The newest member of Tremonti is Wolfgang Van Halen, who played on both Cauterize and Dust. “He’s definitely one of the best bass players I’ve encountered,” says Tremonti.
What kinds of lead tricks were you trying not to repeat?
There are certain patterns I love and gravitate toward. If I’ve done them three or four times in my career, I try to be aware of that and change things up. I always want to come up with something that pushes me in another direction.
Is it ever awkward working with Brian Marshall? He was in Tremonti originally and left the band, yet you still play together in Alter Bridge.
No, not at all, because he never was really in Tremonti—he was just filling in on the live side. He didn’t play on the record, and I think he only played three or four dates with us.He had the opportunity to be in the band, but he had personal stuff going on and had to step out to deal with some things. We had to find a replacement, and that’s how we got Wolfgang.
You wrote 25 songs for Cauterize. When did you know it would yield another record?
Not until a little later. I talked with Elvis, and I said, “I’ve got a ton of material I want to get out. Let’s make the most of your time.” We decided to do 20 of the 25 songs I wrote—we narrowed them down in preproduction. Then we went ahead and recorded everything, not knowing how we’d release it all. When it came down to almost the mixing stage, I looked at the whole package and decided, “I grew up with records that had eight songs on them. That’s how I see this.”
Records with eight or 10 songs are very digestible. When I was a kid, that’s how many songs were on records, and they’re some of my favorite albums ever. They never seemed short. Now when bands put out 15 or 16 songs on records, I get lost—it’s too much stuff.
Doing two shorter records with as many dynamics as possible feels right to me. There are slower songs, heavier songs—both albums have pretty similar flows. I’m glad I split them up because I want people to be hungry for the next record. I want them to know this record inside and out before the next one comes out. If it was a really long record, they might have too much to sift through.
What’s the ratio of riffs you keep to ones you ditch?
The older I get, the looser I get with just erasing ideas. Back in the day, I used to horde ideas. If something was decent, I’d keep it. Nowadays I go through what I have, and if something doesn’t excite me, I immediately get rid of it. [Pause.] Well, not always. If something’s decent, I’ll let it live for a little bit before I erase it. I let it give me a few opportunities to impress me or just to bore me.
A lot of times I write and don’t look back at what I’ve done for a good month or so. That way something will be completely fresh—I’ll have that first impression again. So yeah, things can float to the top of the pile like that sometimes.
How do you and Eric divvy up guitar parts in the studio?
I just have my parts and I play them. Then Eric puts whatever he wants on top of them. In this band, I’m not some dictator telling everybody how to play their parts. I just come up with the original ideas. Whatever anybody puts on it is up to them, unless it’s completely distracting, which never happens. Everybody’s so talented in this band— that’s why I partnered up with them.
What were your main guitars on Cauterize?
My signature model—that’s all I used. For this album, my brother called PRS and got them to send us 12 guitars, and we tracked 12 of the
songs with those individual guitars. Those are the guitars that fans were able to get. Twelve of the songs we tracked with different signature models.
Now, which signature model are we talking here? You have more than one.
Yeah, I have three versions. There’s an SE, SE Custom, and the American-made signature model, which I used on the record. The other guitars are made in Korea.
What about the other eight songs you recorded?
I just picked my favorite two guitars. I have a charcoal-burst single-cut, which is my absolute favorite PRS. I use that on anything tuned a half step down or in standard tuning. Anything below that, I would use one of my six single-cuts.
What amps did you use?
I brought in my Mesa/Boogie Rectifier, my Bogner Uberschall, my Cornford RK100, and the PRS Archon for all the lead and rhythm stuff. Depending on the sound, we’d mix and match amps. For some of the cleaner or half-dirty stuff, I used the Van Weelden Twinkleland. I brought in a ton of amps, but those are the ones that made the cut.
What about effects?
We’re fans of the [Electro-Harmonix] Micro Synth. That thing has definitely showed its face on a lot of Alter Bridge and Tremonti records. There’s this Foxx overdrive that Elvis loves—we use that. Of course, I use a [signature] Morley Power Wah. But in both Tremonti and Alter Bridge, it’s Miles or Eric who really run with the effects to make all the atmospheric stuff on top of the rhythms. I’m more of a straightforward kind of guy—my tone is very direct and dry. I don’t really like anything other than just a slight delay on my stuff. Every now and then if I’m feeling moody, I’ll put a Uni-Vibe on. I like the T-Rex Octavius pedal, too, but I hardly ever use it.