At two minutes to ten-in-the-morning East Coast time, I dialed the home number of Mark Tremonti, lead guitar, back-up vox, sometimes bassist, and lyricist for Creed. Generally when I interview a major rock band like Creed, who have sold over 26 million records in the States, an estimated 35 million worldwide, and have three multi-platinum albums, my first thought is that the band member I am interviewing will most likely be shaking off a wild night of debauchery and nursing some wicked hangover. This was not the case when I spoke with Mark Tremonti.
Its hard to be cheerful and effervescent with someone you don't know but Tremonti pulled it off like a champ. It made me instantly think the world of him. He has an easy-going demeanor, having the ability to make you feel as if you've known him for years.
Tremonti is soft-spoken and poised, surprisingly genuine and modest, a rare trait among the rock-star elite. But what stands out most in my mind during his interview is his awareness of how fortunate he is to be doing what he loves, and how he never takes it for granted.
For a guy from Detroit whose first and only guitar lesson had him trying to learn a Black Flag song, he has a lot to be thankful for. And no, it isn't just for the signature Paul Reed Smith Tremonti Model Guitar he has named after him.
Creed formed in the early nineteen-nineties to wild worldwide success. The seemingly unlikely partnership of Scott Stapp, who was raised in a devoutly religious home, coupled with the hard-rocking, bad-ass Tremonti make for an interesting blend of backgrounds and gives us the sound that is definitively Creed.
Perhaps Scott's overtly religious background is where the fanciful idea of Creed being a Christian rock band emanated. Whatever the case, the blend of musical talent created a spark that lit up the airwaves and found its way into millions of eager ears.
While Creed's lyrics are heavy and thought-provoking, and references to God and the spirit are laced throughout, there is a definitive driving edge to their sound that is linked directly to Tremonti's metal upbringing. Tremonti has a passion for creating melodies, what he says is the most important aspect to songwriting. Evidently Tremonti knows what he's doing.
Creed's songs "My Own Prison", "Higher," and "My Sacrifice" hit the top 40, ten, and number one respectively on the Billboard charts, and added to an overall seven consecutive chart-topping hits on rock radio. Their album, Human Clay sold over 11,504,000 copies in the U.S. alone and went 6x platinum in Canada, 5x platinum Australia, and 7x platinum in New Zealand. The fourth single "With Arms Wide Open" won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song and was voted the 92nd best music video of all-time by VHI, who also listed the single "Higher" as one of the greatest rock songs of all-time in 2009.
Unfortunately, Creed's Cinderella story took a sour turn shortly after their massive success. Like most rock and roll bands, inter-band-fighting, boozing, and using split them in 2004 for six years until an opportunity to regroup brought them back together. (Who can forget the infamous posturing between the then-alcohol-induced macho-man lead singer Scott Strapp and fireball Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit ending in a boxing match challenge?)
During the time Creed was disbanded, Tremonti and two other Creed members Brian Marshall (ex-original bassist for Creed) and Scott Phillips, formed Alter Bridge, which had enjoyed massive success in its own right. Alter Bridge will be releasing a new album, Alter Bridge III, and tour in the fall of 2010 that will not overlap Creed's current 20-10 tour.
After regrouping as Creed in late 2009 courtesy of an AOL session, the band released the Reunion Tour album and toured in support of it. Riding the wave of good karma through 2010, the band recorded Full Circle and is currently promoting it through their 20-10 tour. Clever as they are brilliantly talented, Creed decided to offer tickets to the 20-10 tour for just $20 and $10 a pop.
As you'll see, Tremonti and the band are the conscious sort. With a tanking economy and tours canceling around the nation, Creed stepped up and offered a way for their loyal fans to watch them play for just twenty bucks or less. As Tremonti says, "everyone can afford ten or twenty bucks to see their favorite rock band play.'"
He couldn't be more right. The 20-10 tour kicks off in Nashville on July 26 at the Hard Rock to a sold-out crowd, and will continue through September. And there is no break in sight for most of Creed's members. Right on the heals of the 20-10 tour, Tremonti and his fellow members of Alter Bridge will begin their worldwide tour in support of their new album.
Looks like the music gods continue to anoint Creed. For millions of loyal fans, it's a good omen. antiMusic had the chance to catch up with Mark Tremonti and pick his brain a little. Happy feasting.
antiMusic: What inspired you to get involved in music?
Tremonti: I grew up in Detroit and music in general was a very big part of everybody's life. Where I grew up in high school, the heavier the music you listened to, the cooler you were at the time. I grew up surrounded by heavy music so that's what I was always a fan of. My older brother Dan always listened to heavy stuff. When I first was learning how to play guitar I couldn't play some of the heavier stuff I was listening to, Metallica, Testament, but I also liked Black Flag a lot and I could play along with that because it was much easier. I took one guitar lesson in my entire life and I remember taking Black Flag and Celtic Frost into the guy and he couldn't figure it out because it was so sloppy and he didn't even want to teach it to me so I didn't take any more lessons.
Once I moved to Florida, that's when I got my first four-track and learned how to write songs and that's really what I concentrated on in most of my developing years of being a musician--being a songwriter. It was so strange because I didn't write dark speed-metal songs, I wrote more melodic sort of stuff.
antiMusic: Is that where some of the ballad stuff comes from with Creed?
Tremonti: Yeah, I just always think that melodies come first in a song, its the most important part but I also have that metal side to me and I really enjoy that too.
antiMusic: What do you think some of the biggest misconceptions about Creed are?
Tremonti: We've been called a Christian band. It's just funny because Scott is a really religious guy. Just like I grew up in a heavy musical kind of place he grew up in the Bible Belt with really religious parents and he wasn't even allowed to listen to heavy metal. When you listen to the lyrics of his stuff, you're hearing a lot of references of the Bible, it's funny to me because Scott's a Christian man and I grew up listening to Slayer.
I think the melting pot of what the band was a good chemistry that worked for us.
antiMusic: You broke up for six years in 2004 and then got together to play AOL sessions in 2009. What made everybody decide that it was time to re-band?
Tremonti: Our manager (Alter Bridge)received a phone call from Scott and he wanted to see if we could get together and talk about doing something and at the time, we were ending the cycle on one of our Alter Bridge Tours and went to the meeting. We talked about maybe doing a tour and Scott was very pleasant and nice and wanting to work again.
I think the six years we've all changed so much, it's kind of easy to forget. At the time we were so mad and angry with each other that it was impossible to do anything. I think after six years we all grew up a little bit. We all have had kids and realized that not a lot of people get to play in arenas and amphitheaters and really get to do what we've done. It would be a shame to throw it all a way and be stubborn about it.
antiMusic: You mentioned Alter Bridge. Are you appearing on fellow band member Myles' solo album in 2011?
Tremonti: Yeah, I think I'll be doing a solo spot on there but I haven't gotten the track yet. We just mastered Alter Bridge's third album and plan on getting that out in September and have our tour scheduled October 16 in the UK and throughout Europe through December.
antiMusic: I thought Creed was doing Full Circle tour for awhile?
Tremonti: Were going out with Creed starting July 26 and ending in September.
antiMusic: There are three of you guys from Creed in Alter Bridge?
Tremonti: Yeah, me, Brain and Scott.
antiMusic: What's the difference in musical styles between Alter Bridge and Creed?
Tremonti: Creed is more straightforward and Alter Bridge is kind of more experimental. It's definitely a little heavier and a little darker than Creed. We're passionate about both bands and its fun to be able to live kind of a double life.
antiMusic: Where did the idea of the title Full Circle come from?
Tremonti: The Full Circle title came about I think one of the very first songs we were putting together. I was sort of noodling around on the guitar and everybody looked at me and dug what I was doing. Scott was improvising the chorus and said the lyric, "Full Circle," and we all said that would be a perfect title for the album. It fit the situation so well. From there, the album kind of developed thematically with things we've overcome, and how we're still overcoming obstacles and how you can get through anything. And with us breaking up getting back together and trying to get back out there was something that we thought that we could do. Especially with Scott, the issues he was going though at the time kind of came across on the album with him trying to get past certain obstacles in his life.
antiMusic: Do you think this album is meant to be listened to track by track the way you've laid it down?
Tremonti: Yeah, we want people to take a journey on the record and have it go through different emotions. Each song feels different and we want people to go on a journey through it so we lay it out so you listen to it as a whole. Looking back, if it was up to me now, I would probably take "Good Fight" off the record. It turned out to be the weakest song. But when you are doing it, it's all new and exciting.
antiMusic: What was your favorite song?
Tremonti: There's a song called "Time" that's my favorite on there. I prefer long songs that take a lot of departures. That song is one that triggers the most emotion out of me.
antiMusic: You've done a lot of the writing for this new album, where do you pull your inspiration from?
Tremonti: With me it kind of happens. I'll just be writing and spit out lyric lines as I'm writing a melody. Usually I'm trying to write melodies and to write them I just sing whatever garbage comes to my head and sometimes it sticks. I came to the band with the chorus to "Rain" and I had the line, "I feel like its going to rain like this for days", and then Scott took the ball and ran with it. I write different kinds of songs, one day I'll be writing stuff heavy, one day I'll be writing a ballad, you just never know. It's like gong to work, you don't want to go to work one day and you're in a bad mood and if you're a songwriter you write an angry song. If you you're having a good day you write a happy song.
antiMusic What was the thought process behind offering tickets for $10 and $20 on your latest tour?
Tremonti: The economy is the reason. Everybody I know has been really affected and hurt by it. you see all these ticket prices going for $100 nowadays and nobody's taking into account that people can't afford that and tours are getting canceled left and right. We just wanted to strip down our show and just play the songs that people really want to hear.
Anybody can afford a ten dollar ticket. We just wanted to give something back to our fans that have been there since day one. We realize that not everybody can afford to spend a bunch of money these days.
antiMusic: Do you think this is the way other bands will be going to show their unhappiness about ticket pricing and add-on fees?
Tremonti: I hope so. People have gotten ridiculous with all their fees and bands with their ticket prices. Its one thing if you are going to go see U2 and they are putting on the biggest spectacle you've ever seen in your life. But with us we don't have to blow things up all night and put on a spectacle. We just play our songs. I'm sure that a lot of other bands could do the same thing just to let people see their favorite bands. Fans just want to see you in person and see you play your music. It's a simple as that.
antiMusic: Why did you select Nashville for your starting point for your tour?
Tremonti: We wrote Full Circle () in Nashville and we recorded our Blackbird Alter Bridge album there as well and love the city. With the whole oil crisis and everything else going on with Haiti, the Nashville floods just kind of got swept under the carpet. We wanted to go there and try and raise some money for the city. One hundred percent of the profits from that show will go to a local charity, Hands on Nashville.
antiMusic: How do you guys stay relevant with the shrinking attention span of fans?
Tremonti: Keeping out there and touring. People have to write off any kind of album sales because it's just not happening anymore. People are downloading one song off a record or just stealing it and bands have to survive off of touring. You just have to keep hitting the road.
antiMusic: What is your feeling about bit torrent sites that allow for free downloading of your music?
Tremonti: I definitely don't think that people should steal music from other folks. But I do think a $20 a CD is ridiculous. I think with the internet people should pay something reasonable-- a dollar a song sounds reasonable to me. If people aren't willing to pay that then they shouldn't be willing to steal something. People have to make a living. I think people don't have any sympathy for a guy in a rock band. No one feels sorry for a guy out there living the dream so they feel like they're not suffering. But there are a lot of bands that are going under; you just can't stay a float anymore. Pretty soon I think record labels will be dinosaurs. Who knows what the future will hold.
antiMusic: What has been your biggest accomplishment? Aside from the album, Human Clay being 54 on the top 100 selling albums of all time in the United States?
Tremonti: As a guitar player getting the Paul Reed Smith signature guitar was a big moment for me. Getting to open up for Metallica, my favorite band growing up was a huge moment for me. The song "Blackbird" on the Alter Bride record was probably one of the best moments artistically I've had and the Human Clay record with Creed-going Diamond was a big moment. It's hard to pinpoint just one.
antiMusic: You have a Chopper and Axe giveaway coming up; do you want to talk a little about that?
Tremonti: We are working with a company called Orphan that my brother was doing marketing for that wanted to build a bike in tribute to all the fallen soldiers. It will be the "Moment of Thunder" tribute. We're going to bring the bike out to the shows and let fans see it and register for it. You can also register for it on www.Creed2010.com. We're going to be bringing it out on stage with us a bunch of times and the winner gets announced on Christmas Eve along with the PRS guitar that is going to have the same kind of graphics on it as the bike.
antiMusic: Will you be signing the guitar?
Tremonti: I'd sign it once the person won it but I don't know if they'd want me to. The guitar is going to be a beautiful guitar and I don't know if they'd want to ruin it with a pen.
antiMusic: What's the major difference between the Full Circle album and previous Creed albums?
Tremonti: its a more complex album. We wanted to show that were not going to be complacent with our songwriting and musicianship and just spit out something simple. We've grown over the six years. We've had a big break there, and we all were hustling to do what we love on stage. We all grew up along the way and have different skill sets to put on the record so we wanted to make sure that that came across.
Thanks to Mark Tremonti for the delightful interview. Check out Creed's 20-10 summer tour and Alter Bridge's tour this winter.
Since he mentioned it, be sure to check out Paul Reed Smith Guitars | Mark Tremonti Signature Model and see why he is so proud of it!