The old saying goes, "Don't meet your heroes", but I want to amend that, just add one tiny addendum - "...unless your hero is Myles Kennedy."
Yes, the Mayfield Four and Alter Bridge-singer turned household name thanks to Slash hand-plucking him to write two songs on his 2010 solo album, Kennedy has continued to have one of the most powerful and recognisable voices in rock n' roll. Across the last few years especially, he's refused to abate for even a second, bouncing back and forth between juggling albums with both Slash and Alter Bridge - even finding the time to put the finishing touches on his solo effort (but we'll get to that later).
Back to the whole 'hero' thing, and I can't deny being a lifelong fan of Alter Bridge since their inception back in 2004. I promptly quizzed Myles on everything from the band's newest album, The Last Hero, to Citizen Swing, his solo album and a little thing fans have been asking about for years: Words Darker Than Their Wings played live.
Scott Tailford: Talking to Mark (Tremonti, lead guitarist) back in May, he made a big point of not wanting to ever repeat ideas or do the same thing musically. Listening to The Last Hero, I really feel like you guys have pushed yourselves and changed what we think of as an "Alter Bridge album". How intentional was that going in, or did it come together over time?
Myles Kennedy: For me going into each record, maybe I'm a little different than Mark in that respect because I tend to think about it like "Just stay in the moment".
As a writer I can overthink things, you kind of just wait for the song and then essentially document it, so I'll come up with an idea, record it on whatever recording apparatus [is to hand], forget about it and then when the time comes to start extracting song ideas, hopefully you have a lot to pull from. With Mark and I, generally that seems to be the case.
Really what helps dictate the sound of the record and where it's going is that process; deciding which ideas make the cut, and I think that he's right - obviously we don't want to just repeat ourselves over and over again, but at the same time, you don't want to alienate the fans that expect a certain sound from the band, y'know?
If they like the fact that you're a riff-based band with melody, you don't want to take that out the equation and suddenly you're playing polka numbers with jazz flute over the top (laughs). Y'know, it's not gonna bode well, so it's a very delicate dance, and I think with this record, when it was all said and done, I feel like we didn't necessarily 'alienate' any of our fans in any sense.
When I listen to this record, I hear moments from previous records, I hear from a stylistic standpoint. I hear some of the anthems that we had on Blackbird, I hear some of the darker, moodier pieces we might have put on AB III and then the epic journeys that we started to explore more on Fortress, but at the same time adding certain things in the studio, and certain approaches that helped push us in a new direction. Well, not a 'new direction', but just keeping it fresh.
So personally I try not to overthink it. Just stay in the moment and kinda let the songs just happen, and this is what we got this time.
S.T: After listening to Tremonti's solo albums (Cauterize and Dust), how much of that thrash metal or generally heavier tonality influences Alter Bridge overall? Something like the start of Island of Fools is so heavy and crunchy - with Mark fleshing out that side of himself, does it in turn affect the band?
M.K: I think that side of the band is such an important element, and it's interesting you brought up Island of Fools - that was actually a riff I brought in, so for me that was inspired by Mastodon. Riff-wise I'm just such a massive Mastodon fan, and that was where that came from.
But if you take a song like Crows on a Wire, that's very much a Mark riff. He has a very signature thing that he does, and it's impossible to totally lose that with Alter Bridge, y'know? As a writer you kind of do what you do, and so there's always going to be that undercurrent with Alter Bridge.
I can hear that going all the way back to the very first record, the thrash element, definitely the metal element. But I think what makes us somewhat unique in that sense that we're very aware of how to have that melodic approach. I'm not a screamer, so I guess that's kind of become our calling card; this metallic approach to riffing but with melody still intact.
S.T.: In terms of recording time, it seems over the years your past albums were worked on over the course of multiple months or years. I think The Last Hero all came together at the tail-end of last year? (2015) What was that like, and were there any songs or compositions from years gone by that you brought back?
M.K.: Most of it was written last year, so Mark and I wrote separately and then started arranging the ideas together in December and January, but as far as with actual ideas, the genesis of those ideas have been around for years, I mean there's a bridge on You Will Be Remembered where that melody and musical part had been around for ten-plus years, it just never found a home in a song.
But that's an exception, most of the ideas at this point were written in the last year to 18 months, so it's safe to say yeah, within about a year, most of these ideas were born.
S.T.: The feel and tone of The Last Hero took me back to AB III, which I really love for the journey it takes you on; the tone and the connection between the songs. Was that an intention here, to venture into more of a conceptual headspace with the album?
M.K.: I think it was, lyrically it was. Y'know it's not a complete concept record in the way that The Wall is a concept record, because the theme runs throughout it and we explore the need for heroes and the lack of heroes, what we do to our heroes, it's definitely a very common thread throughout the record.
Part of the reason for that was the lyrics were written in a very finite amount of time, and there was a lot going on in the world around us that was so hard to ignore, and this hero concept kept coming up in so many of the songs.
So at one point, once I realised it was in two or three of the tracks, it felt like it would be appropriate to keep exploring that on other tracks, and if you listen to Show Me A Leader, and you listen to This Side of Fate and you listen to The Last Hero, they're almost a trilogy because there's almost a story within those three songs, and I think that's the first time we've ever done anything like that with Alter Bridge.
S.T.: To focus on specific songs, Twilight near the end of the album - was this a continuation of the themes raised in Starlight, the song you did with Slash in 2010? Both songs gave me the same sort of philosophical commentary vibe, in terms of viewing humanity from way up in the stars.
M.K.: Well y'know, I never thought about it that way! I will say that both songs kind of touch upon that hope for the future of humanity, where we stand right now, and Twilight was inspired by- I was actually sitting in my house watching the election coverage a few months ago when the lyrics came about, and it was hard to watch, I was profoundly affected by what I was seeing.
People were fighting, and it was just, it wasn't good. It was rather disheartening to see where things were, and it just reminded me as far as how well people are getting along - or I should say not getting along - and the amount of racial intolerance that still seems to prevail in certain parts of our country.
So I think it deals with that theme, y'know there's a line in there, "Divided by our differences, now everything is torn apart, tomorrow is contingent on the tolerance of every heart", which is probably my favourite lyric on the record.
S.T.: Totally, I actually had that picked out in my review as something that really stood out.
M.K.: It's true, it's very true.
S.T.: It was incredibly well put.
M.K.: Thank you!
S.T.: Having the Alter Bridge fanbase be so dedicated and driven, has that changed the approach to things like having to nail a 'radio hit'? Now you have Youtube, you have social media as a way to target the fans directly - would that ever effect how you write the songs, allowing for a more intimate relationship with the fans going forward?
M.K.: Well, as far as writing a song and keeping the radio single in mind, that's such a hard one because y'know, what is a single now, versus what was a single ten years ago?
I don't know, I mean there are always those key elements; a lot of it has to do with the melodic hook - is there something that's memorable, or is it the lyrics, is it something people can relate to? There are always those things that are part of the equation, but I find that if you chase that down, if you go into writing a song thinking, "Okay! We have to write a radio song, we have to write a 'hit'!", you can kind of chase your tail.
Because to me there's nothing worse than hearing a song that was written, that was just that obvious (laughs). If you tend to follow that formula and when it comes to being so highly formulaic, I don't know it's just too obvious, but once the record is done and you're trying to pick the single, trying to pick what's going to represent the record, man that's hard, that's really hard, and I don't feel like I really am the best judge all the time. I don't think anybody is. At the end of the day, you just never really know until you throw it out there.
I guess all you can do is just try and stay in the moment as you're creating the song, and try and make it honest, try and make it move you and hopefully it'll move your fans.
S.T.: Switching gears to your solo album, we heard a couple years back that it was all recorded - is that still the case? What's the latest on its progress in general?
M.K: The mixes are pretty much done, I actually just got another batch sent out today and just tweaking some things here and there. Now it's just a matter of waiting for the appropriate time to put it out.
I think that given that we're entering into an album cycle with Alter Bridge right now, we'll see how that plays out, how long that plays out, and who knows what the future holds for Slash & The Conspirators, so it's just finding the appropriate window to where I can release it, do a little bit of touring and let it have its day, so to speak.
S.T. Is there ANY chance at all of you getting the guys back for maybe one Citizen Swing song? I just have to ask, because I love that album!
M.K.: Ah! (laughs) I don't know, that's a good question! I still talk with the drummer once in a while, but other than that, I don't know where everybody went, I don't even know if any of those guys still live where I live anymore, but yeah it's hard to believe that those records are 20-plus years old, it's crazy.
S.T.: Oh yeah man, pretty much all us Alter Bridge fans have dug them out. That, Cosmic Dust - anything with your voice on we've hoovered up!
S.T.: In terms of maintaining your voice over the years, a song like This Side of Fate really has these big, lung-straining choruses. Has it been hard as you've grown older, considering your range and abilities?
M.K.: It's certainly something I'm always aware of when I'm on tour, and I tend to stress out about it more than I should. For me, keeping it healthy really has to do with how much I warm up and through certain technique things, so that I don't blow it out. Also just not drinking a ton of alcohol and I don't smoke or anything like that, so you just do what you can do and you try not to talk too much. That's why I generally don't do a ton of press when I'm actually touring, because that tends to burn my voice out.
It's always on my mind, as far as getting old and the years kinda having their way with my voice, the good thing is, I feel like I've done it for so long, I've figured out how to use my voice, I feel like it's gotten stronger, but at the same time it's not as resilient as it was when I was in my twenties when I could beat it up one night and it just works fine the next day. I know that if I'm gonna beat it up one night, it's gonna take two days for it to bounce back, so that's the difference!
S.T.: Then you could start doing screaming, which all the fans would love, next to the heavy stuff!
M.K: Right! (laughs) Right, there you go!
S.T.: Final question, a very specific fan question. So following AB III and Words Darker Than Their Wings, I wondered if you guys were going to play that live? It was talked about from Mark a few years back as possibly doing an acoustic version between the two of you?
M.K.: Yeah we talked about it, we were just trying to find the time and place to do it. That's one of those songs, because of how it was tracked and because of the end of it particularly where I really kinda go for it- which is fine, I can still do that, but the problem is, if I do that, I have to be very aware of the other songs in the set and how much putting the pedal to the metal there is.
It's all a balance, and you just want to make sure you don't overdue it from song to song.
S.T.: Well thank you very much for taking the time out to speak with me, especially if you don't usually do much press, thank you!
M.K.: Thank you, thanks for your time, I appreciate it - good questions!
And there you have it - what would you have asked the illustrious Mr. Kennedy, and what do you think of The Last Hero so far? Let us know in the comments!