Published on Oct 7, 2013
Myles and Mark take us through the stories behind every track on ‘Fortress’.
Published on Oct 7, 2013
Myles and Mark take us through the stories behind every track on ‘Fortress’.
About Myles Kennedy
Myles Kennedy (born November 27, 1969) is an American musician and singer-songwriter best known as the lead vocalist and guitarist of the rock band Alter Bridge, and as the lead vocalist in Slash’s current solo project. A former guitar instructor from Spokane, Washington, Kennedy is known for his ability as both a guitarist and a vocalist, possessing a tenor vocal range that spans four octaves. He has worked as a session musician and songwriter, making both studio and live appearances with several artists over the years and having been involved with several projects throughout his career. Most notably, Kennedy rehearsed and collaborated with former members of Led Zeppelin for an unreleased project featuring Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Jason Bonham in 2008. More recently, he has become known for his several collaborations with Slash, starting with his vocal contributions to two songs on Slash’s self-titled debut solo album, which featured many other guest musicians.
Myles Kennedy began playing trumpet at the age of ten and guitar at fifteen, copying the playing style of Jimmy Page. He found his singing voice by listening to his parents’ Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder records, and also states that he was influenced by Robert Plant. He played guitar in the school’s jazz band and trumpet in the school’s marching band. He also spent some time playing in a local heavy metal band called Bittersweet with some of his fellow classmates. After graduating in 1988, he enrolled in Spokane Falls Community College to study music.
Using the skills he learned from this course, in 1990 he began playing guitar for a jazz group called the Cosmic Dust Fusion Band, which was formed by keyboardist Jim Templeton in 1980. Kennedy’s guitar work with Cosmic Dust was very advanced; using his knowledge of jazz theory in conjunction with his advanced technical abilities, interweaving difficult techniques such as chord changes on impulse and precise shredding with rock music, he became a well-respected guitarist among local musicians. Cosmic Dust’s first album, Journey, was released in 1991. The album was well-received by critics. In 1993, the song “Spiritus” was awarded the Washington State Artist Trust Grant for $5,000.
In 1995, Myles Kennedy started teaching guitar in a store called Rock City Music.By August 1996, he became the lead vocalist and lead guitarist of The Mayfield Four, a rock band he formed with his childhood friends Zia Uddin, Marty Meisner, and Craig Johnson (also of Citizen Swing). They signed a contract with Epic Records thanks to a critically acclaimed demo called Thirty Two Point Five Hours that the band recorded in 1996, followed by a live extended play called Motion in 1997. The Mayfield Four’s debut album, Fallout, was supported with a fifteen-month tour with bands such as Creed, Big Wreck, and Stabbing Westward. The album was praised by critics, but it failed to chart, and ultimately became the only album by the band to feature rhythm guitarist Craig Johnson, who was fired from the band due to undisclosed reasons.
Following the Fallout tour, Kennedy made an appearance in the 2001 drama film Rock Star starring Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston. He said that he got a call from his manager telling him that the filmmakers needed someone who could sing high and that his name was suggested. On the set of the film, he met Wahlberg along with Zakk Wylde and Jason Bonham [drummer of Led Zeppelin], who also appeared in the movie alongside several other notable musicians. Kennedy was the only actor in the movie whose actual singing voice was used. In the movie, directly paralleling a scene at the beginning of the film, Kennedy’s character (Mike, also known as “Thor”) is noticed by Wahlberg’s character, Chris “Izzy” Cole, the lead singer of Thor’s favorite band, Steel Dragon. Izzy pulls Thor onstage and sings the rest of the song with him, eventually telling him to finish the rest of the band’s concert.
The Mayfield Four’s second and final album, Second Skin, was released in June 2001. Myles has since said that it is one of the most personal records he has made. The album has been critically acclaimed and Kennedy has commented on how it and Fallout are much more popular now than when they were released.
INTERVIEW – MYLES KENNEDY
This interview was taken in October 2012 at Ultimate-Guitar. The info on the tour and his upcoming plans are old, but what’s interesting about this interview is the information on Myles’career and his opinion on music, [metal music, and Gojira] his relationship with the guitar, working with Slash and more:
Here in a lengthy interview, Myles talks about his earlier projects; working with Slash and Mark Tremonti; and even what he’s currently reading at the moment.
He also wanted to give a shout-out to all the fans at UG:
“This is Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge and Slash’s Conspirators and it’s been a privilege to get to talk to y’all here at Ultimate-Guitar. It’s a great way to learn and I certainly wish when I was starting to play guitar, I had something like this to draw from and get inspired from. So it’s really cool.”
Before you became a famous rock singer you blew on a trumpet?
Myles Kennedy: Yeah, I did. In the fifth grade they kind of insisted I learn to play an instrument and I initially wasn’t that interested. But I’m grateful actually now because I think it helped me when I picked up the guitar and whatnot later on. Yeah, I started with the trumpet and did my time in the school band.
It could have been Myles Kennedy instead of Miles Davis.
Did you know when you picked up the guitar that you weren’t going to be a jazz musician pursuing the trumpet?
Yeah, the guitar was a very different relationship from the get-go. With the trumpet I’d try and put a half-hour a day of practice like the trumpet teacher would tell me to do. And it wasn’t something I loved. Whereas the guitar I was just completely addicted to from the beginning. I just couldn’t put it down. That love really hasn’t ended even though I’m kinda known for singing at this point in my career. I still love the guitar probably more than anything. I’ve just spent the last four hours with a guitar in hand. That’s just what I love. I think it’s the greatest instrument ever invented [laughs].
You are recognized more as a singer than as a guitar player but you see yourself as a guitarist first and a vocalist second?
I probably always will. I started singing because I’m from a town [Spokane, Washington] that doesn’t have a ton of musicians. Well that’s not quite fair-it has a finite amount of musicians let’s just put it that way. When I started writing songs, I just had a hard time finding a singer so I just decided to do it myself. It just became a way of getting my songs finished so as time has gone on it’s been very strange [laughs]. My vocals became kind of my calling card but my passion is still guitar playing more than anything.
You played some pretty serious fusion guitar in the Cosmic Dust band. Yet you rarely get the props for being such a remarkable guitar player.
In the last decade really, I’m a rhythm guitar player essentially and occasionally I’ll play a lead or something. I’m fortunate to play in two bands with essentially iconic lead guitar players. I’m very comfortable with that actually. I was thinking about that last night when we had a gig and I was listening to Slash play. And I was like, “You know? This is great. I’ve got a guitar in my hand and I’m listening and learning from one of the best every night.” So it’s cool as long as I’ve got a guitar in my hand once in a while.
“Spiritus” from the Journey album, Cosmic Dust’s first record, was sort of a key song for the band. You’re doing some pretty mean shredding there-where did that come from?
That was in my fusion and jazz years and whatnot so I was listening to a lot of Mike Stern who was a big influence on me. He played with Miles Davis and I saw him a few times play with Michael Brecker. That was a really big moment for me seeing Mike Stern because he played with so much emotion. He was a rock guy but he also had jazz chops and those were the guys I gravitated towards initially. Frank Gamballi was another one I was really into and then just the standard guys like Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. I was a huge fan and still am of Pat Metheny; I love Pat Metheny. “Letter From Home” and “Still Life Talking” were really big records for me. So yeah, that was where I was drawing a lot of influence from back then.
Weren’t Led Zeppelin and particularly Jimmy Page profound influences on you back in the day?
Oh definitely. Zeppelin and Queen were two of the big ones for me when I first started playing and I was more of a rock guitar player. Then I went through a period for about five or six years when I started going to school and studied guitar and arranging. That’s when I really started to get into jazz and fusion. Cosmic Dust were essentially my teachers. I had a piano class and my teacher invited me to play in his fusion band, which was Cosmic Dust. It was a really great experience and trial by fire for me because at the time these guys were twice my age and very experienced. I was just trying to keep up with ’em. So that’s essentially what Cosmic Dust was.
In 1992, you were in the Citizen Swing band and on their first record “Cure Me With the Groove” you’re now swinging?
Yeah, that was what led I guess to me to start singing more. And it was really my first experience writing or co-writing full songs basically. I was writing the music and the melodies and then I had a co-writer writing the lyrics on that record. It’s funny because when I occasionally listen to that record and it comes up on my iTunes shuffle, I kinda chuckle to myself. ‘Cause those are some of my very first attempts at writing so it’s fun to listen to but at the same time there’s certainly a handful of cringe worthy moments as well. You learn and try to grow.
How would you characterize that Myles Kennedy in Citizen Swing as a singer?
I can definitely hear my influences coming through. I can definitely hear that I was trying to emulate Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye a lot [laughs]. Not coming anywhere near close to them. Yeah, that’s what I was aspiring to. It’s funny because a lot of the records in the ’90s that I was a part of making, I can really hear who I was listening to vocally. I can hear that I hadn’t really found myself stylistically as a singer yet. So it’s always interested in that respect.
By the time you recorded Citizen Swing’s second album “Deep Down” were you feeling more comfortable as a singer?
It was getting there; it was getting closer. I think I still had a few more records to go but yeah, I was starting to lean more towards the rock side of things. I think all of us in the band were starting to thing that would be a wiser move. I shouldn’t say a wiser move, it’s just kind of where we naturally felt best. We started to gravitate away from more of the funk and the jazz and whatnot and started to turn up the distortion.
On a song like “Fly”?
Being from Spokane, were you aware of the grunge thing happening in Seattle? Did that mean anything to you?
Yeah, absolutely. Part of the reason I went down the road I did as far as jazz and R&B, that was pretty much their scene. Even though we were four or five hours away, kinda felt like for me to become a part of that just wouldn’t be fair. I just felt like that was their thing they developed and I thought it was really cool. It was amazing. It was an incredible musical movement in pop culture and it was really pretty spectacular.
Did you see some of the bands that were coming out of that scene?
I remember seeing some of those bands in the late ’80s. I remember Alice in Chains opening for someone back in ’89 or something like that. It was interesting to see how they ended up becoming this huge band in the landscape of rock. I think it even influenced a lot of people around me in Spokane. I know there were plenty of bands doing the grunge thing but I was trying my best to still find my own voice.
In 1996 you were part of the Mayfield Four, which was certainly a step closer to that rock kind of singing you’d eventually pursue.
Right; most definitely.
You covered Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” on the band’s first album “Fallout”.
Yeah, still the inner Marvin. We did live when we first started playing and threw that in the set. We just needed a cover because we didn’t have enough songs. I think it ended up going so well and we enjoyed playing it so much we decided to go ahead and record it. That’s still one of my favorite Marvin Gaye songs of all time and that whole record “What’s Goin’ On” is his masterpiece.
and threw that in the set. We just needed a cover because we didn’t have enough songs. I think it ended up going so well and we enjoyed playing it so much we decided to go ahead and record it. That’s still one of my favorite Marvin Gaye songs of all time and that whole record “What’s Goin’ On” is his masterpiece.
Yeah, it really is. I mean I never tire of that record.
On the Mayfield Four’s second album “Second Skin” your vocal identity is really emerging on a song like “Eden (Turn the Page).”
Yeah, I’m glad you recognize that ’cause I think that’s the record where it started to happen for me to kind of figure out who I was stylistically. On the first Mayfield record I still don’t feel like I was quite there yet; I wasn’t sure of it. But yeah, it starts to develop there around the “Second Skin” era.
The Mayfield Four did open for some Creed shows?
We did. You know what? Basically the only person I talked with was Scott Phillips, the drummer, and we talked briefly here and there. But otherwise there wasn’t a lot of interaction. And that’s part of why I was so shocked when Mark called me in late 2003 ’cause I didn’t even know that I was on their radar. I opened for ’em in the summer of ’98 or so and I was really surprised five years later to hear from him. So that was a pleasant surprise.
It was that long afterwards when Mark Tremonti finally called you?
Yeah, five years later. Crazy.
But it was that connection from the Mayfield Four opening for Creed?
Yeah, I guess that was it. I guess they heard us opening up for ’em and we must have made somewhat of an impression, which surprised me. I would never presume that sort of thing. I was always just kind of like, “Oh, we’re just the opening band and I don’t know if anyone’s paying attention.” And so yeah, it was a real shock to hear from him later on.
In 2002 you actually wanted to quit music altogether. Why?
I was burned out: I was burned out as a writer and I was burned out as a performer and I just didn’t know what the next step was. So I went back to Spokane teaching guitar for about a year and just trying to reevaluate everything. I was still writing but I wasn’t actively pursuing a band or anything like that.
It seems strange that you would want to leave music at this point because it appears like things were starting to happen for you.
You know it’s interesting-I think sometimes I felt it wasn’t. I felt in Mayfield, we put so much effort into making that second record. I think some of it was because I lived in Spokane and we were kind of far removed from L.A. or New York so we didn’t really know what was going on out there.
You just felt removed from it all?
Yeah. I wasn’t really aware until years later that occasionally I would run into people and they’d go, “Oh man, I really like that Second Skin record.” I’m like, “Wow, how did you even hear about it?” I had no idea that people even knew who we were. So that was a big surprise.
Wasn’t it around this time that Slash called you to audition for Velvet Revolver?
They had reached out and asked if I’d be interested in auditioning and sent a demo. They’d sent four songs that were just essentially empty canvasses for me to put a melody and lyrics to. I actually worked on about three of the songs and recorded ’em in my little home studio and basically never sent ’em back. I respectfully bowed out because like I said that was that 2002 period and I still was pretty-for lack of a better word-kind of shell shocked from the last few years. Just burnt out and kind of lost my confidence.
So you could have theoretically been working with Slash from that Velvet Revolver period forwards.
I never sent that back to him [laughs].
When you think back to your performances on that demo, how do they stand up for you?
Honestly? I don’t think it was my best work. Let’s just put it that way. I think for whatever reason at that point in my life something wasn’t clicking for me with what I was bringing to the party.
Do you ever regret not sending the demo to Slash?
I think I made the right decision to be honest with you at that point in my life. I guess everything works out for a reason-fast forward 10 years later and I’m very happy with how things turned out. But yeah, I think the only people who ever heard those were a handful of friends and I might have played it for my brother or something [laughs]. I never even played it for Slash or anything.
When you heard the first Velvet Revolver album “Contraband” what were your thoughts?
Honestly? I was really a fan. I thought when I first heard “Slither” and saw the video, I thought it was a perfect fit myself. That would have been right around when Alter Bridge was coming together and I think we were in the studio and I was just really impressed and I thought it was cool. Just as a fan I was totally cool with how it turned out and that’s really the best way I can put it. Just as a fan, I thought it was cool.
Out of the blue, Mark Tremonti calls you in late 2003 and you form Alter Bridge and record the “One Day Remains” album. What were those first sessions like?
Half of the songs were written and that was kind of a new thing for me to be honest with you. Because I was so used to being the main writer with Mayfield and Citizen Swing as well and so that took me some time for me to get used to. Half the record I brought in lyrics and melodic ideas and this, that and the other. By the time we did Blackbird and then the third record, it was full collaboration.
You were still finding your way so to speak on the “One Day Remains” album?
Yeah, because it was such a quick record. I came down in January and I think we had the record recorded by April. We had no time to waste so fortunately Mark had a lot of it done and did a great job. Mark is an immensely talented songwriter. For me the hardest part was just trying lyrically to get inside-how do I say this? – where I wasn’t writing the script anymore. I had to figure out emotionally how to convey it correctly. That was a challenge for me on “One Day Remains” was to make the lyrics come through my voice with the right emotion.
One Day Remains ran the gamut musically from the melodic rock of the title song to a heavy track like “Find the Real.” Did you lean more towards one style?
I dig both styles. As a singer I think my voice is better suited to the more melodic stuff. I don’t consider myself a real screamer or anything. But as a guitar player I love the heavy stuff as well so it’s kind of an interesting…
Dynamic. Yeah exactly, an interesting dichotomy.
Which brings up another interesting point in that you didn’t play any guitar on the “One Day Remains” album. Did that bother you?
I think it was such a limited amount of time, I didn’t really give it any consideration. Now when we started touring that record? That was a different story because that was the very first time I had to go out with a guitar on. Let me tell ya-I can’t watch anything from that era. It’s excruciating because you can just tell and you can see in my body language, I didn’t have a clue what to do with my hands [laughs]. And so it was kind of funny.
Certainly Mark Tremonti knew you played guitar.
He knew that I played a little. I don’t think he realized I was a serious student of the guitar. And that’s how we kind of started to really bond. At one point we just sat there and jammed and he’s as passionate about the instrument as anybody. So I think that was a real cool thing for us initially.
For the second Alter Bridge album “Blackbird” you’re now playing guitar and fully integrated into the band as a co-writer.
It was great; it was a real creative time. The thing about “Blackbird” in particular was we had a fair amount of time to put that record together. I think it took us about a year and I think there were definitely songs that were challenges and we really beat our heads against the wall trying to put our best foot forward and kinda find our sound. I think “One Day Remains” was such a quick record and we’d only been a band for a couple of months when we made it. So we were really trying to establish what Alter Bridge was by Blackbird.
“Blackbird” was the album where Alter Bridge found who they were?
There were some gratifying moments. Maybe one of the most gratifying moments as a writer that I can remember is when we finally chased down and caught “Blackbird.” The track took forever but I’ll never forget we were in the rehearsal studio and I would always record the rehearsals onto my laptop. And I remember going back to Mark’s house and going to the room where I stayed there and listened to it after having a few hours and gaining some fresh perspective. I remember just being like, “Wow, I think we really found something here.” So those moments as a writer when you really struggle to complete something and something eludes you for a while and you finally capture it? I can’t really think of anything better in life. It’s awesome.
You worked with Michael “Elvis” Baskette as a producer for the first time on “Blackbird”.
He’s amazing; Elvis is awesome. I’d actually worked with him and part of the reason we chose him is he engineered the second Mayfield Four record. I could see back then he was very talented. He was a young engineer but I didn’t know he also had great producer chops as well. So we brought him into the fold because the guys were also fans of other record he’d been a part of. And yeah, he’s kind of become this very integral part of the record making for Alter Bridge. He’s just got great ideas and he gets great sounds and his whole team is fantastic. It’s great workin’ with him.
It was after the “Blackbird” album that you were contacted by Led Zeppelin to come and jam with them?
Yeah, that was pretty surreal.
For someone growing up listening to Zeppelin, being in the same room as Jimmy Page must have been pretty intense.
It was intense. I mean it was just amazing. Both him and John Paul Jones and Jason [Bonham] too, they were all very, very cool and they made me feel comfortable. I will take that period to my grave. Rarely is there a week that goes by that I don’t think about that and a big smile comes to my face.
You actually had a chance to write with Jimmy Page?
It was essentially a jam. There were a few times where there were some ideas they were working on and they just gave me free reign to improvise over the top of it vocally. It wasn’t like a formal writing thing or a formal like recording or anything like that. But it was definitely cool to hear riffs and ideas that had never really been recorded to my knowledge. And then to have the luxury of getting to put melodies and my musical ramblings over the top of it, that was a real big thrill for me.
Did you actually jam on any Zep songs?
Yeah, we jammed. I’m trying to remember exactly which ones but yeah, there were quite a few Zep songs we jammed. That was once again adding to the surreal.
Robert Plant was someone you were listening to. What about some of the other English singers like Roger Daltrey, Steve Winwood or Ian Gillan?
Umm, not as much as Zeppelin; that’s for sure. Zeppelin for me they wrote the blueprint. I love the Who and the thing about the Who is there are certain songs and you can watch ’em in live performances and they were just stunning to watch live. Take a song like “Baba O’Riley” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” those are just masterpieces. But as far as just a body of work that for whatever reason I connected with from the get go, Zeppelin was definitely it for me.
Wasn’t it right around this time that you were working on a solo record?
Yeah, I was actually continuing what I’d started back in that 2002 period. There was a collection of songs I started chipping away on and I knew in 2008, I knew about the Creed reunion a good year before it happened. I knew that was coming down the pike so I wanted to take some time and knock out a solo record while I could.
How far along did you get?
I got pretty far on it-all the music beds are recorded and everything. It’s just a matter now of laying down the vocal tracks and mixing it and whatnot. Basically what happened was right as I was recording then I got the call from Slash. The next thing you know this whole thing came down.
You described the record as more of a singer/songwriter approach?
Yeah, it definitely is a vibe-ier record in that respect. I wanted to kind of strip it down and have a lot more of it be acoustic-based. But there are definitely moments just for the sake of dynamics where I bring in more of a rock thing just ’cause I like those peaks and valleys. I’m first and foremost a rock guy so it was really kind of hard to totally leave that behind. As a writer and an arranger you kind of have your go to concepts so there are definitely moments on there that are rockin’ as they say.
How heavy does the album get?
No metal; that’s one thing that doesn’t really exist on the record. It’s definitely more of a straight-up rock approach when I turn up the gain so to speak.
When you sang on “Starlight” and “Back to Cali” on the Slash album, was that a different experience than working with Alter Bridge?
The process was a little different because with Slash with what became “Starlight,” he would send basically a completed music bed. So I as a singer and a lyricist look at that as like this really wonderful empty canvas. So I would put lyrics and the melody to that. With Alter Bridge and writing with Mark and the guys, it’s more sections. It’s like, “Well do you have a bridge that will go with this bridge or a musical part that will go with this?”
Was it kind of seamless working with Slash?
I really enjoyed it. The thing about Slash that’s interesting is even though he doesn’t lay down the lyric and the melody, he definitely composes in a way that lends itself to good melodic parts. It kinda makes your job easy. And I think that’s how he did it with most all the artists he worked with on that solo record.
On “Apocalyptic Love” did that process change?
It was a little different on certain songs when we did “Apocalyptic Love” together. There were songs like “Standing In the Sun” where I brought in an actual chorus with a chord progression and a melody and whatnot. “Pale” is a good example where he just sent the entire music bed and it was my job to put the melody and lyrics to it. So it just kind of varied from song to song.
Was it a different experience working with Eric Valentine on the two Slash records versus working with Elvis Baskette on the two Alter Bridge albums?
Yeah, Eric’s got a different approach. I’m just gonna state that I must be one of the luckiest guys around because I’ve gotten to work with these immensely talented producers. I mean Eric is crazy talented as a producer but as an engineer and mixer and he even mastered the record. He did everything and it was just him. It’s fascinating to watch him work and he’s like this mad scientist. He even built his own board? The board we went through? He built the console. So yeah, he was a lot of fun to work with. He’s very, very, very hands on. The thing with a producer is you want to be able to trust their kind of filter and their instincts. Guys who are really great engineers or great at getting good sounds, not necessarily all of them have that kind of song element. He certainly has that as does Elvis. It was really something else to watch that guy work.
Were you a Guns N’ Roses fan back in the day?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I still remember and I’ll never forget sitting in front of my parents’ television in 1987 and seeing “Welcome To the Jungle” for the first time. It was like, “Wow, what is this?” So unique and so dangerous and everything that rock and roll should be. And it’s proved to be so timeless, which is the interesting thing about it.
Since you’ve been playing with Slash, have you ever felt like you were trying to fill the shoes of Axl Rose?
Well, I certainly try to do my best when we play the songs and when we play some of the Guns stuff live. I do my best to do them in a way that fans want to hear them. I know that’s an impossible task so all you can do is just put your best foot forward. But as far as writing with Slash, that I try to kind of do my thing. Because I feel like as an artist there’s really no point in me trying to be somebody else. That’s just not gonna be very fulfilling to me at the end of the day.
Certainly Slash doesn’t want you trying to copy what Axl Rose did as a writer?
Slash is cool that way and his goals are the same as mine or anybody in the band-we just want a good song at the end of the day.
In 2012 you did the ABIII album with Alter Bridge. You’ve described the approach to that record as being more spontaneous than the deliberate way you worked on Blackbird?
Yeah, it did come together quickly. We didn’t have a ton of time and I think Mark and I had both been stockpiling enough ideas that when we finally all got together and reconvened it worked pretty quickly. And we also had Elvis there for quite a bit of it, which really helped. It turned out to be a solid record and we were happy with it.
Your vocals on ABIII were amazing on a song like “Ghost Of Days Gone By.” Can you talk a bit about the Myles Kennedy approach to vocals?
Well usually because we all trust Elvis so much, I generally will just go in there and sing it down like five or six times. Then Elvis will put a comp together and usually that’ll be it. He’ll just take the best of each performance and put it together and usually I’m thrilled with what he’s done. For me certainly I’ve learned over the years that I almost prefer not to have demo’d a song first because you tend to get demoitis. You go in and you do a vocal and you keep it fresh like that, I think you capture some real magic.
Were there magic moments on the ABIII album for you?
The song “Words Darker Than Their Wings,” the end of that one when I just start improvising, I think that was the first or second take. It just felt very in the moment and it felt very free and it was just very experimental. I think that’s one of those moments I kind of hope kind of come through on each record. It’s spontaneous.
It definitely sounds like you’re just going for it on the fade of “Words Darker Than Their Wings.”
That’s one of the things I love about jazz. That’s what I love about listening to Miles Davis or Coltrane or whoever. You know that’s just all off-the-cuff. In the rock world you’ve got a verse, you’ve got a chorus and you’ve got melodies that you definitely want to stick to. But then you occasionally go off and improvise and that’s what I loved about rock singers like Robert Plant. He was just brilliant at it and he would change things on a nightly basis. Jeff Buckley was another one who did that. Those very off-the-cuff, improvised moments are really fun and really cool if they turn out right.
You covered Jeff Buckley’s song “Hallelujah” and you were a fan of Chris Whitley. What about other singer/songwriters like Dylan or Paul Simon?
You know what’s interesting? Dylan I appreciate and Paul Simon I certainly appreciate. For whatever reason I never got into them as much as I did contemporary guys back when I was learning to sing and write songs. So I had to go back and sort of rediscover some of those guys. Yeah, there is a reason Bob Dylan is considered to be one of the greatest if not the greatest of all time. He’s a genius and it’s kind of mind boggling really. But as far as having as much influence on me as say a Chris Whitley did? Probably not.
Chris Whitley is such a relatively unknown artist.
Whitley as far as my vocal style and my lower register was a huge influence and still is.
Dirt Floor is one of my favorite all-time records. It’s just him and a Resonator and it’s so stripped down and sparse. But I am still trying to discover-not so much singer/songwriters-but the guys who came before them. Like Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Son House and Big Bill Broonzy. There’s something to me about just a guy and an acoustic guitar or a Resonator. I think Jack White said this once it’s like one guy against the rest of the world. There’s something very compelling to me about that and very cool. So yeah, I’m always trying to discover more and learn more from the guys that started it all.
A little while ago you sang on “Dreamer” from the Tommy Bolin & Friends: Great Gypsy Soul album that featured Nels Cline. Were you a Bolin fan?
You know what? To be perfectly honest with you, I was aware of Tommy and I knew he was considered to be this incredible talent. But I kind of learned as I went and being asked to be part of that record was a huge honor. Actually Warren Haynes called me up and asked if I’d be interested. I was pretty blown away because a lot of the guys who were part of that record, I was kind of shocked. I really was. I love that song; I think “Dreamer” is a beautiful song. So yeah, moreso after finishing that I went and discovered more of Tommy’s work.
Do you like some of the more modern metal bands like Mastodon?
Yeah absolutely. For me Mastodon is pretty much a go to for a lot of their catalog. I just think that for whatever reason there’s just something about their approach that really resonates with me. It’s heavy music but it’s got a certain vibe. By the time they got to the “Crack The Skye” record, they were getting into more of this really vibey thing and integrating that with the really heavy stuff and I love that. A real incredible sense of dynamics and the stories as well are just so out there lyrically. Where do they come up with that stuff? It’s really inspiring. So I’d say they’re probably one of my faves for sure.
Any feelings about modern metal in general?
Umm yeah, it just seems people are continuing to push the envelope. The first couple tracks on the new Gojira record are just like so heavy and it’s so cool. I think it’s very interesting to see how far it’s come from like Black Sabbath. Not far in terms of better but how everybody essentially has taken the blues scale and twisted it around so many times and been able to get so many different sounds from it. You know what I’m saying?
Really incredible. Like six notes really.
On the other side of that musical scale were your heroes like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. You’ve noted that Songs In the Key Of Life was one of your favorite records. Why?
I think it was a few things: I think his voice and his way of connecting emotionally really resonated with me. And I think also obviously he’s a genius and his ability to compose and the way he mixed different genres in music and make it uniquely his own is something I’ve always aspired to. He wasn’t just a funk guy; he was able to kind of draw on different elements of jazz and whatnot and make it his own. Yeah, there’s a reason so many of us musicians continue to look up to him because he’s such a rare talent.
Did you ever meet Stevie?
I have actually; twice. And each time [laughs nervously] I was just like a giddy little schoolgirl. I could barely speak to him. I felt like an idiot but it was really cool.
As a source for some of your lyric ideas you’ve cited author John Irving and his book “A Prayer For Owen Meany”. Most readers would gravitate towards The World According to Garp and his lighter books.
There’s some moments in that book that were so funny. It was dark but so funny. I actually just finished his latest book In One Person and it’s really well done. I recommend it. His characters are so peculiar and they just fascinate me. There’s just a certain empathy that comes through his writing and I don’t know, I don’t know how to articulate it. But he’s definitely an influence.
Where else do your lyric ideas come from?
As far as movies go there’s actually a song on Second Skin called “White Flag,” which was inspired by “Buffalo ’66”, which was a Vince Gallo movie. Most of the time it’s personal experience but I will say after reading the new John Irving book, I earmarked and went through and scribbled notes here and there. I definitely think I’m gonna get some song ideas from that. A lot of that book is the intolerance of intolerance and I found it to be a very interesting theme. It will be interesting to see what kind of ideas I can draw from it.
What were your feelings about the Live At Wembley DVD?
That was a trip. It’s one thing to finally get to play Wembley and at the same time know it’s being documented forever via Hi-Definition cameras everywhere you look. It was a pretty special moment but at the same time it was a crazy amount of pressure. You want to make sure you deliver in every way possible so it was a wild ride that’s for sure.
What are you currently working on?
We’re finishing up the U.S. leg of the Slash and the Conspirators tour. We have about another week and then we head to Europe and t hen we head to South America. Then I get together with Mark and we start putting together the next Alter Bridge record. Then I’ll also do more dates next year with Slash and the guys and it’s just more nonstop lucky me getting to play music.
I don’t think it’s luck.
I appreciate that. You did a great job and did all your homework and you knew everything about all the recordings. I appreciate that. Thanks a lot. Alright you take care of yourself.