The new Tremonti Project album ‘A Dying Machine‘ will be released as a novel, this being Tremonti’s debut in the world of literature, adding yet another feather to the guitarist’s already impressive cap.
Overdrive caught up with the man himself to discuss the new novel, the new Alter Bridge live DVD and much more.
OD – ‘Firstly, ‘A Dying Machine‘s concept has now been immortalised into a novel a novel based on the album, that you wrote yourself. This seems like one of the biggest challenges that you’ve taken on in recent times, would you agree?
MARK – Yeah, it’s been on my bucket list for about a decade now and I’ve done all kinds of research on how to write a novel and how to develop characters and do this and do that, and I’ve never gotten around to it. But once the concept fell into my lap, I was like “Ok lemme go and knock that off my list of things to do in life”, and figured it would be a good time to do it and I went for it.
OD – Was this a very new and intimidation experience for you and how much was John Shirley an asset to guide you through the process?
MARK – Oh he’s been amazing. When I first got around to thinking about how to write the story myself, I just kinda sat down and put pen to paper and it just moves along very slowly, and I doubted myself the whole time because I’d never done this before, and I went “You know what? There’s no way in the world I’m gonna finish this in time”.
You hear about people getting ghostwriters and writing stories with them and whatnot, but I wanted a partner; almost like a songwriting partner in a book, so you’re not writing in a vacuum and you can bounce ideas off each other and move forward from there. So, I went through United Talent Agency and I talked to the head of the literary department and told him the story and he really dug the story and hooked me up with a batch of writers and I went through their stuff. They’re all great writers but they didn’t seem to fit the project very well.
So, we got another batch and the same thing happened and I was beginning to get worried. We tried a third batch of writers and John Shirley’s name came up and he grabbed my attention from the getgo. I researched everything he had done and thought to myself, “This guy is absolutely perfect”. He’s been writing for many decades about where technology is going and he made the story plausible. In my opinion, it was a perfect fit for the overall concept of what I was planning.
OD – It sounds like it was a bit of a nerve-wracking process, to say the least?
MARK – Yes, the process was very, very nerve-wracking (laughs). At first, when I was saying “I can’t do this on time. This book will come out ten years from now and everyone will have forgotten about the record!”.
I guess the first thing that I started to do regarding the whole process was googling stuff online like information on ghost-writers and whatnot. I was thinking “How am I gonna know if these people are good or not in the long run?” So, finally, I remembered that my agent works for UTA (United Talent Agency) and they did the job of filtering through and finding the best writer for the project.
OD – Did they (United Talent Agency) understand the concept at first?
MARK – (Laughing) Oh man, I took hours of telling them the story so that they’d know who to look for. But when it finally came to John, I was still at first, a little nervous to make that call and say ‘this is the guy’, because you never know how you’re gonna work together.
OD – So, you guys had no correspondence or had spoken, even after you had made your decision?
MARK – Yeah, I’d no idea what he was like. So, when we first started working together, it was a little matter-of-fact stiff, and “here’s the concept of the story, so, let’s just get started” kind of thing. As the story went on, I think John fell more and more in love with the overall concept and really started to feel the same way as I did about it all. We just opened ourselves up to one another as far as being creative, and really concentrated on developing the story as best we could. To be honest, I loved the process. It’s been one of the most favourite creative moments of my career.
OD – So, judging by the way you’re talking, you both really hit it off then?
MARK – You could say that, yeah, (laughing). We are kind of on the phone every day. In fact, as soon as I’m done doing interviews today, I’ll call him about all the copy editing stuff that I’ve got since yesterday. We’re on our 11th revision right now.
After this revision, it’s gonna get turned over to Core 12 for printing. Before this thing goes to print, there can’t be any bad spelling or bad grammar or were referring to something in the wrong way. Every time you go through the book, you find something. Even after the professional copyeditor has gone through it, I’ll find things. Hopefully, this is the last time. If we see things last-minute, we can still change it. But yeah I get on the phone with him every single day. John says to me ‘You’re writing like an English student rather than a writer’. You kind have to back away from the proper grammar and use more screenwriter grammar, which is just a different way of writing.
OD – With regards to the actual writing time for that album, were you doing a little bit here and there around Alter Bridge’s schedule or was it a concentrated bout of writing?
MARK – Yeah, usually when I’m done recording a record, I learn how to perform that record as quickly as I can and then I get writing the next record. As soon as I get off this tour and get these songs under my belt, I’ll get working on the next Alter Bridge record. Some people might think that the well will dry up if you put out too much stuff too quickly, but if you shut it off, that’s when it dries up. If you keep it flowing, it’s easier to keep it flowing. if you know what I mean.
OD – With regards to ‘Dying Machine‘ had you always wanted to do a concept album and what concept albums do you admire?
MARK – The funny thing is, concept albums were never on my radar. There are concept records that I love, but I didn’t love them because they were concept alums. I loved them because of their individual songs.
It was never something I set out to do because I was a fan of them, it kinda just fell on my lap. When I was growing up, I had King Diamond records that were concept records, or Iron Maiden records, but there was nothing that made me think I was gonna do this someday. I never thought I’d be able to wrap my head around it. The only reason I did this is due to the feeling I had when I was writing the song ‘A Dying Machine’, and I wanted to continue feeling that way. I wanted to tell the story of that character from the song and not let it die off/ I wanted it to continue throughout the entire record.
OD – How much were Eric (Friedman) and Garrett (Whitlock) involved with putting “A Dying Machine Together”?
MARK – Well, I wrote all the songs on the album. When I was on tour, I’d set a drum loop and write to the drum loop, and create each track from start to finish and then I’d concentrate on the arrangements of each song when I got back home and then I’d show Eric the stuff I’d been working on.
I’d get a sense of ‘He really likes this song, this one not so much’ (laughing). We’d filter through the ideas, picking out some ideas and binning others. I didn’t really write a lot of the extra stuff, like ‘lost B-sides’ or anything like that. Most of the stuff I wrote is what you hear on the record. There might be two or three ideas that didn’t make it, but ultimately it’s all there.
Eric programmed all the drums before we hit the studio. It was a little different to the way that I normally did things in the past. We had demos, as well as lyrics that were fully completed for each track! That’s the first time I’ve ever gone into the studio with lyrics done beforehand. We did so much work prior to the recording, and Eric worked around the clock on this! He was up all night programming drums and recording bass tracks and doing backup vocals. He played bass on the record as well, so he did a tonne of work. So, it really helped us going into the studio already knowing how the song sounded. We didn’t do any preproduction, we just hit the ground running.
OD – You’ve been doing a series of shows opening up for the mighty Iron Maiden! Does this not have you shaking your head from time to time in disbelief?
MARK – Oh absolutely! The very first live rock show I ever saw was Iron Maiden, on the Seventh Son of A Seventh Son Tour. So, to be able to come back and play with the guys. It’s like I’ve come full circle. It’s nuts – it blows my mind
OD – Have you had the pleasure of flying on Ed Force One yet?
MARK – I would absolutely love it, but we haven’t put it out there asking if we could. I’m never gonna be that guy, but I’m gonna go if I’m invited, that’s for sure! (laughing)
OD – When you look at a band like Iron Maiden or Metallica and see the amount they have achieved over the years, (bearing in mind the changes in the music industry and people not buying physical copies of the music), do you find that these artists are an inspiration to you with regards to their approach to the business side of things?
MARK – Oh absolutely. I think that one of the biggest realisations for me when I first started out in this business was figuring out that if you had four records under your belt, you had a big full career. That was it! (laughing)
I looked at a lot of bands growing up and if they had four records then that was the length of their career and when you hit your 30’s, you’re too old to do it. (laughing) That’s genuinely what I thought. how crazy is that?
Once the internet started taking over, record sales slowly started to disappear, that’s for sure. Those legacy bands worked so damn hard during that period and there’s no doubt that it cemented their careers for as long as they ever wanted it to work – before the way things are today, which is kind of like living in a constant kind of survival mode.
OD – With reference to your comment describing bands on ‘survival mode’, when did you think you surpassed that period, or do you think that you are still experiencing it?
MARK – I think when we hit our third Alter Bridge record (Ab III, 2010), I think we finally got over the survival mode thinking, like “Let’s just enjoy this – let’s just be artists – we’re not fighting for our carers anymore. We have a fanbase that’s solid enough to allow us to do what we wanna do for as long as we wanna do it unless we come up with some horribly crappy record (laughing).
OD – Tremonti is so much heavier than Alter Bridge and previously; Creed. Would you say that the Tremonti project is an escape for you personally, kind of like throwing off the shackles and getting to do exactly what you want?
MARK – Yeah, it’s definitely giving me a kind of ultimate freedom with regards to creativity. I would love to have a more of a dynamic voice. Some of my ideas, I think it would be better for Myles’ (Kennedy) singing because he has a more majestic voice than I do. Other songs suit me just fine, so those are the ones that I use with this band.
The shackles have definitely come off with regards to the heavier side of things in this band, but as far as the prettier, more atmospheric stuff that happens, it needs to have a super emotional vocal, and Myles is king of that stuff. I feel free in that regard when it comes to Alter Bridge.
OD – When you look back at your time of Creed do you think that the music has aged well?
MARK – Yeah, when I get reminded about some of the early stuff we’ve done in the past it’s kind of a strange sensation for me. I hear old Creed records, I feel like I was a child when I did that stuff. It’s amazing how much time can change your perspective on everything.
We used to play an entire Creed record for some shows – for example, the My Own Prison record, those songs would really help remind me of when I was a kid. The stuff that I’m doing now, I think it’s completely different. It still comes from a place where I wanna be and to write the most emotive song that I possibly can. But, I think I’ve learned different things along the way to spice things up.
A lot of times you have to try to think outside the box with inspiration and creativity because I just don’t wanna write the same damn song over and over again. So, it’s definitely been a fun journey for me. I’ve learned a lot over the years. There’s no question that it’s been a challenge, but thankfully it’s been really rewarding and to know that I’ve created song and music out of nowhere and have people connect with them, is just mind-blowing for me, personally.
Alterbridge are hoping for a new album next year, is that a reality?
MARK – We all feel like the very best thing that we’ve accomplished is coming up this Autumn/Winter time. I’m talking about the live DVD we shot at the Royal Albert Hall in London with a full orchestra. We’ve all approved the footage and just love how it turned out. The sonic presence of the orchestra sounds so fantastic. Brian Sperber, the guy who mixed it, did a great job with all the editing and post-production. The film turned out great and I’m just so happy with it as well as very excited. We all feel it’s our best moment captured on film as a band, so we’re excited for people to get it. It’s probably one of the most exciting nights of my career.
Tremonti are currently on tour with Iron Maiden and will be appearing at a selection of dates which you can access via this link.
Alter Bridge ‘Live At The Royal Albert Hall‘ is set for release later this year.
Transcription Shaun Martin
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