Latest release: Dust (FRET12)Website: www.facebook.com/MarkTremonti
So, 2017 will mark 20 years since the monstrously successful yet widely lambasted Creed (once described as a “Nickelback-esque pop culture punch-line, derided for its shameless fusion of power balladry and Christian dogma”) released debut LP My Own Prison. It was a significant hit, but one superseded by the Americans’ follow-up, Human Clay, two years later. Propelled by infuriatingly catchy soon-to-be radio staples ‘Higher’ and ‘With Arms Wide Open’, the record was certified diamond in the US. That’s a whopping ten million-plus copies sold – ponder that for a moment. It’s a feat unthinkable for a rock act nowadays. It surely seems like a lifetime ago now, but what was Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti’s back-up plan if the playing music for a living caper hadn’t panned out? “I was going to college, studying finance. That was the plan, then I got a record deal and decided to skip my finals that semester,” he laughs. “I was paying my own way through college, so it was really up to me. I don’t even know if I ran it by my parents. You can always go back to school, you can’t always go back to a record deal. It seems like a hell of a long time (ago). I never imagined I’d be doing this for 20 years, but I’ve been lucky.”
Doubling down on his dream clearly paid off. The Grammy-winning Creed would eventually implode in the wake of singer Scott Stapp’s drug and alcohol abuse though, and a subsequent reunion run proved disastrous. “He’s doing his thing, I’m doing mine,” Tremonti says of Stapp, who suffers from bipolar disorder and experienced a very public meltdown in recent times. “We don’t really talk too often. Before all of his personal stuff happened we kind of had a falling out on the last tour, so we kind of live separate lives. I always wish him well, I wish him the best. I just hope he stays on the right track and doesn’t fall back into bad habits that he’s had in the past.”
In 2004, Tremonti reconvened with some ex-Creed cohorts to form infinitely superior hard rock outfit Alter Bridge, who are in an Orlando studio working on their fifth album, due for release later this year, when Loud converses with the axeman. “I’m about halfway done tracking guitars and it’s just sounding great,” he offers by way of an update. “It’s got a good mix of stuff. Some of the stuff’s heavier, but we definitely covered all of our bases.”
Now considered a virtuoso of his instrument and afforded high honours by the likes of Guitar World and Total Guitar, Tremonti also branched out in recent years to front his titular band. He’s since issued debut solo record All I Was (2012) and last year’s Cauterize. Recorded during the same sessions as Cauterize, new disc Dust features Tremonti on vocals/guitars, Eric Friedman (guitars), Wolfgang Van Halen (bass, but who isn’t slated to tour with the band) and Garrett Whitlock (drums). It was produced by long-time collaborator, Michael “Elvis” Baskette (Slash, Trivium).
In the lead-up to Dust‘s release, the main-man has made a concerted effort to articulate that the new release isn’t merely a collation of B-Sides or throwaways from the aforementioned studio stint. “I tried to split the records up as evenly as possible, so both records had dynamics and both had strong songs,” he explains. “I think ten songs is a good length for an album, so I thought two ten-song records would be perfect. I always thought that (a double record) was too much music for people to digest all at once.
“I just think in general, even if I’m listening to a band that I enjoy’s new album, if it’s too long then I start losing track of everything. I don’t know if it’s because I’m not in high school any more, but I just think (with) too much music, the songs tend to get lost sometimes. I wanted them to be as even as possible as far as an equal amount of heavy songs and relaxed, mellow songs. That was for the most part what I tried to do. I didn’t want one record to be stronger than the other. (Plus) I can do whatever I want with it because we do it ourselves. There’s no record label outside of (his own) FRET12. It’s all of our own doing, which is cool.”
Although all three solo albums have possessed a multitude of arena-sized hooks, Tremonti’s long-time penchant for heavier sounds is also apparent. He name-checks Metallica as likely his favourite band of all time, while Megadeth, Testament, Anthrax, King Diamond and Celtic Frost also rate highly.
Devotees were aware of Tremonti’s adoration of thrash and early black metal. However, his solo output has subverted the perceptions of many uninitiated heavy music fans, and even oblivious critics, by infusing these influences. He’s embraced purging these tendencies, while simultaneously retaining a signature, accessible songwriting style. “I always expected that, just because my past wasn’t, the stuff wasn’t quite as heavy as what I’m doing now,” he says of wider recognition of his metal fandom.
“But that’s the stuff I grew up on. That’s why I’m so glad to be able to do this other band. I try to mix the heaviness that I grew up with, with melody, because melody is also… Probably my favourite thing in any song is the vocal melody, so that’s always got to be, that’s the number one concern of mine. As long as that’s solid I like to make the songs as heavy as possible, but still retain that melody.”
The impact of newer extreme exponents like Gojira was occasionally apparent on Cauterize, and while Tremonti admits to being a fan of the Frenchmen, “when I write, I try and stay in my own little bubble. I can’t really say what new influences really affect what I’m doing, because I try to come up with something as original as possible.”
The 42-year-old is revelling in the prospect of taking the solo project on the road again too, and hopes to eventually include Australia in the itinerary. “I’m still trying to become the best entertainer I can be. I think that’s the biggest thing. Not just the singing part of it, but being the person that keeps the show energized, and just learning how to be a better entertainer. That’s something I’m still trying to learn with every show.
“It’s as bare bones as you can possibly ever go,” he adds of a somewhat back-to-basics touring ethos with his solo venture. “We all share one hotel room on a day off for showers and other than that we’re all on one bus, and it’s as bare bones as we can go. We have crew members that do two jobs at once, and it’s like going back to the beginning again. I feel like it’s, well it really is the third time I’ve done it, so I kind of know the routine well by now, and it doesn’t bother me to start back over. It’s fun; I like being the underdog.”
Despite a frenetic schedule with the new Alter Bridge cycle looming, Tremonti endeavours are still high on the proverbial list of priorities. “I’m going to try and keep them both, try and spend as much time as I can on both. They both need to build and be worked on a lot, so it’s something I’m going to be real busy on.”