Every lasting legacy remains rooted in an undying urge to grow. After two decades at the forefront of all things guitar, a GRAMMY® Award win, 40 million-plus units sold between Alter Bridge, Creed, and his eponymous Tremonti, and countless other accolades, Mark Tremonti once again summited an uncharted creative peak in 2018. For the very first time, the guitarist and singer crafted an immersive concept and accompanying novel for Tremonti’s fourth full-length album and first for Napalm Records, “A Dying Machine.” The undeniably power record serves as the first concept album of Tremonti’s career and the music is inspired by a story that came to Mark while on the last Alter Bridge tour. During that time, the epic title track “A Dying Machine” was born. The story, which has been handcrafted into a full-length work of fiction (now available for pre-order at www.marktremonti.com) authored by Mark Tremonti and John Shirley, takes place at the turn of the next century where humans and fabricated beings called “vessels” are trying to co-exist.
Since the worldwide release of “A Dying Machine” via Napalm Records on June 8th, the album has stormed the US sales charts giving the group their fourth Top 10 on the Independent Current Album Chart. The album also landed at #2 on the Top Hard Music Albums, #3 on the Record Label Independent Current Album, #7 Top Internet, #12 Top Current Artists and #57 on the Billboard Top 200. The album also shot up the iTunes chart hitting #3 on the Top Rock Albums and #6 on Top Overall Albums when it was released. Hot on the heels of their impressive chart debut Tremonti, comprised of Mark Tremonti on vocals/guitars, Eric Friedman on guitars/backing vocals, and Garrett Whitlock on drums, have also announced they will be touring the US later this year as special guests for their friends in Seether.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Mark Tremonti to discuss the latest exciting chapter in his career. In the interview, the focus on the origins of “A Dying Machine,” the challenges encountered during the creative process and what lies in store for fans in the near future.
Before we get to everything you have going on currently, let’s go back to the beginning. How did music first come into your life?
When I was really young, I was drawn to the guitar. It was something that I absolutely needed to get my hands on! When I did, I just went to songwriting route right off the bat. I have been creating, as much as I can, since I was 11 years old!
Pursuing one’s passion professionally is a huge step to take for any young person. Did you have any reservations about taking the plunge?
No, I never had any reservations. I always played it safe. When I was in high school and college, I was always on top of my school work, in addition to practicing my guitar as much as possible. I went to college for about 4 to 5 years before we got the record deal. When we got the deal, I just had to drop out and go chase the dream at that point. I could always go back to school, but I couldn’t always go back to a record deal. So, that’s the decision I made at the time.
You make it all look so easy when you take the stage. When do you feel you came into your own as a performer and become comfortable in your own skin?
[laughs] I think I’m still trying to do that more and more every day! Back when I first started, I was very timid on stage. There comes a point where you just don’t think about what you’re doing, and you enjoy it. Nowadays, it’s just like the switch goes off. When I go out on stage I’m a completely different person then I am when I’m off stage. It’s kind of like putting up a wall. It protects you. It’s kind of like how some people don’t like to hear their own voice or see pictures of themselves. When you get on stage, you can’t feel that way. You just gotta let it all out and not worry about it. It takes years to develop that, but like I said, it’s like a light switch going off. When I am on stage I turn into a character and I’m not really myself.
You’ve come so far in the past 2 decades in the business. What do you consider the biggest obstacles that you’ve overcome?
I think the biggest obstacle we’ve ever had to get past was the breaking up of Creed and the birth of Alter Bridge. It was definitely not an easy transition and we fought for our lives and careers at that point. We fault for 12 or 13 years before we felt we had a very solid foundation. It was a tough time, but I think it built us all and made us a stronger unit.
What goes into fueling your creative fire, so to speak?
I just like to set moods. A lot of times, I just have to be alone and get into the flow of whatever it is I may be feeling at the moment and see what happens. It’s almost like catching lightning in a bottle! You never know when it’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, or what type of mood you’re going to be in. You just have to adapt!
There’re a lot of people out there who look to you as an inspiration. What do you consider the keys to longevity in the music business?
I think it comes down to being passionate about what you do and working hard at it, along with never getting comfortable. This is something I’ve always loved doing, so it’s never been an effort for me to write the next song or work on the next guitar technique. It’s something I truly enjoyed doing. My advice to anyone out there would be to be passionate about what you’re doing and work hard!
You’ve certainly worked hard on the latest release, “A Dying Machine.” Tell us a little about how the ball got rolling for your concept record.
I had been working on a few songs before I came across the title track. Once I came up with the title track, I discovered that I really enjoyed telling that story within the song, so I started to write another song to continue that story. At that point, I thought, “maybe I will do a three or four song, miniature concept record.” Once I got there and finished with that, I just kept on going until the whole record was a concept. That was a new concept for me and I really enjoyed it!
Wow! It sounds like it was a very organic process from start to finish.
Yeah, it just kind of landed in my lap. I was never a fan of concept records in general. I had a couple of concept records in my collection when I was younger, but it wasn’t because of the concept. I never even really knew what the concepts were, I just had the records. It was never something on my radar to do. For a few years now, I’ve had this ambition to write a book and get it published. I felt it would be a huge accomplishment and it was something I put on my list of things to do before I left this planet. When this album came together, I thought, “No time like the present to go ahead and try to do this!” That’s why I took on the challenge of taking on the record and the book.
Tell us a little bit about your typical songwriting process. How did the writing process for “A Dying Machine” compare and contrast to what you’ve done in the past?
Each song is a little different. A lot of songs on this record, if I wrote something I enjoy, I would set some type of drum loop and write to that. The idea was to come up with as many parts as I could in at any given sitting. Then, I will come back to those parts and filter through to see if I could tie them together. On this record, it was a little different because I make sure that each song was completed before I moved on to the next song. Usually, I will write in pieces and parts and kind of jump between the songs. I might even write songs that aren’t going to be only record for two more records from now. I never force myself into forcing a song to be done but on this record I did. I made sure each song was completed before I moved on because it needed to follow a plot because it was the concept of a book. I needed to have the songs for specific reasons. It was a fun challenge and a new way of working for me. Some songs were more difficult to nail down than others. There were things that made it tougher and easier at the same time. When you have a concept record, you have a goal but, in having a goal, you have to be able to make it makes sense. You can’t just be vague with your songs. You have to go to the direct route. When you’re going into a new song, sometimes it’s good to have that purpose, but other times it made it more difficult.
You joined forces with John Shirley, your co-writer, for “A Dying Machine.” How’d the two of you cross paths?
When I first decided to do the book, I started putting pen to paper and try to do it myself. Over the years I have bought and studied all kinds of books on how to write novels, develop characters and so on. I didn’t have a lot of practice of actually doing it, only practice at studying how to do it! [laughs] When I actually got around to doing it, it was a very slow-going process and I questioned myself a lot. It was at that point I decided to look into ghostwriters. A thought occurred to me that my agent, who books us in The States, works for UTA (United Talent Agency) and they have a literary department. So, I called him up and told him the story and what I was looking to do. I asked him if he could find somebody that I could partner up with on the project. You hear about people getting ghost writers and writing stories with them and whatnot, but I wanted a partner so you’re not writing in a vacuum, and you can bounce ideas off each other and move forward from there. I think we went through about nine different authors before we got to John Shirley. All the authors they send my way worked great and all were great writers, but you can kind of judge somebody’s voice and storytelling by just reading a few chapters of their work. Once I came across John, I knew it was perfect! He specializes in where technology is going in his writing and does TED Talks about the future of technology. I knew that when I explain the story to him, he could make it make sense scientifically, which really helped out a lot.
What was the process for working together on the book?
It was very similar to writing an album, believe it or not. The first thing I did was tell him the story about 10 different times from start to finish. Every time we would get on the phone, there would be things missing. Finally, I said, “Why don’t we come up with an outline. Could you write me a short outline of how you see the story after I’ve told it to you?” I was looking for two or three-page thing, but he turned in a 28-page outline! [laughs] We went through that outline for a couple weeks to make sure every detail was on track. Once that was taken care of we started with Chapter 1. We talked about what was going to happen at the beginning of the story, he would get off to writing and turn into me what he had written. I would go through it and give my input. We did that chapter by chapter for 21 or 22 chapters of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed doing it!
What do you feel you brought out in each other creatively through the process?
You know, one thing that really stands out is that when we first started working together, it was very formal and professional. As we got going, we both fell in love with the story. We really respect each other and became great friends through the process. We have never met in person, but we have talked on the phone hundreds of times. I’d talk to him every single day! Now that the book has been turned into the printer I really miss talking to John! I’ve been constantly thinking about another story that we could work on together. I loved working with him.
That’s so cool to hear! I know you said this was something you wanted to try once but it seems like you might be eager to take another stab at it!
I would love it. When we were finishing up the project, I was excited that we were finishing it up, but I was kind of sad that it was coming to an end. I would say that of anytime in my career, this has been the most satisfying artistic endeavor I’ve been a part of. Doing the book and the album has allowed me to use my imagination to the fullest and that is very, very satisfying.
What are the biggest challenges you encounter during the creation of both the book and the album?
Telling the complete story was a big challenge. It was all very natural and the more natural you can be the better because the less hard it will be and the more right you know it is. If you have to force something, you know it’s not right. I think one of the toughest things I encountered was when I was initially writing the album. That was just getting lucky with your imagination and saying, “Okay, this is what the next plot twist could be and that’s what this next song is going to be about.” Then you finish that song and think, “Where is the story going to go from here? What’s next?” Then you have to write a song about that. The biggest challenge was opening up my mind and imagination to tell a story.
You’ve done the concept album and the novel. Any interest in turning “A Dying Machine” into a major motion picture?
That would be the ultimate dream come true! It’s something that the people at UTA are already discussing. When I was looking for this partner in the writing of the book, I told them the story and they told me that sometimes when artists turn in ideas for books it doesn’t necessarily end well. They said, “Sometimes when you have a musician or an actor who wants to write a book, you have to let them down softly. Sometimes they should stick to their craft.” Then they said that they really love this idea and really wanted to see it through. The head of their movie department was very excited about it and was talking to me about the possibilities of TV or movies. It really blew my mind that they were even considering that, so I’m really happy about that. I would really love to be as involved as I could, if that happens.
What remains on your creative bucket list now that you’ve knocked a few things off?
It’s hard to say! Those were the most far stretching goals I had. I still haven’t gotten the book published. I wrote the book with John and we’ve self-published it. We’re doing a limited run so that we can then go out and try to shop it to a publishing house to put it in bookstores. We still haven’t gotten to that point yet, so the book is still not totally checked off my list! I say the peak of my ambitions and goals at the moment would be to, like you said, get this thing on the screen somehow.
The album, “A Dying Machine,” is in stores now. Where can people go to get their hands on the book?
They can go to www.fret12.com or www.marktremonti.com. Like I said, we’re just doing a limited run of a few thousand books to start. We’re taking that approach because if you print too many of them the publishing house is like, “Well, you’ve already sold all of these books. Why would we want to sign you up and sell your books for you?” That’s why were keeping it so limited.
You’ve come a long way since starting out as a musician. How do you feel you’ve most evolved along the way?
It’s hard to say. I feel like you’re always evolving as a songwriter and are always trying to reinvent the way you are approaching the song. That’s been the biggest challenge for me overall. As a guitar player, I think my guitar playing has changed a lot over the years. If you listen to one of the songs off “My Own Prison” and one of the songs off “A Dying Machine,” I would hope you would see a big, big difference between the playing styles. Lyrically, I think you gain more and more confidence over the years. I always say, “if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse!” [laughs] you just have to keep on pushing and flexing your creative muscles along the way.
The music business is always changing. What’s the best way for us to lend support to you in this day and age?
Really, the best thing to do is to come out and see a show. It’s not all about CD sales these days, we’ve got vinyl of all different sorts and I love for people to check out the book. I love for people to not only enjoy the record but hear what the record is all about in it’s long form. Definitely check out the website and see when we’re touring near you. We love for you to come out and see us. We loved meeting everybody in person and we always stay at the end of shows to talk with everyone and sign shirts and whatnot. That’s probably the best way to support us.
It seems like the rest of your year is going to be jam packed! Give us a taste of what’s to come in the near future.
We’ve been over here in Europe for about seven weeks and we are headed home later this week. We just got done with the Iron Maiden tour which has been fantastic! We’re going home and taking five weeks off before heading back out on tour in the United States with Seether. After that, we’ll come back over here to Europe for a November tour. In January, we will probably do a short run in The States. Who knows from there! We will just keep on touring. I’m not sure where yet but we will probably tour through the fall of next year and then Alter Bridge will be on deck!
Awesome, man! You always have irons in the fire! Thanks for taking time out of talk to me today and I wish you continued success!
Thank you so much, man! I look forward to talking to you again soon! Take care.
Tremonti’s “A Dying Machine” is available now! Pre-order the book at marktremonti.com and fret12.com. Follow the continuing adventures of Mark Tremonti on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.