The fans have been waiting for this. They’ve been waiting for Myles Kennedy to finish touring with Slash and for Mark Tremonti to turn his attention away from his solo band. They have been waiting for Alter Bridge.
On October 7th, the band – also featuring drummer Scott Phillips and bass player Brian Marshall – will let loose their fifth studio album, The Last Hero. Comprising of everything fans love about Alter Bridge – from on-the-edge-of-a-tornado guitars and drums to sky high vocals, roaring basslines and passionate lyrics – this could be the band’s best album to date. With each band member involved in side-projects, coming together has only made them a stronger entity, proven by new songs like “The Other Side,” “Crows On A Wire,” “My Champion,” “Cradle To The Grave” and “Show Me A Leader.”
For Kennedy, who spends as much time if not more with Slash than Alter Bridge, the wait has been almost frustrating for the AB nation. They were last together for 2013’s Fortress album and subsequent tour. But before they knew it, Kennedy was back with Slash and his Conspirators, releasing World On Fire, supporting Aerosmith on a big summer tour and headlining others. You would think that Kennedy would enjoy a break somewhere in the midst of all this but he rarely does. He may be home but he’s also writing, picking around on a guitar, sending musical ideas back and forth with his bandmates; even working on a solo record.
Kennedy grew up in Washington, a “farm kid in a way out there in Spokane,” he told me in a 2011 interview for Glide. “Those were my fondest memories. I was just this little kid running around out in the woods.” He played trumpet at his mom’s urging and became, as he calls it, “a band geek. I played trumpet through high school and then I was like the drum major.” After hearing Van Halen’s “Eruption,” his fate was almost sealed. “For about nine months I cleaned horse stalls, cleaned horse manure, and my step-dad gave me a dollar for every stall I’d clean and saved up my money for nine months and bought my first electric guitar.” He joined his first band, went to his first concert – Sammy Hagar around 1985 – and eventually ended up in the Mayfield Four. Not long after they disbanded, Kennedy hooked up with Florida native and former Creed guitar player Tremonti and Alter Bridge was born, releasing their debut, One Day Remains, in the summer of 2004.
His gig with Slash started out as simply doing a few songs on the guitar player’s solo record, one of many who contributed vocals to various songs. But when the top-hatted one wanted to tour it was Kennedy who went along and they have since released two popular studio albums and a couple of live CD/DVDs.
But at the moment, The Last Hero is what is occupying Kennedy’s attention, and rightly so. It’s fresh, it’s exciting, it’s packed full of imagery and deep thoughts. It’s just what the Alter Bridge fans have been waiting for.
Coming off such a great record as Fortress, what did you know you did and did not want to do on this one?
You know, it’s tough when you’re creating a record. Generally, and I don’t know about Mark, but I don’t really set up perimeters. I just kind of let it flow and you let the chips fall as they may from a creative standpoint. Then as you’re editing, essentially you’re picking out the ideas that you’ve sort of stockpiled and deciding what’s going to make the record or what will be presented to the band. If you hear things that sound maybe too similar to things you’ve done in the past or a certain concept is becoming a little redundant, say lyrically or from a core progression standpoint, that’s something that I’ll try and be very aware of. It’s not to be too repetitive. But other than that, yeah, you just kind of let it flow and you try to kind of stay in the moment from a creative standpoint.
What was the song that got the ball rolling for The Last Hero?
Oh boy, that’s a good question. You know, when Mark and I started working together back in December and putting our various ideas together, one of the very first songs that came to be was this song that ended up being “This Side Of Fate.” Mark had the really great first chorus and then I had this bridge/middle section which had kind of a Queen vibe to it and we married the two parts and that’s when we knew we were kind of off to the races and on our way to putting the next record together.
You play guitar, obviously, on here and you play that opening guitar piece on “Show Me A Leader.” Do you remember when that came to you?
Yeah, actually that came to me while I was on tour with Slash and I remember I had caught a cold and I was stuck in my hotel room in Seattle. And one night I was messing around with the guitar and that idea came to me. A lot of times some of my favorite ideas are kind of born out of those moments when you’re frustrated. There’s nothing worse than getting sick while you’re on tour and hoping to sing the best you can; and nothing takes that away from you quicker than a cold. So yeah, I’m glad I caught that cold now (laughs) because it became the genesis for a good musical idea.
What more can you tell us about that song since it’s one of the first singles and videos.
You know, I think from a lyrical standpoint it definitely reflects a lot of frustration and what people seem to be feeling right now. There is just a general mistrust that seems to have really started way back in the seventies. I think the whole Watergate scandal was the genesis of people becoming very aware that everything they are being told and led to believe isn’t necessarily true. So in the last forty or so years, things have definitely, I don’t want to say progressed, but people are very wary of that. So this song kind of touches on that whole concept of just longing for leadership and people that we can trust ultimately.
What about the song “Crows On A Wire”?
“Crows On A Wire” is interesting because that was one of the first riffs Mark sent me. He had it on his phone and I remember I really liked that riff a lot, thought it was really cool. But as we were putting the record together there was a little bit of controversy with the track. You know, a lot of times when you’re arranging with the band and with Elvis [Baskette], the producer, you’re never really sure how a song is going to end up at the end of the day. And there was a sentiment that that song might not even make the record. I guess I just, in the back of my mind, I heard it completed essentially so as a singer it certainly helps because you have the benefit of knowing what the melodies are and where the lyrics are going so you can kind of hear the completed track. I always felt that it had a strong shot to make the record. So when it was all said and done, fortunately, it kind of evolved and became more of a standout track than we originally thought it was going to be. And from a theme standpoint, it takes a look at what we do to our heroes or people in the public eye, the concept of how you build people up and then tear them down. It definitely touches on that theme.
What about “Cradle To The Grave”?
That was a pretty heavy song to try and sing in the studio. The song was written about essentially the brevity of life and how fragile it is and becoming aware as the years go on, like our parents are getting older, we’re getting older, and people are starting to disappear around us. People get ill and just coming to terms with that. As the song was being written, my mother-in-law was sick and it was a real drag cause she ended up passing away, which we didn’t expect to happen that quickly, if at all. We were hoping that she would get better. So when it came to actually tracking the tune, I mean, it was a real challenge to get through that. With that said, we’re really happy with the final outcome because it’s one of those tracks that is very honest and it’s from the heart and so I think that’s something that will hopefully resonate with people.
What do you think is the most powerful line or lyric on this album?
That’s a good question. There’s a line in “Twilight” which says, “Divided by our differences, now everything is torn apart, tomorrow is contingent on the tolerance of every heart.” I think that kind of sums up a lot of the tension that our country is experiencing right now, especially racial tension and intolerance and not understanding each other, and I think that that’s a line we’re proud of.
When you first started writing songs years ago, were they more emotion based or were they story/fantasy type songs?
Well, in the very beginning as a songwriter, like if I think back to the Mayfield Four days, it’s always been from a more emotional context. I guess that’s what I do. As time has gone on and I’ve tried to evolve as a writer, I’ve had to look outside myself and tell stories. But I still feel what I do best is probably more emotional based and, I don’t want to say it’s as if they’re a journal entry, but certainly things that have happened in my life that I can relate to and convey through the music. So that’s probably where I feel most comfortable.
What was the first song that you wrote that you performed in front of an audience and how did that feel to you?
The very first song that I co-wrote, and this goes way back, was a song called “Lonely Nights” and it was in 1986 or 1987 and it was in my high school band. That was a long time ago (laughs). But I just wrote the music for that. But as far as a song where it was lyrics and melody and the whole thing, that probably was later on. I was in a band here in Spokane called Citizen Swing and I don’t even remember the name or which song it was. I just remember that it was a pretty cool feeling because I was really nervous. We played at this little club called Mother’s Pub here in town and there was maybe, I don’t know, fifty people there and I was scared to death (laughs), cause you’re just laying it out there. It was my first time singing and playing guitar as a songwriter and it ended up being a really great experience and I think that is what kind of fueled the fire from that point forward, was that moment of really getting to unveil who you are creatively to a bunch of strangers. I haven’t looked back since.
Is there a big difference between the way you create music with Mark and the way you do with Slash?
Yeah, the process is definitely different. With Slash, especially on the last record, he would come up with the music essentially, the riff and the chord progression, and work it out with the band. Then I would put the melody and the lyric on after the fact. And if I felt maybe a chord could change here or there to help the melody, he was totally cool with that. But with Mark, we work with sections. When I’m out touring with Slash, I will be just stockpiling ideas, like chorus ideas, bridge ideas, riff ideas, whatever, and he’s doing the same. Then when we get together, we take each of our separate parts and say, “Hey, I’ve got this verse I really like. Do you have a chorus or bridge that fits with this,” and vice versa. Then we put the parts together.
So it’s very different in that sense and I think with Alter Bridge it’s part of what makes our sound what it is. Like you take a song like “This Side Of Fate,” which has a very specific feel and vibe that comes from Mark in the beginning in the verse and chorus and then it takes this left turn into a totally different realm, which I brought to the party. So it makes it really fun. It can be a challenge doing it that way and it’s somewhat unorthodox but it’s definitely part of our sound at this point and I don’t see us changing anytime soon.
You played guitar on this record. Which guitar did you predominately use?
I used a bunch. The guitar since really ABIII that has been my main squeeze is a PRS 245 that I believe was built around 2007. There is just something about it and has a certain sound and very focused and feels good. But I used a few different guitars on this record. PRS has been really great to us and they sent a new model out called the McCarty 954 – I hope I’m not getting this wrong (laughs) – but they sent me this new version of their McCarty and in fact that is what I used on “Show Me A Leader,” on that intro, and I also used it in the new video. That’s a really great guitar and got a great sound.
When you first started learning to play guitar way back when – and we’re not saying you’re old Myles, just way back when –
(laughs) I am!
What was the hardest thing to get the hang of?
I think probably the hardest thing was just the self-confidence to play in front of people. That was my biggest hurdle. I loved playing and I was drawn to it and obsessed with it from the beginning but the idea of playing in front of friends and playing at parties and playing actual gigs, that was always a real struggle for me. That certainly didn’t come natural. So just kind of getting over stage fright was the big hurdle.
Any chance for that Myles Kennedy solo record anytime soon?
Yeah, you know, it’s just trying to find a window for it to be released and do a little bit of touring on it. But it’s pretty much done. I might add another track or two but it’s just sitting on my hard drive. I finished it up actually last summer and the mixes are pretty much done. So one of these days (laughs).
What is the rest of this year looking like for you and Alter Bridge?
Just promoting the hell out of The Last Hero record. We head to Europe here in a few days for a press run and then back in the States doing a tour and then the record comes out October 7th and then we head to Europe for a tour for about six weeks. So just a lot of touring and a lot of press and a lot of promotion and stuff. [US tour starts back this week in Florida on September 22nd]
What songs have you been playing from the new record and what might you add for this next leg?
Well, the first leg we only played the single, “Show Me A Leader,” I think once. But what happened was, while we were making the record, let me put it this way: Once the record was finished and we were trying to pick singles, we already had this tour booked with Disturbed and Breaking Benjamin and Saint Asonia and we actually thought that the single was going to be different than what ended up turning out. I thought it was going to be “Poison In Your Veins.” That was, for some reason, where my head was and everybody kind of had their ideas. But long story short, we didn’t have too many soundchecks or a whole lot of time to prepare for whatever that single was going to be to rehearse it and make sure it was tight playing it in front of a bunch of people. So we just thought it was too risky. It’s a pretty challenging song to play live and we didn’t want to stand out there, especially with YouTube and everything, and play this song and not do it justice and have it get out online. So once we head back out there, we’ll be doing “Show Me A Leader” and I think “My Champion” will make it into the set pretty quickly as well. But we’ll definitely chase down as many of these songs as we can and play them live on this tour cycle hopefully.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough; group photo by Carlos Amoedo