By Selena Fragassi | For the Sun-Times
The last three years have been nothing short of a whirlwind for guitarist Mark Tremonti, currently in the throes of one of the most active periods of his 20-year career since co-forming rock radio juggernauts Creed in Florida in 1993. In addition to that group’s brief reunion and eventual disbandment in 2012, Tremonti has also logged time with offshoot Alter Bridge and, this summer, released his second solo album, “Cauterize,” which may be his most personal yet.
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“What I write is almost always related to my personal experiences,” he admits. Though Tremonti has yet to pen a juicy tell-all like former bandmate Scott Stapp, on “Cauterize,” he doesn’t stop some of his own stories from bleeding out — the most telling being “Flying Monkeys,” which conjures up the contentious “Wizard of Oz” climax amidst a deafening metal chug.
“It’s about someone who can’t give up a grudge. It’s someone I don’t want to be. It’s somebody who I was for years,” he says, perhaps coyly referencing the two decades with the often-maligned Stapp, whose ongoing addictions and personal woes nearly derailed the multi-platinum group that was one of the most successful post-grunge outfits of the late ’90s and early 2000s.
Though things seem amicable — the two recently met to discuss the possibility of a Creed box set, and Tremonti says he’s “glad that [Scott’s] doing well” after a very public breakdown — there is no impending plan to reunite the group. The hiatus has instead afforded Tremonti the time to finally focus on his lifelong solo project.
“I’ve been a songwriter since I was a small kid, and I saw my ideas just stockpiling. I never wanted to be an old guy that looked back at all my life’s work and think that most of it got wasted because I never released it,” he says of the prolific amount of material he’s logged, beginning with the 2012 debut “All I Was” and continuing with the to-be-released “Dust” next year, supported by a full band featuring guitarist Eric Friedman, drummer Garrett Whitlock and pedigree bassist Wolfgang Van Halen. “It was the perfect opportunity for me to get into all these ideas that had been sitting around that didn’t fit within Alter Bridge or Creed and get them out there.”
In fact, Tremonti’s solo work might come as a shock to those who just know him as the backbone of songs like “Arms Wide Open” and “Higher.” On his own material, all soft and alternative rock traces are swapped out for the heavier head charge of “Radical Change” and the melodic mayhem of “Another Heart,” a style preference that traces back to Tremonti’s earliest musical memories. He spent a number of his preteen years in the idyllic suburb of Wilmette and would often scour local record bins for “the darkest, heaviest, meanest, creepiest stuff I could find,” he says, referencing speed and death metal scions like Metallica, Slayer and Obituary and punk groups like Minor Threat and Black Flag as early influences.
Tremonti’s family still resides in the Chicago area and has turned his latest pursuits into a kind of family business, with older brother Mike running social media, and another brother, Dan, designing artwork for albums and merchandise as well as running Tremonti’s management company and lifestyle brand and community called Fret 12. It offers novice players a host of instructional videos, in-depth interviews, signature gear and apparel from both Tremonti and friends like Slipknot’s Jim Root, Shinedown’s Zach Myers and Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy.
“I was so obsessed with guitar instruction and learning how to play that it was always a dream of mine to have something like this,” he says, adding that writing his own music is still a work in progress. “I just try to learn new stuff along the way and keep mostly growing as a songwriter and a guitar player. I don’t want to just keep repeating myself.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.