Interview: Myles Kennedy talks Alter Bridge, Slash and Led Zeppelin
Myles Kennedy, seeing his rock 'n' roll dreams come true in 2010. © Robb Cohen./Retna Ltd./Corbis
"It's snowing like crazy right now, which is pretty terrific," says a pumped-up Myles Kennedy. Alter Bridge's singer-guitarist is due for soundcheck in 45 minutes at the FZW in Dortmund, Germany, where he and the rest of the band (lead guitarist Mark Tremonti, drummer Scott Phillips and bassist Brian Marshall) will run through a good chunk of tunes from their slamming, rifftastic new album, AB III. "So far, the tour's been great," says Kennedy. "The new songs are going down really well, so you can't beat that."
No, you can't. And you sure can't beat the past couple of years that Kennedy has had. Between jamming with members of Led Zeppelin, cutting a solo album, recording and touring with Slash (a partnership that promises to continue), and now, riding high with Alter Bridge, who are this-close to big-time mainstream acceptance, he's experiencing the kind of success that, just eight years ago, he thought was beyond his reach.
"I had kind of given up the dream in a way," he says of his state of mind circa 2003. "But then I hooked up with Mark and the rest of the guys, and we built Alter Bridge from the ground floor up. And that's the way it should be. Every step, every bit of success, it's gotta be earned. Whatever accolades we get, whatever happens from here, it's because we worked our asses off."
Touring-wise, Alter Bridge aren't booked for that many dates in the States. Does the band plan to concentrate mainly on Europe, or can the US expect to see more of you guys soon?
[laughs] "That's what a lot of people are asking me. I guess it's good to be wanted. The schedule has been hectic, but yes, we are going to be playing in the States. Basically, we're playing in Europe for a few more dates, then we head to the US where we'll be playing until the 20th, I think. Actually, there will be some shows in early January.
"In mid-January, however, I pick back up with Slash, and we're going to be opening for Ozzy. That's going to be a pretty exciting situation, I have to say. To be on stage with one legend and opening for another - somebody pinch me. Sometimes I can't believe how fortunate I am."
By the way, what was the story when Slash appeared with Alter Bridge in Sweden? He was playing a Paul Reed Smith guitar.
"That was pretty amazing, wasn't it? He just showed up. I think he got off the plane, and he just dashed off to our gig. We asked him if he'd like to come up and do a number with us, and he said yes, but he didn't have a guitar. So he borrowed one of ours."
People were wondering, Is Slash switching from Les Pauls to Paul Reed Smiths?
[laughs] "No, no, nothing like that. That was just a one-off situation, that night. Yeah, I can imagine the folks at Gibson going crazy at the thought of him switching from Les Pauls. It was a fun show, though. Slash was fantastic, as always."
From what I've heard, Slash wants you to be the sole vocalist on his next solo album.
"That's the plan. I know he's working on some ideas now. I love playing with Slash, and the chemistry I have with the rest of the guys in his band is fantastic. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with for the next record."
I'm curious, however - from what I've read, he offered you the gig as the lead singer in Velvet Revolver. Now, if the other guys in Alter Bridge are going to do Creed at some point, why wouldn't you want to join another band, as well?
"There was talk of that, but no, I was never officially given that offer. I think it was floated around, it was mentioned, and it would be a huge honor because I think the guys in Velvet Revolver are tremendous. But I'm very happy with what I'm doing in Alter Bridge and Slash.
"The whole thing is pretty interesting, though: They had reached out to me in 2002 when they were just getting together. They had sent me a demo tape, and I kind of sat on it for a month, and I didn't…I didn't really follow up on it."
You didn't? Why not?
"You know, I was going through a very strange time in my life back then. I had grown very disillusioned with music and the music business and everything. My mind just wasn't in the right place. I had been in a band called The Mayfield Four - we put out a couple of records and didn't have a lot of success. So we broke up, and I kind of stepped away from music. I went back to teaching guitar for a while. All in all, I think things worked out for the best. The two records they made with Scott Weiland were great.
"It's not that singing for Velvet Revolver wouldn't be enticing, but I've kind of made my plans now and my plate is pretty full. Like I said, I have a fantastic time with Slash and everybody in his band. Between that and Alter Bridge, I've got enough going on."
Plus, you have your own solo record.
"Yeah, I was just finishing it when Slash called me last year. I recorded it in this little studio in Idaho. It was my first time kind of co-producing. I worked with Brian Sperber, who mixed the last two Alter Bridge records, and he did a great job on it. I'm pretty proud of the album. It's probably a little more singer-songwriter oriented than what people have heard from me before. There's piano on it, and it's a little more intimate sounding. I'm thinking of putting it out on December 21, 2012."
Wait a minute…Why so long the wait?
"Because in the Mayan Calendar, that's the date when the world is supposed to end. [laughs] I'd just like to see what happens if I put it out on that date."
Well, jeez, if it doesn't sell, I guess we'll know why. [Kennedy laughs] So before we get to the Alter Bridge record, I have to ask about your association with Led Zeppelin a while back.
"Sure, but I should say that it was never supposed to be 'Led Zeppelin' per se, because how could it be Led Zeppelin? I think they were just itching to play again. Still, they weren't really sure of what they wanted to do exactly. What happened was, I got together with them one day in June of 2008 and we just jammed on some ideas. Everything went really well, and as you can imagine, I was just flattered beyond all belief to be in the same room with those guys. I mean, everything I ever learned about rock, I learned from Led Zeppelin. Just being near Jimmy Page was unbelievable. All the guys! Hearing their stories, the whole experience…it was something I'll always treasure."
Why didn't it work out, though?
"Well, I'm not really sure. Again, I just don't think they really could decide on what they wanted to do. I did get together with them again a few months later, and this time we spent about a week jamming on some ideas. I didn't do any actual writing with them - it was all very informal. There was just so much going on around them, and once all the talk got out about 'Led Zeppelin is going to tour'…I'm not really sure why things didn't happen, but that's OK.
"It's funny you bring up Led Zeppelin, because somebody just gave me a DVD of them playing the O2 Arena in 2007, and man, they were unbelievable. Such a powerful band. They were astounding on that night."
Staying on Zeppelin but segueing into Alter Bridge, it didn't escape me that the sound of your vocals on Slip To The Void, the first cut of AB III, is very reminiscent of Robert Plant on No Quarter.
"You know, it's funny you say that. I didn't think about that vocal effect at all while we were cutting the track. It was never mentioned as a reference or homage or anything like that. It's just something Brian threw on because he thought it would sound cool. And he's not a Led Zeppelin guy at all; it wasn't like he was trying to make me sound like Robert Plant or anything. It just seemed to fit the mood of the song and the lyrics. I never even noticed it myself until very recently."
Then there's the next track, Isolation, sections of which are practically speed metal. What were you guys listening to while making the record?
[laughs] "That's Mark! I know the parts you're talking about. That all comes from his love of speed metal, for sure. His roots are definitely in bands like Slayer and early Metallica. Yeah, I could never come up with riffs and parts like that myself."
But you do swing with them.
"No, I can definitely get into them. But they didn't come from me. That's all Mark."
Lyrically, a lot of the themes on the new record are very dark. Any particular reasons why?
"Speaking for myself, I was questioning a lot of things. How should I say this? The sound of the music and the arrangements, it was all very dark, and it kind of lent itself to some of the emotions I was feeling. Faith, the meaning of life - I was going through a lot of changes; I was disillusioned. The music sort of gave me the liberty to bring these thoughts out. On the other hand, I felt conflicted because I was concerned that I might be exposing too much."
This is the second time you've used the word 'disillusioned' to describe yourself.
"Mmm. I guess so. I mean, I'm basically a happy person. I'm content with my life and my wife and my family. But you do reach a point where you start to question the absolutes that are supposedly out there, and you realize that there simply are no absolutes. Things shatter, they fall apart. I went through a period where I started to think about why certain things happened the way they did. I guess music sort of fills the void for me, if you'll pardon the pun." [laughs]
Let me ask you about your demoing process. Writing-wise, how did this album take shape?
"It's always basically parts. Mark and I will stockpile riffs and sections of music and then we get in a room with everybody and see what flies. We use GarageBand sometimes, but I also use Logic, and Mark likes to use Pro Tools. We put down a lot of riffs and portions of music before we're ready to start recording. Sometimes one of us will have a complete song. On the first album, Mark wrote In Loving Memory all by himself, and on this one I wrote Wonderful Life on my own. Those are exceptions, though."
What's the ratio in riffs and parts you come up with to what actually makes the album?
Mark Tremonti goes shredtastic on his signature PRS. © Sayre Berman/Corbis
[laughs] "It's a pretty big ratio, meaning that a lot gets tossed. But that's OK. You can't be too precious about this stuff; in fact, you almost have to plan on things getting nixed. But I think we overcompensate by coming up with a lot of material. Believe me, I have riffs and pieces of music that I totally love, but if the rest of the guys aren't into them, you can't be too attached - on to the next idea."
Even so, that can't be easy, particularly if the rest of the band is tossing something you feel very strongly about.
"It's not easy, but like I said, you have to learn to move on. We operate on a brutal honesty level. If everybody's not into something, it's not going to work."
Because you're all involved in so many different projects - the other guys are doing Creed, and you're working with Slash and have a solo album coming - does that make it hard for you all to come together as Alter Bridge?
"Actually, it doesn't. In many ways, when we get together in a room, it's as easy as riding a bike - you never forget how to do it. When we come together, things happen very naturally and easily. It doesn't take us any time at all to get into that headspace as Alter Bridge. There's a comfort zone we have now. You know, this band has gone through so much together. We have a real bond that can't be broken."
Do you feel as though you helped the guys find themselves after Creed broke up in 2003?
"I don't know if I'd put it that way. They were definitely starting over, but then, so was I. We all met up and started at ground zero. As Creed, they were playing arenas, but when we started Alter Bridge, we were playing clubs. We grew this thing together. It's been a slow but gradual process, and now it looks like we're going to be able to play arenas in some places. That's very exciting. But it's been a lot of hard work, so we don't take for granted what got us to this place. And we don't take our fans for granted, either."