Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge, Slash) interview
It's been one hell of a ride for Myles Kennedy since the last Alter Bridge album, 2007's Blackbird. He's jammed with Led Zeppelin when it looked like they may be looking for another singer, recorded a solo album (due 2011) and now he's the singer with Slash's solo band. But he's also found time for his main passion – teaming up with Mark Tremonti again and write a third Alter Bridge record - working title AB III – and due ahead of their UK tour in October.
Here's the full transcript of our chat with Myles about his last couple of years and what we can expect from the next Alter Bridge album.
Have you completed mixing on the new Alter Bridge album?
Myles Kennedy: "We thought we'd completed it, I was in New York last week with the guys and we thought we had it pretty much wrapped up. Then we got it out of there, listened to it and spent some time then realised we wanted to change a few more things. We're definitely a bunch of perfectionists so we're just trying to get it right. It's almost done." [update: the album is now mixed and mastered]
Do you have a release date in mind yet?
"We're pushing for the third quarter – we definitely want to get it out before we tour over there in October."
You've mentioned previously that this is a darker album than the previous two, are you moving into a more progressive territory too?
"Darker from a lyrical standpoint most definitely. Musically, there are definitely moments that have that intensity and have that darkness to it. We try to balance that with the other side of the band, which is that uplifting anthemic vibe.
"Personally I don't think it's a good idea to alienate those fans that like either one side or the other. You want to try your best to make both parties happy. Lyrically it's pretty dark on a lot of the record – it's not like it's mopey, whinny music though. We definitely try to add a sense of dynamics."
Are the themes quite personal on this album for you?
"I guess it is a pretty personal record in some regard. For me personally, over the last few years a lot of things came up – things I started questioning. It deals with a lot of doubts. Doubts in life and all that comes along with it. If you make records personal in that way, it always seems to have a sort of cathartic quality… it's not necessarily the goal it just ends up happening. You work through some things."
Like a release?
"Yes, and it's great."
Have you got any song titles you can reveal to us yet?
"It's funny because a lot of the song titles are working titles so they're absolutely silly. But there's a song called Isolation that I'm sure will make the record and that's a real heavy track. Let's see… we have Show Me A Sign and Ghosts Of Days Gone By is another one that we seem to all really like."
Blackbird was such a landmark song for you – did that make you realise that people were keen to hear more expansive, epic structures from the band?
"It certainly did. That was a really special song, I'll never forget how it felt when we'd completed that. We tapped into something that doesn't come along on every record that's for sure. We were really happy that the people who support us really embraced it as well.
"Going into this record you can make the mistake of trying to top that – we've got to write another Blackbird, we have a song that's better. It would be like when Zeppelin had recorded Stairway To Heaven or Kashmir, asking what's going to be our Kashmir on this record? I don't think you can go at it that way because you'll just be destined for failure. So we just tried to do what we do and there are certainly songs that have an epic vibe.
"There's a song called Slip To The Void, which is fairly long and has more of an epic approach. And I guess for lack of a better term some people might throw the progressive tag on it. I don't know if it necessarily falls into that – a few people have brought that up who have heard it. I don't even know what progressive is anymore to be honest!"
It's a term that gets used a lot these days…
"It really does – bands such as Yes used to fall into that category but now it's very different."
Can we expect more lead interplay between yourself and Mark on this album?
"Yes definitely – there's plenty more of that on this record. The interesting thing on the Blackbird album is I took a lot of the bluesier approach on a song such as Blackbird – more of the David Gilmour approach. Mark has his way of going about it. On this record because a lot of it is pretty intense, for me personally on the solos I ended up playing I got to dig way back… dare I use this word but more of the technical approach. Not necessarily shred but it didn't seem to work when I'd sit there and milk a note forever and think about with more of a bluesy way of thinking.
"I'm definitely doing things I haven't done in a long time as a guitar player. My leads aren't long and drawn out but they're definitely there. My job more than leads, in the context of this band, is adding the textures and the colours. I'm as influenced by the Edge as any other guitar player. I've always love the way he brings a sonic landscape into the mix.
So is Mark refining the metal/blues hybrid style that's become his trademark?
"Well I think Mark is playing the best he's ever played. Seeing him in the dressing room playing four or five hours every day before shows is paying off for him. Without a doubt I think these are his best leads.
"I think he's refined [that style]. That's the beauty of the way he plays – he's got a very signature sound. His vibrato is very unique, even though he always complains about his vibrato, I think it's one of his strengths – you know it's him.
"His arsenal, his theory knowledge has grown quite a bit even in the last three years, so he understands how to play over the changes. When a chord progression is being played under his solo he's landing on a chord note. Which I love, my favourite solos are always where [the player] touches on the chord tones. So he's definitely doing that on this record – not just staying in a certain scale or mode but touching on the changes."
You've both been busy with other records lately – Mark with Creed and yourself with Slash and recording a solo album of your own. Were the Alter Bridge album sessions quite high pressured as a result?
"Mark and I are always writing and stockpiling ideas, so when we got together in early January and started piecing the parts together it wasn't that we had a lack of ideas. Where it was different was as far as the arrangements went, we didn't have as much time as we did on Blackbird to sit there and over analyse everything. So the arrangement process was much more spontaneous and I think that in some respects that can bode well. Because the records that are spontaneous like that tend to sound fresh and you don't get bogged down with overthinking."
Did that come through when it came to dialling in the guitar tones – did it come together pretty quick?
"Really quick, and a lot of that is because of Michael Baskette, Elvis – the guy who produced this record and the last Alter Bridge album. He's fantastic at getting tones. I've worked with him now for ten years, back in the Mayfield Four [Myles' previous band – hear Mayfield Four here ] I saw that gift early on with him and he's just got a great instinct.
"The guitar tones for the most part on the entire record are pretty much what we use live. I used my PRS 245 straight into my Diezel Herbert and my Mesa/Boogie Mk IV and that was pretty much my sound. There were a few parts here and there that called for a Vox or something like that but for the most part that's what I used. And I believe with Mark it was the same thing. Whatever he uses live."
So no changes to your rigs?
"We kept it pretty much the same but I think Mark used a Two-Rock and that's a great sounding amp. It has such an incredible, big round sound. His lead tone sounds really good on this record."
Did you use the PRS McCarty that you nicknamed the Mule on this album?
"I did a little bit but the Mule's been acting up lately! I didn't know what's been going on. I beat it up really bad at a show a couple of years ago and my tech and I have noticed that ever since we did that it hasn't sounded the same. We beat it to death! But the 245 is the main one on this album – a sunburst with a really special sound to it."
What pickups do you have in it?
"I use a Seymour Duncan Custom Custom in that one, it's just a great combination with the scale of that guitar and the mahogany body. It really works, sits nicely in the mix."
We heard that you're a fan of the David Grissom DGT PRS model too?
"I love that guitar – such a classy sounding guitar. I actually discovered it through Dave. We were playing at a PRS event [the annual PRS Experience] and when Dave got up and played I thought, damn that guy's tone is unbelievable. So I asked if I could pick the PRS DGT up and he was really cool about it. It was actually the prototype, because this was a few years ago, and I loved the neck dimensions on it. Everything they did to it has made it a really great lead guitar – it sounds amazing."
Are the guitars exclusively PRS on this album for you both?
"Yes, I believe so, on the electric side. As far as acoustic goes I think we used Taylor acoustics."
Are you layering with acoustics or are there any wholly acoustic songs?
"There are a couple of songs that are basically acoustic-driven, I don't know if they'll make the record or not. It's not like we have a stripped down singer/songwriter arrangement on the record, it's all kind of tucked in there with the acoustics."
Mark's become a big fan of T-Rex pedals, have you introduced anything new to your board?
"Yes the guys at T-Rex were kind enough to send some pedals our way and I really like the Mudhoney [overdrive] a lot and that got used for a few of my leads. Other than that I'm just sticking with the tried and true. I've used Fulltone pedals for the last 12 years, I love them. There's a pedal they have called the Ultimate Octave and I've used that on pretty much every record I've played on. The Line 6 blue [MM4 modulation modelling pedal] and green pedal [DL4 delay] are such great workhorses too. I've only had to replace one in the last 10 years of using them, I really like those pedals."
What guitar players have been inspiring you lately?
"I'm always trying to discover new guys to see where people are taking the instrument. I'm a really big fan of Andy McKee – I think he's an amazing acoustic guitar player and he's taken the torch from where Michael Hedges left off. He's an amazing talent. I love Warren Haynes, I think he's brilliant… Derek Trucks too. He's from another planet!"
You've had a very interesting time in period you've been away from Alter Bridge, verging on surreal – you've performed alongside two of your guitar heroes, Jimmy Page and Slash…
"Yes – life has really turned out way different than I ever expected. When I was a kid and listening to Zeppelin and Guns N' Roses, if someone had told me that there would come a time and I would play some of those songs with those people I would never have believed it. Surreal is an understatement. I'm extremely lucky to have been able to play with those guys and learn from those guys. It's been something else man.
"I'm having a great time with Slash right now – he's a great guy and he's really playing better than ever. He's on fire right now."
It sounds like you're very comfortable singing the old Guns N' Roses songs with him. Axl Rose has a very unorthodox vocal style – is it a technical challenge for you?
"It's a challenge singing those songs and I really embrace that. First of all, I love those songs – they're classics and some of the greatest songs ever written. I really work hard to make sure I'm doing the best I can because I know people really want to hear them a certain way. I have respect for the legacy of those songs – I really try to get it right every night. It's a challenge."
And you're performing an Alter Bridge song with Slash too, Rise Today…
"Yes that's been fun. He's cool in that he asked, Do you want to do an Alter Bridge song? Absolutely! I thought that song would fit best. It's really cool hearing him play the solo, I really like it because he improvises and makes it up on the fly. It's really cool to hear him go off on it."
With all this going on, you're understandably holding off until next year to release your first solo album…
"It felt like if I went ahead and put it out this year it would be too much. Basically Slash called right when I was working on the solo record. He called just prior to when I was working on drums and I didn't have any idea where it would all end up as far as two songs on his record, and as far as touring. I wasn't sure what was going to happen as far as timing of putting out the third record. It's all worked out well in that both records are coming out this year but I thought if I put out a third, a solo record in one year people are going to get sick of me real quick."
This solo album will be a departure from hard rock though?
"Yes it is definitely different – more of a singer songwriter approach. It's very different, it's not going to be a hard rock record. I really enjoyed putting that record together – it was maybe the most difficult thing I've ever done in the sense that I didn't have a band.
I was sitting there with Logic and programming everything until I too it to the players. And that's a different way of arranging. It's nice to have people to bounce ideas off but I really wanted to challenge myself – what would happen if you made a record and everything came from your heart and your head?"
Alter Bridge are coming over here to the UK in October, will we be the first to hear the new songs or do you plan a couple of US shows to road test them?
"We don't have anything before we get over there in the middle of October."
The band's always had such a strong connection with the UK – do fans over here get what you're about more than anywhere else? Is there a stronger connection than anywhere else?
"Yes definitely – it's been that way since we first went there six years ago. It's funny because as an artist you play all these different places and you think, people are people so they're going to react in the same way you'd assume. We're all human beings.
But I think a lot of it has to do with what each culture has listened to throughout their lives – rock n' roll has been such a mainstay of the culture in the UK and you guys did it better initially. Even though a lot of the blues-based – the Delta and Chicago – music was what those bands in the 1960s were trying to emulate, it worked out extremely well.
It wrote the blueprint for rock and we're still following that today. People in the UK just get it, they always have and so we'll continue to go there."