When you’re one of the world’s biggest hard rock bands, playing a mammoth festival the size of Download for the sixth time shouldn’t faze Alter Bridge. Nevertheless, for drummer Scott Phillips, gracing the Donington stage never fails to lose its significance. “It doesn’t get less special,” Phillips tells us. “The crowds here are legendary and have always appreciated what it is we do, so it’s always a highlight when it’s on our schedule.”
While appearing at the festival is still as important as it was when they debuted at the festival in 2005, Phillips admits he’s used to coping with the pressure now but only just. “You get a little bit more used to it. It’s a big crowd, and it’s a big day [with] Aerosmith headlining. It’s a little less pressure but it’s still a big show. The butterflies are still floating a little bit.”
Alter Bridge’s ascension to arena-conquering rockers is aligned with their relationship with Download. Back in 2005, Phillips along with lead guitarist Mark Tremonti and bassist Brian Marshall were just a year removed from calling time with multi-platinum selling group, Creed. The trio soon recruited vocalist/guitarist Myles Kennedy with their debut album, ‘One Day Remains’, arriving in the summer of 2004. By the following June, they had arrived at Donington for the first time.
“It was Ozzfest day. It was probably the first time in front of a crowd anywhere near that size. I think the nerves were definitely kicking and we played at like 12:30 pm,” recalls Phillips. “I remember people being not quite sure what to make of us, we had some fans but after every song, we could tell they were appreciating what we were doing. So to watch the crowd become more familiar with us through the years, and actually know the lyrics and all that, has been an amazing journey.”
Having successfully appeared at Download six times, including twice sub-headling for Aerosmith, Alter Bridge find themselves in a pool of bands touted as future headliners for the festival. While it’s a heavy task to take on, Phillips gives the impression the band are ready to step up to the challenge.
“I think we’d be up for the task. We’d be able to do it, and if that opportunity presents itself, then we’ll embrace it for all it’s worth. For any band, when you think back of a longevity of a band and get a chance to be a headliner is quite an achievement. It’s quite an honour that our name even gets mentioned for that.”
While success in their homeland has been mixed, Alter Bridge have become a major hard rock force in Europe. This past winter, they found themselves playing UK arenas as headliners, only to return to Europe for a variety of festival appearances this summer. “We were sort of baptised by fire, our first show at Rock Im Park in Germany and the next day was Rock am Ring in front of 90,000 people. We jumped right into it,” says Scott. When asked why UK and European audiences have taken to Alter Bridge compared to their American counterparts, Phillips responds by saying “For us, it’s always been the crowds in the UK and Europe that have set the bar at how awesome a crowd can be. The American crowds are starting to wake up over there. It’s starting to become a scene where people enjoy music again and enjoy participating at live shows.”
Although Alter Bridge have regularly appeared on these shores over the past year, it’s not the last we’ll hear from them. First of all, they’ll be documenting last November’s show at London’s O2 Arena with a live CD/DVD release with a plethora of rarities added on for good measure. On the live album and rarities release, Phillips says “it’s such a legendary venue. For us, as a headlining act, to play our own show, it’s a venue that everyone in the States is well aware of, and what it means. We thought it would be a great keepsake for us and for the fans to enjoy, plus the rarities CD that is attached. The songs that were b-sides or soundtrack songs that didn’t actually make an Alter Bridge record, but they’re some of our favourite songs, and we thought it’d be a great opportunity to get those out.”
Undoubtedly, one of this year’s highlights for Alter Bridge will be when they return to London in early October for two nights at the Royal Albert Hall, where they will be performing with a 52-piece orchestra. “To play that building itself is pretty legendary and getting the chance to do it with an accompaniment like that is going to be really cool,” Scott told us with excitement. “We’ve got a lot of songs, that we never perform live that we’re going to do that night, that lend themselves to that vibe. We’re a little nervous but very excited about it.”
Although it’s going to a special show for all involved, as a drummer, Scott knows how important his role will be on the night, “I’ll have to be a little more concise of tempos and the fact there’s not three guys trying to follow me but 52 guys, but it’s going to be awesome. We’re working on arrangements right now. The conductor, the guy who is writing the parts for an orchestra, is here today. We’ve heard some of his arrangements on a few songs so far, it’s going to be really cool.”
Before returning to the UK (again), Alter Bridge will be heading to South America for the first time, where they will be playing alongside The Who and The Cult, as well as appearing at the world-renowned Rock In Rio. For anyone who is familiar with Iron Maiden’s ‘Flight 666’ documentary will know how rabid rock fans in South America can be. “We know we’ve got a large fan base down there, but we’ve never been able to get there. We’re really excited about this opportunity,” says Phillips on the forthcoming trip. “I’m excited to finally get the chance to meet those fans we’ve seen so much of on social media. We’re hoping they will be anywhere close to how they are when Iron Maiden.”
‘Live At The O2 Arena + Rarities’ by Alter Bridge is released on 8th September on Napalm Records (Pre-Order)
‘The Last Hero’ by Alter Bridge is out now on Napalm Records.
View more of Already Heard’s coverage from Download Festival here.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)