As we’re on something of an Alter Bridge buzz, thought we’d bring this post back too!
So we’re on our way to meet Alter Bridge, midway through their UK stage of their most recent tour.. We’ve seen some of the other interviews with the band (one of the questions I read was “how tall are you?”), but we’ve got the questions down that we want to ask, and we hope to get the answers.
We arrive in plenty of time, go in through the side door at the Civic Hall, and led to Myles Kennedy by the tour manager Steve, who for the record is everything a tour manager should be. Efficient, no messing around, a joy to work with. After climbing the stairways for what seemed an eternity we eagerly follow Steve into a room, and there is Myles, smiling, wondering why his Apple toys (phone and laptop) won’t synchronise or do anything. We have 15 minutes, Myles is friendly and welcoming, time to start.
Nade: Myles, we know there are a lot of bands who are just starting out. Do you have any advice you could give to them when considering a record deal and making sure that they get what’s right for their band?
Myles: The first thing I would do is make sure you have a good attorney, not just any attorney, you want to get a music attorney; that was one of the first things somebody told me early on and I’m glad they did because there are a lot of – just like any other business, there are a lot of snakes in the grass that you have to watch out for and they’ll take advantage of you, so before you go in there and sign your life away it’s smart to have someone in your corner who knows the business.
Nade: We also deal with a lot of young people; the site is aimed at 13-19 year olds. What were you like when you were younger? Could you tell us a bit about the first band you started out in?
James: You have to mention Cosmic Dust?
Myles: Cosmic Dust was a little later. The first band I was in, the very first band, was a band called Rapscallion. We were horrible but we had a lot of fun, it was really exciting. Between 13-19, there was definitely a coming of age point for any young person and so I was trying to find myself, find my identity and all that, that was the beauty of music. I was around 13 when I really got so deep into it and became obsessed with all things musical. I started playing guitar a few years later and then we got this band, you know, this Rapscallion band. We would have jams in the drummer’s basement, as it usually ends up being – it’s always in the drummer’s basement so if you’re a parent and you have a child who’s playing drums, be forewarned, because odds are you’re going to have these brats running around your basement in no time making lots of noise. Those were good times, I have very fond memories. I was in Rapscallion for about six months and then I got drafted to play in this band called Celiacs and that’s where my first gig was. We played this thing called teh Drug Free Rock-Off in Spokane, Washington. It was like a battle of the bands, I had to sing the opening song and I was terrified – it was called ‘Rock On’ by Led Zeppelin. Each member of the band had to sing a song, something by Rush off 2112, some Hendrix.. it was fun. Then I went and played in this band called Bittersweet which was a total like, what was going on back then, in the mid 80s, and that went on for years. Cut to Cosmic Dust.. that was actually, right after I got out of music school, some of my teachers had asked me to be a part of this band, so, I was very wet behind the ears, I was playing with people who were way better than me, I mean it was just definitely trial by fire, but it was arguably the most profound musical experiences that I ever had, even to this day, things I did with that band. There’s an album floating around and I think frankly, I sucked on the record. I mean, it was recorded in one weekend and you know, it was just one of those things where it was in a studio, the magic of that band was when we were all in a club somewhere and playing off one another ‘cos they were such good listeners. There was this drummer, this jazz drummer, Scott Reusser, he was just unbelievable, he’d build up and build up your solos, you know, and the bass player, Clipper Anderson, and 2 of my teachers, Gary Edinghoffer and Jim Templeton.. they were good at listening to one another, and making it all very special. SO that was a very, very, long answer to a short question.
Nade: No, No, that’s great, thank you for that. We noticed also that you’re influenced by Marvin Gaye and notably “What’s been going on” who had a real comment on society with the Vietnam War, and personal tragedy. Do you feel that artists all have more freedom to make such commentary on political and social events?
Myles: Yeah, I think it’s still there, I guess the question is, whether people are still listening to the degree that they were back then? I think that, it seems to me that records that were made like “What’s going on” that had that much of a commentary as to what was going on, seemed to resonate more with people. It seemed like it made more of an impact and I think that nowadays that there are so many options and so many choices, so many things to listen to, games to play, movies to see. It kind of dilutes that – if someone is really making a statement, yeah, there are going to be people who listen to it and say yeah, I believe in that, I need to hear that, but it doesn’t seem to have the impact that it did back then with a lot of those artists, and also it was a different time altogether, because records like that along with a lot of the other artists in the late 60’s, early 70’s, that was the first time that I know of, with music, that that was going on.. at least with American music anyway. That’s been the purpose of art for years, is to get people to think of change; artists and painters have done that, but with pop music I don’t know if anything was quite that important, you know, until then, so that was a special time.
Nade: What do you think about your new president? (Lot of chuckling!!)
Myles: Great success! (Thumbs up) I’m really happy, I’m excited, I hope that everything that was promised and talked about, I hope he can do even a fraction of all the things that he’s proposing it would be fantastic. I think our country just needed something, it’s been a rough few years – I don’t want to get all superpolitical or anything but like I am with everything, I’m cautiously optimistic. I hope that we don’t get let down, you know? I hope that some good things happen.
Nade: Thank you for that. Still on influences, Jeff Buckley and Alter Bridge are very different, but using your voices initially, what you do with your voice and what he does as well, would you say that your style has evolved because of that diversity?
Myles: I owe so much to him, I really do. I’ve told this story a few times. When I heard “Grace” for the first time, at that point grunge had kind of.. it was kind of at its pinnacle and it was big and it was like ’94, and for me as a singer, I didn’t really know where I fit in. I was in search of a lot of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, but as far as with rock, I wasn’t really sure where to go, what to do and when I heard that record, it was just like this testament that you could have that certain kind of voice – you could be a tenor and still make it work. I think what I’m trying to say is that it seemed that guys with higher voices, by the mid-90s, or early 90s, it was kind of, like, not cool. When Eddie Vedder came along and changed everything.. suddenly, baritone, that was the sound of 90’s rock, with a few exceptions. But hearing Grace was, it was, pivotal in the sense that it kept me inspired, and it let me know that you could still do that, but you just had to rethink musically what was going on. He was not only a brilliant singer but an amazing guitar player, he was a genius, no doubt about it. You know, I heard a story that he had a photographic memory. Someone was telling me – Andy Wallace who produced that record – he had a photographic memory musically. He could literally just recall anything, he was just, real good.
Nade: Do you think that musicians should look beyond their own genres for input?
Myles: Absolutely. I think that’s crucial. If you stay in your own genre you’re limiting yourself, I’ve always tried to do that, it’s something for every artist to look for other sources, and not just listen to a bit to learn it. That’s why I spent so many years studying jazz and trying to be as well rounded as possible, and try to integrate that.. your jazz and R&B, your soul and blues, and trying to bring that into the rock environment writing wise. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it failed miserably. There are things that I did.. some people say “You know, I wanna hear some of your really old stuff” – there are a few records that hopefully no-one will ever hear. But anyway, it was me just as a writer trying to learn, it was no reflection on the band I was playing with, they were great players, but there were some things writing wise where I was experimenting a little too much. I listen to it now and I’m like ‘well that was horrible’ (chuckles). So you can’t do that, you learn and then.. (laughs)
James: I’ve never heard anybody so honest!
Myles: Ah, I try!
Nade: Moving on to the tour, have there been any highlights for you so far?
Myles: Yeah, it’s been a really good tour so far, the last few days have been.. Brixton was unbelievable, Manchester was great, they’ve all been stellar. For us when we come over here it’s just such a shift, we’re not saying anything, I don’t want our folks back home taking us the wrong way because it’s not them, if they could understand it, it would take the smaller group that is the American fanbase and multiply it, I’m sure they would feel the same way over there, there just aren’t so many people as when we come over here – there are more people who seem to get it and love it, and they’re so passionate about it. So for us, it’s like, every time we step on these shores, it re-invigorates us. It reminds us this is why we’re doing this, this is it, we need this, so, it’s awesome.
Nade: Does that mean that you have to take a different approach to playing over here than to playing at home?
Myles: Yeah, because we’re playing bigger venues, you know, like where you’re standing on a stage like at Brixton, where it’s that big, it’s a different kind of show whereas back in the States it’s more club environments. You can’t put on that kind of show, that magnitude, it’s completely different so yeah, you’ve got to come to terms with that.
Nade: You played some festival dates this year, I caught you at Download. How does that differ from playing a headline tour, such as this one?
Myles: It’s fun, it’s a challenge in the sense that you’ve got people there that are wanting to see you, and you’ve got people who are saying “What is this!? Do I want to like these guys!? Do I want to throw things at ‘em!?”
James: I know from the last question that you were a massive hit there, to be honest, from what I’ve heard.
Myles: At Download?
James: Everybody was saying, forget the rest of the bands, we liked Alter Bridge.
Nade: I took some of my friends have been there and they say that they’re glad that they saw you.
Myles: Ah, that’s really good, well (reaches into pocket) I’ll pay them all! You just have to win people over. You know there are people there who don’t know who you are, and you hope that you can win them over, if not to be a fan at least to get off on the hour that you’re on stage, and not yawn too much, you know.
Nade: How would you sum up the differences between One Day Remains and Blackbird with the progression of sound. Musically, are you where you want to be?
Myles: Yeah, One Day Remains – it’s not quite as dark a record. Blackbird is still darker, a little heavier, it was different dynamic writing-wise, it’s much more of a band effort on Blackbird since we’d only been a band for about 4 months when we made One Day Remains, so we got to know each other and know each other’s strengths and how to utilise that in the creative element. That manifested itself on Blackbird, so we were real happy with how it turned out. It’s good when you get challenged to try, we want to at least stay on par hopefully on the next record, that’s always your goal.. you don’t want to put out something that people will go, ‘err..’ so it’s definitely going to keep us on our toes to make sure the third record’s solid.
Nade: Any idea what the next progression will be?
Definitely a kind of disco, polka thing! No, it’ll probably be some of the ideas that Mark and I have tossed back and forth. It still sounds like Alter Bridge and it’ll still have that kind of anthemic and hopeful undercurrent. That will always be there I think with this band, and I would highly doubt that a record’s going to come out where it’s going to be a lot of shoegazing you know, indie-rock sound. It’s definitely, we’ve found our niche, and we’re going to stay true to that, it’s just how to re-invent it to the point where people stay interested. You don’t want to just regurgitate the sound – no-one wants to hear Blackbird 2. You want to keep evolving somehow, you know?
Nade: Could you describe how an Alter Bridge song would come together and what would happen to songs that don’t make it onto the album?
Myles: Well, as far as your second question, songs that don’t make it onto the records. Mark and I, we were actually just talking about it the other day, whether we would record them – he works in Protools, I work in Logic – and either demo it out or give it to someone else.. I don’t know. I’m trying to figore out what I’m going to do with all of the ones that are sitting around. As far as the process, it really depends on the song. Someone will bring in an idea and we’ll all kind of play through it and see what happens, see if it works, if it will pass the Alter Bridge filtration system. If it passes the filtration system and we arrange it, then we step away from it for a little while and we come back and listen to it with fresh ears, then keep building on it. Then the lyrics usually come last, once you know that musically and melodically it’s solid, then you’d best time in the lyrics, the lyrics are the worst part, hands down. The other parts are fun, lyrics can make or break a song. If the lyric is empty, or silly, then it can take a great melody or chord progression and just ruin it, you know. You’ve got to be really careful there, or try to be aware of that.
Nade: I’ve heard that Mark is pretty meticulous about making sure that the Alter Bridge guitar tabs are correct. Do you have a take on that?
Myles: Yeah, Mark is definitely all about making sure that that is correct, which is good because there are plenty of those that are wrong. I remember as a kid, I would get guitar magazines and they’d have the tablature and I would get all excited.. and I’d learn it totally wrong because the tab would be wrong. It wasn’t that way all the time, most of the time they were right but.. yeah, you want to get and that right because if someone’s in their house working on learning your songs and the tabs wrong you’re not doing them any favours!
So our 15 minutes are up (as it turns out we were there for 20), we say thank you to Myles, and on our way out, Mark walks in. “Hi I’m Mark,” he says, with a huge grin, although Nade and I knew who he was as soon as he was in the doorway. He asks us what we’ve been up to, he semi offers to do an interview as well, but Steve has already been great letting us have 20 minutes with Myles, and even though Mark is very enthusiastic, we know they have to get some rest, and Steve will have a thousand and one other things to do.
On a personal note, we’ve interviewed some great bands, and this has been one of the highlights. A huge thanks to Anna and Steve for arranging everything, Myles for being such a fantastic guy to interview, and Mark too, who hopefully we can grab next time round!
Finally, a special note for the awesome AB fans who were outside from the “forums”, you’re insane, getting there for 11!