10.09.2014

Myles Kennedy is a musician at the top of his game


Myles Kennedy is a musician at the top of his game

As the front man and lead singer of not one – but two – enormously successful rock bands simultaneously, an almost unheard of feat; he is certainly one of the hardest working musicians in the business. 

Kennedy has been in New Hampshire four times in the past four years, performing at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom with Alter Bridge in 2011 and 2012, and with Slash (featuring Myles Kennedy) and the Conspirators in both 2013 and 2014. 

This week, Myles will hit the road with Alter Bridge again, making a nearby stop to rip the roof off of The Palladium in Worcester, Mass. Last week he was in the midst of a frenetic press and mini promotional tour featuring multiple L.A. "club" shows at the Troubadour, the Roxy and the Whiskey a Go-Go with Slash and the Conspirators, who just released their second studio album as a band, "World on Fire." And before that he was wrapping up a nationwide tour opening for Aerosmith with Slash while also doing theatre-size shows with Slash on the off days with Aerosmith. 

He’s definitely a man in demand. While on tour with Alter Bridge in 2008 he was summoned by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones to rehearse during some sessions for a project that, for unknown reasons, never materialized. 

Myles caught the eye of another music legend in Slash, and seems surprised that he was ever on anybody's radar despite having a voice made for Rock 'n' Roll and guitar skills that impress anyone who is paying attention.

Comprised of Mark Tremonti, Scott Phillips, Brian Marshall and Myles Kennedy, three of whom formerly made up the 90s pop-rock megaband Creed, Alter Bridge has a harder, edgier sound than its previous incarnation.  But it’s a sound – with big riffs and beautiful melodies – that rock fans love and the band’s hard-core following, especially in Europe, where the band plays huge arena shows, is dedicated. 

Alter Bridge released their debut album, "One Day Remains" in 2004 and followed that up with "Blackbird" in 2007.  A third album, "AB III" (2010), gave them their biggest hit to date with the song "Isolation."   

We caught up with Myles before he embarked on a 15-city tour that will take Alter Bridge across the U.S. through the end of October in support of their latest album, "Fortress." 

Here’s what he had to say.

Lisa: You just came off tour with Slash, opening for Aerosmith. I read somewhere that you’d be taking notes in the wings. Did you learn anything? 

Myles: I did. I learned a tremendous amount during that tour. I would just watch how Steven Tyler would conduct himself throughout the day and I learned that there is just – an attention to detail – with that guy. He’s kind of, got his finger on the pulse of everything that’s going on during the tour. That was very enlightening for me. There is a reason he is one of the greatest front men this country has produced. He’s definitely not phoning it in, that’s for sure. 

Lisa: It’s unusual to have a singer who is in two successful bands simultaneously. Do you sometimes forget who you are on stage with? 

Myles: (Laughing) I definitely forget what month it is. That happens all the time! But, no, not really. I think that both bands are so different. That’s part of what keeps it exciting for me is that they are very different mindsets for me musically. That keeps it from getting redundant. By the time I feel like I’m firing on all cylinders and trying to raise to the challenge on the specific tour, then that tour ends up winding down, and I’m with the other band and I have to turn the dial a different direction. There’s a certain amount of work and a certain thought process that has to happen for me to get on the stage, to get up there. And it’s a challenge, which is good. 

Lisa: How did you and Mark (Tremonti) originally connect? 

Myles: It was a long time ago. In 1998, I was in a band called the Mayfield Four and we toured with Creed. Mark and I had briefly crossed paths and I had talked to drummer Scott Phillips a few times. Other than that, there wasn’t a lot of dialogue. It wasn’t until 2003, around Thanksgiving, that I received a call from those guys. I was pretty surprised that I was even on their radar. By that point I was done with the Mayfield Four. We had disbanded in 2002. I was just kind of trying to figure out what was next.

Lisa: Do you find that the writing process is very different with Mark than it is with Slash? 

Myles: It’s a different process. The songwriting with Mark and Alter Bridge is – it’s more like making a puzzle – where we stockpile a lot of different riffs and melodies and chord progressions, and we kind of set those aside and we go, okay, I’ve got this riff, do you have a chorus that goes with this or a riff that goes with this chorus? Whereas, with Slash, he’ll come in with a music bed, and say okay, now put your melody and your lyric to this. It’s like you’re handed a canvas to paint on. They are just totally different approaches, which I love. 

Lisa: Well that keeps it interesting. 

Myles: Very interesting, yeah. 

Lisa: Where does the ‘metal’ sound come from with this band? Who are the influences? 

Myles: Mark as a kid was definitely into Slayer, Metallica. I can hear a lot of Slayer actually in some of his heavier riffs. For me, I was into Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The heavier the better early on. I remember when I heard Metallica for the first time and I heard “Ride the Lightning” and I was like, there you go. But we are also into a lot of contemporary artists as well, where metal has evolved to. 

Lisa: Do you find that the audiences are different with Alter Bridge than they are at a Slash show? 

Myles: There’s a difference, and it’s really hard to articulate what the difference is. Alter Bridge fans are – there seems to be – in general, more of a male audience. 

Lisa: Like most metal/hard rock music. 

Myles: Yeah, and maybe that’s what it is, that metal thing. It’s a little more heavy. With Slash there is definitely more of a generational thing, and it seems to be a pretty wide demographic, at least in the states. Now, overseas? That changes everything. 

Lisa: Totally different, huh? 

Myles: (Laughing) Totally different over there, which is fascinating.

Lisa: I understand you play large arenas with Alter Bridge in Europe. Over here it’s more theatres and smaller venues. What do you prefer? It’s a completely different feeling I’m sure. 

Myles: It’s a very different feeling, and, I was reminded, because, with both bands, we’ve moved up to either arenas or theatres in so many areas, and we don’t do a lot of smaller clubs anymore. And last week I did three shows with Slash. We did one at the Roxy, one at the Troubadour and one at the Whiskey. It reminded me how much I missed that. Because it’s so easy to connect with everyone in the room versus an arena, where there’s some guy sitting way up in the back, you know, you’ve got 10 or 12 thousand people and you’re trying to make everybody feel like they are part of the show and it’s a challenge. So I think I love both of them – I love – look, there’s nothing like playing one of your bigger songs and having 12 thousand people singing in the crowd. That’s awesome! But it’s also awesome to be able to see every single face and connect with them. 

Lisa: I read that you had given up the dream in 2003. Can you tell me about that? 

Myles: Sure. I was kind of feeling like the music business had chewed me up and spit me out. I put everything – like most artists when they get their first real shot – I put everything into those first Mayfield Four records and I spent my entire 20’s trying to find who I was as an artist. Then we got this record deal and it was so great, so exciting. Long story short, I found out the realities of the music business and how difficult it can be, and how few actually get their real shot. 
So I kind of hung up my cleats for awhile, went back to teaching guitar and didn’t really know what I was going to do. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to do the rock thing anymore. I had gotten a call from Slash the year before, before they had found Scott Weiland and they were trying to do what would become Velvet Revolver and I never put my hat in the ring there because I just wasn’t – the word I always use is, I was crestfallen. I kind of needed to reinvent myself. So when Mark called over a year later, I had worked through a lot of things and figured that teaching guitar was fine, but I didn’t feel like it was my sole purpose in life. 

Lisa: You grew up as part of the ‘MTV Generation,’ how did that affect or influence you as a musician early on? 

Myles: Yeah, and it was tricky because my parents didn’t have cable. So my friends would tell me about this cool thing called MTV and it sounded so cool and I was so captivated by the whole concept. So when I finally saw it, I would go over to my friend’s (homes) and they would want to go out and play and I just wanted to sit in front of their parents’ TV and watch. (Laughing) So that’s kind of how I discovered it. And I think that was a cool time. There’s some people who think that MTV was a bad thing for music. I think it was good thing. It was certainly a golden era for the record industry. I couldn’t buy music at that point but it certainly changed that whole, you know, a band had to look a certain way. You couldn’t just make music. It got strange there for awhile. Like with hard rock in the mid-80s where you had this element coming through where suddenly, what was more important was what you were wearing. 

Lisa: Did it have an impact on you wanting to become a lead singer or front man? 

Myles: No, it actually didn’t. 

Lisa: Or Eddie Van Halen…. 

Myles: Eddie Van Halen? Most definitely. The funny thing is I never wanted to be a singer. A guitar player, yes. Eddie Van Halen is a good example. I would see some of those videos and say, that guy is so cool – he had this thing. But as far as being the singer, no…. 

Lisa: So you weren’t watching David Lee Roth, you were watching Eddie Van Halen and saying that’s what I want to do? 

Myles: I would sometimes buy cassettes or records and fast-forward the songs to the guitar solo. That’s what is so ironic now. I was all about the guitar.

Lisa: So that brings me to my next question. You learned to play the trumpet at an early age. How did you learn to play guitar and do you play any other instruments? 

Myles: Yeah the trumpet was brought about because my mother insisted that I learn to play an instrument. I fought her initially but I’m really grateful to her in retrospect. Because when I did decide that I wanted to play guitar, a lot of that was – Eddie Van Halen to Jimmy Page – and seeing these artists and hearing this thing come from the speakers that was otherwordly. Like the first time that I heard “Eruption,” that was a big game-changer for a lot of us. So that’s what got me inspired to want to play guitar. And once I started I never left my bedroom. I was completely obsessed with it. 

Lisa: Were you self-taught? Or did you go to school to learn to play guitar? 

Myles: A little bit of everything. Initially, I tried to take lessons from a guitar teacher but he just showed me “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” so there was a mail-order thing I got from the back of Circus Magazine called “The Metal Method” and I learned to play. It was awesome. It was like, here are the keys to a whole new world. I loved that. Later on I went to music school in my late-teens, early twenties, to learn theory and all that. 

Lisa: Do you play any other instruments? Piano? 

Myles: Not really. Not very well. I plink around on it but I play trumpet. I played trombone for a little while, but not very well. 

Lisa: So you have a bit of a jazz influence… 

Myles: I love jazz. I’m a big jazz nerd. (Laughing)

Lisa: I also read that you were shy. Do you ever have ‘stage fright’ and how do you overcome it? 

Myles: Yeah, I guess I’m shy by nature. I’ve gotten better with it over the years. I’ve learned to come out of my shell. As far as stage fright goes, it kind of depends on the situation. It’s not like it was. Initially, in my late teens, I didn’t think I was going to be able to play music just because I had such bad stage fright. That is something that – when I look back on it – I’m most proud of, that I was able to overcome that. 

Lisa: There’s a lot of musicians that never do. They have to do some sort of routine or meditation to get out on stage… 

Myles: That’s exactly right, and that’s why I do my vocal warm-ups, which I start 90 minutes before the show. That’s how I get my brain to kind of calm down. But I’ve heard that too. Someone was telling me the other day that Iggy Pop – who I think is probably my favorite front guy – gets super nervous. I thought, wow, if Iggy Pop gets nervous, that makes me feel better! 

Lisa: When I saw you the first show of the Slash tour this summer at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom I noticed a couple of times that you would get in the zone, and sing with raw emotion. Do you have to dig deep to get that emotional connection with the music or does it just happen naturally? 

Myles: If I’m feeling good and everything is firing on all cylinders, and I can hear, it will happen naturally. But if there’s a problem like I can’t hear myself or something technical is happening, then I really have to dig and really remember that you are here to convey this emotion to these people.

Lisa: I understand you have a solo album coming out. What can we expect from that and when will it be out? 

Myles: Yeah, I’m going to try and get that knocked out here in the next 18 months. The music has all been done for years. The vocals are written, I just have to record the vocals, so it will probably just take a few weeks. But it’s different from both Alter Bridge and Slash. I think it falls somewhere closer to the Mayfield Four era, a little more stripped down. 

Lisa: What is your definition of success musically and have you achieved it? 

Myles: That’s so hard. I think the definition of success is first of all, to still enjoy what you’re doing and get off on it. But I think…..to find your own voice and be able to express yourself and really find who you are as an artist, and I think that I’m getting closer. I don’t think that I feel I’ll ever reach that level, but that’s been my goal for years: to really discover who Myles Kennedy is. 



Credits: unionleader.com // LISA MARTINEAU



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