Creed and Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti is one of the most jaw-dropping virtuoso guitarists around, but he’s always been about the song, first and foremost. “I’ve been a songwriter since I started playing the guitar—I spent more time writing than I did practicing the guitar,” says Tremonti. For his debut solo album, All I Was, Tremonti takes it to the next level and casts himself in the role of lead singer for the first time ever. While there are many moments of mind-boggling guitar pyrotechnics, All I Was showcases Tremonti’s skills as a singer and songwriter, and reflects a heavier side of his musical personality that isn’t necessarily apparent in Creed or Alter Bridge’s songs—a side informed by his early diet of Pantera, Metallica, and Slayer. “It’s not a metal record by any means but it’s heavier than both bands. I had all of these ideas that were just collecting dust. Ideas that would never see the light of day that I wanted to catalog and just get out there. So I decided to take the chance. I had a break in my schedule and I figured it would be the perfect time to do it,” he explains.

Tremonti’s sense of “the perfect time” probably differs from most of us, as he couldn’t possibly be busier than he is at the moment. This interview took place on opening night of the Creed album tour, which sees the band celebrating the 15th anniversary of My Own Prison by playing songs from that album and Human Clay in their entirety. Two days prior to our interview, Tremonti played All I Was< live, song by song, for the filming of a video, and just a couple of weeks earlier, he had returned home from an Alter Bridge Australia tour. Couldn’t he have recorded his solo album when Creed had a five-year hiatus, you ask?

Tremonti gives us a firsthand look at the making of All I Was, discusses juggling his solo career with his bands, and unveils his secret desire to be a blues/fusion guitarist. Plus, we check in on a rumor that Wolfgang Van Halen might be onboard as bassist for Tremonti’s solo tour.

All I Was marks your debut as lead vocalist. Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
It got to a point where I felt like it was my time. As you’re writing songs, you’re also singing them anyway and although I wasn’t a good singer—I’m still not a great singer—when I went into the studio and played through some ideas with Eric [Friedman, guitar and bass] and Garrett [Whitlock, drums], right off the bat, it flowed well and we had a blast doing it.

On the surface, it would seem like a solo record should be an opportunity for you to really go crazy with your solos. But you don’t go as overboard as you probably could have.
I do my best to write for the songs and I think all of my solos on this one fit the songs. If it’s a heavy song it’s going to have a heavy solo, if it’s a slow song, It’ll have a more melodic solo.

Did you develop this “play for the song” ethos from working with Creed and seeing firsthand what it takes to achieve enormous commercial success?
When you’re a kid you want to sweep and tap and go to the guitar store and pick up a guitar to show off some rad lick. But as you get older, you just want to play with class and make sure that your identity is put forth on these songs.

On some of the early Creed stuff, I actually wasn’t very well versed in guitar soloing. Back then it was kind of a mystery to me. The solos consisted of the few licks I had learned from instructional DVDs that I glued together to make a solo work somehow. Now, years and years later, I get a chance to really speak on the guitar. But it takes a lot of years of playing and experimenting to really sound like yourself on the guitar. I’m still trying to get there. I think every guitar player is always trying to improve—to really be able to express yourself as opposed to just regurgitating some exercise.