Alter Bridge’s bass supremo Brian Marshall discusses the band’s new album, sitting in the pocket and the greatest fans in the world with Huw Hopkins
Hearing bands and artists say “We have the best fans in the world, man” is clichéd to the point that I don’t know why someone hasn’t made a recording of it – it would sell in ridiculous numbers. But look at an Alter Bridge crowd next time you’re at one of the band’s shows, have a look at AB’s social media accounts, and spend a few moments chatting to supporters: the level of fandom among its audience in the UK would make Beliebers blush.
With people on this side of the Atlantic desperate to see the bandmembers – frontman Myles Kennedy, lead guitarist and songwriter Mark Tremonti, drummer Scott ‘Flip’ Phillips, and our dashing interview subject Brian Marshall – you’d think it’d reach fever pitch in their United States of America homeland, but in fact that’s not the case.
Chatting to us while waiting for a soundcheck in Portland, Oregon, Marshall explains: “We’ve spent the majority of our time over there but it hasn’t taken off as well for us as it has in the UK. There’s something to be said for selling out Wembley Arena, but when we first started touring here, we played smaller shows and developed an intimacy with the fanbase. It really means a lot to us because a lot of that hardcore fanbase are still with us today.
“We were nervous going into this tour with [metal band] Disturbed because they have a different type of crowd. We first thought we could play our epic songs, but we only had a 35-minute set and while those are great songs, on a first listen they might have gone over people’s heads a little. We had to hit them hard, heavy and fast, and it was much more well received.”
Alter Bridge’s new album The Last Hero has been a long time coming. The group took some time off to follow a few different ventures in recent years: Kennedy toured as part of Guns N’Roses guitarist Slash’s group, Tremonti produced a double album, and Marshall had kids, got married and worked in real estate – so everyone is excited to get their teeth into the new material.
“I needed to find something to do as I had a lot of downtime,” says the bassist. “I wasn’t active on the road or anything. But with this particular record, Mark was a little tapped out because he’d just done his double album and Myles had just finished touring with Slash, so when it was time to do a new Alter Bridge record, they met and stayed up until the early morning writing, then Flip and I would join them the following day and listen to what they had come up with the night before. We’re a good sounding board or filter for what AB should be.”
While fans of Alter Bridge and Creed, the band from which AB evolved, will know Marshall as the melodic maestro of the low end, he started as a marching-band dork. “My dad was a drummer so we always had a drum set around the house,” he says. “I was always attracted to the rhythm section, which had a lot to do with watching marching bands at football games as a kid. I’d watch the drums and the bass marching together, it was a unique unit. Some people buy into writing lyrics, some people pick up the guitar: I was always drawn to the rhythm section. I’d watch people like Neil Peart and Geddy Lee and they were just so tight –when you can lock in with a drummer like that, it makes the band to me.”
Marshall also plays saxophone, and it was his tutor that introduced him to the low end. “My sax teacher was called John Bastone and he was a virtuoso. He played a lot of instruments and I asked him what his favourite was – and he said it was bass guitar. I liked this guy, so I figured I’d take it up as well. I returned for a lesson with him and he said, ‘I think you’re gonna be a good bass player one day.’ And that was all I needed to hear.”
As for style, Marshall grew up listening to classic rock, citing bassists such as the aforementioned Geddy Lee as well as John Paul Jones, Steve Harris and John Entwistle as his favourites. “I love Steve Harris’ fingerstyle and the way he attacks his bass in sixteenths, and is still able to embellish fills,” he explains. “I’ve always been a finger player. The only song I play with a pick is ‘One Day Remains’ off the first record, so I’ve got much faster with my fingers. Keeping up with Mark and his writing has forced me to be a more prolific finger player – and that’s taken a lot of work over the years.”
Marshall has his own style when it comes to the type of bass he uses. What started out as a long-term fascination with Sadowksy changed on The Last Hero. “I used to steer away from the whole active pickup thing,” he tells us. “Recently a friend built me a guitar and we were going through the specifications of how I wanted it to feel, and the type of wood, and we got down to finish the guitar, and we had some passive pickups there.
For some reason I said ‘Let’s order some active pickups’, and I wrote the record with that guitar.
“But I went to record and there were some issues with the string gauges. I needed to bump up the gauge because we lower the guitars a whole step sometimes, but the bridge couldn’t handle it. I ended up recording the record with our producer’s bass, a Music Man. I went home and thought, you know what, I bet I could find a Stingray bridge to put on this custom guitar, so I found an Ernie Ball rep online and he put me in touch with an A&R guy and before I knew, he sent me a Stingray Classic. I love the Sadowsky bass, but I just felt like I could not emulate the tone that I got from the recording, so I steered toward Ernie Ball. I’d love to do a signature bass with Music Man at some point. The relationship is a bit new but I’m pushing it a bit.”
You can expect to see Marshall playing his three basses, the Sadowsky, the Music Man and his custom instrument – or Blanco, Sunrise and Gun as he refers to them – when Alter Bridge tour the new album around the UK in November. And you best believe that the band is looking forward to seeing the best fans in the world again. “The UK and Europe have been absolutely phenomenal for us,” adds drummer Flip. “We saw the passion and excitement from fans on our first trip and knew we needed to keep returning. These countries quickly became a home for the band and we’ll continue to nurture
The last word goes to the man himself. “At certain regular venues, we’ll do something special for our fans such as meet-and-greets or a different set list,” says Marshall, “and the good thing about stepping up is we’re able to do something different each time. That’s what we’re looking forward to when we come to the UK this time, because we haven’t been able to do that on previous trips. This particular package is going to be really great.” See you there!
The Last Hero is out now. Alter Bridge will be touring the UK from 23 November to 2 December. Info: www.alterbridge.com.