Alice-In-Chains-Issue-No26ALICE IN CHAINS

Setting the musical bar high and releasing no album before its time     

In July 2011, Alice in Chains frontman Jerry Cantrell began working on the band’s new record, but the process proved too painful—not artistically but physically. The guitarist was experiencing severe shoulder pain and underwent surgery to remove bone deposits. A nightmarish scenario for any guitar player, Cantrell wrote it off as an occupational hazard. “It’s an annoyance. I’ve been playing a lot of years and had cartilage damage,” he says. “I had one repaired seven years ago and had to do the other. It takes time, so maybe we might have recorded sooner, but it just took what it took.”

Recuperation complete, Cantrell and company—singer William DuVall (replacing original vocalist Layne Staley, who died in 2002 from a drug overdose), drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez—entered L.A.’s Henson Recording Studios in early 2012 to complete what would be their fifth full-length album. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is the follow-up to 2009’s remarkably successful gold album Black Gives Way to Blue, the first Alice in Chains record in 14 years.

The band selected Nick Raskulinecz—who produced the previous record—to helm the new album. “Recording is a lot of dejection, missed marks, bad notes and failed experiments,” says Cantrell. “Nick is right there, willing to go through all of that with you. He’s just like us and he loves music in that way. He gets so into it and excited about it that his energy is infectious.” Cantrell shared his enthusiasm about firing up the Alice in Chains machinery once again.


How is this record unique?

All the records are connected, obviously, but they’re all very different. They’re all separated by a period of time, and the record ends up being a time capsule of that period in your life. You know, “This is where you’re at. This is what you sound like now. This is what you’ve come up with this time.”


Has your process evolved?

How the band works musically hasn’t changed. We work up a body of material together and start working on it. When we all feel excited about what we have, we make a record. It’s been a little chunk of time since the last record, but we’re not on a schedule, and we’re not churning out crap. We make new music when we feel like making it and take the time it takes to create music of the quality we want.


Describe that creative process.

Sometimes we’ll come up with songs when we’re jamming in a room, and sometimes it’s you alone at home working on an idea. Then you send it around to the guys and see what they think of it. They might add something, or it might be good enough as is. As far as arrangements, anytime anybody plays on it they’re going to put their thing to it anyway. It doesn’t matter if I don’t write a song because when I play on it I’m going to put my thing to it just like all of us.


Why select Nick again to produce?

All he wants is the best he can get out of you. He wants the best song possible and your best performance, but not in a demanding way. It takes work to do that. It doesn’t just happen by itself.


What was it like in the studio?

Making a record is one difficult thing. It’s funny because every time you do it, it’s usually years removed from the last time you did it, so you often forget. It’s like, “Was the last record this hard?” I remember Nick saying a couple of times, “Yep, it was.” I forget every time that it’s such a marathon from ideas to writing to pre-pro to jamming to everybody’s input on everything. Then you’re recording it, and stuff is changing. It’s a long trek, and you’re constantly coming up against the wall of your own ineptitude.


Bit hard on yourselves, no?

Our motto has always been “Whatever it takes to make a great record.” It doesn’t matter what it costs or how long it’s going to take. We’re not putting something out we feel is even remotely half-baked. We’ve always had a pretty healthy vision of what we want musically. While we don’t spend a lot of time listening to old records, we’re well aware of what those records are and the level we achieved. In our minds we’re not dipping below that. If people don’t like it, that’s a whole other thing. But if we’re satisfied to a certain level, then we win every time. I’ve been proud of every record we’ve put out.


What’s the album title from?

We came up with the song first and started thinking about what to call the record. It was just an oddball, cool title. I can guarantee you nobody else has ever called a record that. There’s a lot of fear, hate and prejudice that goes on in the name of a belief. It’s just about how bad we are to each other. There’s room for everybody, and I’m not necessarily putting down faith in that song. The main line of the chorus is, “No problem

with faith, just fear.”


Are you fired up about the tour?

Absolutely. I hear guys say, “I don’t get scared onstage” or “I’m totally at ease up there.” But I’m not. It’s still exciting and terrifying. But that’s what makes it good. The exciting part is the potential train wreck that can blow up or fall apart at any moment. Some of the stuff we play is difficult to pull off live. You’re playing one rhythm, singing against another—and we have two guys doing that so we have multiple moving parts, and they all have to mesh. It’s tough, and it’s a tightrope walk with no net. We don’t have any Auto-Tune or tracks. It’s live, so it gets weird once in a while, but it’s always interesting to see how you get it back.


Do you embrace the onstage craziness ?

Every once in a while you have a complete train wreck, and most of the time you can reel it in. But it’s live, and it’s not supposed to be perfect. Since when did it become OK to expect people to pay so you can fake what you do onstage for them? “Well, I want it to sound good, so I don’t mind paying somebody to lip sync and dance around in front of me.” That’s BS. If you can’t play your stuff, you shouldn’t be on a stage.


Why has the band been so successful and your fans so loyal?

We’ve been really lucky, and the thing you can never gauge is people’s response to it. We’ve been through a lot as a band, and everybody knows that. The cool thing is a huge portion of people never left us. They connected with the music and kept it alive. They kept playing it on the radio and rocking it in their cars or turning their friends onto it. That’s something you can’t plan on, and you’ve got to respect that. While we’re concerned with reaching a level ourselves, people responded to our music because we tried to achieve that level. So we have to keep doing that. We have to keep hitting that mark for us, and then secondarily for anybody who digs the band. We don’t want to let them down. If you’re letting yourself down, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to let the rest of ’em down, too.

–Steve Rosen


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