Rock and Roll Coffee: A Conversation with Myles Kennedy

 

RUMORS OF THEIR DEMISE have been greatly exaggerated.

Silencing the headstone-etchers once and for all, Florida’s Alter Bridge have reaffirmed their commitment to muscular, arena-friendly rock with Fortress, their fourth studio release and their first real sign of life for eighteen months. But what a resurrection. Within the first week, the album stormed the charts and easily commandeered the number one slot on the iTunes Rock Album’s chart. Not too shabby considering that many of their own fans had expected an obituary before a new album.

Rewind eighteen months and Alter Bridge’s prognosis offered little in the way of encouragement. Frontman Myles Kennedy had accepted the gig as full-time vocalist in the Slash’s new band, committing to a relentless touring schedule and eventually releasing Apocalyptic Love, the legendary guitarist’s blistering sophomore outing.

Meanwhile, Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti, still a full-time member of Creed, caught rock audiences flat-footed with the release of his first solo album, All I Was, a jackhammered and marauding celebration of his heavy metal roots.

2012 additionally saw Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips—also full-time members of Creed—embark on a high-profile tour with that band, and not to be outdone, Phillips also hooked up with his own side project with members of Sevendust and Submersed.

Consequently, reports that Alter Bridge had convened in early 2013 to begin work on a fourth studio album generated near-hysteria in the AB ranks, but outside of those fans, others speculated that perhaps the sun had already set on the band’s relevance. After all, with the four musicians all committed to other critically and commercially successful projects, where was the incentive to resurrect Alter Bridge?

Fortress has levied a thunderous response as the band’s heaviest album to date- a sweeping blizzard of precision riffage and unhinged rhythmic fury, coursing beneath the brawny vocals of Myles Kennedy. Anything but a rehash of their tried and true formula, Alter Bridge’s latest salvo has revealed their ambitions to be as expansive as their enthralling new sound.

As the band prepares for a fall campaign through Europe, we caught up with Myles to discuss the new album and the future of Alter Bridge.

ab promo 3

In the past couple of years, you’ve released a remarkably successful album with Slash, you guys have toured almost the entire planet, and then you wrote and recorded the new Alter Bridge record. How would you describe the past year?

(laughs) In one word, “nonstop.” Yeah, it’s been essentially living to make music and then getting to play. I’m certainly not complaining, but it’s definitely a commitment—you’re very aware that you’re not going to have a lot of downtime when you jump into two bands and you commit to making records and touring. So I’m definitely collecting a lot of frequent flyer miles, which is nice.

 

With all the time you’ve spent with Slash, was there ever any sense that Alter Bridge might be done?

No. I know people were concerned about that, but it was something that didn’t cross my mind because number one, the fans would never let that happen—our fan base is so loyal and passionate about this band that I knew that was not an option—but also, we’ve been a band now for almost ten years and we’ve gone through a lot together. We just need to make music. We need to keep doing this.

 

So when would you say that the new album started to take shape?

I’d say January (2013). Mark and I had been putting our ideas together separately all last year, and we talked in the fall about getting together in January and putting those ideas together and starting to get the arrangements ready. So we did that for just a few weeks. It wasn’t a really long process. This record came together pretty quickly in that respect, and we started pre-production in early spring with Elvis (producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette), and then we started recording.

 

Myles KennedyWhen you sat down to begin recording, did you set any goals for how the record would sound? 

Well, we knew from a song and arrangement standpoint that we wanted to try different things and make it unpredictable, because after making three records together, and especially after making Blackbird and AB III, we started to utilize a certain formula and a certain approach to a lot of the material, so we wanted to step away from some of that. As far as sonically, I think that because Elvis was going to be mixing it as well, I think that in the back of his mind, he was very aware of approaching things a bit differently. This is the first record we’ve had to not just produce but also mix, so there were definitely some changes that we were very cognizant of in that respect.

 

Where might your core fans hear some of these differences in Fortress?

I think the biggest shift is probably in the arrangements because I think the past, we had followed a certain approach. I guess not just in the arrangements, but in some of the chord progressions that we would use for choruses or for bridges, and so with this record, if we’ve been there and done that in the past, then we really tried to shy away from it. Now that’s not to say that we didn’t still utilize some of our old approaches, because some of that is very Alter Bridge and very much a part of what we do. We didn’t want to alienate fans at the same time; we didn’t want to make a record where there was nothing that they could relate to from the past. It’s a very fine line and it’s definitely a balance that you’re always aware of.

 

It sounds substantially heavier than your previous material. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?

Absolutely, and we didn’t necessarily set out to make the heaviest record that we’d made as a band, but I just think that for whatever reason, Mark and I had stockpiled a lot of ideas that were just heavier, and they were the ideas that we all seemed to like the best. We also knew that the heavier side of Alter Bridge was something that a lot of the fans had really embraced and seemed to like, so we weren’t afraid of it. That was the nice thing. We didn’t have to ask, “Well, is this going to be too heavy for our fan base?” because we knew that our fan base really did embrace that.

 

Myles and SlashMark had a solo album that was astonishingly heavy, and you were out with Slash for the past couple of years. Do you think that your respective experiences affected the way that you each write songs?

I think to some degree. I know that for me, from all the touring I’ve done with Slash and making records, I’m learning more and more about my voice and learning how to understand what my instrument does best, so that’s a process that hopefully I’m always going to be learning. Whereas with Mark, he loves really heavy stuff. When he was a kid, he was listening to a lot of Slayer and Celtic Frost and so that’s something that’s just in his blood. For me, on the heavy side of things, I was definitely absorbing and listening to more bands than I had listened to in the past that were heavier. I do have pretty eclectic tastes and I love so many different genres of music and last year I was spending a fair amount of time on the road, listening to bands like Gojira and Mastodon and so I think that some of that was coming out in my playing as well.

 

You’ve been at this now for quite some time. How would you say that your personal songwriting process has evolved over the years?

I think that it’s evolved in the sense that I don’t over-analyze as much as I used to, and I don’t stress out as much as I used to—I try to really stay in the moment and get comfortable stepping away from it and coming back to listen with fresh ears and not trying to tweak it too much—trying to keep that initial spark that made the song so special in the first place. I think that in the past, I’m so obsessive and I’m such a perfectionist, that those qualities had the potential to become an Achilles heel of sorts. I’m learning to lighten up and just go with the flow more now than I had in the past.

 

Looking back at the process of recording Fortress, was there one moment that stands out as particularly important or gratifying?

There were a few moments like that when we made that record. I think when we were all sitting in the room together, putting the first track together—”Cry of Achilles”—that was a very special moment because we felt like we were really capturing something that we knew we were going to be proud of at the end of the day. Another special moment was when we were working on “Calm the Fire;” Elvis and I were sitting in the studio putting the intro together and we really felt like it was something exciting and different that we hadn’t tried in the past. When you stumble into those moments, when you feel like you’re breaking new ground, those are pretty precious moments, because if you allow yourself to take chances and you feel that it’s going to turn out strong in the end, then it’s a really great feeling.

With all of the time that you’re traveling and working, do you find time to read?

Not as much as I have in the past. I’ve kind of started slacking with my reading… (laughing) Which really bums me out. I definitely want to dig back into that and get my reading chops back.

 

So what inspires you as an artist?

Life. I think just looking around and seeing what’s happening around me, whether it’s my own personal existence or what’s happening to my family and friends—people I care about—or just the world at large, and things that are frustrating me. I think that on Fortress, overall, there are certain themes that run throughout and there are a lot of moments where lyrically I’m expressing discontent with this, that or the other. And that’s the beauty of being a songwriter, you get to express yourself and you get to work through those things. If someone asked me to be on one of those television shows where you talk about your political ideas or philosophies, or your world views, I wouldn’t be good at that. I’m not good in that environment, but as a songwriter, you can step back and say what you need to say and get things off your chest and express yourself, so feel very lucky that I get to do that.
Would you say that you’d be uncomfortable expressing your political ideas because you prefer to keep those private or because you don’t feel that it serves you as an artist to get into that area?

Well, I think for me, maybe a little bit of both, but also I just feel that I just don’t have that gift of articulating how I feel with words in real time like that. I’m not that guy. Some people are hard-wired for that and they do it splendidly, but I don’t; I have to step back and really think about things and take my time thinking about how I want to articulate my ideas. I’ll watch some of these shows, like Real Time with Bill Maher, and he’ll have people on there that will make me sit back and think, “Wow, they’re really great at expressing their political views or their world views.” That stuff really impresses me how some people have that gift.

 

It’s a heavy burden to be speaking on that kind of platform.

Absolutely. I’d be fucking terrified!

 

There’s always been a fair amount of scuttlebutt about your solo album. Is that still in the works and if so, where does it stand?

Well, I hope so. I actually was back in New York a few weeks ago with the person who I was working on that record with, and we were just listening to the tracks and where we are, and I came to the conclusion that it needs more work and it needs more songs. Ultimately, the hardest part about that is just finding time to get it done and to release it. When you’re playing in two bands, you do a lot of touring and unless I clone myself, I’d have a tough time getting it out anytime soon.

 

So Fortress is on the digital shelves now–what’s next for Alter Bridge?

We actually head to Europe next week for a month long tour and we’re going to try to put some US dates together for early next year, then we’ve got Australia. So the next six months is just tour, tour, tour. We’ll probably, hopefully, hit some marks that we haven’t hit in the past and just get our music out all over the world to as many fans as we can.

Joe Daly

About Joe Daly

Joe Daly (@JoeD_SanDiego) is a regular contributor to the UK's Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and Bass Guitar Magazine, and he provides commentary, reviews and industry insight to many other outlets in the US and abroad. Joe has contributed to several books and he has won awards for his interviews with icons like Slash, Chuck D. and bands like Motley Crue and Slayer. Joe also digs photography, running and speaking to his dogs in silly voices.
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10 Responses to Rock and Roll Coffee: A Conversation with Myles Kennedy

  1. Pingback: Rock and Roll Coffee: A Conversation with Myles Kennedy | The Weeklings | Florida Action Magazine

  2. dave says:

    I’m definitely eagerly awaiting his solo stuff. I remember him saying a few years back he wanted to do something more acoustic and intimate. For anyone who has listened to his work with The Mayfield Four – specifically the more personal tracks on Second Skin – will be equally as excited for it. He had also said he wanted to carve out time for a mini solo tour with it, but perhaps he has changed his mind being in to “mega” bands that are taking turns with his attention :P I was actually a little bummed that he joined Slash’s band because I knew that would shelve his solo album and I honestly think he could totally stand on his own as a solo artist (not a fan of watching him play second fiddle to Slash), but I have to admit that Apocalyptic Love was amazing and Slash really gives Myles his due as a key player in the band. I definitely think with all of the music Myles has made, with his last two albums (AL, Fortress) being as perfect as any rock album in the last 15 years, he’s probably one of the most underrated singers, songwriters and musicians I’ve probably ever seen. Usually you love a band or singer and watch as they erode their early glory with terrible albums, but Myles has only gotten stronger. I have so much respect for him and to watch him be so kind, gracious, and humble with his fans makes him an absolute rock anomaly. To your continued success Myles!!

  3. Elliot says:

    I’m not a big fan of this article. The line “RUMORS OF THEIR DEMISE have been greatly exaggerated.” just doesn’t convey a correct image at all. Not only have such ‘rumours’ been greatly exaggerated, but they have been entirely incorrect, as each successive Alter Bridge release has garnered increasingly positive critical reception. Not only that but their fan base continues to grow to the point where they played a headline set at Wembley Arena on their last tour. This line simply gives off an entirely inaccurate perception of their growing popularity.

    He also labelled Fortress Alter Bridge’s “first real sign of life for eighteen months.” This also does not give the right message as Alter Bridge were adamant during all of last year that they would be bringing out a new album in 2013, and as the article states they began recording that album in January. The recording process was very public with frequent updates on Facebook and continuous interviews regarding its progress. Besides, their final tour date before the recording of Fortress was in March 2012 (at the Soundwave Festival in Australia) – I hardly consider 10 months off from the band any sort of absence of a ‘sign of life’.

    “Rewind eighteen months and Alter Bridge’s prognosis offered little in the way of encouragement.” Once again, I disagree. Interviews with members of the band have always been quite transparent that Alter Bridge is ‘their baby’ and that it would continue despite whatever other projects they embark upon during the interim period. Before ABIII Myles worked with both Slash and Led Zeppelin, while Mark, Brian and Flip brought out the last Creed album. During that period, just like with this one, the band never wavered on their commitment to continuing Alter Bridge. I don’t see why this article is treating the release of Fortress as such a surprise when ABIII was released during practically identical circumstances and also garnered a very positive reception.

    Lastly, the article states that “outside of those fans, others speculated that perhaps the sun had already set on the band’s relevance. After all, with the four musicians all committed to other critically and commercially successful projects, where was the incentive to resurrect Alter Bridge?” Anyone who knows anything about journalism should know that to make a claim (that is anything but common knowledge) you have to be able to back it up. That is not just a demand of journalism, but of non-fiction writing in general. Who are these ‘others’ who speculated Alter Bridge’s diminishing ‘relevance’? Was the solo in Blackbird not voted the Greatest Solo of All-Time in a Guitar magazine poll only two years ago? Did Isolation not reach #1 on both the Active Rock and Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks charts and remain there for five and seven weeks, respectively?

    As for ‘incentive to resurrect Alter Bridge’ – this is inaccurate on multiple levels. As I stated earlier, it can hardly be considered a resurrection if a band has not toured for only 10 months before the recording of this album. This is only a very short period in the music industry, as many touring bands take much longer breaks than this and no one bats an eye. Simply because the band members chose to work during their breaks from the band should not have any negative reflection upon the band itself, and should be more of a reflection upon the work-ethic of the band members rather than used an inaccurate claim about a supposed ‘demise’.

    Besides, as for ‘incentive’, like I stated earlier the band members have always been public about the special place that Alter Bridge holds for them and that it is very much – among all their other projects – ‘their band’. This article does not reflect that accurately in any way and instead resonates a highly misguided perspective of the band’s success.

    • Joe Daly Joe Daly says:

      Elliot-

      Thanks for the feedback. I responded to you and another commenter below. It’s great to get such a richly-stated point of view from a true fan, and I don’t think any diehard AB fan could take issue with what you said. As noted below, Myles himself acknowledged that others had expressed uncertainty about the future of AB and the intro not only dismissed that speculation, but it led into a direct question where Myles put that to bed.

      Again, it’s great to get this kind of feedback. I appreciate you taking the time to read this and to offer such thoughtful comments. Hope you catch them on tour.

      Joe

      • Elliot says:

        I respect those points and where you are coming from. My issue was less with the acknowledgement that there was SOME speculation out there regarding an Alter Bridge break-up (however misguided it may be) and more to do with the manner in which it was presented in the article. As you stated, the speculation was quite minor and very clearly refuted by all the members of the band as well as anyone who knew better. I just believe that the way it was presented in this article – using phrases such as referring to Fortress as the bands “first sign of life in eighteen months” – only serve to perpetuate such false rumours rather than discredit them entirely. I understand that the direction of the article was very much to prove that Alter Bridge are just as active and relevant as ever, however, some of the language choices would seem to indicate that there was a great deal of widespread doubt surrounding these things.

        Sometimes such speculation lies less with uninformed fans and merely in misinterpreted information through the media. I felt that in particular instances in this article (the ones I noted above) too much room was given allowing readers to believe that there had been valid concern for Alter Bridge’s future.

        This aside, however, thank you for replying and for accepting the feedback in a constructive manner. It is rare to see that so it is definitely appreciated. Other than the issues I had with the article it was a good interview with Myles and its great to hear that you are as impressed with Fortress as the rest of us Alter Bridge appreciators are. So keep it up!

  4. Casey says:

    what the heck are you talking about in the intro? they were never breaking up. Mark and Myles said repeatedly that they just were working on other projects but AB comes first. Who was “expecting an obituary?” good bands take time and don’t push out albums every 3 months.

    • Joe Daly Joe Daly says:

      Casey and Elliot-

      First, thanks for reading and thanks for the feedback. It’s good to hear from the die hard fans and I understand what you’re saying about the intro, although there was a good bit of speculation online as to whether the band were done or not. In fact, in the interview proper, I ask Myles if there was ever a chance of AB being done and he replied,

      No. I know people were concerned about that…

      So you can see that even Myles points out that there was speculation in that area, and by asking that question up front, I gave him the opportunity to put it to bed and he did. We all know it certainly wasn’t true, but I wanted to give him the chance to definitively address that issue in his own words, and I think he did a great job of it.

      While you and many other true blue AB fans obviously never lost faith, the fact was that because Myles and Mark were enjoying such heightened success with other projects, some did wonder if/when Alter Bridge would reconvene. The intro was merely a way to address the uncertainty and to establish that they never did go away and that their new album has established that not only are they as vital and creative as ever, but that they’re continuing to grow as a group.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read and to leave such thoughtful feedback. I hope you enjoyed Myles’ comments in the interview.

      Joe

      • dave says:

        I remember reading a lot of fans wondering what would happen to Alter Bridge when Creed reunited and there was a lot of hyperbole about breaking up since Creed was so hugely successful (commercially, I would point out). That said, the true fans actually read what these guys SAY and Mark was extremely clear that they would be doing an album/tour with Creed and then work on another Alter Bridge album while also giving Myles the freedom to do something else in the mean time as well (which ended up being Slash’s band). He even cited that it would keep AB from getting stale and as far as I can see he was right; we’ve received a few awesome side-project music like Myle’s Apocalyptic Love and Mark’s solo album (gotta say the Creed album sucked, but Scott’s side album with his band Projected was good) and now Fortress is absolutely epic.

        Like you said, the “true blue” fans knew better. It’s the ones that didn’t know what the heck they were talking about that purported the bullshit. In their defense, some of that hyperbole came out of frustration because we’re all huge fans of Alter Bridge and many of us don’t care for Creed, so watching them take a break from the band we love for more of that crap wasn’t fun.

        • Joe Daly Joe Daly says:

          Dead on. That’s the way this business works though- Alter Bridge formally announced that they were taking a break back in 2012 and that they were not done making music together. However, it didn’t take long for trolls to start speculating that they were done. If you Google “Alter Bridge break up” you even get people posting the question on sites like ChaCha.

          Again, as you say, the core fan base knew the score. Hell, I interviewed Mark last year and he said that they already had a chunk of the new album done: (http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/jdaly/2012/07/tnb-music-chats-with-mark-tremonti/).

          You bring up a fantastic point too, about the frustration that AB fans might have felt seeing Creed go on tour.

          Anyway, the new album’s out and as you say, it’s a monster of a record that shows that these guys haven’t missed a step. Thanks again for the comments.

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