How Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy Learned ‘There’s More to Life Than a Living’
Alter Bridge are back and making the touring rounds again in support of their late 2022 album Pawns & Kings, but during a recent chat with Loudwire Nights, frontman Myles Kennedy revealed that he actually took a bit of a break from the grind over this past year, doing some self-inventory and learning more about who he is minus the rock star life that has consumed his world over the last few decades.
Kennedy also reveals how some of the self-reflection and a continued inspection of his own songwriting affected the band's latest effort, Pawns & Kings, which is out now. Plus, he also shares his thoughts on the recent death of guitar great Jeff Beck, discusses the decision to pay it forward to the next generation of rockers with his Future Song foundation and more. Check out the chat below.
You and Mark Tremonti wrote up a Loudwire piece about your favorite albums as a teenager, and one of the albums you chose was Van Halen’s self-titled album. We’re now days away from you going on tour with Wolfgang Van Halen and Mammoth WVH. Another album you chose was Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses, and of course, you’re part of Slash’s band. So when you piece these things together is there a part of you that feels this was written in the stars? I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.
Honestly, it really has me scratching my head, especially when you put it like that. I didn’t really think about it that way. How the hell did this happen? (Laughs). It’s kind of crazy because of the influence that those records had on me. So fast forward decades later and here we are and you just said that. Look, I’ve had a really strange life, a good life, but it does sometimes make me wonder if I’m living in The Matrix. Seriously, but I’m grateful, and I pinch myself every day.
I think the answer to that is a combination of being a good human, which everyone agrees that you are, and talent. So that’s all you.
Well, the thing is I know a lot of really talented wonderful humans that came up the ranks, so it’s hard not to go, ‘Why me?’ Seriously, there are folks that many years ago we started playing when we were kids and we crossed paths, so it’s interesting how life turns out, right?
We’re here to talk about Pawns & Kings. There’s definitely a story there with the lyrics. We start with "This Is War" and there’s a conflict, and our main character is kind of as low as low can be, surrounded by people who are manipulating him or her and presenting as something that they are not. Everything shifts in Track 5, that I want to talk about later, and then again at the end of the record. Even though you’re a pawn, you can truly be a king if you believe. I wonder if you went in with that story in mind and I also wonder what you were drawing from on those songs because it’s genius that you know exactly what the story is. You can follow it perfectly, but you can also apply it to any aspect of your life because it’s vague.
It’s interesting, cause that’s the goal. And I think through years of songwriting I’ve learned not to leave it somewhat ambiguous and vague so that it can have multiple meanings otherwise you paint yourself into a corner and once the things that might have inspired you convey that lyric or whatever, suddenly it doesn’t age well. That doesn’t apply anymore. So I’ve really tried to be more cognizant and use that approach, and it’s hard sometimes. Sometimes you want to be a little more direct. Yeah, I’ve learned my lessons.
But it is direct. Were you drawing from a particular area of your life or was it more a combination of experiences?
Definitely a combination, because I’ve been a part of writing records over the years. There was the solo record I did back in 2017, 2018, Year of the Tiger, that was very much a concept record and there was a storyline throughout it. Ides of March, that was a solo record that was very much informed by what was going on with the state of the world. So I really want to be careful about every record.
Interestingly enough, a bus driver, there was this really great bus driver and we were talking one day on a day off and he said to me, ‘You know, you really ought to be careful Myles, because you’re writing too many concept records.’ I was like, ‘Great, thank you bus driver. You are absolutely right.’ So with this record I wanted it to hit certain storylines, but more …. “This Is War” is a good example, that’s a personal thing. I struggle with anxiety and those voices that are always messing with you, telling you that you’re not worthy of going out on the road with these great artists. It’s that sort of thing that I constantly fight. It’s a good thing because I think you never get too comfortable that way.
Then you fast forward to a song like “Pawns and Kings,” which could be more universal and the idea is that as people we shall all be aware that we can be empowered. You know, it’s the anthem for the underdog. So yeah, there are definite dynamics on this record that are definitely touched on in that way.
Alter Bridge, "Holiday"
“Holiday” is the current single. I feel like that’s the kind of song that if you want to quit your job, listen to that song, play it a couple times and you’ll have big balls heading into your bosses office and be like, “I’m out of this bitch.” You remember during Covid, when everyone was like, “Work life balance, is this what I want to do? Is this fulfilling?” That’s what that song gave me, but what do you want to share about the meaning and how it came together?
I think that what we saw with the great resignation during Covid did kind of nudge me to think about that. I don’t feel that you ever jump into a lyric just like, “I want to write about this today.” It’s just kind of floating in the ether and you’re just trying to pull it in. When that was said and done, yeah it could be that which you alluded to, but it could also be because of that fact that I’d just been going nonstop for a long time.
There’s a key line in that song where it’s “there’s more to life than a living.” And I really took that to heart, this year in particular, in 2022. Because after the Alter Bridge record was finished, normally I would just start writing another record. That’s just the way I’ve done things for years. But I was like, “You know what? We’re going to officially power down. We’re officially taking a break, and now I’m gonna work on me.” Because I had a lot of things that needed to be addressed. So it was just self-improvement all year. It was just studying and working out and just trying to be a more well-rounded human being as opposed to being just a songwriter and a recording artist.
What did that pause teach you about yourself, the main thing you really took out of it?
I need to learn to get out of my own way. I think I needed to learn to just be. I always have to do. So much of my identity had become wrapped in records and tours and this thing that you think you are, and what I realize is I’m a being. I wanted to learn to be more present. I wanted to learn to be just here.
I know that sounds kind of weird. But there’s something there that’s really been incredibly beneficial to me. I feel really good right now.
You wanted to. Did you accomplish it?
I feel much more at ease, yeah. I feel good, fucking good.
Alter Bridge, "Stay"
Speaking of feeling good, a feel good song, “Stay," that’s where everything shifts. Suddenly there’s optimism, there’s hope, your eyes are wide open, I want to be the best person I can be. It feels different, but it sounds different cause Mark Tremonti handles lyrics on that song. I wonder if that was a conscious decision, because there’s such a shift in the record, that that was a great place to bring in Mark Tremonti or if there was another reason for him to be on vocals?
It just happened. He brought that tune in, and it’s interesting because that song is such a breath of fresh air and so much of the record is so intense and then you have "Stay" and it’s like “Oh (exhales).” It’s a nice palette cleanser.
It’s quintessential what Mark is really great at, which is a certain anthemic thing that he does really well. I feel like his voice has just gotten so good over the years and it was good to be showcased on that tune. I’m really happy.
I was just rehearsing that tune yesterday because we’re getting ready for this upcoming tour and we were texting each other about what songs to try on this upcoming tour, and I was like, “Hey, what do you think about trying ‘Stay’?” So we’ll see if that happens, but I was practicing none the less, cause I do the harmonies. I was totally cursing myself, “Why did you have to do that (sings high note)? Come on and take off the tight underpants and sing in a lower register.” (Laughs). So hopefully we’ll do that track. I love that song.
It’s a great tune. Now that you mention that, are songs from the previous album going to make the cut live, just because it didn’t get the promotion it deserved due to COVID? Does that affect whether or not you place those songs in the live set?
We try to be aware of that. We just did a run in Europe of about six weeks and we’re like, look, we didn’t play a lot of these songs for these folks cause that tour got short-changed from Walk the Sky, so yeah, we’re definitely going to do a few songs from that previous record.
We were talking about Mark Tremonti and his voice coming on strong. He came on for his charitable album, the Sinatra covers album, that blew my mind. And I’m happy now to have you on to talk about the charity of your choice that you’re involved with, Future Song, so what can you tell us about the charity and what they do and your involvement with it?
The Future Song Foundation, we started that about six or seven years ago. We started in my community here in Spokane because we really just saw a need for picking up the slack because music programs have been cut drastically. There are so many young people that aren’t having the opportunities that my generation had with discovering music and the power it can have in your life, right?! So we just built it up over the years and it’s been wonderful to see.
We actually did a thing right before the holidays kicked in. We got off the road and my wife Selena and I and the board members went and handed out some microphones, these signature mics that SC did for me a few years ago, and we wanted to go visit the kids at the schools and hear them sing and realize the foundation — they have guitar class after school now because the foundation helped facilitate that. These programs are starting to slowly blossom in the school districts here and we’re involved with the Spokane Symphony and doing things with them. We want to help so kids can discover that music.
I’m at a point in life now where, and I think Mark is there as well, where look, we’ve had this incredible good luck and good fortune and you reach a point where now it’s time to help the next generation out. Do your thing, play your part, move it forward, however you want to articulate that. It’s beyond rewarding. It feels good. Let’s just say that.
Do you go in there and say, “You kids, you have real instruments. When I was 14, I was in a church basement playing air instruments (laughs).”
Exactly! I was pissing off the entire congregation playing Motley Crue songs with no instruments. I wish I had it. Someone in the church cut out wood instruments from plywood and that was my instrument back then. But it is nice to have real instruments.
I laugh so much every time I think about that story. So news recently broke about the passing of legendary guitarist Jeff Beck and you shared on Instagram, “Anytime Jeff Beck’s name came up amongst my guitar playing peers, the word untouchable is used to describe his talent. His approach was nearly impossible to imitate and he was one of the most innovative guitarists to ever play the instrument. Rest in peace, Jeff Beck.” So I’m wondering if you remember the first time you heard Jeff Beck or if there was a particular point in your life where you were into him and you wanted to speak about his influence or legacy.
He was the artist that when you would talk with other guitar players, no matter how much they’d achieved, you’d hear them say, “Yeah, that’s the guy.” Because he had such an unorthodox approach that was, I don’t know. He was like a character guitar player. You just knew within a handful of notes, “Yeah, that’s Jeff Beck.” The way he would approach things, his phrasing, was just so unorthodox and beautiful.
I discovered Jeff Beck initially back in the mid-‘80s, I was watching MTV with my buddy in his basement, and there was a video he did with Rod Stewart. They reunited and did a version of “People Get Ready,” and I remember just thinking, “Wow, what is that?” Because I was at that point wanting to be a little shredder. I was about how fast, and how many notes, which is cool, but here this guy came on and he was saying more with three notes than most guys could with 300. That was a real important moment for me. I realized that less is more.
So I went back and discovered Blow by Blow and the kind of the fusion era, which I really gravitated toward in later years, because I’m kind of a fusion jazz nerd. I kind of hate to admit it. So in the ‘70s he did some really great stuff, Blow by Blow, in particular really highlights that side of him, which I thought was really groovy.
Thanks to Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy for the interview. The band's Pawns & Kings album is out now and available to order here. You can get tickets for the group's upcoming tour at this location and be sure to check out the work that Myles' Future Song foundation is doing right here.