Watching Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy work is an exercise in stamina, just trying to keep up with the guy. In addition to rocking with one of the biggest bands in the world, Kennedy is also the go-to collaborative talent for ex-Guns N’ Roses guitar hero Slash, who’s enlisted the wailer to handle all the vocals on his hotly anticipated next solo album.
Most recently, Kennedy and the rest of Alter Bridge recorded and released a third album that’s had a profound critical and commercial impact, with a number one selling position on iTunes in the U.S. The first ABIII single "Isolation" has been tearing up the radio, currently running its third week in the number one spot on the U.S. rock charts. The band’s taking a break from touring until April, and in the downtime Myles is back on the road with Slash, tirelessly carving new paths in the rock landscape.
We caught up with Myles on a day off in Vegas to discuss ABIII, the band’s relationship with their new level, his solo album and what lies ahead for one of the busiest rockers alive.
Roadrunner Records seems to be giving Alter Bridge a highly motivated promotional platform – has the relationship been more fruitful so far than with Universal? What could they have done better to keep AB in their ranks?
Roadrunner and EMI have been amazing so far. I think both companies "get" where AB is coming from. We don’t hold anything against any of our previous labels. They just weren’t the right home for us.
The writing dynamic between you and Mark seems to continue to grow – a congruency that’s saturated over the years and works more symbiotically within the sound, it seems. How has your songwriting relationship changed over time?
I think what has changed is that we don’t get too precious with our ideas. We have learned that sometimes you get too close to a piece of music and it’s good to get someone else’s perspective that you trust. It is part of what makes our collaboration unique. Some of our best songs have been born out of trusting that process.
This album essentially picks up where Blackbird left off in sound. How much of that is the result of material that spawned from the Blackbird sessions?
Parts of Words Darker than their Wings, I Know it Hurts and Wonderful Life were started as we were working on the Blackbird record in Nashville back in 2007. I believe most everything else came after that. Mark stumbled onto WDTTW one night when we were messing around with altered tunings. I showed him a tuning that Chris Whitley used on a track off the "Dirt Floor" album and he got inspired and came up with that verse. The chorus to "I know it Hurts" was originally in that same song if I remember correctly. Come to think of it, we both had some pretty productive times creatively in the apartment we shared during those sessions.
Instrumentally or vocally, were any new disciplines applied going in? Mark’s clearly using less wah pedal action, for starters…
I think all of the touring we have done over the years has helped to refine us musically. It really comes down to repetition. We have had the luxury of trial and error to figure out how to be at our best individually and as a whole. It’s really helped me with my vocal approach. I certainly applied all of that on this record.
You’ve mentioned that "Words Darker Than Their Wings" stems from a conversation you had with a friend that became the catalyst for the song. Looking back at your catalogue of music, what would you say your most significant lyrical inspiration has been?
I have a hard time singing about anything that I haven’t lived through. As a lyricist, I wouldn’t consider myself the greatest storyteller. I really have to have experienced the subject matter in some way. So I guess the answer to that is simply my life and experiences. Everything good and bad that has carved out a place in my heart. Something that I can tap into and convey lyrically and emotionally. I don’t like singing with empty words. I want each phrase to be loaded with something that will resonate with me as I deliver it.
I must admit that I haven’t always followed this method. Sometimes you end up running out of emotional places to mine and you resort to tapping into something that is far from profound or sincere. Generally this ends up leaving me less than proud of the final outcome.
Is it stifling in any way to have the next full year planned ahead? The job security’s fantastic (ha), but does your spontaneous side feel a bit choked?
No, actually I love it. It puts my heart at ease to know that things are planned for some time. I tend to get a bit anxious when I know there are chunks of downtime. My spontaneous side seems come to the surface regardless of whether I am at home or on the road.
ABIII is undoubtedly a darker record, as it’s being called in virtually every review I’ve seen. But there’s a universal questioning of absolute truths and authority that’s underway in growing segments of American culture, a momentum that lends itself to the timeliness of the record. Whether it’s realizing the corporate horrors of our current political climate or honestly scrutinizing the concept of God, more people seem to be looking more closely at what this ride is all about. Does the album represent an interpretation of that, or is it merely a well-timed coincidence?
I would have to say it is a bit of both. I would consider myself a part of the growing segment of people who question authority and scrutinize concepts that no longer seem as logical as they once did. There are a lot of us out there. While on the other hand there are still a vast amount of people who continue to find solace in these institutions. Frankly, I envy those people. But at this point in my life I don’t find peace in the same concepts that many hold as truth. Believe me I tried. It’s not like I didn’t spend most of my life submersed in the bosom of doctrine or dogma.
My fear lyrically with AB III was that it might alienate a lot of folks who don’t fall into the "questioning" category. I really had to come to terms with the fact that I have always tried to write from a place that is honest. With that honesty comes the risk of not pleasing everyone. I really struggled with that one.
Through ABIII there’s a great deal of examination into the concept of lost innocence and realizing that the truth isn’t quite what you’d been led to believe. In the internet’s hyperconnected tidal wave of information, religions are being faced with, for the first time ever, volumes of valid arguments against their dogmatic structure and are receiving comparative analysis that’s far more scrutinizing than ever before. As a result, people are finding a greater relation than ever to those feelings of stark realization and awakening to manipulated myths. Having been surrounded by theological mythology throughout your life, how powerful is the idea to you that these songs could build an exploratory bridge for people facing that ever-increasing spiritual crisis?
It kind of scares me because the intention of these lyrics was not to be the catalyst to push anyone away from what they value as truth. The intention of these lyrics was simply to write from a place that was real and honest. For me to do that I had to dig a little deeper and put a little bit more of myself out there than I was comfortable with at times.
What people choose to take from these songs is up to them. Hopefully they are secure enough in their own beliefs or lack thereof not to be swayed one way or the other by the content of this record.
You mentioned how much fun you had playing with Led Zeppelin when the idea of doing a tour with them came up. Since chances appear slim that we’ll ever see it happen, can you tell us what songs you enjoyed singing most with them? I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing to hell we could hear those sessions…
Regardless of whoever might have sung with them I don’t think it was their intention to call it Led Zeppelin. Whatever it would have been it would have been called something else I’m sure.
With that said, we did play songs from the Zeppelin catalogue. I enjoyed playing anything they called out during rehearsals. For me, stand out moments included playing The Rain Song and No Quarter. Those have always been two of my favorites.
Your solo record is more acoustically centered, correct? What musical/thematic areas are you exploring on that one?
Yes, it is more acoustically centered. Thematically a lot of it is based around the profound effect that my Wife has had on my life. Musically it’s harder to pinpoint. I will say that it is not a Hard Rock or Metal album. It is something I have been chipping away at for some time. I tried to go down roads creatively that I really needed to explore.
You’re booked solid with other projects all through next year, it seems. Think you’ll find time to get the solo record out before 2011 ends, or were you serious about the 12.21.2012 thing?
I was half joking about the 12 21 2012 thing. I will say that with everything going on I don’t see how I will get it released by this year. I really would like to have ample time to promote it instead of just throwing it out there. I guess we will see what happens.
What program did you use to record your album? I hear you’re a fan of Logic…
I did all of the demos for the record on Logic. In fact, I flew in a bunch of the demo parts to the final recording. I really dig Logic for songwriting. It is so intuitive that I don’t get bogged down like I did with other recording platforms.
For the actual recording we used Protools. My friend and coproducer Brian Sperber handled those duties. He is a wizard with that stuff.
Was there any particular regimen you kept yourself to for the recording process, or was it just a matter of finding the time?
It was just a matter of carving out a chunk of time that worked for both Sperber and I.
Any particular songs on that one you’re excited to share?
I am really excited by a couple. The Light of Day is one that I am fond of. There is another one called Love Rain Down that is different from anything I have ever written. Inspired by a Big Bill Broonzy guitar approach I tried to create something modern and lush arrangement wise.
From a vocalist perspective, how do you prepare your voice for recording or before a show?
I usually warm up for at least an hour. It includes scales and arpeggios that I won’t bore you with. I will say it is the most important part of maintaining my voice. If I didn’t do all of that stuff I am pretty sure I would have blown my voice out by now.
Is it a common occurrence for you write a vocal part that’s unassociated with music from the start? Or do you find your melodies are more reactionary to the instrumentation?
It really depends. It can come a number of different ways. Sometimes a melody will hit me right before I fall asleep. Sometimes it will hit me as I am playing a chord progression or riff.
Alright, in closing I’ve got to ask: Would you take the Velvet Revolver gig if it were offered again (2002 was the first time they reached out, right?), and they were willing to work around your existing commitments or even wait until 2012 to kick into gear? Corey Taylor’s been discussed, but….
I’ve always loved that band but I think I would be the wrong cat for that gig….that is the best way I can answer that one.