New life, but, man, listening to the pounding new Black Gives Way To Blue record, you gotta conclude Seattle’s heaviest, ALICE IN CHAINS, have stuck to their leaden, doomy metal vibe, thank the gods of grunge and all that they mope over.
“New?” laughs drummer Sean Kinney, basically agreeing that Alice is still in Chains, “New ingredient, well, there’s another guy. That’s a major ingredient, and what we brought forth was the same guys (laughs), the same thing. So I mean, the bulk of everything is there, but we’ve added a new member (singer William DuVall, of course, in place of the slayed by hard drugs Layne Staley). But the dynamic’s shifted. There was never replacing Layne, so we just added a new member to blend in and fit in and bring what he brings, and Jerry (Cantrell, guitars, co-vocals) has taken on a bigger role, so the dynamic has changed from before. But being in this from the beginning, our take on it was always that it’s two singers who did this, and that’s a major part of the sound. And we always did all the harmonies. I don’t know if enough people ever really noticed that, or picked up on that, because in your typical rock format, it’s, ‘That’s the singer, that’s the lead guitar player, he’s playing blazing lead solos, and he’s playing with a drill, and the drummer flies around plays drum solos and shit.’ So you know, it’s just that the dynamic’s shifted but the core of what we do and how we do it is pretty much the same.”
A chat about metal and grunge and prog rock and Canuck bands basically leads to the somewhat cliché utterance you hear from many big bands – especially grungesters, who seem to have their backs up more than most about “being categorized by the man” – this idea that we’re just a rock band… man.
“We don’t really spend any time thinking about that shit,” figures Sean, pretty sincere and good-natured about this line of thought, actually. “We just get together, and whatever sounds good to us and we enjoy playing, we focus on that. We’re not really influenced by the outside world of what’s going on (laughs). We never came in and said, ‘We need to sound like...’ Maybe at the very, very beginning, when we didn’t give a shit, and it wasn’t very serious, but that didn’t last very long. There were some moments when we collectively hit upon a couple of songs, and I know we were thinking, ‘Wow, we’re doing something and it sounds different. It sound like us.’ And from then on it was just that. All the other stupid party time shit - Woo! - that all kind of fell away. We found an identity like anybody does, and once we found that, we just kind of expanded on that. It’s pretty easy. You know, it’s a pretty natural thing - I play the way I play, Jerry does, and writes and does the things he does, Mike does his thing. I mean, we don’t sit around and really work on... we worked hard on the record, and worked hard on the overall package of the band, and how things are portrayed and how we like to be perceived, and we really focus on the music when we’re writing it.”
“We probably spend more time taking shit out than we do putting it in,” laughs Kinney. “And I think that is one of the strengths of the band. Every song doesn’t have to a have a fucking blazing solo if we don’t think it does. The song doesn’t have to be full-tilt with notes, and I think there comes a maturity in music, where, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to do it all the time. You just do what the song really needs, and if it feels like it’s getting stepped on a little here and there, we can take it out, and your feelings aren’t hurt. It’s not like, ‘Oh that was my neatest little kind of lick.’ We don’t really operate like that; it’s just a collective thing. We take it song by song and make it the way we want it.”
Is William playing any guitar on this album?
“He does. He plays a little here and there, but Jerry, since that is the major sound of this album, Jerry writes the majority of the music, and it’s easier for him to play it; you know, it’s quicker. To play the shit he wrote (laughs). But William is a really bad-ass guitar player. He plays on the record, but I think the majority is Jerry.”
Sean says lyrically William is involved as well, although as he’s also emphasized, what you get with Black Gives Way To Blue is a heavy, complicated, pure of purpose, no surprises AiC spread, also, incidentally and necessarily, pretty darn close stylistically to the fine Cantrell solo albums.
“Yeah, he wrote on the record; he wrote some lyrics, and some of the music. He was definitely involved. It’s not an easy thing to come into an existing dynamic, of how things work and sound. What he brought in is him, so everything that is on there is authentically him doing his thing, but as to what the band sounds like, it’s primarily been the same dynamic. But you know, for what’s on that record, there’s shit that doesn’t make the record. It is not that it’s bad, it’s just stuff that we felt wasn’t going to make a complete album. And in the day and age of singles and downloading and stuff, we don’t care. We still try to make a full album. It’s not like we’re trying to make a couple of songs that we can kind of sneak onto the radio because there’s a radio format we fit into, or there are songs that we can use as an excuse to tour. We’re trying to do the same thing we always do - try to make a full album, and see where that goes.”
Pressed, in closing, to cite a favourite lyric on the new record, Kinney doesn’t hesitate.
“I would say it’s the very first lines from the first song, right now, today. It says, ‘Hope, a new beginning, time to start living like just before we died.’ That’s the very first thing that is said on the record, and then it says, ‘There is no going back to the place we started from.’ So I think from the first line of that record, it’ll tell you how we feel about things. That pretty much sums it up, plus ‘Hope, a new beginning’… I think that’s what it says in the beginning of Star Wars (laughs), which is cool too. So if you’re a Star Wars fan or an Alice fan, then we’re going to go crush the Empire.”
That’s a lot of people there, so hopefully that’s a lot of record sales, right?
“I don’t know - do people still buy records?”
BRANT BJORK AND THE LOW DESERT PUNK BAND - “Stokely Up Now”