It's hard to believe a day goes by when Mark Tremonti isn't at least thinking about creating new music. And it says a lot about the relentless commitment he has to his craft that he's talking to us on his 42nd birthday, taking a rare day off as he reaches the end of the guitar-tracking phase for Alter Bridge's fifth album, due later this year. "We're pretty far along at this point," he reveals. "And it's going great, we're definitely excited!"
But that's not even his most recent release, or why we're speaking today. Dust is the third album from the Tremonti band, and has found Mark taking centre stage as a vocalist as well as guitarist and songwriter. It's the second half of a mammoth recording session that yielded last year's Cauterize. But this is certainly not a collection of B-sides that didn't make the first cut - Dust easily stands equal to its predecessor, which is just as Mark intended.
"I wanted to split the songs up as evenly as possible so each album was just as strong as the other. And I just thought 20 songs is way too much for people to digest at one time, and that's why I didn't want to do a double album."
The title track is an obvious highlight, showing how far Mark has come as a lead vocalist and harking back to the mid-paced gargantuan choruses that the Detroit-born made his name with in Creed and later Alter Bridge.
"That was definitely one of my favourite songs from both the albums," he explains. "I wanted to save that for second record to give it a title track. I actually had the chorus for years and I loved it, but once I paired it up with the verse it was easy to finish from there. It was actually one of the first songs I wrote for the process. Some songs are older on there, but that was one of the first songs I worked on during the writing process."
Tremonti fans who have followed his career through the years will note how the advent of Alter Bridge saw him truly taking flight as a lead guitarist, and that's now fed into Tremonti. He's a player constantly striving to improve his expression, taste and tone, and it shows in every note of his work. But he's also taken a leading role in all his bands as a songwriter and that's his first love. So if there's a tendency for outsiders to peg him as just a guitar man, it's an image Mark is keen to contradict.
Vocal melodies are my favourite thing to write, and they always have been
"I still think for the most part people consider just that because you're on the guitar, you're just a guitar player," he reasons.
"They might think it's just the singers that write the songs and that's the not the case. Vocal melodies are my favourite thing to write, and they always have been. It's what I've always put most of my effort into.
"The lead guitar thing came along over the years of just being that player that didn't have to sing, I might as well develop that skill along with it. But my real passion is in writing the vocal melodies."
If Tremonti has allowed him to demonstrate that more explicitly than ever before, it's also an outlet for another passion that shaped his life and approach as a musician: thrash metal. "That's what developed my style as a child, and that's what I grew up listening to," Mark explains.
I wanted to do a band that I could put my biggest influences on my playing into
"It's funny that my newest music is showing my oldest techniques, but one of the reasons I wanted to do this solo band is there's a huge side of my playing that I never got to put out there. It's something that the other guys [in Alter Bridge] weren't really into; they're more classic and hard-rock guys and were never into speed metal, so I wanted to do a band that I could put my biggest influences on my playing into."
So, as we move on to discuss the key influential albums in his life, we do indeed find plenty of that kind of metal. But there's more besides...
Dust is out now via Fret 12. Tremonti will play the following European dates this summer:
27/5/16 - Germany - Dortmund, Westfalenhalle Arena
28/5/16 - Czech Republic - Prague, MeetFactory
29/5/16 - Germany - Munich, Rockavaria
31/5/16 - Germany - Aschaffenburg, Colos Saal
1/6/16 - Germany - Freilburg, Jazzhaus
3/6/16 - Switzerland - Lucern, Sonisphere Festival
4/6/16 - Holland -Nijmegen, Fortarock
5/6/16 - Austria - Vienna, Rock In Vienna
7/6/16 - Germany - Saarbruecken, Garage
8/6/16 - Germany - Berlin, Columbia Theater
10/6/16 - France - Paris, Download Festival
12/6/16 - UK - Download Festival
13/6/16 - Scotland - Glasgow, O2 ABC
14/6/16 - Ireland - Belfast, Limelight 2
16/6/16 - Holland - Heerlen, Theater Heerlen
17/6/16 - France - Clisson, Hellfest
19/6/16 - Belgium - Graspop
21/6/16 - Sweden - Stockholm, Debasser
22/6/16 - Norway - Solo, Parkteateret
24/6/16 - Denmark - Copenhagen, Copenhell
1. Metallica - Master Of Puppets (1986)
"That's the most important record of all time to me. That turned me into a music fanatic. It was a special night when I borrowed that record from my brother's collection and just fell in love with music. They composed these epic songs; they were layered, beautiful parts.
"I remember, when I was younger, some of the music I listened to I had to hide from my parents because I didn't want them to take it away. A lot of it had satanic lyrics, really heavy dark stuff and if my parents heard it they'd probably take it away from me.
"So when I had the Metallica Master Of Puppets record, I would play the intro to Battery or parts throughout the record and my father would say, 'That's beautiful. What is that?' That's the thing about Metallica, they could make beautiful music and they could make brutal music and put it in the same song.
That is the metal record of all time, in my opinion
"I love their dynamics - I think Welcome Home (Sanitarium) is one of the first songs I heard when I came home and heard my brother playing it upstairs. I really love the way Metallica would go from a clean verse to the really heavy guitars in the chorus. I always loved that transition.
"Leper Messiah has one of the coolest riffs ever, and the intro to Damage, Inc is amazing... the title track cannot be beaten, the intro to Battery is one of the best intros ever. It's just an unbeatable record. That is the metal record of all time, in my opinion."
2. Celtic Frost - Morbid Tales / Emperor's Return (1984/1985)
"My two favourite bands of all time are Metallica and Celtic Frost, and that would be the second most important record for me after Master Of Puppets. I discovered them back in junior high school; in sixth or seventh grade, I had a friend who was a real metalhead and he'd listen to everything - the darkest, coolest creepiest stuff he could find! He brought me in a tape one day and it was Into The Pandemonium, and I just fell it love with it.
"It was so different and so dark, the chord progressions were so menacing and I just loved it. But Morbid Tales / Emperor's Return is my favourite of all the Celtic Frost; obviously, it's the two EPs, but I listened to it as one record.
"It was little more avant-garde than Black Sabbath. I love Sabbath as well, but it was more straightforward, and Celtic Frost took it in so many different directions. They had so many progressive ideas, and when they made dark atmospheric music it was really dark, and the moods the band created were amazing. I absolutely love it, and I get spellbound by some of their stuff. Even listening to them nowadays, I love it just as much."
3. Slayer - Reign In Blood (1986)
"As a guitar player, on the rhythm side of things, they've influenced me just as much or more as anyone else out there as far as when I write riffs. I remember playing with Myles once in Alter Bridge and he said, 'I can tell you have a big Slayer influence.' And I always did. I spent hours learning Slayer songs and riffs, developing speed from being a fan of Slayer. As far as riffs go, Reign In Blood is the best riff record I've ever heard.
"I grew up in Detroit, and the kids I started hanging out with, the heavier the music you found then the cooler it was. The people I hung out with were listening to Metallica and Slayer, some were listening to Venom and then you had the kids listening to punk. I got into that as well, but Slayer was one of those bands who took it to a whole new level.
"Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Forbidden and some other bands from the time were heavy, but Slayer was a dangerous kind of punk-metal. The subject matter was darker, more evil and that was the kind of stuff that I'd really have to turn the volume down on in my bedroom or my parents would definitely have taken that record away from me. If they saw the album artwork... you know, I think I had to turn the album artwork inside out!"
4. Led Zeppelin - IV (1971)
"I love all the Zeppelin records, but if I had to pick one it would be Led Zeppelin IV. But the whole catalogue could be number four here for me, because leaving out any is kind of unfair. The boxset would be my choice!
"Jimmy Page was one of the best part writers ever, if not the best. He had a blues side to him, a metal side and a real cool atmospheric creepy vibe to some of his parts, as well as an uplifting epicness. There's a loose quality to his lead playing that has so much heart and soul to it."
5. Metallica - Ride The Lightning (1984)
"It's another important record to me. The Metallica records were almost all I listened to, along with a handful of other bands, for years. It's a close second in the Metallica catalogue to Master Of Puppets for me. My favourite songs on both albums are the instrumentals, and on ...And Justice For All as well. I was really upset when the Black Album came out and there wasn't an instrumental on there!
"I remember learning Call Of Ktulu and Bach's Bouree in E Minor. I really had to put my pick away and use my fingers to develop my fingerpicking style by learning those songs. I developed it further, but those songs are what really opened me up to using my fingers and it became a big part of my style."
6. Black Flag - My War (1984)
"For me, again, that was a dangerous, impressive band that I absolutely loved back in the day. The guitar playing was definitely sloppy and loose, but had character to it that was just wild and the vocals were amazing. It was just brutal.
"In the punk field, the only bands I really got into were Black Flag and Minor Threat, though the Sex Pistols were great, obviously. Oh, I can't believe I nearly left out Bad Brains..."
7. Bad Brains - I Against I (1986)
"Bad Brains are one of my all-time favourite bands. Ron Saint Germain [I Against I producer] actually mixed the first Creed record [My Own Prison], so it was cool to hear stories about it.
"The whole band was just wild. It would be a show that I would have been afraid to go to when I was younger because you just knew it would just be chaos and brutality through the whole thing. It was like Bob Marley on punk steroids, and the vocals were intense in that band, too."
8. Megadeth - So Far, So Good... So What! (1988)
"I can't leave Megadeth out; they were one of the most influential bands on me. Not that it's my favourite Megadeth record, but it's the most influential on me. This was the first record I got from them, and from then on, I bought everything else.
"It's got some of [Dave Mustaine]'s softer moments on there with Darkest Hour, as well as the instrumental [Into The Lungs Of Hell]. People might tend to go for the earlier, brutal Killing Is My Business and Peace Sells... records that get more cred than So Far So Good... So What! but I still love it. It's got the most history for me, and it opened the door for me with that band."
9. Trouble - Trouble (1990)
"I remember listening to Headbanger's Ball - it was my favourite show to tune into when I was younger - and I think At The End Of My Daze came on and I immediately went out and bought the record. I love every song on it.
"For me, they were a Sabbath throwback kind of band. Great guitar playing as well. Still a record I go back to and love."
10. Forbidden - Twisted Into Form (1990)
"It was one of those records I loved as a kid; the vocals were intense, the guitars were intense... the drums were amazing. I loved the intro, Parting Of The Ways. I loved that clean fingerstyle going into the big heavy riff at the beginning of the record. Just amazing."
11. Opeth - Blackwater Park (2001)
"This album was given to me by my monitor engineer years ago and it was just right up my alley. They are such a deep, talented band with so many textures to their music. You have parts that are beautiful and sad and super-emotive, then you have brutal parts bookending them. Probably one of my favourite modern metal bands by far.
"I got to speak to Mikael [Akerfeldt], and he said he doesn't really know much about theory; he writes his parts and he just goes for it, which I think is great. Because it sounds like he's a very schooled musician."
12. King Diamond - Fatal Portrait (1986)
"I remember first seeing an ad for a King Diamond album and it just looked so spooky and cool, so I bought it. I think King Diamond's a genius - talk about orchestrating songs; he has moments of genius scattered through all his records, just because the approach his band has and his vocals.
"If you're , it's harder to digest, but when you're young you really get into it. That's why, when you find another King Diamond fan, they're fanatics. Elvis [Baskette], my producer, he's a King Diamond fanatic and our old tour manager was, too. We'd stay up on the bus and sing King Diamond songs and air guitar.
"Some of the guitar playing in Mercyful Fate has my favourite riffs of all time too… the Melissa record, Don't Break The Oath... everything. The album artwork is just killer on all those records, too."
13. Death Angel - The Ultra-Violence (1987)
"They were definitely another big favourite back in the day. When you're a kid, you can only afford to buy so many records, and these ones I'm mentioning are ones I would listen to non-stop!"
14. Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood (1983)
"Stevie Ray's probably my favourite guitar player of all time. If there's ever going to be a guitar player that's going to cheer you up because he's so emotive, it's going to be Stevie Ray.
"I went through a huge Stevie Ray phase years ago... I've never gotten out of it. He's super-inspiring. I play nothing like him and probably never will, but he's just so inspiring and such an amazing player.
"For the past 10 years or so, I've taken a turn and haven't spent much time learning much of the fast shreddy metal stuff. Because I learned that as a kid and that's kind of my strength. To really round out my sound, I need to learn different styles, and I think the bluesier, jazzier stuff is what I spend my time learning on guitar. Guys like Derek Trucks and Joe Bonamassa, those are the guys I admire the most as far as guitar playing goes these days."