Since forming in 2004, Alter Bridge has seen its stock steadily rise in the hard rock realm, its prominence emphasized by a full-fledged arena tour of Europe to close out 2016. On Jan. 20, the band–vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy, guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips–will kick off its first North American headlining tour in support of its latest album (see dates below), the superb 2016 release The Last Hero. Though the album is Alter Bridge’s first since 2013, the band members haven’t taken much time off. Kennedy fronts Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash’s solo band and has been working on his own solo material; Tremonti leads his eponymous, speed metal-influenced band; and Phillips hits the skins for Projected, featuring members of Sevendust and Tremonti’s band. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Kennedy to discuss the new album, tour and more.
LIVE METAL: Since we’re just barely into the new year now, did you make any resolutions or set any goals for 2017?
MYLES KENNEDY: You know, I kind of did, and I just realized I’m failing miserably. My goal was to try and stop drinking coffee, and I’m sitting here with a coffee cup in my hand. So I failed. I get an F for 2017. (laughs)
That’s just like me with soda. I can’t give that up either.
You know what, I did manage to do that finally a few years ago. Take it from me, it was worth it, but it took a couple months. That’s a big one, but it can be done. Trust me.
Alright, I’ll keep working on it. Next up for Alter Bridge, you’ve got a North American headlining tour starting in a couple weeks. You’re taking Nonpoint out with you. What can the fans expect to see on this run?
I think we’re just refining the touring cycle for this new record, and we’re playing more of the songs, ultimately. When we first started touring the States (in summer 2016), we did a run with Disturbed and Breaking Benjamin, and at that point, the record wasn’t out, so we didn’t have the luxury of getting to play a lot of the new material. Now we’re back, and we can assure the fans that we’ll be playing at least five to seven tracks off the new record, which should be fun.
On Feb. 10, you’re going to be playing the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, kind of right between Baltimore and D.C., and the area where I am. How have those cities treated you over the years?
Good, good. That area has been an area we’ve been able to hit a number of times, and we know that we have a pretty loyal group of fans up there. So we definitely look forward to getting back and playing for you all, for sure.
In the spring, you’ll be playing a lot of the festivals here in the U.S. As a music fan, it’s my favorite time of year. Do you enjoy playing those festivals, or would you prefer to do your own shows?
It’s great. It’s cool to see the U.S. kind of slowly catching on to what Europe has been doing for a while, just having a number of festivals. So it’s really great to see that they continue to evolve and blossom here in the U.S. The only downfall to playing festivals is you play a shorter set generally. So as someone who lives to play, having 45 minutes to an hour to do a gig isn’t always enough to satiate my need of playing. But you get to play in front of a lot of people who haven’t heard your band before, which ultimately gains you new fans, which is one of the big goals.
Toward the end of 2016, you did a big-time arena tour of the U.K. and Europe. What was it like touring with such a big production?
It was cool, because it was the first time with Alter Bridge that we had the luxury of having a fair amount of production on that many dates. It was definitely a learning experience for us. I think, if we were to do it over again, we would spend a little more time on signing off on some of the visual content that we had going on behind us. We tried to step back and look at the show from the audience’s perspective, and I think that we were so concerned about the music and integrating a lot of the new songs that the visual aspect, we probably would spend a little more time fine-tuning. So it was definitely a learning experience, but the fans seemed to enjoy it. We’re just perfectionists. We want everything absolutely spot on. But most of the fans we talked to really enjoyed having the production and think we’re too worried about nothing. (laughs)
The latest Alter Bridge album, The Last Hero, came out just a few months ago. Between album cycles, you guys always go your separate ways and work on different projects. How does that time away affect things when you regroup and start working on new Alter Bridge music?
It’s really beneficial. I think initially there might’ve been some concern that it would maybe create problems there, but what it’s done–I’ll just speak for myself as a creative entity–is always having the having the luxury and opportunity to write and write with other people and learn more about yourself as an artist bodes well once you get back to your primary band, because you get to take a lot of that. And also, some of the ideas you’ve stockpiled along the way and may not have been used in the other projects that you can utilize in an Alter Bridge context. It’s been a really good thing overall.
Are there specific things–you mentioned song ideas–that you or other members of the band bring back to Alter Bridge from those other projects?
I don’t know if there are specifics I can recall off the top of my head. I know for me, I’m always writing, so there may have been–actually, in the song “Show Me a Leader.” There was a song I set aside for a different artist. It’s something I wasn’t even gonna play; I was just gonna give it to another artist to put on a record. I ended up not doing that because I really liked this one part, like that might find a home somewhere in Alter Bridge. Sure enough, it did. That kind of pre-chorus, singalong part ended up making it onto this record. I guess that would be an example of how that tends to work sometimes.
When you started working on The Last Hero, did you have specific goals you wanted to accomplish with this album?
I think to continue to progress musically and try new things, but also make sure to retain the hallmarks of our sound. You have to be real careful, because if you get too many delusions of grandeur and want to step out, then suddenly you alienate your fan base because you make a record that is, in your opinion, this fantastic risk and you make this jazz odyssey (laughing). And your fans are like, “Wait, this isn’t Alter Bridge. This isn’t what we signed up for.” But at the same time, you don’t want to make the same record you just made. The fans are like, “Wait a minute, I’ve already heard this. Don’t try and pull the wool over our eyes.” So it’s kind of a delicate balance.
After about 13 years now and five albums, has anything changed about the way you guys work together, the way you write or record or anything like that?
No, I think, more than anything, what’s changed is there’s just been a level of trust that’s been established over the last decade-plus. I think that because of that, it has definitely freed us up creatively to know that when we get in a room together, we can trust kind of our filtration process and not question it too much because we have a proven track record. A lot of times, when you first start writing with people, you’re not really sure when they bring in an idea or if you bring an idea in and they shoot it down. You haven’t developed that foundation yet to where you know a lot of the calls being made are going to work out in the end. We definitely have, just through time and learning, been able to establish that with each other. It’s great.
There’s this theme of heroes that kind of runs through the album. How do you define that word, hero, in 2017?
Well, in 2017, I guess it’s not any different than any other year. I think a hero is someone who is selfless in their endeavors and looks out for the common good. You can probably define that word a number of different ways. This record certainly touches on that theme quite a bit, and it questions where the heroes are and what we tend to do to our heroes. But it also pays tribute to everyday heroes with a track like “You Will Be Remembered.” Yeah, it’s definitely a very common element to this record.
What inspired you to explore this theme?
I think, ultimately, it’s always been something I’ve been intrigued with since I was a young person, but because of the election cycle and a lot of the coverage there, it kind of pushed that into the forefront for me and the guys, as well, and essentially, made us really think about that and choose to charge down that path and create a record around it.
What are some of your favorite songs from the album so far? Are there any that stand out to you more than the others?
The title track, “The Last Hero,” is something we’re definitely very proud of. We actually just started playing that in the set over in Europe. It’s a very challenging song. There are a lot of parts (laughs), and you have to be on your A-game. When you’re creating a record, sometimes you don’t know how a song’s gonna turn out, whether a song will even make the record or not, and there’s a song called “Crows on a Wire,” which turned out great and, actually, it’s become a real mainstay of the live set, as well. So that one was definitely a pleasant surprise.
Obviously, your career is far from over at this point, but looking back on what you’ve done so far, if you had to remembered for one album and then one song, what would they be?
Well, as far as one song goes, probably “Blackbird,” because it was such an important part in the evolution of Alter Bridge and the fans have certainly made it known that it has a very special place in their heart. As far as an overall album goes, boy that’s a really tough question. I think I probably would go back to the second Mayfield Four record, which was recorded back in the early 2000s. That, to me, is a very special album. When I listen to it, it brings back a lot of memories–some good, some bad. But it’s definitely a very honest and raw record. [NOTE: Mayfield Four is the band Kennedy was in prior to Alter Bridge.]
Somehow, in the middle of everything else you’ve been doing, you’ve managed to record a solo album, I’ve heard. What can you tell me about that?
Well, the solo record, yeah, that was recorded back in 2009 when there was some downtime, and then I actually finished some of it last year. For the time being, it’s just on the backburner. I’m not really sure what’s gonna happen. Some of it will depend on what happens this year with the touring cycle and all the projects. It’s just a matter of carving out a window when the solo record would be utilized. With that said, with just being somewhat of a workaholic, I started another solo record. (laughing) We’ll see which one ends up being released. That’s the million-dollar question at this point. That’s what I spent my entire holidays doing, working on solo record number two.
Nice. So obviously, you’re very busy between that and Alter Bridge, and Slash is busy with his little side band, Guns N’ Roses, that he’s got going on now. But is there a plan for when you and him and the Conspirators might get back together?
(laughs) No official plan. I think it’s just a moving target. When schedules permit, hopefully something like that will work out in the future. But right now, everybody’s pretty tied up.
Alright, Myles, thank you very much for your time. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. I’m hoping to come out next month to see you when you’re in Maryland. Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?
No, it’s great. Thanks for your time, Greg. Good questions.