It’s hard to think of an artist who had a more productive 2018 than Mark Tremonti. In June, he released “A Dying Machine,” his fourth record as leader of the metal band Tremonti, then followed it a few months later with the accompanying novel of the same name. September saw the release of Alter Bridge’s latest live album, “Live at the Royal Albert Hall,” recorded in London with the 52-piece Parallax Orchestra. And of course, there was plenty of touring with Tremonti, including a summer run through Europe as the opener for Iron Maiden.
The calendar has turned to 2019, and Mark is showing no signs of slowing down. Tremonti is about to hit the road for a U.S. tour with longtime friends Sevendust, and then it’s straight into the studio for Mark to record the next Alter Bridge album, then more shows with Tremonti, then release time for Alter Bridge in the fall. And it will just keep going from there—forget 2019; the 2020 schedule already is filling up.
Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Mark to discuss “A Dying Machine” (the record and the novel), the upcoming tour and more.
LIVE METAL: You’ve got to be one of the busiest musicians out there today—last year, putting out the new Tremonti album and the novel, the Alter Bridge live album, touring, guitar clinics—all these things. How much of a challenge is it to schedule and budget your time to make sure you give everything the attention it deserves?
MARK TREMONTI: That’s the challenge. We kind of have to work a year in advance. We’re already booking shows into late 2020 at this point. You just have to be ahead of it so you don’t get trapped in a situation where you’re putting all your time and effort into an album, and you can’t get out there and promote it right. So yeah, we have to do a lot of planning.
I’ve heard the story about how you started writing the song “A Dying Machine” before a show, 20 minutes before you went on stage. How did it evolve from that to what it became—the full album and the novel to go along with it?
When I first started writing it, like you said, it was really quick, just a couple parts that I had written before I went on stage. The whole time I was in that show, I couldn’t wait to get back to finishing the song. The song took me a few weeks to finish off lyrically and arrangement-wise and everything. Once I completed that journey, finished that song, I was kind of bummed. I was so excited about it, and I wanted to keep telling that story. So I decided, why can’t I just come up with another plot line that goes hand in hand with it and keep telling the story? I decided maybe I’ll do a four-song, mini concept within an album, but by the time I got four songs deep, I decided to go the whole distance. It was a great challenge and a fun journey.
Had you ever considered doing anything like this in the past?
No. I’ve never really even been a fan of concept records. I’ve owned concept records that I liked, but I didn’t like it because they were a concept record. So it was never something I ever set out to do, ever. It just kind of happened.
Once you figured out what this was going to be, did you look to any older concept albums for inspiration?
No, I always try to run away from that as much as I can and make my ideas as original as possible, try not to cross any line with anybody’s previous efforts.
You’ve said a bunch of times before that when you’re making a new album, your only goal is to make it better than the one before it. But this one, with the concept and story, I guess that’s a whole new set of goals and challenges that comes along with it. How did that affect the writing?
It really helped me have kind of an outline. It made it more difficult in some ways and easier in other ways. I had this concept to work with, and the hardest part was sitting there in between songs and saying, “OK, where can this story go? What kind of vibe does this next song need? How can I continue telling this story?” But at least I had that. A lot of times when you’re writing a song, you’re just spitting out words and melodies, and sometimes it can be a little nebulous. You don’t know where it’s gonna go, and you finally have to tweak it down to where it has a specific meaning. With this, I was already working on the specific plot, so it made it easier to come up with the lyrical content. I had a lot of fun. There’s probably my favorite lyrics I’ve written on this record. And I loved writing the novel. That was something that I’ve always dreamed of doing, and it was one of the most fun, satisfying moments I’ve had.
Lyrically, was it a challenge to write from the different characters’ perspectives?
I loved it. I loved the fact that I had that opportunity to sing from somebody else’s point of view, because it lets you get away with certain things you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. So it was fun. There’s four different points of view on the album, and yeah, I got to kind of play those roles.
Musically, you always like to try new techniques, different tunings and things like that. Did you do anything like that on this album?
Yeah, always. There’s definitely different tunings on the record. I got to experiment with my vocal style a little bit. Between every record, I’m trying to learn as many things as I can—different tricks and things on the guitar so I’m not just repeating the same licks for my entire career. I spend a lot of time trying to keep on developing and breaking out of the box.
For the novel, you worked with author John Shirley. What was that working process like, with you and him going back and forth?
I loved it. At first, when I decided to do this, we went through a lot of authors to find the right one. I think I got through about nine or 10 authors before I found John, and he was just perfect. When we got on the phone, at first we were just getting to know each other, and it was still fun. But once we really got to know each other and got into the story, it became such a great experience. I think John’s a great writer. We’d spend hours every day on the phone going over all this stuff. Some of my favorite moments were I’d be in the studio working on something ‘til 2 in the morning and I’d get a text from him saying that something was ready for review. Sitting down and being able to go through a new chapter was always really exciting, especially when you see your main characters that you developed in the story come to life.
You said this was something you’d been wanting to do, but had you tried anything like this before, even short stories or any kind of writing like that?
Yeah, I did. I wrote a story—gosh, I don’t know—20 years ago. I got about 110 pages deep into it and just kind of stopped. Then I tried to turn it into a screenplay, and I bought books about how to do screenplays and all this stuff. Then I went back and reread the story, and went, “Ah, it sounds amateurish,” and I kind of gave up on it. Over the years, I keep on coming up with new plots and new stories and read more books and try to write here and there. For me to really do it right, I would have to pretty much put all my effort into it. So I decided to partner up with John, use my imagination and my creativity, along with his expertise on how to make things flow and how to develop characters and dialogue, and go about it that way. I think both of us together made a story better than both of us individually could’ve, which was the main point in partnering up.
Speaking of screenplays, do you have any desire or ambition to turn “A Dying Machine” into a screenplay and a movie?
Absolutely. I’m just coming to the final negotiations on a publishing deal for the book. So far, I’ve just self-published it, just printed 4,000 copies of it, and now we’re signing a book deal, an international book deal. Once you get that done—UTA is my agent for booking our shows, but now they represent writers and musicians and producers and directors and all that stuff. So now they’re going to take it and see if they can run with it to get it either on TV or in the movies. It’s a longshot—a really big longshot. I’m not counting on it, but if it happens, I’d be the happiest guy in the world.
So what inspired this story? I know you said you had that line “you’re a dying machine” stuck in your head. Are you a big sci-fi fan?
I am. I’m a sci-fi/fantasy fan. I’m a huge reader. When I wrote that lyric, I think subliminally it came from, I was reading the “Dark Tower” series, and the third book has a scene where you have these 2,000-year-old robots that are finally deteriorating and falling apart, and the whole concept of a machine dying—a machine with a personality and a persona dying—was kind of an interesting thing to me, especially if it was a partner that was built to love someone. To me, the concept was cool, and I wanted to run with it.
Do you see it as a cautionary tale? Do you think we’re close to having technology like this, like the vessels and stuff like that?
Absolutely. When I spoke to John about the story along the way, the plot would weave here and there, and he’d say, “Actually, there’s a company developing this exact idea, but it might not be used commercially for 20 years from now, because they have to jump through all these hoops. But this stuff is all in the process.” Maybe not to the extent of the character Stella, with lab-grown human skin; she’s pretty much born with the history of knowledge already in her—I don’t know if that’s gonna be something that ever comes true. But a lot of the technology that’s tied into the story is very feasible and already in the works.
Switching gears, next week you’re heading out on tour with Sevendust, which I think fans have wanted to see for awhile. You go way back with those guys. Are you looking forward to it?
Absolutely. I’ve been touring with them for years. They’re like family. Me and (Sevendust guitarist) John (Connolly) are best buds, our kids grew up together, our wives are best friends, we live 10 minutes from one another. So it’s like touring with your buddies.
There are also some younger bands on the bill—Cane Hill, Lullwater, Kirra. Do you know those guys yet?
I don’t know them personally, but I’m looking forward to touring with them. I always love to get out there with bands I’ve never toured with, and you always get to know them really well on tour. You never know, it could be your favorite new band.
How do you feel you’re progressing as a frontman? You’ve been doing the Tremonti band for several years now, so how’s it going?
You know, the Iron Maiden tour really helped me out a lot. That was sink or swim for me. I never thought as myself ever as a singer in the first place or a frontman. It just was something I was never ever interested in. I never thought I had the personality for it. I think that my drive to be a songwriter since I was a kid and to be able to sing exactly what I had in my head was what pushed me to do this, ‘cause if you want to sing and write the songs exactly how you want to hear them, you’ve got to get up there and be that presenter and that frontman. It’s fine until the song’s over and you have to talk to the crowd. (laughs) But I’ve been doing it for seven years now, so it becomes something you just get used to. You learn little tricks here and there. Experience is the only way to do it. You can’t sit online and watch some tutorial on how to be a frontman. You’ve just got to do it.
The Sevendust tour goes up to the beginning of March. What’s after that? Do you have time for any headline dates before you go back into the studio with Alter Bridge?
No, I tour right up until the studio. I’ll be back home around March 5, and then immediately I’ll be hitting pre-production. I’m demoing right now. I’ve got about four or five songs demoed. And I’m going to be demoing more on the road, so I hope to have over 10 songs ready, demoed, for pre-production. (Alter Bridge vocalist/guitarist) Myles (Kennedy) will be doing the same thing. When we get together, we like to combine our ideas as much as we can so we can feel ownership of each and every song together. It’s always been a combination of me and Myles.
Is the target still to have the next Alter Bridge album out by the end of the year?
Yeah, absolutely. We’ll record up to April, and then I’ll go back on tour with Tremonti while we’re setting up the Alter Bridge record to come somewhere around October.
Do you think you will ever do a tour where you play all of “A Dying Machine” start to finish?
You never know. We’re always trying to come up with clever things for tours. We’re actually thinking something with Alter Bridge now, if we went back to a two-night stay at the Royal Albert Hall, what we could do to make that special. We just did the orchestra, so maybe we could do something else. We’re already booking as far out as 2020, thinking of ideas that we can do to make things special. But you never know.
Speaking of “Live at the Royal Albert Hall” with the orchestra, you must be really proud of those shows and to see it come out in such a nice package.
Yeah, I’m just glad that we captured it. That was the greatest night ever on stage for all of us. I’m talking about the second night. The first night was awesome, but the first 45 minutes of the set you’re so nervous and you want to make sure everything goes right that you can’t enjoy it as much. The next night, we knew we already had it, the first night was a success, so we just enjoyed it. Most of the show on the DVD is from the second night performance.
Is there anything else you’d like to say before we go?
No, I think I’ve said it all. Just thank everybody for coming out to the tours. If you haven’t seen us live, it’s definitely something we’d like you to do, and keep on coming.