Alter Bridge released their seventh studio album, “Pawns & Kings” in October. The material has 10 new and unforgettable songs – I think I can even say that all of them are pure masterpieces. Before their European tour kicked off, we had an opportunity to have a pretty long talk with the band’s drummer and co–founder, Scott Phillips.
-Your brand new album just came out and has received very good reviews so far. How do you feel about that? Have you expected it?
-Well, we were certainly hopeful that people would like it and we would get good reviews as well. The fans like it, and that’s the most important thing. We are very proud of it. I think it’s a heavy record, heavier than “Walk the Sky” was. We cut back on the production a little bit – I mean it’s more sounding like four musicians in a room. Although I like the productions that we’ve done in the past, but this is just kinda more back to the roots of what Alter Bridge is known for. We are very happy with it and very excited that the fans seem really enjoy it and it’s getting a lot of positive reviews as well from the press. You know, it’s a reaffirmation that we are doing the right thing.
-What were the main inspirations behind “Pawns and Kings”?
-You know, I think Mark and Myles both right on their own, and this album is a very even split between 5 of Mark’s ideas and 5 of Myles’ ideas. They all know what they’re writing and who they writing it for, who’s gonna be playing it. I think it was just kinda maybe somewhat of a conscious effort to let’s get back to doing what Alter Bridge has done through the years… A conscious effort but you know, Alter Bridge through the years has been known for doing epic, longer songs at least one or two per record. This album has like three or four of those types of songs, that really kind of take you on a journey, kind of like “Fortress”, “Words Darker Than Their Wings” or like “Blackbird” did back in the day.
I’m excited to get a chance to get perform those now.
The fans really seem to gravitate toward those types of songs. Hopefully, they enjoy these new ones that we’ve put together. It’s only 10 songs. You know, a lot of Alter Bridge records in the past had 13-14 songs or whatever, we just make sure that we got to the point that the listener doesn’t get lost, like “oh my God, come on, song eighteen, it’s been two hours of my life”. We got back to the core of what we do.
-How much was it challenging to work on and finish the album in the shadow of COVID?
-Well yeah… To do the album and the writing of the album – we’ve been doing it together for so long with our producers as well, so in that process, we knew exactly what we were getting into. There are always challenges, doing that songwriting, ’cause you’re kinda carrying down somebody’s idea and then sort of rebuilding it back.
But it’s a journey that we all look forward to and in the end, we got something that we’re proud of.
Doing it again in the shadow of COVID, especially the schedule… You know, Myles had literally just finished the last show in Orlando with Slash, and the next day he was in the studio. We had to finish up at a certain time because Mark had a tour starting, and Myles also had a tour starting. That was the only thing that was tough, the time, of knowing that if we fall a day behind it we will fall two days behind, the one extra day for guitars, or bass, or drums, or whatever it was could really be detrimental to finishing the album because of the time constraint. That was the biggest part of it.
-Which song was the most challenging one and why?
-It would either be “Pawns & Kings” or “Fable of the Silent Son” which is one of my favorite ones from the record. And the song is not challenging it’s just a long song that the recording process, you know… Took a while to track that song, and there are parts that were added to it, like the crazy drum solo, the guitar solo section right in the middle – it wasn’t added that day, it was like the last day that we were working on it, right before we started tracking and then Mark or somebody came up with the idea, taking Myles’ vision for that song and adding this extra part of musicality because it was really cool. It was a lot of fun with the last song, we saved that one for the last, but it took a long time to finish that.
-I know that choosing a favorite song is like choosing a favorite child – but is there any specific song on the album which you feel is the closest to you?
-Well, I’d say probably “Fable of the Silent Son” would be the one that speaks to me the most. That was one of the demos that Myles had done, and the demo version is very similar to what we ended up tracking. Myles had programmed drums on there and then tell me it’s the worst drum program ever on the planet, but he won’t stop doing it. (laughs)
I have changed some of the patterns that he had come up with, I needed to make them mine.
But that song just cut me right off guard, it’s just such a mood and a sound… You know, it’s beauty and aggressiveness, and just laying back and being in your space. It’s a little bit of the mid-’70s when you feel the growl of the guitar. I think that one is probably my favorite on this album, but there are a lot of favorites on different days, some of them for their simplicity, some of them for their technicality.
-Many musicians, after their album is already released, find things they don’t like and think they could have done some things differently. Has this happened to you with “Pawns & Kings”, or you’re still fully satisfied with it?
-I think there are always little things you find along the way. There’s nothing specific that stands up to me where I wish that I would have done that sound differently or anything. But, you know when those things do happen or they have happened in the past, the cool thing is you get to play that song over and over again live and maybe try to incorporate those changes in there during a live performance, and let’s see if that works. Sometimes it does work and sometimes it doesn’t work. Just you shouldn’t go too far from what the fans expect to hear, and I think some experimentation live is always fun. It keeps it from being stagnated for the band and for the fans, the crowd who came to see it.
-How do you feel about the “Pawns & Kings” European tour? How it feels being back on stage and performing live again?
-I’m very excited about it, trust me! Probably a little bit nervous, I mean it’s been so long since the four of us have performed together. It’s been 2,5 or beyond, close to 3 years which is… You know, we’ve always been on like a 3-year album cycle, and we’ve been kinda shut down for a year or so, and then get back together to do the recording, the writing, and all that stuff… We were so on the same album schedule, it’s just the whole tour that basically got canceled, I guess we got to do two North American and one European round, and that was it. So, I’m really excited to get back out and perform in front of people, but it’s been so long and wow, I’m nervous! I know that it will be fun once we get out there, it’s very exciting and I’m happy that we finally get back out there.
-The band is also known for its activism: in 2010 Alter Bridge joined the Wheelchair Foundation and also fought against cancer by helping the “Play for Life” organization.
-We always try to give back as much as possible, when an opportunity is presented to us. You know, maybe cluing us into whatever it could be, the things you’re not aware of, the things you don’t know about, things that come about in an instant, and if there’s an opportunity for us to help them out we certainly love to do that. As far as the band involved at the moment…
I know Myles has come up with the Future Song Foundation which is an organization that is basically trying to help schools, that were underfunded, or don’t have the resources that they need, and keep their music program alive with instruments.
For many of us, music is a huge part of our lives. Like I played saxophone, which I started in the 6th grade until 11th grade, when I started playing drums, Brian and Myles were involved in a band the whole time in school, and I feel like that part of our lives really molded us into the people that we are today, and we wanna make sure that other kids have the same opportunity. But who knows what opportunities will be presented to us in this album cycle and in this tour, if there’s a chance that we can do anything or raise money, raise awareness, whatever it is, if it’s something that speaks to us, dear to us we certainly get that opportunity a chance.
-If I know well the band got its name from an actual bridge along Alter Road in Detroit, where Mark Tremonti grew up as a child. But what about the other members – have you actually been there?
-I have not been to Alter Bridge. I have been thought about it, and to be honest with you: at first, I thought, and the rest of us in the band we were like “this is a horrible band name”, like I don’t get it, it doesn’t make any sense to me, I’m not from Detroit, you know… But then Mark explained it, what it meant to him. Basically, he grew up in a house on Alter Road, he was told to never cross over Alter Bridge because it was sort of the Wild West, a bad neighborhood. You know, kids were not welcome over there. It’s sort of a metaphor, for like once we created this band, and Mark and I knew that we wanted to continue working together, bringing in Brian and convincing Myles to come down and be a part of it, that was crossing into the unknown, crossing into what could have been dangerous territory. I think that kinda spoke to all of us, Alter Bridge in our lives – it’s safe from here, but let’s see what this path takes us on, and not be scared of it and try to embrace it. And here we are, 18 years later with the same band name.