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Interview

Mark Tremonti Explains "A Dying Machine" Concept, Talks Touring With Iron Maiden And New Alter Bridge

With a recording career that stretches back twenty five years, founding two of the most successful rock bands in recent memory and with a blistering and respected solo project under his belt, Mark Tremonti has become one of the most revered guitarists of recent times. Selling over fifty three million albums worldwide with Creed alone, Mark Tremonti has fought through every obstacle in his path to craft some of the most popular rock hits of the 21st century.

This year, Mark's eponymous solo band released the album, "A Dying Machine," a science fiction concept album that's paired with a novel Mark co wrote with John Shirley. It's a fascinating story of love, technology and freedom which comes together as a solid ball of rock and has so far delighted both listeners and readers. Last night, I caught up with Mark to discuss the album, the book, the success of his solo band and when we can expect to hear new material from Alter Bridge. You can watch the interview in full below.

Diamond Oz: The new album, "A Dying Machine" is out now and it's very special because it's not just an album, it's a book as well. Obviously a lot of thought and preparation has gone into this. How long how had you had this idea?

Mark Tremonti: I was on tour with Alter Bridge in Hungary and I was warming up and came across a chord progression a really liked and started singing along to it and the lyrics, "A dying machine" came out. I was reading the Dark Tower series at the time and in the third book, Wastelands, there's a scene where a giant, two thousand year old creature that's part machine is dying and I thought that was kind of cool concept, a machine dying. So I created this conversation between a man and a woman, the machine being the woman that was built and put on this Earth just to a partner of this man and she was getting old and falling apart while all she knows is to please this man, but he's kind of over it. I loved the journey that writing the song took me on and from that point on it just took off.

Oz: Reading the synopsis is very interesting because it's reminiscent of other things but it's not ripping them off, such as Blade Runner.

Mark: It happens ways before. I think it's more along the lines of Ex Machina. The story takes place at the turn of the century and it's kind of the beginning of us experimenting with bringing a human into the world that's fashioned the way you want it to be, they wake up with a history as if they've lived an entire life and it's for people who are lonely or maybe have lost a child and they can create this new child. This story is about a man who loses his wife so he creates this new woman. He'd feel bad actually loving another woman so doing this is the next best thing so he this woman developed and it goes kinda south from there.

Oz: It's a very interesting idea and setting at that time is very smart because it's not so distant.

Mark: It could happen very soon. I mean in Japan they've already got these walking, talking dolls and they'll find all kinds of uses for them.

Oz: Was doing a concept album something you'd always dreamt of doing?

Mark: I never thought about it ever before. I was never a fan of concept records, though I bought a lot of concept records without really knowing they were concept records! Like "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son" by Iron Maiden or every King Diamond album, I just loved the records. I kind of knew what the stories were but I didn't buy them because they're concept records. You know every time we put out a record with Alter Bridge, people would ask if it's a concept album. People thought "ABIII" was a concept album about faith or people thought "The Last Hero" was a concept record about failing leaders but this is a concept record, it tells a fictional story and when I was writing it, I'd have to sit there and think all day long when I got to the next song. I'd have to think where the story can go, whose perspective I'd be singing from and after a while I realised I needed to put it into a long form to make it more understandable to people and that's when I got the idea of doing the book. I'm a big big fan of authors and reading and one of my bucket list items was to get a book published so I'm glad I finally got to live that dream with this.

Oz: Excellent. I've seen quite a few fans say that they'd like it turned into a movie.

Mark: We're hoping. I've got it in the right hands. There's certain steps you have to make, first to get the book done for the fans. If I'd gone through the proper channels the book would be out in three years and people would be like, "Oh, that was yesterday's news." So I got the book printed and put out during this album cycle, now it's time to find the right publishing house to find distribution. Once you do that, then you can submit it to production companies and see they're interested in a series or movie adaptation. I think it'd be the hardest thing I could accomplish but if I do then I'll be the happiest guy in the world.

Oz: There's also been a lot of praise on the writing itself, particularly the character development. I know the book was co-written, so how much input in terms of dialogue and structure did you have yourself?

Mark: When I first had the idea of doing the novel, I had written a story before which got to about 110 pages and kept going back to, then finally I got to this idea. I started to put things together but I thought, "this is taking forever, there's no way I'm going to be able to finish this." I knew exactly what I wanted to do with a big portion of the story so I thought I'd find a ghost writer to help me move it along quicker. I went through about ten different authors before I found John Shirley and what's great about John is that he's a specialist in where technology's headed, he does TED Talks about singularity and so when I'd explain some of the technology in the story to John he'd say, "well they're actually working on that right now, it'll probably be mainstream in about thirty years, so we can explain around that, I know the terminology."

I explained the story to him a bunch of times, then we'd get on the phone and there'd be a hiccup, so I'd get him to write a synopsis then after I explained a bunch of times he sent back like a twenty seven page outline! So we went through it, changed what needed to be changed but in the general picture we had what we needed, then we kind of just dove in. The only thing I was worried about was how to end the story, I knew I had about 70-80% of the story but I wasn't sure how he wanted to end it. So then one day I was out driving somewhere and this idea popped into my head that made me think, "That's exactly how this story's gonna end!" and when you have that feeling it's like finishing an album or a song.

I couldn't have done it without John when it comes to the prose and things like that. It's funny we kind of conflicted when it came to me telling him the story, then him regurgitating it in a more refined way. He would write in chapters, then I would read it and correct certain grammatical things and he's like, "You're looking at it like an English student, this is not like that." He writes kind of like halfway between a book and a screenplay so the prose flies fast and it's hard to take your own education and apply it to it, even if you've written before. But when I started talking to John about maybe getting this into the hands of a TV series or a movie or something, I started to notice some of his dials changed and the way he was framing some of the scenes. It was probably the most creatively satisfying thing of my life, seeing the character Stella come to life after she's lived in my mind so long, telling John I want people to absolutely love her.

Oz: You mentioned "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son" earlier, obviously you got to tour with Iron Maiden over the Summer. How was that?

Mark: It was amazing. Iron Maiden was the first concert I went to as a kid. I had a big black "Somewhere In Time" banner on my wall and being able to tour with them was great. I really looked forward to saying, "Up next, Iron Maiden" and by the end I was getting the "Iron!" chant going! It was intimidating. When you get up in front of a crowd that big that doesn't want to have anything to do with you, aside from some little groups, it was a good thing for us because it meant we had to work our asses off to keep that crowd engaged and I think we came out the other side a much better band. You've got to become a bigger entertainer than you've ever been when you're playing for that kind of crowd.

Oz: Obviously being a concept album, "A Dying Machine" has a lot of thought put into it, but how does it compare with writing the last two records, which were written back to back?

Mark: It was different on this record because usually I write in bits and pieces. A lot of it was about finishing ideas of all at once, whereas say with Alter Bridge, I can write two things that fit together then show it to someone else who can combine it with their two things. I'd start an idea and I'd ride it out until that was done, so sometimes it would take me two weeks to write one song and others would take maybe three days. The hardest thing was to find that initial idea that was good enough to sacrifice the next couple of weeks of creation to finish that idea.

Oz: I believe Alter Bridge are currently working on new material. Is that expected next year and how much time can you still give to the Tremonti project and the "Dying Machine" touring cycle?

Mark: We're gonna tour until the Holidays, then we go on tour with Sevendust in February. Then we'll go into the studio with Alter Bridge in March and April, then after I've finished tracking, I'll fly back to Europe and do Summer festivals with Tremonti. It takes about four months to get a record set up so I'll have that time to focus on Tremonti again.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.

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