Mark Tremonti: Hot for Teaching
Originally published in Guitar World, June 2009
His singer played with Led Zeppelin, and his signature Paul Reed Smith ax just got a freshening up. But what really has Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti psyched is the release of his first-ever instructional DVD. Class is in session!
Mark Tremonti is calling from his Florida home, but you can almost feel his enthusiasm surging through the phone. “I’m pumped!” he loudly exclaims.
What’s got the Alter Bridge guitarist so excited? The fact that his singer, Myles Kennedy, recently got to audition with Led Zeppelin for the group’s lead vocal spot? The new edition of his signature PRS guitar? Or the thought of starting work on Alter Bridge’s third CD?
None of the above. While Tremonti is plenty happy to talk about all these things, what has him so fired up is the recent release of his first guitar instructional DVD, Mark Tremonti—The Sound and the Story (fret12.com). For him, the DVD is a career highlight. “It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time, and it just feels great to have accomplished this,” Tremonti says. “I’m really just a big guitar geek, and I have always been a huge fan of instructional DVDs and videos and dreamed of doing one of my own.”
What one finds especially refreshing about Tremonti is that—despite having sold more than 30 million CDs as a guiding force behind Creed and Alter Bridge, and being among the first artists to receive a PRS signature guitar—he still has a charmingly humble opinion of his own talents. “I turned down an earlier offer to do a DVD because I didn’t feel ready,” he says. “I still had my doubts about that, actually, but it was time to grab the opportunity. I realized that I am never going to feel like I have arrived as a guitarist. Hopefully, I have something to offer and I think we worked really hard to make the DVD different and really useful. None of us are ever done learning.”
GUITAR WORLD You’re so excited about the DVD. What do you think makes it different?
MARK TREMONTI I always found it frustrating how DVDs are filled with exercises and cool licks but not actual solos. I have hardly ever seen someone teach their entire solo from a record, so we put all eight solos from Blackbird [Alter Bridge’s second album, released in 2007] on there and broke them down to show what I was doing and how it was all linked together. We wanted to do more, actually, but licensing was a problem.
That was something I always wanted but rarely got. I would learn all these over-the-top riffs, but two days later they were gone because I didn’t learn them in the context of a solo or song. Somewhere along the way, I realized that those flashy licks weren’t really going to help me get onstage with someone and improv a solo.
GW Shredders Rusty Cooley, Troy Stetina and Michael Angelo Batio all appear as special guests. Were you nervous about playing with them in that setting?
TREMONTI Nope. Those guys are my friends; they’re my little guitar circle. Whenever I’m in their area they come hang out and we play guitar for eight hours. I just wanted to show people that you should try to surround yourself with talented players and not be shy about your own shortcomings. If you do that, it will rub off on you a little bit. They’ve helped me out a lot, and hopefully this will help bring some more attention to them.
GW Have they ever been resentful of your success?
TREMONTI Not at all. I think it’s a totally different scene. Those guys obviously know they can play circles around me, but I am in a more commercial band, which is more easily acceptable to the general public. Shredders like them are in a niche market, and I think they’re perfectly content with where they are. Hell, Rusty and Michael Angelo were in Guitar World as two of the fastest guys in the world.
GW You said before that you feel you’ve improved a lot as a guitarist since Creed first came up over a decade ago. How so?
TREMONTI I’ve been working really hard and just trying to learn as much as I can. Back in the Creed days, I really could not solo that well at all. I could play some licks, but my vibrato and overall feel were not there at all. I came from a metal and shred background, so the fingerpicking and rhythm playing were always there, but being able to play in the pocket was real elusive for me. Bending a note with vibrato and holding it in pitch were much harder for me than learning the fastest picking exercise.
GW Were you aware of these shortcomings at the time?
TREMONTI I was definitely aware of everything I needed to work on—and there are still plenty of them! The bottom line is it takes a hell of a lot of work and time to see improvement on guitar. Sometimes I plateau for six months and then finally advance again. The smallest thing can make the biggest difference, and I had to stumble on a lot of them because I never took lessons. If I could go back in time, I would learn better and smarter instead of wasting my time on nonsense that someone could have just shown me.
GW You were one of the first guitarists with a PRS signature model. How did that come about and what did it mean to you?
TREMONTI I have had the guitar for eight years, and I think it was the biggest achievement in my career. Carlos Santana was the only other guy endorsing then, which awed me. I didn’t feel I could play that well, and it really pushed me to improve. I felt like the pressure was on and I had to deserve it. I bought my first PRS at a Guitar Center in Dallas after all our gear was stolen and I had a nice big insurance check. I loved it, and then they sent me a McCarty model, which was great but not perfect for me—it wasn’t heavy enough, the pickups sounded a little spongier than I like and the knobs weren’t in the right places. I told them all that and they said, “Why don’t we design a guitar to your specs?” By being picky, I got lucky.
GW How and why was your PRS signature guitar revised?
TREMONTI They used to send me the ones they sold in the store but carve down the neck, so we decided to just sell them that way. I am now playing the exact models that are for sale. All we did was shave down the neck, add a tremolo and take the name off the 12th fret and put it on the truss rod.
GW Myles tried out for Led Zeppelin. Were you happy for him or worried about what it might mean for your band?
TREMONTI We were real excited for him. If you’re gonna leave me, leave me for the best band in the world. It’s like telling your wife, “If you run across Brad Pitt, go for it.” [laughs] We also knew it would be good for Alter Bridge, bringing us attention, and, obviously, a great experience for Myles.
GW Myles recently said that that he felt like the band really found its niche with Blackbird. Do you agree?
TREMONTI Yes. It was almost like it was our first record. I’ve never been more artistically satisfied than I am now. We’ve worked really hard to get where we are, and it’s been real rewarding.
Even though [Alter Bridge’s 2004 debut] One Day Remains was successful, we didn’t have much time to play as a band and really work together. We had only played together two or three months, and it didn’t have the sound or chemistry that we’ve built up. At the time I thought it was a good record, but after about a year on the road I realized that we could do better. One of the big factors in that is Myles’ guitar playing. I don’t think the world really knows what a great player he is. Hopefully we can push this further, but already adding his guitar and layering our parts has helped us come up with some special parts and our styles are different enough that we don’t step on each other’s toes.
GW The music business is changing by the minute. Do you stay really involved in business or let a manager handle it?
TREMONTI I stick my head in the sand and focus on playing guitar and writing music. It can be rough. We’ve really had a lot of obstacles with Alter Bridge, but we are happy with where we are. Myles and I don’t think about business; our drummer Scott [Phillips] is more the businessman. We have great management, and I figure that if they can’t get it done, no one can. I am just going to keep playing my guitar.
GW One last thing: There’s a lot of internet chatter about a Creed reunion. Is there anything to that?
TREMONTI I will never say “never,” but there’s nothing concrete at the moment. No matter what happens, the next year will be for the benefit of Alter Bridge. Myles came down to my house recently and we put together three or four songs and are getting ready to do some acoustic shows. Then we’ll get back to writing and hopefully have a new CD out next spring