Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #135. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Walk The Sky may be Alter Bridge's shortest album in over a decade, but rest assured, it's a monumental slab of career-spanning alt-metal craziness.
Words by Matt Doria.
Celebrating their 15th year of alt-metal domination in 2019, Alter Bridge look back on a timeline that has well and truly established them as the unequivocal leaders of heavy music’s new generation. Led by the inimitable voice of Myles Kennedy (who’s elsewhere shot to stardom as the mic-slinger in Slash’s band) and the double wallop of power in Kennedy and Mark Tremonti’s fierce dynamic as guitarists, the Florida foursome were an instant hit on the shredder’s circuit.
Six albums down, Walk The Sky presents itself as a culmination of everything that Alter Bridge have shed their blood, sweat and tears in pummelling towards thus far. While also adding some unexpected new flavours, the disc covers virtually every corner of its creators’ respective musicalities – especially impressive when you learn how the album came to life.
Where previous efforts saw them write hand-in-hand to squeeze the most out of each other creatively, LP6 split the writing talents of Tremonti and Kennedy in half. Rather than co-write the album, the pair wrote their songs separately, submitting full demos to the band right before they made their trek into the studio. But despite not working together, it’s damn near impossible to tell which were Kennedy’s ideas and which were Tremonti’s – which, as the latter fills us in, was exactly what they were going for.
What is it about Walk The Sky that you’d say makes it the definitive Alter Bridge album?
I think we just used all of our best efforts, skillsets and experience to pour as much heart and soul into this album as possible. We always try to outdo our previous attempts – we’re only up against ourselves, y’know? That’s kind of the only perimeter we put on a record, to make it better than whatever we did the last time around.
So how did you want this record to build upon the legacy that you’d established on the first five?
We mainly just try to keep introducing new elements to our sound; try to diversify what we do, and not just keep on putting out the same thing. We dove into some of the synth-based tones that Myles and I have been into lately, and added that flavour to this record.
Did you find it challenging to introduce synths into a predominantly riff-based style?
Well, it was nothing that I was ever into previously. I’m not really a huge fan of synths in hard rock music, but I love the old, original synthwave stuff from the ‘80s – like the tones that John Carpenter used to use in his movie soundtracks. That kind of stuff is more edgy and more moody, and it lends itself much better to our sound. So that’s the kind of vibe that we were going for.
What made you guys want to switch up the writing dynamic between yourself and Myles?
In all honesty, we didn’t want to – we had to. We only had five weeks of studio time with this record, so we needed to come in there with demos that were not loose at all, that were almost completely done. So Myles and I didn’t wait ’til the last minute to say, “Hey, here’s a part – let’s put your part with my part,” like we usually do. This time, it was like, “Okay, here’s my songs, there’s your songs – let’s get with the band and try to make them better.” It wasn’t rushed, but we had to be strategic about it.
Do you think that led to a more distinct dichotomy between your individual styles?
No! Y’know, it’s funny – our producer [Michael ‘Elvis’ Baskette] said along the way that he can’t tell the difference between who’s writing what on this record. He’s like, “You guys have morphed into the same person!” A lot of the stuff that Myles wrote, Elvis thought I wrote, and vice versa. So it’ll be fun for fans to try and figure out who did what – there’s definitely a lot of parts where they’re going to be wrong.
Do you find it important to keep pushing yourself as a guitarist with each new record?
Always, yeah. You’ve gotta keep on reinventing what you do and carrying on. If you just keep doing the same thing, it’s no good for anybody – it’s no good for the fans, it’s no good for yourself... I’m always trying to do something a little different with my playing.
So what were some of the techniques you wanted to explore on this record?
I was doing a little bit of economy picking on this record. I got into some Eric Johnson stuff, and finally kind of figured it out what it is that he does so well, and tried to incorporate it into my style without just making it sound like an Eric Johnson riff. I just tried to throw it in there every now and then to spice things up.
What guitars were you ripping out on?
Just my signature models. We got a bunch of guitars from Paul Reed Smith, and recorded each song with a different guitar – I think we did six different guitars on my end, and five different ones on Myles’ end.
Are you repping the same type of setup onstage, too?
Well, one of my main tones is my signature model amp, the MT-15, and the MT-15 is only 15-watts so I’m not able to play that onstage. I’ve been trying to get PRS to make me a 100-watt amp for a very long time, and they still haven’t done it. Hopefully one day they’ll get to work and make me that 100-watter.
Did you have the live show in mind when you were working on this record?
I think we learned the lesson early on that when you’re writing a song, you have to be thinking about how it’s going to translate live. Because if you make an album that’s nice to listen to but no fun to play live, you’re just causing yourself a lot of grief – you’re not going to have any fun on tour. So we want to make sure that these songs are all energetic live songs. This record is definitely a very fun one to play.
Are there any cuts that you’re just itching to bust out in the set?
“Take The Crown” is one that I’m having a lot of fun playing at home. “Native Son” is always a good time on the guitar, and I can’t wait to play “Indoctrination”. “Godspeed”, too. Y’know, I’ve been playing these songs at home for a while now, and it’s been a good time so far – they’re all very satisfying to play.
When are we gonna see Alter Bridge tear shit up on Australian stages again!?
Hopefully next year at some point! We’re touring all throughout 2020, so we’ll definitely be pushing for an Australian trip.