GRAMMY® Award Winning musician, producer, author, and founding member of hard rock bands Alter Bridge, Creed, and Tremonti, Mark Tremonti is “stepping out” with his most ambitious and challenging project to date! Mark has partnered with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) as he releases an album of Frank Sinatra covers entitled ‘Tremonti Sings Sinatra.’ The album of selections from Frank Sinatra’s catalog is being released as part of a new charity initiative created by Tremonti called Take A Chance For Charity. Proceeds from the album – scheduled for release on May 27th – will support NDSS and their work to advocate for and assist individuals with Down syndrome and their families. Mark and his family were blessed to welcome their first daughter Stella last March – who was born with Down syndrome – and the idea for the project was born.
Teaming with surviving Frank Sinatra’s orchestra members, he has created new takes on some of the classics and some deeper cuts from the legendary entertainer/philanthropist’s robust catalog. From the opening horns and piano of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to the final vocal outro of “All Or Nothing At All,” Mark Tremonti showcases the signature vocal approach and exemplary musicianship that made Sinatra’s work timeless. To see his vision through, Mark reached out to Frank Sinatra’s musical director Mike Smith who collected as many remaining members as possible of Frank’s touring band to record the music for ‘Tremonti Sings Sinatra’. Popular standards like “I’ve Got The World On A String,” “My Way” and “That’s Life” find new life in the hands of these incredible musicians. Mark Tremonti – known for his guitar work that has won him countless accolades – leaves the instrument behind and just sings on the 14-track album.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Mark Tremonti to discuss his passion for Sinatra’s work, the making of ‘Tremonti Sings Sinatra,’ the future of his Take A Chance For Charity project, and more!
When we spoke a few months back, you mentioned having a project in the works that would blow everyone’s minds. You certainly are a man of your word! The announcement of “Tremonti Sings Sinatra” certainly delivered, and what a fantastic piece of work it is!
This project centers around your daughter. First, tell us a little about how the ball got rolling.
I’ve been a big fan of Sinatra’s for my whole life. About three years ago, I became obsessed and really wanted to sing like him, so I took a deep dive! I was just doing it for fun. It was just a hobby where I was singing for fun, just like I did when I was a kid with the guitar. Then, years later, we got the diagnosis that my daughter had Down Syndrome. I felt like this obsession must have had a purpose, so I decided that I would record a Frank Sinatra covers record and do it to try to raise money for Down Syndrome awareness. It’s been a mountain to climb, but we got there!
I’m sure you’ve learned a lot about Down’s Syndrome and the resources available over the past few years. Tell us a little bit about your journey and finding your footing as a parent in this situation?
Ya know, when I first found out, I was scared. I was just shocked and didn’t know what to expect. Thank goodness that my wife grew up with a cousin with Down Syndrome, so she was very familiar with everything. She wasn’t worried at all. She was just happy to be having a child. She kept me strong through it all. At some point, a light switch went off. I was like, “Ya know what? I’m excited. I’m going to do everything I can to welcome her into the world!” Since she’s was born, we’ve found all kinds of support groups. There is the local Down Syndrome Foundation and Down Syndrome Association. Then there is the Nation Down Syndrome Society. There are all these breakfasts you can go to and meet other families with children under two years of age. It’s a great place to network, get to know one another, and get different opinions. It’s a whole new world that we dove into. You have to ask questions from “What schools do we go to?” to “What kind of therapies do we need?” or “What kind of insurance do we need?” There is so much that you can learn from these folks!
“Tremonti Sings Sinatra” benefits the National Down Syndrome Society. How did you make that connection?
NDSS is the biggest Down Syndrome organization in the country, so they were the obvious choice. I had my manager, Tim Tournier, reach out to them and Kandi Packard, the president of NDSS, was super excited. She said, “I’d be happy if Mark just did the annual walk with us in New York.” So, a record with the Sinatra Orchestra was something even more exciting! We are doing a show on May 14th, and she is coming down. That will be the first time I will meet her in person, so I am really excited about that!
Frank Sinatra’s work has influenced all of our lives in some shape or form. What spoke to you about his music?
Christmastime would come around, and I would always go to Christmas parties and get on the karaoke mic. I always felt good singing Sinatra songs! His vocal range was always right up my alley. It felt comfortable for me. Then, one night, I ran into a clip of “The Song Is You,” which he performed back in 1943. It got me interested in learning about his early career. So many people only see him as this big, confident Rat Pack guy singing “New York, New York” and “My Way,” but he’s so much more than that! He had a massively long career and recorded over 1400 songs. I wanted to do my homework and explore his career from beginning to end. As I said, I was obsessed! I read all the books, watched all the movies, and then just started practicing singing like him throughout his different eras.
Did you have any reservations about taking on a project like this? It’s no easy task to fill the shoes of Ol’ Blue Eyes!
I was extremely excited to dive into this! Many people asked me if I was nervous about playing with Sinatra’s band. I’m not nervous at all because I am passionate about it, I’ve worked so hard at it, and I’m doing it for charity! So, what’s the worst somebody’s gonna say? “You did A terrible job raising money for charity!” [laughs] No matter what you do, if you are doing something for a good cause, you shouldn’t be nervous about it. So, I felt really good about it!
How did prepping for this album compare to what you’ve done in the past?
The good thing about practicing vocals, especially Frank Sinatra vocals, is that you don’t have to carry around an instrument with you. You can be wherever you want. To be honest, I mainly practiced in my car! I would bring my laptop with me in the car. I would chart out how he sang things. I would move them around, how he phrased them. I would take notes on how he would enunciate each word and where he put his vibratos and breathed. When I would take my son Pierson to soccer practice, he would sometimes have 3-hour long soccer practices because he was on two different teams. The field was 45 minutes away, and parents weren’t allowed on the field because of Covid. So, I would sit in the car for those 3 hours. My son would also have to hear me sing back and forth from practice. I would sometimes sing upwards of 4 hours a day practicing Frank Sinatra songs! I just honed in on every little word. I absolutely loved it! If I get in the car, I always tell myself, “This is your practice time for singing Sinatra!” Now, I’m back in the studio with Alter Bridge, but I’m still singing Frank Sinatra songs to this day!
What did you learn about your voice throughout this journey?
It’s really helped me with my vibratos and allowed me to live within my lower range and not be afraid to use it. I think a lot of rock singers like to stretch it and make it sound different or rock ‘n’ roll. However, I really enjoy singing where my voice is meant to be. I think that’s what Frank Sinatra has taught me — “This is your voice, not what you are straining to hit all the time.” I will still do that because I play rock/metal music, and I will mostly sing like that, but I’m not afraid to sing like this.
There is no shortage of musical talent on this record. So how did that begin to line up?
Oh yeah! When I told my manager that I wanted to do this project, he said, “Ya know, my guitar teacher growing up was Dan McIntyre, who toured with Frank Sinatra.” It was just such a crazy, star-aligning moment! He set up a lunch with Dan and Mike Smith, Frank Sinatra’s bandleader. When he told them I wanted to do this project, the guys were like, “Well, can your boy sing?” [laughs] He had never heard me sing Sinatra, but he’s my manager, and he believes in me, so he said, “Yeah, sure. He can sing!” [laughs] They said, “We’re all good with doing it. I’ll organize all the guys I can, but you have to get approvals from the Sinatra Estate.” Of the entire process, that is the hardest thing to do because they constantly get requests to do things. After all, he’s probably the most famous singer of all time and the most prominent star. We really had to convince them that this was the right project to allow us to use the name and likeness. They haven’t done that for many people. It’s essentially Michael Buble and Tony Bennett types. It was an absolute honor to get that approval!
The recording sessions for this album and to be a blast!
Yeah! I walked into this very nondescript studio in Chicago, one that you would never know was a studio. There were 17 musicians there. These guys knock stuff out! We did three two-day sessions, so we recorded 14 songs in six days. That is a lot of work in a little amount of time! It was just incredible. We recorded everybody at once except for the saxophones. Otherwise, there would have been too many people to fit into that one room. So what you hear on this record is these guys playing one take from start to finish. These guys don’t cut. It’s all one take of the guys playing from start to finish other than the saxophones being played over the trumpets, trombones, bass, piano, and drums.
As you’ve said, you took a deep dive into Sinatra’s catalog. What spoke to you about the songs you ultimately chose for this record?
I went through his entire catalog as much as I could. I didn’t want to do all of the big hits. I wanted to do some of my personal favorites that I discovered and songs that many people might not be familiar with, like “Wave,” “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” and some of his earlier songs like “The Song Is You” or “All or Nothing At All.” I wanted to do “In the Wee Small Hours of The Morning” because that was his favorite record. It was the title track from his favorite record, so I’m sure it was very important to him. I didn’t want to do “My Way” immediately, but then I was like, “I’ve always loved this song. I love singing it, but if we’re going to do it, I want to do it very differently than Frank Sinatra did.” So, we started with a nylon string guitar, which gives it a different vibe altogether. We put a rhythm section to “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” which didn’t exist on the original recordings. We jazzed up “The Song Is You” and “All or Nothing At All” to make it more of a swing kind of thing. We tried to stay true to the original arrangements for about half of the record.
When we recorded “Luck Be A Lady,” which is one of my favorite songs of his and one of the first ones that I really felt like I could get if I worked hard enough at it. That one gave me confidence! When I sang “Luck Be A Lady,” I had Frank Sinatra’s vocal chart in my hand when I sang the song. It was the one that Frank Sinatra held when he sang that song, so it was pretty insane for me to do! Mike Smith, the band leader, was the one who gave me those charts. I tried to give them back to him, but he said, “No! I want you to hold this while you sing it to get the mojo!”
Jim, the producer, was amazing! We were right on the same page. I said, “I really want this record to sound like the old school Capitol Records records from back in the day. I don’t want it to sound polished, compressed, or over EQ’d. I want it to sound like you’re in the middle of the room with these guys, and we’re all recording.” So, he knew the exact mics to use. For instance, a trumpet has a lot of high end to it, so put it on a ribbon mic and take all of that high end and make it rich and warm. By doing that, you don’t have to go in during post-production and take all of the high pass filters, EQ it, and do all of these things. This way, it sounds good right off the bat. These guys were like, “You gotta use Jim. He’s the guy for the big band stuff.” He absolutely killed it!
You mentioned the upcoming sold-out show you have lined up. How does prepping for that event compared to what you normally do?
There is no prepping. That’s the most challenging thing about this! With these guys, there is no “Hey, let’s get in the room for a week and get these songs worked out.” With half of these guys, it’s “Hey, nice to meet you.” I say that because when you have a band like this, there are regional members of the band. Frank Sinatra used to have West Coast guys, Northeast, Southeast, etc. When we do this first show, I will have the core group guys that I recorded with come down, and some of the other players that couldn’t make it will be substituted by some local musicians down here in Florida. On the day of the show, I will just be meeting some of these guys, and we will play a song for the first time together in front of an audience! For the record, we had Mike Smith or Carey Deadman conduct and keep the time for everything. When we are performing, there is none of that. It’s just going to be me keeping time. I guess the band will have to feel my rhythm, and vice versa. Hopefully, it all lines up! [laughs]
What was your biggest takeaway from this project?
I’m just so excited about this album. It’s been one of the most exciting parts of my entire career. I think my biggest takeaway from it is a new purpose. My daughter has given me a new purpose, and I am more focused now.
This album is the first big project born out of your Take A Chance For Charity initiative. Tell us a little bit about the experience and what you might have in store for us as it moves forward.
Take A Chance For Charity is the big picture here! The “Tremonti Sings Sinatra,” as you said, is just the first project from this organization. Hopefully, it grows and, fingers crossed, it does. If you go to www.tremontisingssinatra.com, you will see all of the backstory on this project and how you can take a chance for charity yourself. In addition, there are links that you can copy and paste to challenge your favorite artist to do this project. In essence, you find your favorite artist, ask them to do something that nobody would ever expect them to do, and do it in the name of charity. So, it’s the green light for an artist to do something completely different that their fanbase might not appreciate, but if they are doing it for charity, they can do whatever they want, ya know!
Well, you are certainly leading by example!
Yeah! [laughs] To me, it was the obvious thing! It was about as different as I could do it, and Frank Sinatra raised over a billion dollars for charity, so I was glad to be able to do that in his name. Many people don’t talk about that aspect of his legacy, so I’m so happy I’m able to put that out there. “Tremonti Sings Sinatra” comes out on May 27th, which serves as the launch. We have about ten different people, bands, and groups that have said they want to do a project with it. I’ve got my good friend Larry The Cable Guy lined up. Years ago, he called me and said, “Hey Mark! I want you to do a song with me called Lord I Apologize.” This was way back at the beginning of his career, so I went into the studio with him. That record has since gone platinum! I called him up and said, “I’m doing this charity, and I would love to call in that favor from you to do some kind of thing.” He was all about it, so we are scheduling with him to do a big band thing as well. It’s for a different artist, not Sinatra. We are trying to keep that a secret! My friend Chris Daughtry, who we just got off tour with is interested in doing a project, and he’s got a great idea for that. The country band Lonestar had also reached out about wanting to do a project, along with Steve Stevens, Black Stone Cherry, and Fuel. It’s pretty exciting because all sorts of people are talking about doing it! Hopefully, they challenge their friends to do it when they do it, and it keeps going, kind of like the ice bucket challenge.
You have so many irons in the fire; I can’t help but admire your creative output.
Thank you! It’s just a lot of work, man! To be honest, I think the most time-consuming aspect of my life right now is having a one-year-old daughter. She wakes us up first thing in the morning and keeps us busy until she takes naps. Whenever she takes a nap, I try to pick up the guitar, practice, or tackle whatever I need to be doing. When she goes to sleep at night, I work until 1 o’clock in the morning. When I go on the road, it’s all work. I don’t mess around. When I’m on tour, I try to get a ton of stuff done. When I’m away from my family, I really try to make it count as far as using that time to get something done.
How are things shaping up for the rest of your year creatively?
I’m in the studio right now with ALTER BRIDGE. I start tracking guitars today. We’ve finished drums and bass for the new record. Myles [Kennedy] started yesterday, and I start today. Then I go back on tour with TREMONTI, my solo band, over to Europe on May 27th until the first week of July. Then there is a window where I might do some Sinatra shows or TREMONTI shows. Then the ALTER BRIDGE record comes out on October 14th. The new record is going to be called “Pawns & Kings.” You might be getting the exclusive! We will hit Europe this winter and keep on juggling everything!
That’s exciting news. I know you guys had to be tremendously disappointed that you couldn’t tour the last Alter Bridge record because of the pandemic.
Absolutely! There is nothing like putting everything you have into an album, and then you can’t go and tour on it. It’s a huge disappointment, so we’re glad to be back at it!
That’s awesome to hear! Keep the good stuff coming, Mark. You are truly an inspiration!
Thank you, Jason! Thanks for your time, and I’ll talk to you again soon.
Follow the continuing adventures of Mark Tremonti on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. All tour dates and ticket information can be found at www.marktremonti.com. Get a behind the scenes look at Mark’s Take A Chance For Charity initiative below!
About Take A Chance For Charity:
Take A Chance For Charity is a new charity focused on giving artists / actors / athletes / anyone with a platform the ability to get out of their comfort zone. The idea is to have people get out of the genre they are known for to raise funds / awareness for the charity of their choice. We want people to have the most fun they ever had while raising money for charity. An actor can sing, an athlete can dance, a musician can perform a song out of their musical genre – any artistic interpretation. This gives participants the ability to do something out of the ordinary – in fact extraordinary – all in the name of charity. Tremonti Sings Sinatra will be the first release for the cause, the recipient being NDSS.
The National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) is the leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome. NDSS envisions a world in which all people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, realize their life aspirations, and become valued members of welcoming communities. Founded in 1979, NDSS supports and advocates for the Down syndrome community by focusing on three key areas of programming: Resources & Support, Policy & Advocacy, and Community Engagement. Within these focus areas NDSS engages in various activities, events, and programs on topics that are critical to our community such as federal and state advocacy and public policy, health and wellness, education, and employment. NDSS creates resources to support individuals with Down syndrome, their families, and caregivers across the lifespan and hosts awareness and engagement events throughout the country including the National Buddy Walk® Program, the Times Square Video presentation and New York City Buddy Walk®, Racing for 3.21 on World Down Syndrome Day, Run for 3.21, DC Golf Outing, the annual NDSS Gala & Auction, and various other events. Visit www.ndss.org for more information about NDSS.
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.