitar for… it seems like 12 hours a day until that record’s ready to go. I don’t know how many solos are on this record, nine or ten, but it takes me a long time to put together these solos before I record. You just see that deadline looming… that’s the most stressful thing every record.”

The artwork for Marching In Time is an interesting image. “The cover art, my brother came up with that design. I pretty much told him that I wanted it to be like a Lemmings kind of theme, where you see humanity just running off the cliff, one after the other type of thing. The blind leading the blind. So that’s what he came wp with, was this circular thing, and I love the image. Immediately I saw it on a record, on an LP.”

“Would You Kill” is a very bold title. “That’s pretty much asking somebody how far they’re willing to push themselves, or what are they willing to do, to accomplish what they’re going after. That was a song that I actually put together for, gosh, it might even have been the Cauterize and Dust sessions. That song was pretty well written back then. When I was doing this record, I was going through all my old files and came across it. I played it for Elvis and he immediately said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got to do this song. This is something that fans of the first record are going to love. It’s kind of a throwback for you guys, which will be good.’”

“Not Afraid To Lose” has to be the mentality of any musician. “That’s right. In life, you can’t be afraid to lose. Or else you’ll just sit at home being nervous about facing down anything.”

When it comes to live shows, it would be a fan’s dream come true to attend a tour, or even a one night only special event, with Myles Kennedy, Tremonti, and Alter Bridge all on the same show. “You know, it’s been brought up in the past, and everybody’s saying how it makes sense to do that kind of thing. But if you look at it from a promoter’s point of view, it doesn’t make sense for them because you’re just bringing the same fan base in. That’s why they like to mix bands up. They want to have other bands in the fold to bring more people into the building. That’s why Myles Kennedy solo project and Tremonti solo project aren’t going to play in different venues in the same city on the same night, cause it’s a lot of the same fan base. But it would be a fun thing to do, especially if it was filmed.”

Alter Bridge has sold out Royal Albert Hall in England, that would be a perfect venue for such an event. “Yeah, that would definitely be the place we’d want to do something like that. England is – for all of our bands – our biggest fan base.” Why is that? “I thought in the beginning, it was because, with the success of Creed here in the States, it was hard to outrun the shadow of that. We never did much touring over in Europe, so when Alter Bridge hit over there, it was a blank canvas. We were just a new band to everybody over there. At the time, if you had a tenor vocalist and you were doing guitar solos, people dug it over there. I remember when The Darkness came out, they were huge there. It’s just a different vibe from the rock that was getting played in the States at the time, and it worked for us. If it weren’t for Europe, with Alter Bridge, we might be in a different profession right now. They, especially in England, really helped this band survive the transition between Creed and Alter Bridge.”

The last time BraveWords spoke with Tremonti, it was about the 2018 album, A Dying Machine. That was a very different record for the band, because it was a science-fiction concept piece. Now that three years have passed, Mark answers the question, would you ever tackle another concept album? “You never know, cause I never even planned on doing the concept record. It kind of just fell in my lap naturally. I’m actually rewriting the book, A Dying Machine, right now. Once that’s written, if it’s written – I’m rewriting it right now because there’s a publishing house that’s possibly interested in doing a deal for the book. If that happens, and it’s a success, then I would write a sequel. But until that point, there’s no point in doing a sequel for A Dying Machine. But, never say never on anything.”

This re-write, will it be radically different than the book that was made available in 2018? “It’s the same characters, same plot line, different order. And one big thing, a lot of it is going to be written in the first person, which really adds a modern, cool vibe to it. It’s inspired by authors like Andy Weir, who just came out with Hail Mary, which is an amazing book, that’s again from the first person. When you read it, for me, it’s a fresh approach to the book.” And if you happen to have a copy of the A Dying Machine book, it’s become a prized collector’s item. “The only ones that are left, I’ve got about 40 copies in my closet; but I’m going to keep those.”

(Photo - Scott Diussa)

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