After conquering the world with two bands (Creed and Alter Bridge), Mark Tremonti is on his way to doing it again leading a third, the appropriately named Tremonti. The group—which, in addition to its namesake on lead guitar and vocals, features guitarist Eric Friedman, drummer Garrett Whitlock and bassist Wolfgang Van Halen—is an outlet for Mark’s heavier side, a nod to the music on which he grew up. Its second album, “Cauterize,” will be released June 9 via Fret 12, and record number three, “Dust,” is already in the can, too. As the band wrapped up a U.S. tour and prepared to head to Europe, Tremonti called in to Live Metal’s Greg Maki to discuss his eponymous band, the new album and more.
LIVE METAL: This band Tremonti, since it bares your name, is this the truest representation of you as a musician and songwriter, or just another side that you didn’t have an outlet for before this?
MARK TREMONTI: This is definitely more of where I started from. It’s definitely a heavier-leaning band. Of all the stuff I write, it’s definitely the heaviest side of it. The poppier side of me doesn’t really come out too much in this band, but it’s still in there. So this is the heavier-leaning side of what I like to do.
When you started writing the songs that ended up on the first album, did know that was what it was going to be?
When we put the first record together, a lot of the songs that I had been throwing at the other guys for years that were some of my favorite ideas that never flew with the guys, those were the first ideas that I went and dug into for that first album. There’s still songs on this record that never really gelled well with the other guys that I made sure happened in this band.
The second album, “Cauterize,” comes out June 9. When you went to start working on this, what kind of goals did you have for it?
The only goal I ever have is to outdo the previous record, to always improve on what we’ve done in the past.
What was the songwriting process like? Is it a collaboration with the other people in the band? Are you leading the way?
They all originate with my ideas, and then I’ll sit down with the guys and we’ll work out arrangements together. So everybody kind of gives their opinion on what flows the best. When I write, I write parts, and when it comes time to do a record, I marry those parts together, and that’s when it’s good to have a band in the room to see how the parts flow live. You might think something sounds great, but you really have to play it live with a full band. You’re really kind of blind until you hear it all played live.
Does your approach to writing change at all when you know that you’re going to be singing all the leads?
No, it’s just a lot more work. I’ve always written vocal melodies since I was a kid. That’s one of the big things that’s always irritated me a little bit in my career, is that everybody’s always considered me a guitar player when I’m a songwriter. I’ve been writing songs since day one, and writing vocal melodies and lyrics and all these things, but this is the first time actually getting to sing them full on. It’s just more work doing 100 percent of the lyrics and also having to do all of the guitar solos. But it’s fun. It’s rewarding.
What is your approach to guitar solos? Do you compose them note for note ahead of time, or do you leave room for improvisation?
I come into the studio prepared, and then I pick moments that I know I want to happen in the solo, and then I leave a little bit of loose room around it. Then sometimes when I’m tracking a solo, if I start falling off the track and going somewhere else, it turns out to be the coolest part. So we never limit ourselves.
The album title: There’s a song on the album called “Cauterize,” but how did you settle on that for the title?
At first, I was leaning towards “Providence” as the title of the record. But then I kind of second guessed that and went through all the lyrics and all the song titles, and wrote them all down and looked at them. “Cauterize” just seemed like the most unique title, the one that stuck out the most to us, and we ran with it.
There was another album recorded at the same time, too, “Dust.” Is there a title song on that one, as well?
Yeah, it’s the last song off the second record. It’s one of our favorite tunes of the whole batch.
Was it hard to decide which songs to put on which album?
Yeah. It’s just hard to be disciplined and keep some great songs that we have the patience to be released. I wanted both records to flow nice within themselves. If I had two slower songs, I’d put one on one record and one on the other, and try and make the records evenly.
Was it your intention from the beginning to do two different albums, or did you end up with so much material that you felt you needed two?
The intention was to record 20 songs, and that’s what we had agreed upon with Elvis (Baskette), our producer, that we were gonna get in there and record 20 songs, and then we were gonna figure out the release as we went. As the process went on, I didn’t want to release a 13-song record and have seven B-sides. We worked way too hard on these songs to not have any of them reach their full potential. So we split them up into two records. We actually put together about 25 songs, cut the five that we thought were the weakest of the bunch and ran with those 20, and like I said, split them up as evenly as possible.
This was the first time in the studio with Wolfgang Van Halen, who joined the band after the first album was recorded. What is it like working with him?
It’s great. He’s a very, very talented musician. If you show him an idea, he learns it in two seconds, and then some. He makes the rhythm section sound really, really tight and aggressive. He’s just about the best bass player around.
Was his father an influence on you?
I was more into dark, heavy metal stuff when I was growing up, but I think over the years later on, I got more and more into Van Halen. But I never learned a bunch of Van Halen. I never really learned too much of anybody else’s stuff over the years. I would learn little licks here and there from players but mostly speed metal, some dark stuff. Van Halen was one of my older brother’s favorite bands, so I picked up on what he was listening to. But I wasn’t listening to Van Halen; I was listening to Slayer, you know?
You’re out on tour right now. How has it been going on the road for you?
It’s been going great. We’ve got three more shows here in the States, and then we head over to Europe. It’s all been a very positive experience.
How is it for you being the frontman, being the guy who talks to the crowd between songs?
It gets better every night. It’s definitely something that you can only get better at with experience. I can’t practice by watching somebody else in a video or taking lessons. You have to get out there and do it, so it’s something that’ll just keep on improving with time.
You’ve obviously been performing live for a long time. Do you ever get any stage fright or nervous or anything like that?
Not too much. It depends on the situation. If I’m about to go on Jay Leno—it’s not Jay Leno anymore—but any big show, you always kind of get a little anxious. But normal shows usually are just a good time. Sometimes if you’re filming a DVD, where the pressure’s on, you just want to play perfect, and sometimes that makes you play a little too stiff, which I don’t like. But 99 percent of the time it’s just fun.
What is the plan after you come back from Europe?
After we come back from Europe, we are going to put together a HardDrive tour later on this fall. I think that’s supposed to happen in September. We’ll tour all throughout the United States with that, and we’ll head over to Europe again for a tour and look for opportunities to get to maybe Australia, maybe South America—wherever the album takes us.
Is there a timetable for when Alter Bridge will regroup?
Sometime in 2016 we’ll put out another record.
One last thing: I live in Maryland, not too far from where PRS is based, and you’re a longtime PRS guy. Do you ever get out to this area?
Yeah, I’ve been to the factory a bunch of times, and then we come out there and play Rams Head a lot. Yeah, just being in a touring band, I get to go by there all the time.
Are you involved in anything for the 30th anniversary this year?
Not at this point. I don’t know where this touring cycle is gonna take me, so hopefully I can be around.
I don’t want to take up a ton of your time, so is there anything else you’d like to say right now?
Just look out June 9 for “Cauterize.” That’s what we’re focusing on at the moment.