Mark Tremonti has had a hand in the creation of some of the most popular hard rock songs of the past 20 years - he's sold more than 40 million records - but that songwriting prowess has been obscured by his reputation as a top-notch guitarist. Tremonti, a founding member of the platinum-selling juggernaut Creed as well as Alter Bridge, hopes his newest project, simply called Tremonti, tilts that balance toward his songwriting. The next step toward that goal is "Cauterize," Tremonti's sophomore album set for a June 9 release.
"I've been a songwriter since I was 11," Tremonti says during a recent interview with Headlines & Global News in a Manhattan hotel. "I get much more excited about writing songs than I ever did about playing lead guitar, and that was kind of one of the things that always irritated me a little bit; people would consider me a guitar player and never a songwriter, and usually it's the singer in the band that's always credited with writing, when I was putting my heart and soul into writing vocal melodies and I just wasn't the singer."
With Tremonti, which released its debut album "All I Was" in 2012, the band's namesake member is also its frontman. It's certainly a new image to take in for fans of the musician, who were accustomed to seeing him playing guitar and singing backup vocals while a high-profile singer - Creed's Scott Stapp or Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy, who also fronts former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash's band - commanded center stage. It's a role Tremonti has embraced, and one he says he is still growing into.
While "Cauterize" won't see the light of day for another few months, the band is gearing up for several live dates, including performances at massive festivals like Download in England and Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio (the full tour dates are listed below). Tremonti recently kicked off the album's pre-release campaign by sharing "Another Heart," the first single from "Cauterize," an album that brims with crushing, lightning-fast guitars and pummeling double-bass drums, but does not sacrifice melody for any of the heavy metal brutality. The singer, songwriter and guitarist chatted with HNGN.com about his development as a performer, working with Tremonti member Wolfgang Van Halen - the Van Halen bassist, and son of Eddie Van Halen, is sitting out the upcoming Tremonti dates due to Van Halen's upcoming tour - and offered updates on Alter Bridge and Creed, which has been inactive since 2012.
HNGN: How would you describe the new album compared to the last one, as far as how you approached recording it?
Tremonti: The biggest difference was the time we were able to put into the album. We had a very shoestring budget on the first one, a very small amount of time to get it done, whereas with this record we wanted to record a giant amount of songs; it's the most music I've ever recorded in one sitting. So if you compared it to even "Fortress," the last Alter Bridge record, we spent about a week, me and Myles, putting together the outline of the album and then got right into pre-production, whereas with this album we spent 40 days writing before getting into pre-production, so there's a big difference.
One of the big differences for me, personally, is that from touring off of "All I Was" for about a year, my voice developed much more than just sitting home practicing. It's much better when you're out there getting real experience.
HNGN: Do you consider Tremonti a clearer picture of who you are compared to Alter Bridge and Creed, where other band members put their stamps on the music as well?
Tremonti: Yeah, but it still leans to the heavier side of who I am as a songwriter. When I pull out some of my favorite ideas, the other guys I'm in the band with, they tend to like the heavy stuff, where I still like the big, melodic stuff. When I grew up, I liked speed metal, but I also liked the '70s soft rock my mom would play in the car. I loved Rod Stewart. So I grew up listening to big, melodic stuff and I want to keep melody the most important part of the song. So I've got the sappy side of me as a songwriter and I've got the metal side, and I'm trying to just combine it. The sappier stuff doesn't make the Tremonti records, but I like it just as much.
HNGN: Tell us about the players on "Cauterize."
Tremonti: We got [guitarist] Eric Friedman, who we started the band with first, and then we got Garret Whitlock on drums, and then Wolfgang Van Halen joined on this album on the bass; the first album was just the three of us.
HNGN: How did you get involved with Wolfgang?
Tremonti: We did some shows with Brian Marshall, who plays with Alter Bridge, and then things came up where he just personally couldn't do the band [Tremonti]. Wolfgang happened to be in New York when we were going on our first tour. I called him up and said, "Would you be interested in going on this tour?" and he jumped at the opportunity. I think he was in the studio with Sevendust just hanging out, and we went on tour. He learned the songs really quickly, and after doing the tour we all decided to make him part of the band.
HNGN: How has it been working with him? He comes from a pretty interesting background.
Tremonti: It's great. After you know him for a while, you don't really think of the Van Halen thing, he's just one of the dudes. We all just mess with one another more than anything, just like any band. But he's a very quick learner and he's very technically precise. I love his approach on the bass. I can't really think of another bass player who could outdo what he does on the bass. He's the best I've heard.
HNGN: Had you done any singing before you started Tremonti?
Tremonti: I think singing all these years I finally got the confidence to do it myself. And when you're working with other singers, no matter how good or how bad they are, they're always going to put their own spin on it in a way, and you get to a point where you want exactly what's in your mind coming out on this album. So the solo project is definitely easy for you as a songwriter to get exactly what you want.
HNGN: What was it like transitioning into a frontman role after so many years of not being a lead singer?
Tremonti: When I'm playing I'm always spending tons of time getting the [guitar] sound just right for every show. With Tremonti it's the exact opposite. I'm so loose with it. I set up my two amps on either side of the drum set, I talk to the monitor guy and say, "Hey, just make it all vocal and no effects, as long as I can hear it, I'm fine." I'm very easygoing when it comes to the solo stuff because I'm more focused on singing than I am on the guitar. But being on stage, I'm just so used to being on stage and having a mic in front of me from doing backup vocals that it wasn't really a big difference performing.
The big difference is when the song stops and I have to talk. I'm still trying to get better at that, and that's all going to come with experience. I think the very last show we did, we did ShipRocked, and it was probably the most comfortable I've been with interacting with the crowd. Usually I'm an "OK, that song is over, this one is called this, let's do it" kind of guy, but I've watched my friends in other bands; I was watching Lajon [Witherspoon] do a Sevendust set. He's just so animated and he's so good at what he's doing, and I picked up a couple things from him. You just watch other guys to see what works and try to incorporate it.
HNGN: Coming into a new project with a lengthy history from previous bands, how do you deal with the fans' expectations? Do they want to hear songs from your other bands?
Tremonti: Even with Alter Bridge, people knew we were never going to play Creed songs, it was going to be all about Alter Bridge. So with the Tremonti stuff, everybody knows that we're not going to be playing any Alter Bridge or Creed songs, it's this band. I always wanted to keep them completely separate. I considered doing some covers with this band, but we just never got around to it. I don't think we ever needed it. I think we maybe jammed "Ace Of Spades" for a minute or some Metallica tunes, and after a while you just want people to focus on your own music.
HNGN: What do you listen to now? How have your tastes changed since you were growing up?
Tremonti: Still the same. I'll still throw on a Gerry Rafferty record and relax or turn on Bob Marley "Legend." I just took my wife to see Elton John, then I'll go see Slayer. Any time a show comes through town that I dig I'll go see it, but I'm still into my old-school metal. There's a few new metal bands that I really dig, like Opeth - they're not new, but they're new since I was a kid - and I think Mastodon is a great band. Every time I hear something on [Sirius/XM channel] Octane that I dig I'll go look it up and download a song; I think I heard a Sylosis song the other day that I thought was great, I picked that up. But I still like the big melodies the most. I'm all over the place.
HNGN: Who are some bands or artists you'd like to work with?
Tremonti: Metallica would be number one. I'd say Tom G. Warrior would be right up there. Of the newer bands I think Opeth would be one of my favorites to work with.
HNGN: Do you feel you almost did too good of a job of exposing Myles Kennedy to a larger audience when you brought him into Alter Bridge? Everyone seems to want to play with him, from Slash to the Led Zeppelin guys.
Tremonti: Oh man. I'm proud. Hopefully people think I'm a good talent supplier. I'd be a good A&R guy for bands I guess. I knew he was a superstar before he joined the band, just listening to the old Mayfield Four stuff, he's just an amazing singer. I tried a lot of singers out for Alter Bridge, and a lot of them could do great things with their voices, but Myles just has this emotion in his voice. He was born to do this, he's been doing it since he's a tiny kid. The big surprise about Myles that I didn't know for a while is he is a brilliant guitar player. You put Myles on stage at a jazz club and he's up there improvising and will not miss a beat, whereas I would fall on my face in about two seconds, it's just not my thing. That's why we work so well together, because I'm a speed metal guy and he's a blues and jazzy/feeling guy, and together we kind of create some diversity in the band. Same with Tremonti. Eric [Friedman] is a blues guy. His managers were kind of stylizing him to be the next Jonny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd or Stevie Ray, and he plays that stuff so well. Now that he's grown older he's a metal guy. He can do it all. In Tremonti he kind of carries that more feel-y, long-held notes thing, and I'm more the speedy guy.
HNGN: What else would you like to say about "Cauterize?"
Tremonti: One thing is that this is a two-album project. The first album is coming out and it's what we want everyone to focus on now, but there will be another follow-up record that was recorded at the same time as this album and it's going to be called "Dust."
HNGN: Are the two albums linked thematically?
Tremonti: No, they were all written at the same time; I didn't know which songs were going to go on each album, and in the end I just picked songs that made each album a dynamic record. I didn't want anyone to think that the first record was A sides and the second record was B sides. That's not the case. One of my favorite songs is the title track, "Dust," off the second album, and it was tough to keep that off ["Cauterize"], but I didn't want to have people be disappointed with the second record; I wanted them to think it's every bit as good as the first.
HNGN: What's next for Alter Bridge?
Tremonti: I think we'll probably get together this year and get the ball rolling songwriting-wise, and 2016 is when we plan to hit the studio. We've got some offers for some shows later this year, but our schedules are so all over the place that I don't know if that's going to happen.
HNGN: What about Creed? Is that still a living, breathing thing? [Editor's note: Scott Stapp was in the news late last year for bizarre behavior.]
Tremonti: We haven't spoken with Scott, other than me sending out that text, a couple texts, we haven't spoken about anything business-wise. We didn't see eye to eye on the last tour. We got together for the reunion tour, did the record and went back on tour and things kind of fell apart between us personally, and I've said it before: I'm 40 years old now, I got three bands, and I just don't have time in my life for any struggles. I want to enjoy my career and enjoy my life. I don't want to deal with any negativity.
This interview was edited for length.
TREMONTI TOUR DATES
Apr 25 Orlando, FL Earth Day Birthday Festival
Apr 26 Jacksonville, FL Welcome To Rockville
Apr 28 Richmond, VA The National
Apr 29 Flint, MI The Machine Shop
Apr 30 Cincinnati, OH Bogarts
May 3 Concord, NC Carolina Rebellion
May 5 Niagara Falls, NY Rapids Theater
May 6 Huntington, NY The Paramount
May 7 Boston, MA Brighton Music Hall
May 9 Bangor, ME Rise Above Fest
May 11 New York, NY Highline Ballroom
May 12 Cleveland, OH House of Blues
May 13 Indianapolis, IN Egyptian Room
May 15 Chicago, IL Thallia Hall
May 16 Columbus, OH Rock On The Range
May 17 Pontiac, IL Freaksters Roadhouse
May 19 Nashville, TN Nashville War Memorial Auditorium
May 21 Birmingham, AL Iron City
May 22 Mobile, AL Soul Kitchen
May 23 Destin, FL Club L.A.