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This article was originally published in issue #10
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Mark Tremonti has been showered with praise. Guitar World’s ‘Guitarist of the Year’ for three consecutive years, one magazine even claimed his solo on Blackbird was ‘the greatest solo of all time’. Which is one guaranteed way to start a bar room fight! From Creed to Alter Bridge, Tremonti has conquered all. Now he’s poised to launch his first ever solo album. Stuart Bull meets one of guitar’s hottest properties, while Levi Clay considers his stellar career so far.
This couldn’t be a better time to feature Mark Tremonti. In just a few weeks time, he will put out his first ever solo record and it’s fair to say that there’s almost unprecedented anticipation for it in guitar circles - especially since a YouTube preview was carefully timed to whet our appetites!
Tremonti really is one of the icons of the post-grunge guitar scene and if he hasn’t popped onto your radar before now, you’re at the perfect place in time to find yourself a new hero.
Born in Detroit, 1974, it was just 11 years before Mark picked up the guitar. He’s very open about his influences, citing Metallica’s Master of Puppets as major game-changer for him. He was also into much heavier bands like Slayer, Tesla, Celtic Frost and Morbid Angel - this was a major driving force behind his music for a long time but spent many years on the back burner while he was with Creed. There was no escaping these influences from his early years though and Mark became quite the speed metal connoisseur. Although it wasn’t long before grunge came along and temporarily killed-off the guitar solo, Mark never stopped loving to solo and had built up a high level of chops.
In the mid ‘90s Tremonti met Scott Stapp (vocals) and formed Creed with Brian Marshall and Scott Phillips. The band started due to Tremonti and Stapp’s shared love of writing music and performing, but there was a little more to Creed. In Mark’s own words: “Creed existed to be as successful as possible”, and this shows in the band’s writing style. It would be a real expert on Mark who could listen to Creed and say “oh yeah, this guy’s really into thrash metal!” This direction paid off and when their first album My Own Prison (originally a self funded release) was picked up by Wind-Up Records, the four singles released all reached number one on the Billboard rock charts. The record shifted six million copies. Ladies and gentlemen, Creed had arrived!
Over the next seven years Creed hit the stadium circuit and became one of the biggest selling Rock bands of the era - 1999’s Human Clay shifting over 11 million copies in the US alone. This album spawned hit singles such as Higher and With Arms Wide Open (which won the Grammy for best Rock song). There seemed to be no stopping Creed and even though 2001’s follow-up album Weathered didn’t meet with the same success, it still went multi-platinum and contained the hot singles My Sacrifice, and One Last Breath.
What I remember personally from being in my early teens and listening to Creed was, they were NOT cool: they were the band that everyone’s mum loved. Sadly, because they were not cool, then Mark Tremonti wasn’t cool either, and that was tough because back in 2001 every magazine on the market had a huge add for the PRS Tremonti SE, and it didn’t matter how uncool Creed were, this guitar certainly was cool: a black singlecut with a pointy headstock. It was tough not having one. Fortunately lots of magazines were featuring Mark as a player and I was serious enough about guitar to read them, so it was from Mark that I got a lot of my warm-up exercises, and an introduction to legato technique. I just couldn’t get my head around why he didn’t play like that in Creed!
When Creed imploded in 2002 (I remember reading that two fans had filed a lawsuit against the band as Stapp was unable to sing a single song) I thought that may be the last I’d hear of Tremonti, but I was wrong - and I’m pretty glad I was, because his next band was the mighty Alter Bridge.
Named after Alter Bridge in Detroit, a bridge which symbolically separated the social classes where Mark grew up, the idea of crossing Alter Bridge meant heading into the unknown. The line-up was Creed but with Myles Kennedy on lead vocals. No one knew what to expect but hopes were pretty high. Skip forward to June 2004 and a vivid memory of heading round my friend Tom’s place to hang out and write music, and there on Kerrang! was the first Alter Bridge single Open Your Eyes. I was blown away by the song, it just felt epic in all aspects and Myles was on fire, then the solo kicked in (3:03) and I can say that my world changed a little bit. After some slow, melodic phrasing Mark exploded with a series of rapid fire legato ideas with the wah and I’d honestly not heard anything quite like it at the time (least of all from an ex-Creed member!)
Alter Bridge’s first album One Day Remains came out in August 2004. It’s just a great album featuring some amazing songs such as Burn it Down and metal anthem Metalingus. The album was received really well by critics but the music industry had changed. Although the record shifted 750,000 copies (tiny compared to Creed) it was still considered a success.
In the last eight years Alter Bridge have been going strong, releasing two more albums, 2007’s Blackbird and 2010’s AB III. During this period we’ve really had the chance to get to know Tremonti as a metal-influenced writer and a 21st century guitar icon. Just take a listen to the title track from Blackbird, it opens like a Creed tune, with some melodic clean fingerpicking, but after a melodic intro we’re introduced to a ball-breaking metal riff before Myles soars like the proverbial blackbird over the chorus. The song just builds and builds until the guitar solo enters at the 4:40 mark; this is one of Tremonti’s best moments committed to record containing everything from melodic bends, fluid legato licks and an alternate picking run at the solo’s climax.
When it comes to gear, Tremonti is famed for his vast collection of Paul Reed Smith guitars which he’s been playing since the first major Creed tour. He has both a signature top line PRS which features his own pattern thin neck profile, and the budget SE model. He tunes them in various tunings including drop B, open D and open G. Ampwise Tremonti has used many things over the years but I’m led to believe that his current rig consists of Mesa Boogie and Bogner amplifiers. If you look closely though you see Fuchs, Two Rock, and Fender amps too, so he really mixes it up.
From 2009 onward Tremonti has bounced between Creed and Alter Bridge, recording albums with Creed (2009’s Full Circle) and live DVDs with Alter Bridge (2009’s Live from Amsterdam and this year’s Live at Wembley). His schedule from here is to put out his solo record, then to write and record a new album with Creed. At the time of writing, all we know about this solo record is that Mark has gone back to his classic Metal roots as shown in the first single, You Waste Your Time. This gives us a good idea of what we can expect from our resident stadium guitar hero, and I’m sure we’re going to love it!