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Posted May 5, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Alice in Chains: “Four dudes in a room making a racket”

Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains

After original singer Layne Staley died in 2002, it wasn’t certain that grunge icons Alice in Chains would continue. Yet the band persevered, regrouping in 2005 and recruiting powerhouse vocalist William DuVall to take his place. Last year, the group played dates in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mexico, the UK and Canada. The band (vocalist/guitarist Jerry Cantrell, vocalist/guitarist DuVall, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez) is still touring in support of the 2013 Grammy-nominated album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here and will play stadiums with Metallica after completing a U.S. tour. Bassist Mike Inez bassist recently phoned from rehearsals in Tulsa to talk about the group’s history.

Talk about the band’s legacy. Why is the group still so popular after all these years?
I don’t know. We’re very blessed and lucky to have such a long career. Not just with our band. We’re like family and brothers. The bands that have any sort of longevity get along well internally. We try to keep things very simple for ourselves, whether that’s a small rehearsal space or dealing with playing stadiums with Metallica in Europe, which we’ll do after this tour. We really rely on each other. We’re just four dudes in a room making a racket. Not matter what size of venue it is. That’s our default position. We can handle anything. That’s the biggest thing that I’m proud of. At the end of the day, we’re all family. That is the key to having a long legacy. And I think that if we like the music, other people tend to like it too.

Has that sense of family and commitment been around since you joined?
I joined in January of 1993. I had just come off a tour with Ozzy. These guys opened for him and I got to be great friends with them. We’ve been together ever since. It’s a rush. I don’t know that the people in the towers who make our schedules realize that we have to live what they type out on the schedules. You rest when you’re tired and eat when you’re hungry; everything else falls into place.

You didn’t grow up in Seattle but you seem to have a connection to the city.
I love Seattle. Even when we had time off from Alice, I played with Ann and Nancy Wilson for years. Spiritually, it’s one of my centers. There’s something in the water there. There’s nothing to do up there when it’s raining but go to each other’s houses and jam. Soundgarden was a band for 10 years before they got a major label deal. They were tucked away up there where bands got to percolate and marinate and define their sound before they went public. That was such a big thing. It wasn’t this cookie cutter L.A. thing where bands were getting signed. If you notice, those bands all sound different from each other. Whether it’s Nirvana or Soundgarden or Alice or Pearl Jam . . . even Queensryche or Jimi Hendrix or Heart. It’s a different cross cut of the wood. There’s a lot of flavor in Seattle. You have to look for it more these days, but it’s a great music town.

When it initially came out, Black Gives Way to Blue was the band’s first studio effort in 14 years. Was it a difficult album to make?
Oh yeah. It was really hard for us. We financed it ourselves. We didn’t have a label. We believed, but you just don’t know how it’s going to go. We went to the studio and it was like, “Where’s Layne?” We felt like we couldn’t make a record without him. We did some shows and it started out with a benefit show and we were trying to get some money for the victims of the tsunami. Ann Wilson and Maynard from Tool helped out. It felt good at that point. It turned into “let’s play some clubs.” We did six club dates. We were opening for Tool in front of 40,000 people at a festival in Portugal. It went quickly. We did shows in Europe and then wanted to attempt a record. We found a great producer and we holed up at Dave Grohl’s studio. Elton John played on the record with us. It was great. Everybody was pulling for us. We thought, “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” It was our goodbye to Layne thing too. We needed to go through this stuff. The only way it could work was if we faced our pain and our past and accepted an unknowing future. 

 It’s quite the journey. Knowing what it took to get to this point and looking back on it and knowing what we know now, I don’t know if we would have signed up for it but I’m happy we did. 

What did you set out to do differently with the new album?
This one was easier in the respect that we had played 300 to 400 shows with William. We had multiple world tours. I always feel like you’re not a real band until you wake up in a strange place. I woke up in Istanbul and heard chanting and there were weird smells. I woke up and realized I was so fucking far away from home. Bands have to do that. It’s 300 or 400 of those. Those shared experiences really went into making the second record. It was much easier.

Talk a bit about Jerry as a songwriter and player.
He’s great. He’s the real deal. There’s nothing contrived about him. He’s just Jerry and he plays. He handles it really well. He still likes playing guitar after all this years. He’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had. We’ve been through so many adventures together. He’s supportive of me and I’m supportive of him. Our band assistant Todd has worked for the band longer than I have been in the band. He’s going on 30 years. We’re very loyal to our friendships, especially the older we get. Good things happen when we get in the studio and make a racket together. You gotta have faith in that after awhile. It’s not an easy process. You don’t see the sun for months. The studio is an unnatural place to spend your life. It’s turned into a safe place for us. We like to start jamming after all the offices have closed and people stop bugging us.

William DuVall sings with confidence on this album. What’s it like to work with him?
He’s great. He comes from such a punk background. He’s a ninja guerilla guitar player. In his other bands, he sings and plays guitar. It was an adjustment for him. It’s not an easy job to replace someone as iconic as a Layne Staley. From where I’m standing, I look up and I see him at the edge of the stage. He puts his chin out there and gives it his all every night. He prepares more than any singer than I ever jammed with. He warms up and warms down. He trusts everything will work out. If we just play music, everything else works out.

The songs mostly clock in at five to six minutes long. Talk about that a bit.
Songs are weird. You never know what you’re going to get. It’s like a dog at the pound. You think it’s one thing and you take it home and it’s something else. There are a lot of songs that you know are going to make the record. Then others you didn’t think would make the record that are better than those songs. They grow into their own thing in the studio. We never really think we have to write a seven-minute song, it’s just the way they came out. It’s a hard business these days. Nobody buys the records. I don’t know how younger bands are going to do it.

My biggest fear is that the next Kurt Cobain is out there somewhere but he won’t get into music because there’s no money in it. They’re pulling arts funding. I grew up playing in marching band at school and to see that go away is really sad. I’m more concerned with the next generation. Where’s the good music going to come from? Especially when us old guys go away, who is going to play the big venues?

Do you listen to new music?
I try to. I noticed Elton John gets every single release that comes out every Tuesday. He listens to them all. He’s so in tune to music. We took something from him. He’s a good guy to hang out with and get to know. He’s amazing to watch work. He gets everything. I don’t know anybody who does that. When we do festivals, I try to get to the other stages and see the young bands. But when you get there, you have to eat real quick and then you have interviews and meet and greets. And then you’re playing. As soon as you’re done playing, I hand my bass off and we’re rushed away to the next place. It’s hard to see these other bands. I liked it when it used to be more chill.

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

May 6

May 7

May 9

May 10

May 12

May 13

May 14

May 16

May 17

May 19

May 20

May 22

May 23

May 24

N. Charleston, SC – N. Charleston PAC

Raleigh, NC – Memorial Auditorium

Atlantic City, NJ – Ovation Hall @ Revel

Mashantucket, CT – Foxwoods Casino MGM

Syracuse, NY – Landmark Theatre

Reading, PA – Sovereign PAC

Roanoke, VA – Roanoke PAC

Huntington, WV – Big Sandy Arena

Cincinnati, OH – Horseshoe Casino

Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica

Battle Creek, MI – Kellogg Arena

Elizabeth, IN (Louisville) – Harrah’s Southern Indiana

Davenport, IA – Adler Theatre

Council Bluffs, IA – Harrah’s Stir Cove

 


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.