It’s not often that a major artist steps out of their comfort zone, and even less often that when they do, it’s successful. Acclaimed guitarist Mark Tremonti steps out of his hard rock comfort zone to not only tackle an album of Frank Sinatra classics but to have the surviving members of Frank’s band play on it! Mark has also dedicated all proceeds to charity. He talks all about this unique endeavor in our conversation.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Mark Tremonti –
On why he chose Sinatra – I’ve been a fan my whole life, it’s just kind of part of our culture, if you will. As I grew up, when I’d sing along to Christmas songs of his, I just felt like it suited my voice. About three years ago, I became obsessed with trying to sing as close to him as I could, so I just went down the rabbit hole and studied all his mannerisms and watched his movies and read his books, and just became a huge fan. Just like as an early guitar player, you hear some other player that you wanna replicate and you just kinda go and chase down their techniques, just like a vocal. So I didn’t know what I was gonna do with it until my daughter was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, and then I said, You know what, I’m… In all the books I’ve read, I’ve read how much of a philanthropist Frank Sinatra was, he raised over a billion dollars for charity, so I’m gonna do this in his name and raise funds and awareness for Down syndrome. 1:13
On recording the record with Frank’s band – I approached my manager with the idea, he said, “You know, my guitar teacher growing up with Dan McIntyre who toured with Sinatra”. So he’s the one who set up to lunch meeting with Mike Smith, who’s Frank Sinatra’s bandleader, and Mike Smith organized all the guys in the Chicago area, so I think we’ve had about 15 gentlemen who had toured with Sinatra, so it was amazing. After our first session, they all said, “I didn’t know what to expect here, you did well, kid.” After the first session, everybody was really excited to finish the record. We just did two songs first, We did “Luck Be A Lady” and “That’s Life” just to kinda see if it was all working, and then the next session we did six songs, so we did 14 altogether. 2:24
On if he used a musical director – Carey Deadman did a bunch of the arrangements. We did about half the record is true to the originals and half the record is our own spin on the arrangements. When we got the approvals from the Sinatra estate, they had said if we were gonna support this project and put it on Seriously Sinatra Radio and lets you use his name and likeness and all these great things we would have to do our own spin on a bunch of it. So we took “I Fall In Love Too Easily” which is just Saint, not many people are familiar with, and we put a rhythm section behind it, and we took “My Way and put a nylon string guitar on there, and we took the songs “As You” and “All or Nothing at All”, and “Wee Small Hours” have put a swing feel on those songs just to try to spice it up in our own way. 3:32
On who played guitar on “My Way” – That’s Dan McIntyre, my manager’s guitar teacher. A lot of people ask, “Did you really wanna play guitar on this project?” Absolutely not. I wanted to focus on just strictly the vocals and Frank Sinatra didn’t have a guitar on when he was performing. 4:32
On the record benefitting the National Down Syndrome Society – So when I decided to do this record, we just researched what the largest organization is that raises money for Down Syndrome, and NDSS is the National Down syndrome Society, and they’ve been around for many years. They do such a great job. There are so many different things that they do for folks. Just having a daughter now with Down Syndrome for 14 months, it’s not something people should be afraid of, it’s something that people just know that there’s a responsibility that’s different. There’s different things that you have to be aware of, you have to take your child to speech therapies and physical therapies and occupational therapies, you have to make sure that as they grow older, they’re taught to be independent and NDSS helps with job placement. I’m going up to New York in September to do a Buddy Walk which raises money for folks with Down Syndrome, which is one of their big events, they have a Gala. All these things need to be paid for. A lot of it, for the most part, for me, the most helpful thing is the support system and the awareness. You come to these events, you have such a wealth of information, so many different state programs that they’ll let you know about, there’s so many different things you need to know about insurance and way too many things to list in a short time. My daughter just had open heart surgery about four months ago, which was usually a traumatic thing for a family to go through, but I’d like to tell people to be in the same situation, it’s something you can get through. Our daughter just snapped out of it. In two days, she’s smiling. I love my daughter so much, I’d hate to see another family not be able to get the most benefit out of all the state programs or to find the right therapies, or find the right insurance and all these things because it’s something everybody has the right to get the best for their children. 5:36
On Take A Chance For Charity – So the big picture thing with Take A Chance For Charity is something where I’m gonna challenge anybody with a platform to do something that their fans would never see coming. Like a football player singing a country song, or somebody painting a painting, doing a magic show, doing a song, it doesn’t have to be music and be whatever it is, but whatever it is, everybody has to have fun, raise some money for charity, it has to be something completely different than what they’re known for. I think this can spawn all kinds of cool new projects that nobody would have ever otherwise thought of. I’m trying to diversify as much as I can, initially. I’ve got my buddy Larry the Cable Guy to do a project. I’ve spoken with Chris Daughtry about doing a project, Lone Star, the country band, Edge the wrestler. So I wanna just diversify, not just do my rock friends, just try to get as many folks in different genres as possible.
The best way I think it’s just, for now, is to go to TremontiSingsSinatra.com, and that has the whole area of Take A Chance For Charity and the instructions, then the links to how you can take a chance for charity. It also has the record and the merchandise. If you buy a record, every penny goes to NDSS. There’s also a Donate Now button where you can just donate straight through that site if you don’t want any merchandise on there, but everything helps. 8:01
On if he has a favorite Sinatra era – As an adult, you’re familiar with “My Way” and “New York, New York” and these more modern era Sinatra songs, but I fell in love with the early stuff. “The Song Is You” is one of my favorite songs. I saw a performance that he did in 1943 or 44 that you see this young Frank Sinatra get on stage and he looks almost shy, and then when he starts singing, you’re like, “Wow, that’s it. That’s why he went straight to the top”. Some of those earlier performances are just fascinating. His career is fascinating. Guys like me can say, “All these musicians nowadays, we didn’t have the internet, we had to go out and tour, we had to do this and that”, Frank Sinatra could have said, “All these kids nowadays, we didn’t have microphones when I was young”. A different era, and it’s so fascinating, learning about how he came up in the business. When Frank Sinatra first started out, the vocalist were not the leaders of a band, they were not the main attention grabbers in a band, it was the band leader, it was the trombone player or the trumpet play or the clarinet player, and then the singer would come in way deeper into the song. I think Frank Sinatra was the guy, along with Bing Crosby, that made that shift. There are great pictures of, I think it’s either Harry James Band or Tommy Dorsey, where you have these iconic band leaders, but the entire crowd has all their eyes focused on Frank Sinatra and nothing else. Now you saw the star in the making, and it’s just really interesting to look back at those years. 10:22
On prepping himself to handle Sinatra’s vocals – I just dove in and practiced thousands of times singing these songs. During Covid, my son was on two soccer teams, and the parents weren’t allowed to get out of the car to go watch. So I would sit in my car for three hours, four days a week at soccer practice, and I would sit there with my laptop and I would just analyze these songs and how Frank Sinatra sang them, how he prounceated, how he phrased, and I would take it line by line, verse by verse, and just keep building these songs out and I’ve got detailed notes on how I look at the way he sings. The Covid thing had its silver linings in it, a lot of people had a lot of family time, a lot of people had got into different things, and I think that was the biggest one, other than having my daughter was being able to dive into this project and really come into my own as a singer, because it’s definitely a different approach than I ever had. 12:34
On if he’ll do more Sinatra records – I already have a playlist of Volume Two on my iTunes account. There are a lot of songs I left off of this. There are so many great songs and going forward, we plan on doing a lot of shows with this, I wanna take this on the road, and we’re already talking about putting shows together in September and December. We did our first performance Saturday night, and we played the entire 14 songs on the record and went by like that. These aren’t six-minute epics, these are sometimes two and a half minute songs, “I’ve Got The World On A String”, I think it’s two minutes and twenty seconds. I wanna add more and more songs to the setlist, so there’ll be a great proving ground on stage to see which songs I’d wanna ever record in the future because I’d love to do Volume Two of this. 13:54
On performing the material live – It was five of the guys who performed on the record, and then the rest were local musicians. It’s just the same thing that Frank Sinatra used do. He traveled around the country and he’d have his key guys that traveled with him, and then the rest would be local performers that would fill in the spots. So I’m learning this as I go. Before I did the first show, Mike Smith said, “At the end of the show, thank the Dan Jordan Orchestra, and then thank your guys, we’re your guys.” That was such a huge honor for me (for him) to say, “We’re your guys now. So your guys are the guys were in black shirts, the guys who are from Chicago from the session and the Dan Jordan orchestra are all wearing white shirts”. He said, “Frank Sinatra set it up that way, so when he was traveling around the world, he could look back and see where his guys were in the black shirts”. 14:59
On the status of his other bands – I just finished recording the new Alter Bridge record two days ago, so that’s coming out, I believe, October 14th. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that or not. Sometimes I get yelled at for releasing stuff, but it comes out in October. I leave on tour the end of this month for Tremonti tour over in Europe, and when I get back home, I’ll be still promoting this record going on, doing some touring, hopefully in September, and then Alter Bridge will tour in late September, early October, I believe. 16:17
On Myles Kennedy’s reaction to Tremonti Sings Sinatra – He was very complimentary. He loved it. I’d send him stuff right off the bat before it was done, even just the first recordings. The good thing about this stuff is you can play something to somebody, the first actual recording of it, because this isn’t the type of music where you’re editing and doubling, it’s all what you hear is what you get, this is one take. What you hear on this record is the band playing start to finish without any breaks. That’s the magic that these guys can do. 17:03