June 1, 2020 Interview – Brian Marshall of Alter Bridge
Over the last two decades there have been few bands on the Hard Rock scene as hardworking and prolific as Alter Bridge. Forming from the ashes of Creed back in 2004, the new beginning saw Mark Tremonti and Scott Phillips call on the return of their former Creed mate Brian Marshall to fill out the lineup. Soon recruiting Myles Kennedy as their vocalist, they would form a unity that has been strong, long lasting, and extremely successful.
Topping charts with each of their six albums, including their most recently, 2019’s Walk the Sky, Alter Bridge continue to show growth as a band. A product of their dedication, maturity, and will to carry on, at this point, nothing can stop them. A wild ride, Brian Marshall recently opened up with an honest, insightful recount of Creed, Alter Bridge, and so much more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in music for most of your life. Finding a great deal of success first with Creed, and now Alter Bridge, how would you describe your journey in music thus far?
Brian Marshall – My journey in music has had some ups and downs. I started playing music in middle school and really enjoyed it. I actually started playing drums first, and then when I went on to college, I started playing bass guitar. I found some people to play with and that band eventually became Mattox Creed. Then I got into a cover band, and after that is when I met Scott (Stapp), Mark (Tremonti), as well as Flip (Scott Phillips); they used to frequent the bars and that is how I got to know them.
Cryptic Rock – Interesting, so how did you join up to play in a band with them?
Brian Marshall – The band I was in at the time was kind of breaking up. The guys asked me to come sit in on a rehearsal, so I did. I knew there was something special because we all had similar goals. We all had a passion for the music and rehearsed our asses off. We would get together and play 3-4 times a week and gig for the next 2-3 days. It was always full in “we’re in a band” and we’re going to make the most out of this.
There was always a constant drive. We would have meetings in the middle of a rehearsal outlining what we would need to do, such as writing two more songs so we can get rid of two more cover songs. We tried to remove all the cover songs so we had new material that was our own. It was all about playing live, playing our own material, and we started to develop a following. It was all word of mouth, then the shows became bigger and bigger, little by little, over time.
By that time it was 2-3 years that we had been playing our own material. We thought we had enough material to go in and record an album, so I took out a small loan with my parents and we recorded the record there in Tallahassee, Florida. A manager took us on and he knew a program director in Tallahassee and they added “My Own Prison;” which was under our own release called Blue Collar Records. When they added that song things blew up. That’s when Atlantic and other record companies started contacting us. From that point on it was like, “Oh my god.” It just started to snowball from there.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, and what led to the decision to sign on with Wind-up Records?
Brian Marshall – Wind-up Records came along, they were a new label and they were looking for artists. They put everything they had behind the band. They had it planned out. I’m not sure if Creed’s trajectory would have been the same if it wasn’t for Wind-up; they were just so driven, like the band was.
It was a perfect storm and it came at a time with the fall of Grunge and the rise back into it with a little different take. It was really an amazing experience, I’m not sure if any of us were really ready for that though. I think me personally, if I could go back and do it again, I would do a lot of things differently. Personally, I would handle things differently because as you go on in life, you think about your twenty year old self, and you think, “Self, what were you doing?”
Cryptic Rock – Right, we all do that at some point in our lives. We live and we learn. You then departed from Creed around 2000.
Brian Marshall – Yes, there was a point in my journey where I wasn’t with Creed for Weathered (2001). That was a kind of a dark period in my life, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was living in Orlando and built a studio in my house eventually. I was resentful of Creed for a while. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience because Scott and I really had our differences; the band had to make a choice at that point, and we just parted ways.
It was a dark time in my life, but I managed to get back into music and started playing with people I grew up with. Then, after about a year after Weathered, Mark called to tell me there was an issue with Creed and they were probably going to break up. He told me he was starting a new thing and wanted me to come listen to some demos at his house in Orlando. I met with him and Flip down there and we talked for hours and hours.
We gradually started interviewing singers and Myles (Kennedy) was at the top of our list; we knew him because Mayfield Four had opened for Creed. He came down to Orlando and we played a live rehearsal with him. From that point on it was a great relationship. Myles is a unicorn so to speak, he is not an atypical singer. He has a very unique personality, he does not have the type of personality you would normally get with a singer. It’s always been a real smooth process from start to finish working with Myles. We began writing for the first record, Wind-up took us on, and we released One Day Remains (2004).
Cryptic Rock – That debut from Alter Bridge caught a lot of attention. Speaking of Wind-up, that would be the only record Alter Bridge released with the label before moving on.
Brian Marshall – Things kind of got sour with Wind-up, I think they were on the outs. This is the part of the journey that we just got out of; I’ll explain that a little bit. We bought ourselves out of that record contract with Wind-up, and that was probably the biggest mistake we ever made as a band. I should not even disclose the amount. (Laughs) Anyway, we bought ourselves and we have basically been in debt ever since… and that was 2005. The band has constantly tried to get on top of that; we would get on multiple tours, had multiple record companies, and put out multiple albums.
We paid it off little by little, but it wasn’t until the last few years that we really developed a plan with our new management and band accountant. We had just a new team all around. We surrounded ourselves with the right people because we got more mature about the whole business. That is part of the journey you just can’t get without experience. We did eventually pay down the debt, but it wasn’t until actually the last 6 months that we closed that out! Now we’re able to go out and not pay down debt. That part of the journey has been a real heartache, at least for Alter Bridge, but now we’re clear of that. Things certainly are better in our camp now.
That’s my journey in nutshell. I’ve really enjoyed playing music. Everybody does other projects too – Flip has done Projected with John Conley, Mark’s done Tremonti, plus Myles does his solo stuff and his thing with Slash. I’m currently working on a Country project now working with some other Country artists as well as a singer that I’ve know for many years. That is certainly in my future.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like a very unpredictable journey, but one that has turned out well. As mentioned, you left Creed for a bit, but then reunited your friends in Alter Bridge. What is truly astounding is you had this tremendous success with Creed, but have nearly duplicated that with Alter Bridge. How awesome is it to see that lightening has struck twice?
Brian Marshall – (Laughs) You took the words right out of my mouth. It’s certainly been a longer process though. We have spent a lot of time in Europe, travelling abroad, and really connecting with other markets. We’ve tried like hell to reach the same success in The States like Creed did, but that really is setting the bar high. That is the norm for us though, we’ve always done that.
I’m not sure why the success with Alter Bridge has taken as long as it has. I think maybe people thought Alter Bridge was just a Creed spin-off, that we weren’t going to stick around, or there was already this preconceived notion about the guys from Creed. Who knows. At the same time, we’re still around, still making music, and we’re still passionate about it. As long as people will still receive it, love it, and continue to support us, then we’re going to continue to still make music.
Cryptic Rock – You have done a great job with that. At this point, you have released more records with Alter Bridge opposed to Creed. You released Walk The Sky in the fall of 2019. What was it like putting the newest album together?
Brian Marshall – Over the years, as technology has developed, it has been a bit of a different process with different members of the band being scattered across the continent. With Walk The Sky, we were using Dropbox with Mark and Myles on the road. They spent some time in their hotel rooms, were constantly writing and putting ideas in that Dropbox. Flip and I would listen to them… it got to a point where there was 15-20 ideas in there. Then we all got together, laid out a plan for the record, and we stuck to it. We got down to Orlando and that is where we spent a good 2 weeks in writing and 1 1/2 weeks in pre-production. We listened to some ideas that went in the Dropbox, worked them out, and them arranged a little differently. The good thing about it, the other guys were writing and it wasn’t like we were going into a room standing around trying to come up with ideas; we had a skeleton of songs to play around with.
We recorded the record shortly after that. We worked with Michael “Elvis” Baskette, who has been with us since Blackbird (2007). Jef Moll also works with Elvis, so it’s a fine oiled-machine; we know each other really well and work well together. We kept on that path. The record has been very well-received, in fact, this one is probably the best received since the beginning. That was exciting to see that happen out of the gate.
We started out with a US tour, went to Europe, and then we had a May and Summer run planned… then all this stuff happened. The good thing is that it looks like the band has all agreed that the other projects will wait because we are on stand still right now. It looks like we are going to at least go into the first quarter of 2021. A lot of the tours have been postponed, I’m not sure about the summer yet. While everything might be postponed, the good news is we are going to be able to continue into next year.
Cryptic Rock – The album came out very well and hopefully you can pick up touring again sooner than later. It seems like the band displays more artistic freedom from album to album. Do you agree with that?
Brian Marshall – Yea, I think we always try to make the next album better or outdo ourselves. I feel like I’m old when I say that, but as years go by, we all tend to develop a craft. It wasn’t until the last couple of years where I felt like I’m really starting to understand all the nuances of what I’m playing. I used to always play by ear, but now I really look at it a deeper level; I try to understand what and how it works.
Without stepping on anything, as a bass player, I try to do everything I can without overplaying. At the end of the day, I love when there is space in a song, but Mark tends to write at blazing speed. (Laughs) As a bass player, that makes it tough to really take the bass for a walk; you have to stick with what is happening there musically. When there is space I feel like that is where I can venture off in a different partner, but still stick in the same melodic phasing that is happening with the guitars and vocals.
It’s been different for the last couple of records. It always seems like it’s so rushed because we’re on a timeline. I really wish I could have more time with the band as a whole to develop the songs. I’ll take the songs away from the writing process and sit down with it, but it’s just not the same. When you’re playing with the band, that’s when things start to gel. Once your comfortable with a song you can start to experiment with it more. That happens for me a lot on tour. The song is recorded one way, but then on tour you say, “Now I’m doing this and I like it so much better than how I recorded it.”
I think that is the beaut of how My Own Prison (1997) was made, we were able to develop that record over 2-3 years. It had time to develop. When I go back to listen to that album I can tell I had time with it. I don’t think I would do anything particularly different on that album.
Cryptic Rock – The My Own Prison record certainly sounds excellent, even all these year. Alter Bridge’s Walk The Sky sounds excellent too and hopefully you will get to have more time to work together as a band for the next album. Last question. If you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Brian Marshall – I am a fan, but my wife is completely scared of all things Horror. (Laughs) I have got a 7 year old and nearly 2 year old too, so most of the movies in our house are Pixar movies. I haven’t really been able to watch many Horror movies lately. My favorite films are slap stick Comedies like Airplane! (1980). Mark and I share a favorite movie though, The Warriors (1979). My second favorite movie is Excalibur (1981). I also recently realized I have HBO, so I’m excited to finally getting to watch Game of Thrones.