My experience at the Tremonti "All I Was" listening party

4-15-2012

On the evening of Thursday, April 12, I was honored to be invited to a listening party for Mark Tremonti’s upcoming solo debut, “All I Was”.  The success of this album will be very much dependent on a grassroots effort by the fans, so the Tremonti brothers and the guys at Fret12 were happy to invite a few lucky fans to this exclusive event.  I was still somewhat in shock at the time of this writing, but below I will do my best to share this unbelievable experience with the world.  The MarkTremonti.net message board discussion on this can be found here.

Context

This morning I flew out to Chicago and met up with Ryan, a fellow TheAlterBridgeNation.com admin.  As instructed we arrived at the meeting location near the Core12 offices with time to spare before the bus was scheduled to depart.  Eager fans continued to arrive, and by 7:00 there were about 100 of us in attendance.  Here I also met Ashlee and Brian.  When the bus arrived, we were split into two groups, since the bus could only fit about half of us at a time.  The bus was quite lavish, decked out with stretch limo-style leather seats lining the sides, and multicolored LEDs all over the ceiling.

After a short ride we arrived at Groovemaster Studios, which is located in an old Al Capone building on the outskirts of Chicago.  These studios are where the Tremonti Project band filmed their live performance of “All I Was” in full, as well as where Creed has been rehearsing for their upcoming tour.  We were led down into the basement and then up a set of stairs spiraling upwards around an old elevator shaft.  I could tell that this building has plenty of history.

We were dropped off upstairs in what I will dub the relaxation area.  This was a full-on bachelor-style loft area, complete with a kitchenette, bathroom, couches, large-screen TV, pool table, and other recreational toys.  The walls were adorned with lithographs of Disturbed albums that were apparently recorded here.  I immediately sensed that “Mark has been here”, since the area also included a Ping-Pong table, two pinball machines, and a workout area with free weights, a bench press, and a treadmill.  While we waited for the second group to arrive, we helped ourselves to sandwich platters and beers.

After the second busload of fans arrived, we were given a brief tour of the rest of the floor, which was comprised of a mixing room and a recording studio space.  I caught up with Michael Tremonti for a few minutes, and then we were led upstairs to the listening party area.

The Event

Before entering the main room, our phones and cameras were confiscated to prevent any potential recordings and subsequent leakages.  We were each presented with t-shirts from the first pressing of Tremonti Project apparel, as well as a sheet of paper on which we would write our thoughts about each song.   The sheet included a row for each of the twelve songs on the album, and three columns: one to rate each song from 1 to 5, one to write comments, and one to indicate whether or not the song should be a single.  That’s right: with no major label backing or men in suits dictating release decisions, we as a collective group would be choosing the first single to hit radio.

Upon entering the room, we were greeted by a large Fret12 banner, in front of which stood none other than the four guys in the Tremonti Project: Mark Tremonti, Eric Friedman, Garrett Whitlock, and Brian Marshall.  We each got to shake the band members’ hands and had a photo taken with the band, and I told the guys how excited I was to hear their creation.  The guys seemed genuinely happy to be meeting all these fans, many of whom traveled long distances, and who were all so excited to hear the record.

In the middle of the room there were a bunch of folding chairs set up, so I took a seat and began preparing to have my face melted.  In front of us was a table with a multi-monitor PC setup and a set of studio monitors.  I could see on one of the computer screens a Pro Tools window containing the waveforms for all the tracking behind the album.  What we were about to hear was the real deal.  After a brief welcome from Michael and Dan Tremonti, and a quick band introduction, the music began.

From the first chorus, I could tell that this album was different from anything I’d heard before.  I will do my best to recall my observations about each song below, but suffice it to say that the record is a significant contrast from Mark’s work with Alter Bridge and Creed to which it will inevitably be compared.  This record is much harder than anything Mark has written before.  I know every rock band says, “our new album is the hardest we’ve ever put out” – but believe me when I say this album is hard.

That said, it is not a metal album.  It is first and foremost a heavy rock album with metal influences, just as Mark has said all along.   It is hard, but melody still comes first.  The solos are technically brilliant, but they aren’t unmelodic speed exercises.  The drumming is highly impressive, but it’s not self-indulgent.

And then there’s Mark’s voice.  My God, the guy can sing.  He has continued to surprise us over the years.  We’ve always known he’s a capable backing singer.  When we first heard him sing the backing vocals to Creed’s “A Thousand Faces” live, we were stunned by his passion.  When he had his first lead vocal feature in Alter Bridge’s “Words Darker Than Their Wings”, we were once again stunned.

“All I Was” completely blows any of his previous vocal work out of the water.  Today I found out that he is not only a solid supporting vocalist, but a truly talented lead vocalist as well.  His voice is smooth and soft, yet not boring.  There’s enough edge in its timbre to make it perfectly suited to this kind of heavy rock.  The melodies are spot on.  And when he really wants to dig into a song, he’s perfectly capable at pulling out a bit more rawness.

Of course, that all means nothing if the songs are lacking.  Fear not, because the songs are some of the best I have ever heard.  Maybe it’s just personal taste.  I love heavy riffs, impressive instrumenals, and above all else great melodies.  If you like those qualities, then you will love this album.  For the first time, I feel like I have finally heard an album that perfectly captures that balance.  It’s got badass guitar riffs.  It’s got killer solos.  It’s got superb drum work.  And most importantly it’s got great songs.  The melodies are huge.  There are bright points and dark points.  There are tracks that challenge the conventional wisdom of how a rock song should be structured.

I have been a longtime Creed fan and an Alter Bridge fan since the beginning.  However, I have always been primarily a Mark Tremonti fan.  I would follow him to the ends of the Earth.  Because of that, I was afraid that my expectations for this album would simply be too high to meet.  Today, my fears were put to rest, because this album exceeded all of my grandest expectations.  It’s that good.

At the event, the fans cheered enthusiastically after each song, and spared only the occasional moment to write down their thoughts.  When the album was finished, the band received a standing ovation.  I haven’t felt energy and excitement like this for a long time.  No matter how successful this project ends up being, we are at the beginning of something huge.

The Songs

I only remember bits and pieces from the album, but I will do my best to give a preview of each song:

Leave It Alone – as the album opener, this song took me completely off guard.  I could not stop smiling the entire time.  The chorus brings a key change which sets the tone right off the bat that this is not a typical rock album.  The guitar solo is impressive, yet tasteful.  The melody is really solid, but not what you would normally hear on the radio.  The ending is very aggressive.

So You’re Afraid – I remember lead guitars litter the verses, and the solo absolutely rips.  I also remember a speed-picking breakdown in the middle.

Wish You Well – the chorus has a hard rock melody that’s different from many of Alter Bridge’s anthemic, soaring refrains.  The bridge comes out of nowhere.  This song contains a good deal of double-time drumming, but regardless the drum work is just insane.

Brains – the song begins very aggressively with all kinds of metallic gallops.  The verse melody is dark and grungy, almost reminiscent of Alice in Chains.  And the chorus melody just tears you apart.  The solo is fast, but not lacking in melody.

The Things I’ve Seen – the first song to start with a clean chord intro, you can really hear the quality of Mark’s voice.  The vocals definitely stand out; you could swear he’s been singing lead for years.  I recall a fairly innovative song structure, and an overall feeling of despair.

You Waste Your Time – the song begins in metal style.  The verse eases back, but quickly builds again.  The chorus might be the first time we hear true aggression in Mark’s voice.  The solo is fast, and it’s actually the first time on the album that I definitively heard one of Mark’s signature legato runs down the neck.  In the middle, there is a “Still Remains”-esque guitar breakdown.

New Way Out – here we have another soft intro, and we can hear Mark’s voice clearly.  The verse is like that of an anthemic ballad, but the drums still manage to be interesting.  This song is closer to the typical radio single structure, yet it’s absolutely beautiful.  And, just when you have given up hope, it has a sick solo – tasteful, yet melodic.

Giving Up – this song begins with heavy power-chords which are closer to hard rock than metal.  The verse contains slower power-chords while a reverb effect is applied to Mark’s vocals.  The verse soon picks up, and you’re never really sure where the song will go.  There is a cool breakdown that’s more than speed-picking, and a solo that tosses you around like none I’ve heard before.

Proof – A grungy, slow intro gets right into the song, which contains a more traditional chorus.  I remember really processing for the first time how new it is to hear a Tremonti album without Scott Phillips on the drums.  The chorus vocals are sung with conviction.  There’s a fairly clean-picked bridge, and a solo that fits right in.  This is the only song on the record to end in a fade-out.

All I Was – the album’s title track begins with an impressive example of guitar and drums melding together.  The verses are clean, and use a telephone-sounding effect on the vocals.  The chorus digs very deep, and the drums stand out.  The bridge is very heavy and perfectly suited to head-banging.  The solo is so fast that it might be considered thrash.

Doesn’t Matter – The verse melody hits a lot of major notes—something I’m not normally a fan of.  I’d say the bridge stands out the most in this song.  We also get another impressive solo, which overlaps into the final chorus.

Decay – The intro is absolutely filthy.  The song tricks you; you think there’s a chorus, and then the real chorus comes.  The bridge is really nasty, just gut-wrenching.  We get a few glimpses of speed metal throughout the song.

I know this rundown in no way captures the essence of each song, but hopefully it gives you some idea of the kind of music to expect from this album.

After Listening

After an immense standing ovation, the Fret12 guys told us a bit about their plans to promote and distribute the album.  Very shortly Fret12 will begin making a push for the album, primarily via Facebook, Twitter, and the various fan sites around the web.  This effort will be largely fan-driven.  The record will be released by Fret12.  The guys were actually in talks with EMI to distribute in Japan, Europe, and the USA, but when it came time to actually sign a three-year contract, they said, “nope, we can do it ourselves.”

As far as timeframe goes, right now they are looking to impact radio with the first single on May 8th.  July 3rd was mentioned as a potential release date for the album as a whole.  But please keep in mind that these dates are absolutely tentative, and not in any way set in stone.  There are a lot of moving parts in this industry, even without a major record label involved.  Without a big record deal, the guys are able to be much more flexible when it comes to dates and release methods.  Also, they mentioned that they have been in touch with Chevy regarding some kind of promotion.

One fan asked Mark whether he plans to tour on this material.  Despite being reluctant to say so in the past, Mark said they would probably get around to it sometime.  Eric exclaimed that “if we have anything to say about it, HELL YEAH!”

After the Q&A, we all got to meet the band one more time.  I shook their hands and told them how impressed I was with what they had accomplished, and that the next two months will be the hardest of my life.  I meant it.  Waiting for this album is going to be agony.

Related Discussion

MarkTremonti.net Bulletin Board: http://www.marktremonti.net/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=1;t=35
TheAlterBridgeNation.com Forums: http://thealterbridgenation.com/forumsarchive/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=30298