Creed are the kind of band that could put the rock journalism profession out of business. When their 1997 debut, My Own Prison was released, they were mocked and denigrated by the elitist press corps for sounding too much like a Seattle grunge band. Not long after, the record went multi-platinum and generated the huge alt-radio hit "One." Their concerts sold out, their t-shirts were disseminated amongst the population. Still they were ignored by the fourth estate. It took their second album's number one debut on the Billboard Album chart for mags like Rolling Stone and Request to even begrudgingly accept Creed's existence. Even now, Creed are hardly seen on MTV, and continue to get scoffed at by snobby critics. But that doesn't really bother them -- especially when they records continue to sell out as fast as store owners can place them on the shelves. Theirs is music by the people for the people, and the masses have already said their piece. Shortly after Creed hit the road to support Human Clay, Guitar.com sat down with guitarist Mark Tremonti to discuss melody, metal, spirituality and pinball.
Guitar.com: It seems like the average Creed song begins with a really melodious guitar line, and then you accent the end of a verse with a crunchy metal part.
Tremonti: Our sound is just all of us in a blender. You've got the little metal that I bring in, and then you've got you're strong melodies too. You gotta form the songs with everybody in the band. It can't be all metal.
Guitar.com: What would you say your main influences are?
Tremonti: Well of course, for me Metallica and other metal (laughs). [Vocalist] Scott [Stapp's] favorites are Bono and Jim Morrison, and he grew up listening to a lot of Elvis. [Bassist] Brian [Marshall's] influences are some of the same as mine -- Iron Maiden, Rush, but mainly classic rock -- Led Zeppelin and stuff. [Drummer] Scott Phillips is a big Living Colour fan and a big classic rock fan as well. He digs Pink Floyd. But it all stems down to us all loving music like Led Zeppelin. We don't aim for anything, but if there was a sound we'd all wanna go for it would be good old classic, rock -- stripped-down guitar, drums and vocals. No samples just a rockin' Led Zeppelin kind of sound.
Guitar.com: So many guitarists praise Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page. Yet his guitar playing is really sloppy. It has character, but it's not that tight.
Tremonti: Yeah, but he can be sloppy and it's okay. Hendrix was sloppy too. That's Page's style. I don't think he thinks of what he's gonna play before he does it, I just think he does it along the way -- hits a note here or there, misses this one and just kind of becomes one with the guitar.
Guitar.com: How do you approach guitar playing?
Tremonti: I'm the only guitarist in the band, so everybody wants me to keep it as thick as possible, so I don't really break into too many solos. But I've never been a super-big solo guy anyway. I like to make the main melody guitar lines of the songs as cool and interesting as possible without just strumming chords. I like to have chords intertwined with riffs here and there, but I'll do the riffs and the solos where the bottom will drop out. Basically, I do everything for the song, I don't do it for the solo glory. Kids aren't really into that anymore for some reason.
Guitar.com: Yeah, but judging from your music, neither are you.
Tremonti: No, when I'm at home playing for myself in my room, I'm soloing, dude. That's when I get my soloing out. Or when you go to a guitar store to try something out, that's when you go and you show off, but onstage I kind of just do it for the song.
Guitar.com: Alternative music seems to have rendered competent guitar playing somewhat obsolete.
Tremonti: Yeah, and we've got to get together a handful of bands that are gonna bring some of that old stuff back. We've tried to do that a little bit. When we were coming out, there was no rock out there. All the guitar riffs were just four chord songs. But hopefully it's slowly coming back. Santana's kicking ass right now, and that's all about guitar, so that's cool, man. Hopefully guitar will slowly come back to the guitar hero.
Guitar.com: Your new album, Human Clay, debuted at number one on the Billboard Album Chart, and stayed there for two weeks. Were you surprised by the record's popularity?
Tremonti: Honestly, no, because we have a lot of fans and we knew they would all go out and buy the record. What happened was they all bought the first one, and realized it was an entire album, not just few singles, so they wanted to go out and get the new one right away.
Guitar.com: You create very spiritual music, but it's not really religious. Have you tried to avoid being tagged a Christian rock band?
Tremonti: We've always been on a good level with that. Nobody accuses of being a Christian band. It's always "Are you or are you not? You never give us the answers," and that's good. You gotta keep people thinking, and that's one of the main thing with the lyrics -- not giving any answers. We're telling people to ask questions and think for themselves. "Are they a Christian band? What do they believe in? What should I believe in?" That sort of thing.
Guitar.com: How have you spread the gospel of Creed?
Tremonti: The only things we have to owe our success to are radio first and foremost to get people out to our shows, and then shows and industry magazines. We never really had anything else. We've never got much press in places like Spin or Rolling Stone, but that's just fine with me. Most of the bands that get in those magazines suck anyway.
Guitar.com: When did you start playing guitar?
Tremonti: When I was 11.
Guitar.com: What compelled you to pick it up?
Tremonti: Ever since I was nine I had been asking for a guitar because I had seen them at JC Penny with those little speakers built in, and I always wanted to play. My brother would listen to Kiss, and I'd want to be Ace Frehley. The first guitar I got was an imitation Les Paul for $10. It was something I always wanted to do. When I was 10 or 11, Rick Springfield was cool, so I liked when the song "Human Touch" broke down into just the riff. And in the J. Geils Band song "Love Stinks" there was that mean guitar in there. Those were always the things that gave me the chills.
Guitar.com: Are you from a musical family?
Tremonti: No, my family's real artistic -- drawing-type artists. My brother's a graphic designer and my dad was a painter and an artist.
Guitar.com: Where did you grow up?
Guitar.com: When did you move from Detroit to Florida?
Tremonti: My freshman year in high school, I had to move down to Orlando, Florida. My dad had a new job, and I came down there and they put me in a prep school. I was a pretty good kid, but I guess people thought I was kind of a trouble maker because I was listening to serious metal back then in high school. And my new friends in Florida were listening to Milli Vanilli. I always wondered when I was up in Detroit who the people were that bought Milli Vanilli, and why that and Fine Young Cannibals and C&C Music Factory were on MTV so much. And I realized when I moved down to Florida, that's all anyone listened to. I ended up going to high school with Mark, and then I met the rest of the band when I was going to college at Florida State.
Guitar.com: Who were your greatest inspirations when you were growing up and learning to play?
Tremonti: To tell you the truth, I've never been really good at learning other people's stuff. I've been playing since I was 11, and I never took lessons. I kind of learned through hit and miss. I had the patience just because I loved guitar so much. The first couple years I was playing stuff like Black Flag that's really easy and sloppy. It took me two or three years to really be able to play anything by Metallica. I'd learn the intros to "Call of Ktulu" or "Welcome Home Sanitarium," but I could never dig into the whole thing because I never had the skill to learn the whole thing all the way through. I could read tablature, but I'd get to a point where I'd get stumped and quit. Then I'd try to just experiment with myself instead.
Guitar.com: Do you admire any guitar heroes?
Tremonti: I loved all the great guitar players, but I didn't look up to them technically, I just looked up to their sound and their vibe. I think the coolest guitar player is Zakk Wilde. He's got that big, fat, nasty guitar sound. He's just incredible. Celtic Frost's guitar parts were real basic, but their sounds were so cool. And bands like Korn -- they have kind of the same vibe as old bands like that. But I think it all stems from bands like Celtic Frost and Voivod -- real basic, grinding riffs.
Guitar.com: Outside of the band, what do you do for kicks?
Tremonti: My new thing this year is pinball. I collect pinball machines. It's really relaxing for me to be able to sit down and play pinball for hours and play pool. I'm real into arcade type of stuff. Not just playing Playstation, but I have a gameroom in my house, and I'm gonna turn one of my guest rooms into an extension of my game room and get air hockey and foosball and that shit. It just kind of relaxes me. Mainly when I'm off tour I like to be as relaxed as I can possibly be.