Mark Tremonti first made his name with ‘90s post-grungers Creed, and continues to rule the modern rock world in the 21st century with the Myles Kennedy-fronted Alter Bridge and his own solo act, Tremonti (who, it’s worth noting, are gearing up to head out on the road in support of their latest release, Marching in Time). But when it comes to his influences, his heart is in the 1980s. “There’s just great songs, great vocals and great guitar work in so much of that stuff,” he says.
As a child, Tremonti’s tastes leaned more toward the extreme end of the music spectrum – he highlights Slayer, Death Angel and Celtic Frost, as well as punk acts like Black Flag, Minor Threat and Bad Brains, as favorites (“although back then Metallica was also considered extreme,” he points out). But the guitarist, singer and songwriter had an appreciation for more mainstream rockers as well. “Anything that had badass, memorable riffs, basically,” he says.
Tremonti sat down with Metal Edge to talk about some of his favorite ‘80s bands. And while the artists he named fall all over the rock and metal map, one thing they have in common is that they all, true to Tremonti’s word, wrote songs with badass, memorable riffs.
Take it away, Mark…
“I love Tesla. And I think Myles [Kennedy] was the one who pointed out to me one time, ‘Now that I know you're a big fan of Tesla, I hear Frank Hannon’s guitar playing all in your style.’ And thinking back on it I realized, yeah, Frank definitely had a huge influence on my playing. His fingerstyle parts, like the beginning to ‘Love Song,’ his lead guitar lines…I loved them and I learned them. And they definitely seeped into my writing and guitar playing. I didn't realize it until Myles said that. But he just has a classy sound. He isn’t overindulgent, but then he can also do those killer shreddy runs, like in ‘Modern Day Cowboy’ and stuff like that. Those songs just have a lot of heart and soul in them.”
“We usually think of Ozzy as heavy metal, but there was a point in the mid ‘80s where he kind of fell into that glam world. Like the Ultimate Sin album, which I loved. When people ask, ‘What's your favorite Ozzy record?’ I say that one. And they’ll say, ‘But there's so many better records...’ But back then, when you were a kid you could only afford a certain amount of records, you know? And that was the one I owned, so I played it all the time. I knew every word and every note. And ‘Killer of Giants’ was one of my favorite songs ever.
"And you know, another thing about that record is that you have Jake E. Lee on guitar. Jake was awesome. His style is so recognizable – you hear it and you hear Jake E. Lee, you hear his personality. He's got a big personality in his playing, and it’s all over The Ultimate Sin. I think I read somewhere that Ozzy didn't really like that album too much. But I love it.”
"I thought Warren DeMartini was great for that genre. I think of all the kind of over-the-top, big hair ‘80s bands, Ratt was one of the best. And Warren DeMartini was great for that type of playing. His solos were just killer, and really well put together. I must have learned a dozen of them. I would just learn the solo and not the rest of the song [laughs]. I treated it like its own little song. One time I remember talking to my producer, Michael “Elvis” Baskette who recorded their last album [2010’s Infestation], and he was telling me, “Yeah, Warren didn’t really pre-plan his solos. He’d go in there and just improvise ‘em and kind of piece 'em together.” Which is crazy. Because when you listen to some of his solos, they don't sound like they're improvised – they sound composed. He has such a great, natural approach to the guitar.”
"Master of Puppets was 100% the album that changed my life. That was the magic elixir that transformed me from somebody who was a fan of music to somebody who was obsessed with music. Before I listened to that album, I was just like everybody else I went to school with – the big bands was stuff like the Beastie Boys, and then the alternative kids were listening to, like, the Violent Femmes and the Clash and this and that. But then I remember that one night I couldn't fall asleep and went to my brothers’ room. Upstairs from my room, my brothers shared a loft. And my oldest brother, his whole room was covered in, like, Fangoria magazine gore and guts and everything. And he would listen to commercial rock, like Van Halen and Kiss and Ted Nugent. But then my other brother listened to extreme stuff like Venom and Slayer and Metallica.
"And so one this one night I couldn't go to sleep and I was like, ‘Hey man, what's that song I hear about a sanitarium? It sounds pretty cool.’ [laughs] And he's like, ‘Well, that's Master of Puppets.’ And he gave me the tape, this little white cassette that I still have. I just remember staying up almost all night listening to that record on this little stereo my parents had bought me. It had a graphic analyzer and it gave me the light show all night long. I was just in a trance. So that’s still my favorite record of all time. I could listen to it nonstop. ‘Orion’ is my favorite song, definitely one of my favorite songs of all time."
"My first Slayer record was Reign in Blood. That was just insane. My brother introducing me to it and I was just floored, you know? It’s such a short, sweet, brutal record. I remember listening to it and I would have to ride the volume because my parents would be the next room over. Every time Tom Araya said ‘Satan’ or anything like that, I'd have to turn it down. [laughs] To this day I still think Reign in Blood is the best riff record ever. It’s my favorite riff record of all time."
“I just think they wrote a lot of great songs. ‘Nobody's Fool’ was a great tune. ‘Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone), if you wrote that song 10 years from now, it'd still be a great song. Just a great, great tune. And Tom Keifer’s voice was amazingly unique."
“We can't forget Skid Row. I love Skid Row. I really got into the first couple records because, again, my brother had listened to them and he turned me on. I remember listening to ‘Wasted Time’ [from 1991’s Slave to the Grind] a million times. I thought that was a great ballad. Some of Sebastian’s vocals in the end of that song were some of my favorite vocals, period, at that point.”
"I’m a huge King Diamond fan. And I love [guitarist] Andy LaRocque. I got to hang out with him when King Diamond came through town once. My producer, Elvis, and I spent a lot of time with him after the show. And it's funny – there's not a lot of people I know that are big King Diamond fans personally, because, you know, you grow up, you have kids, you kind of hang out with other parents with kids in your same school… and there's not a lot of King Diamond fans in that in that circle. [laughs] But when you find a King Diamond fan, they are diehard King Diamond fans. And that's what I am. I'm sitting right next to a King Diamond figure right now in my studio. And Elvis has King Diamond paintings all over his house that he has his wife paint him in the studio.
"So we went to this show and got to go backstage and hang out with Andy and basically just tell him what big fans we are. And he was great. At some point you figure it’s gotta be like, ‘All right, I've heard it enough. Get outta here, dudes!’ But he was very cool about it."