By Kevin Zimmerman
Jerry Cantrell: The Creative Force Behind Alice In Chains Gets Down To Work
“We feel that we have to please ourselves, first and foremost. You have to focus on the stuff that gets you off … that’s what you bank on.”
That’s how Alice in Chains worked during its first phase, and it hasn’t changed during the band’s current rebirth, according to Jerry Cantrell, the band’s chief songwriter, lead guitarist and co-lead singer. And plainly it’s an approach that works: “Hollow,” a heavy, nearly six-minute tune originally released “not as a single, but to let our fans know that something’s coming,” effortlessly sailed into the Top 10 Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, serving as a tempting foretaste of the band’s current album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.
“The album came together in a pretty similar way to our others,” Cantrell says. “After we come off tour we take some time off, and then we all start collecting riffs, lyrics, just a bunch of ideas to go through. When we start to vibe on something, then we concentrate on developing it further. Once there’s enough stuff -- around 18 to 20 songs – then we really get down to work.”
Things were in a state of flux for Alice after 1995’s self-titled third album; lead singer Layne Staley eventually died of an overdose in 2002, after which Cantrell increasingly focused on outside collaborations and his solo career. A reunion with AIC bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney to play at a 2005 benefit concert for victims of the Southeast Asia tsunami led to further appearances, and in 2008 the band, augmented with former Comes with the Fall singer William DuVall as its new vocalist, began work on its fourth studio album, Black Gives Way to Blue.
“It was a sequence of events that happened naturally,” Cantrell remarks. “We’d been through some pretty traumatic changes, and lost important pieces to the puzzle, but we have some important pieces now. We felt we had an obligation to honor our past work and the guys who aren’t here anymore [original bassist Mike Starr, who departed in 1993, died in 2011]. Now we’re right on point.”
A label shuffle caused the new album to be delayed until May, meaning the group will be playing some unfamiliar tunes to AIC fans during a handful of standalone dates and appearances at festivals Welcome to Rockville and Carolina Rebellion. Cantrell says the band is fleshing out the rest of the year, with scheduled appearances at the Download Festival at Donington Park, England in June and the Rock in Rio festival in September already confirmed.
“Going on tour is always rewarding, but it’s hard,” he confides. “Even though you love connecting with the fans, it takes a lot out of you. Hats off to anyone who can do it for an extended period!”
What’s On My iPod:
Of late, Cantrell has been “on a Badfinger kick. There’s a tragic story to that band, but they had some amazing songwriting.”
“I’m also listening to quite a bit of old country music,” he adds. “We had ‘Thanks a Lot’ by Ernest Tubb play as we came offstage on our last tour. He’s always just a little off in the way he sings … but at the same time it’s just so perfect!”