Fireworks Magazine Online 60 - Interview with Alter Bridge


 by Mike Newdeck

That was the year 2013! Why? Well, that was the year that Alter Bridge finally got recognition for being one of the premier rock bands in the world (well the rest of the world except the U.S that is) and the year that their fourth album ‘Fortress’ not only propelled the band to greater popularity but also proved to be their piece de resistance . At least that’s my view. We’ll look back in ten years’ time and remember ‘Fortress’ as perhaps one of the classic albums of this era; Alter Bridge’s ‘Back In Black’ moment. The band has evolved steadily if unspectacularly, picking up fans through their own brand of hard rock and hard work rather than any quick fix radio airplay and throwaway pop nonsense. Now Alter Bridge seems to be at the peak of their powers and a million miles away from the band originally labeled Creed with a different singer. Mike Newdeck caught up with vocalist Myles Kennedy to talk about the new album and the development of the band.

Kennedy is in a relaxed mood despite the seemingly endless interviews that he has undertaken this past week with the release of Alter Bridge’s fourth album ‘Fortress’. Perhaps the comforts of his home take the edge off what could otherwise be treated as a tread-mill, one that Kennedy would do well to get off if not for the fact that he understands how the relationship works. We sit back for what proves to be an informative and relaxed chat about the new album and the band’s steady progress towards acceptance and dare I say fame.

“I feel reasonably fresh to go today.” He intimates perhaps in some way referring to the aforementioned interviews. “I couldn’t really sleep that well but it’s a new day so I’m okay, I feel good.”

The new album ‘Fortress’ is imminent and Kennedy feels that it’s the band’s best effort to date.

“I think this time around we’ve pushed ourselves more musically.” The singer concludes. “We’ve tried to get away from previous go to methods as far as the song arrangements went and tried to take some chances, that was the primary goal.”

Kennedy is of course wary of moving too far away from the Alter Bridge sound.

“You’ve got to strike a balance.” He surmises. “You don’t want to alienate the fans who’ve been there from the beginning, so what we’d tried and do is have moments where we’d push the envelope and then we’d have to try and reel it back in with the melodic aspect of our sound, that’s perhaps our signature. The way that the choruses are put together perhaps makes us familiar. You still want them to be singable.”

Clearly there’s a contrast between ‘Fortress’ and its predecessor, Kennedy agrees.

“Three was a moodier darker record.” He remembers. “Although Fortress has those elements, it’s bit more upbeat and more up-tempo. I was actually listening to my iPod the other day, it was on shuffle and a song from three came on and it was slower and much more predictable than the material on this latest album. It’s interesting to hear songs from different eras as it gives you a snapshot of what you were doing at particular times.”

Lead off single ‘Addicted To Pain’ from ‘Fortress’ typifies the latest approach.

“That song came out pretty early in the arrangement process” Kennedy remembers “We thought that it would be a pretty good single to start off and it was good that we had it in the bag early on because it allowed us to take more chances with the rest of the material. Often when you’re writing the album a single can be pretty difficult to come by and you can end up chasing the single; writing specifically for a single which makes thing forced and un-natural. The pressure was off and there was relief that allowed us freedom.”

That may be the first single sorted but what about when the label asks for a follow up?

“That’s a good question.” He laughs. “I really haven’t got a clue, everyone will have their opinion but I don’t know. We all agreed on the first one don’t know about the second.”

So it’s a case of Alter Bridge being a bit like U2 now in the fact that the fan base will lap anything up that’s on offer?

“Well our fans are pretty accepting.” He agrees “But on the other hand they’ve got pretty strong opinions so if they don’t like something then they’ll let us know so I guess we’re not quite up there with U2.”

A fourth album can traditionally be a difficult one with many bands striving to keep it fresh, conscious perhaps of simply going through the motions.

“We didn’t want to do that with Fortress.” Kennedy notes. “We had many discussions during the arranging process regarding something that we’d already done and then we’d change it or remove it altogether. We really didn’t want it to become stale and on occasions it did get that way. If we feel that then you can bet that the fans would notice it to and we did have what I call Jesus moments when you’d have to be honest with your band mates and tell them straight and try something new.”

So was the addition of Mark’s on Fortress vocals part of the process in Kennedy’s opinion?

“Well yes it was.” He continues. “Mark’s shown that with his solo record he’s a very competent vocalist and it made sense. It’s the same reason that I’ll play lead guitar on some of the songs and if I play lead then it’s logical for mark to add his vocals too. I suppose it’s a bit like Deep Purple where using different vocals adds another dimension and texture to the music and I was very open to that idea.”

So no battle of egos then?

“No way.” Kennedy snaps. “Right from when Mark discovered that I played lead guitar he wanted me to play more lead and I could hardly then stop him singing; that wouldn’t be right. It would be selfish.”

With Kennedy’s vocal duties with Slash, Tremoti’s recent reunion with Creed (along with Phillips and Marshall) and Phillip’s involvement with two members of Sevendust in Projected it must be extremely difficult logistically and with respect to writing to function as a band.

“Thank god for Airplanes.” Kennedy rejoices. “You really have to be able to and want to travel a lot. If you don’t want to travel then forget it, this isn’t for you. I live three thousand miles away from the guys, Slash is thousands of miles away and so it goes on. You have to be away from home for long periods and so you really have to commit to rock.”

And with the writing the vocalist doesn’t see a problem.

“To be honest Mark and I have both been writing for Alter Bridge separately when we’re away with our various entities.” He reveals. “This album came together really well from that aspect and then we got together in January this year to put it all together. It took about two weeks with ideas going backward and forward before we got it nailed and then Brian and Scott came in to play around with everything. The filtering process took about three weeks and so this album came together more quickly than any album that we’d done together before. That’s always good because you don’t mess around too much, beating arrangements into the ground and over thinking stuff. You want spontaneity and if you set your stall out for a finite amount of time then you get that.”

So Mark and yourself write face to face in preference to using mp3’s via email does the distance create problems?

“There’s always a certain amount of that going on.” Kennedy admits. “We’ll send ideas to each other to see what works and it gets the ball rolling; I’ll do the same with Slash. However face to face time is really important especially with the arrangements. It’s what the song will sound like with the whole band that’s important.

So Alter Bridge could be seen as simply another project with far flung contributions from the band members. Kennedy disagrees.

“We know each other very well so it’s not really like that.” The vocalist explains. “Creatively we know what works and what doesn’t and we’ve fallen into a groove together. It’s sort of a chemistry that comes about through repetition and familiarity and that’s what makes us really. It’s assumed that it’s about Mark and me and to a point that’s correct because we do the main bulk of the songwriting but you can’t underestimate Brian and Scott because they’re crucial to the whole process. I’m not a believer that a band can’t continue without original members but you have to have a core there because otherwise something goes missing.”

Kennedy it seems was happy for the three members of Alter Bridge to revisit the Creed phenomena in 2009 with the recording of a new album and the subsequent reunion tour but I wonder how Kennedy coped during that time.

“I’ve got to be honest.” He admits. “I had always had it in the back of my mind that it could happen and I suppose that in the back of my mind I was preparing for it quietly. Even when we got together for the first record and toured I still kept writing just in case. I suppose that was kind of the genesis for the solo record because I had a gut feeling that they would probably end up doing something together. They had so much success and they have families and bills to pay like we all do and that’s their right to do it. It’s their legacy.”

Isn’t there a worry that they could call time on Alter Bridge? Kennedy explains.

“It’s not a worry as such because I realize that they’ve got a huge fan-base and if that’s what they wanted to do then so be it. To a certain degree they’ve got to look after themselves and I totally get that. I would be more worried about what the Alter Bridge fans would do because they’re such a passionate bunch. At the end of the day though, I know that those guys have a love of Alter Bridge and we’ve all invested a lot of time into the band so I doubt if they’ll simply discard it.”

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Alter Bridges debut album was criticized in many circles for simply being “Creed with another vocalist.” Something that Kennedy in part agrees with.

“It certainly had hallmarks of that sound.” He agrees. “We’d only been together for about four months when we recorded that album and a good deal of the material had already been written for it beforehand. It wasn’t really until ‘Blackbird’ that I became more involved in writing the songs and as mentioned playing guitar and I suppose that’s when we started to change and move away from the sound of the debut record and lose the tag that you’ve just mentioned. The whole creative process changed and then our sound changed with it.”

Being effectively three quarters of Creed must cause problems during the writing process and there must be an intrinsic conscious effort to not sound like Creed. Kennedy agrees.

“It’s actually happened where we’ve done something and it’s been pointed out that it sounds like Creed whilst we’re playing it. Usually it’s our drummer Scott who chips in with “Hey, I hate to be the bringer of bad news but that sounds exactly like such and such that we did with Creed. Really we could do with a red siren that flashes and goes off whenever we transgress into Creed territory. It’s bound to happen though really, with all the history and all the members but the trick is to be conscious of that and write accordingly. We want to sound like Alter Bridge.”

The originality side of the band can be enhanced by the producer and ‘Fortress’ once again sees Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette at the helm. Does this not then go against the recipe for moving forward and instead encourage the band to tread water musically?

“Elvis is just fantastic.” the vocalist responds. “We’re so confident in his abilities. He’s one of the true rock producers who get the sound that we want as well as having fantastic song ideas and arrangement ideas; he’s the perfect fit for us. We really couldn’t imagine anyone else being able to fill his shoes. It’s a cliché but he’s like the fifth member of the band and he’s crucial to the sound of the band. In fact we never even considered using someone else, that’s how happy we are with him; if it ain’t broke and all that. I mean Howard Benson has a proven track record with rock bands when it comes to getting the songs on the radio and I totally get why bands are queuing up to get him to produce their records. We have a different goal from that although yes you have to have something to promote yourselves. Our goal isn’t to get radio singles it’s more than that, it’s more about making a body of work that says something musically. Many producers strip everything away so that it’s easy to digest and gives perhaps a three minute nugget of a song that is made for radio. If anything Elvis goes the other way by adding stuff to the arrangements and fleshing it out. People who perhaps like something a bit more progressive won’t simply throw the album in the toilet immediately. I’m from a Jazz fusion background originally so I’m a fan of long songs, improvisation and complications it keeps everything interesting. Marks into guitar dominated instrumental music and so it all fits nicely with Elvis and we put it together to make music that gets us off.”

All very well so long as the record label execs will allow you artistic license.

“Well we can get away with it.” He laughs. “We’ve been very lucky with our fan base who allows us and wants us to do this. As far as the label goes, apart from a little A&R interference on the second record we really haven’t been scrutinized at all. The last two especially it’s just been down to us and then we simply hand the record in. I know of bands that have been micro managed; told what songs to write and even what instruments to play but we’ve been really lucky.”

The upcoming Arena tour with Shinedown and Halestorm looks like an absolutely must for any self-respecting modern rock fanatic. Kennedy can’t wait to return to the UK.

“I’m extremely excited by it.” The singer crows. “Ticket sales are going really well and that’s even before the record is released. That’s great because we don’t want to play arenas where it’s just us and the janitor who turn up. On this bill every band delivers; it’s kind of like when you went to rock shows in your youth. Shinedown and Halestorm are fantastic live bands with killer singers and everyone will get their moneys worth.”

The three band arena show seems to be the way forward.

“Well certainly in the states there are a lot of package bills with a stack of bands.” Kennedy continues. “There’s more than ever now and it’s kind of what used to happen in the eighties with the Monsters of Rock where the bill was packed with loads of big bands. It’s great for the fans to be able to see all these great bands on one bill for one price. We’ll have to up our game with Shinedown and Halestorm that’s for sure.

How difficult is it for a band like Alter Bridge to graduate and scale up from small intimate gigs to the larger arenas?

“You have to improve the production of the concert.” Kennedy explains. “What are you going to do to keep 10,000 people interested and keep the guy right at the back entertained as much as the guy at the front. How are you going to keep everyone connected? The size of the arena automatically gives you a problem with disconnect and as a band you have to try to make it intimate, that’s tricky. The light show has to be bigger and the sound has to be good so that it sounds good all the way from front to back. In a big arena the sound can change drastically so that perhaps you can’t hear the vocals or the mix isn’t clear so it’s all got to be factored in. The band often won’t know what they sound like because they’re on stage. Luckily our front of house guy is one of the best in the business.”

On the last Arena tour with Theory Of A Deadman and Black Stone Cherry, Alter bridge suffered from a poor sound as a result of overbearing bass with Black Stone Cherry gaining the plaudits for their pin sharp sound and balanced mix.

“That happens a lot of times with this band.” Kennedy agrees with resolute honesty. “It’s because our bass player has the friggin loudest rig ever. His rig is so thick and big that sometimes when I’m singing it’s like putting your face up to a fan and it affects my singing by making me warble because it’s reverberating in my voice box. I’ve said to him before that he’s got to do something about it but he really likes to feel that bass man.”

There’s an odd irony about Alter Bridge. Creed was massive in the U.S and yet Alter Bridge remains something of a cult phenomenon, whereas Alter Bridge is-for a rock band-fairly big in the U.K whilst Creeds success was solely in the U.S.

“It’s really fascinating isn’t it?” Kennedy muses. “We’ve all tried to fathom it out. I mean we do okay in the States but it’s not the same here as it was in the eighties or early nineties. In Europe people still love their rock music and seem to gravitate towards it. Creed didn’t really come to the U.K a lot but we just kept coming back, putting more work in at the front end which seems to have paid dividends. The motto was that if you play then they’ll come.”

Creed reformed several years ago and yet Kennedy’s original outfit Mayfield Four hasn’t recorded an album in anger since 2001’s ‘Second Skin’ time then for a reunion?

“That album was really special to me.” The singer explains. “I’m proud of that record and I’d really love to play those songs again but it’s the timing side of things, where and when? I’ve involved in stuff with Slash and also Alter Bridge so it’s finding time to do it. The other thing is that others have moved on with their lives. I talk with Zia the drummer a lot, we grew up together and played in bands together. There’s a load of history between us and so we keep in touch as friends do, we don’t really talk about putting anything together but we do talk about having a jam one of these days. I’ve got songs written and I’d love to hear his interpretation of them because he’s one of the greatest drummers that I’ve ever worked with, he’s so creative and unique.”

Clearly anyone who has a love of Alter Bridge should certainly look back in order to look forward and chart the evolution, the progress and indeed the making of one of the finest rock band to grace the here and now.

“Justice is an unassailable fortress, built on the brow of a mountain which cannot be overthrown by the violence of torrents, nor demolished by the force of armies”

Joseph Addison


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