When it came time for Alter Bridge to begin recording their upcoming fourth album, Fortress, the band members – lead vocalist-guitarist Myles Kennedy, lead guitarist-singer Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips – decided to build on their prior LPs successes by playing fast and loose with song structures.
“We were pushing for unpredictability," Tremonti says. "The last thing we wanted was verse-chorus-verse-chorus and all that. Songs should have you never knowing what you're getting next. We messed with time signatures, tones, key changes – everything we could throw at these songs, we did.”
As they've done since 2007's Blackbird, the group worked with producer Michael "Elvis" Baskette, who, according to Tremonti, wasn't adverse to adopting a more daring approach. "Elvis never tries to simplify our ideas," he enthuses. "A lot producers might want to shave edges off things and play it safe, but Elvis pushes us to be more extreme, more creative. It’s always, ‘Hey, that’s great. Now, how far can we take that?’"
During pre-production, songs were built up and torn down; sometimes multiple treatments for each one were considered. "We just didn't want to be easily satisfied," Tremonti explains. "It's so tempting to say, 'That's it. It's perfect' the first time you have something. But you never really know it's as good as it can be until you exhaust every possibility, and that's what we did."
Tremonti re-assessed his own guitar playing, as well, starting with his use of the wah pedal, which he admits has become something of a security blanket. "I saw an online post where a fan brought it up," he says. "‘I think you should use less wah on this record,’ somebody wrote, and I thought, ‘You know what? I’m not gonna use any wah when it comes to the solos.’ I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.
“I’ve also had a tendency to do too many descending legato riffs. They became a go-to, over-the-top pattern of mine – whenever a climax would come up, I’d do some fast legato stuff. I wanted to lay off that and concentrate on phrasing. There is kind of a new trick I’m doing – this chicken pickin’-type pull-off riff that I use in a few of the solos. It’s good to change your game around and see what comes from it."
On the following pages, Tremonti walks us through the writing and recording of all 12 tracks on Fortress. The album will be released 8 October in the US and 30 September in the rest of the world. You can pre-order Fortress at iTunes, Amazon and via AlterBridge.com.