Interview: Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney of Alice In Chains
Mon, 03 Jun 2013 10:14:31
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"I remember tracking guitar for Facelift in this room right here. We finished that record down here," recalls Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains with a smile.
Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney are surveying a studio in the Capitol Records building, which holds particular significance for them. They cut guitars for Facelift in the same spot two decades ago, and now they're listening back to their fifth full-length album here. Certainly, a lot has happened since then. At the same time though, they're still Alice In Chains. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here preserves all of the landmarks of the band's classic sound from the sludgy pensiveness to the sweetly haunting acoustic moments. However, it feels amplified and alive in the best way possible.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney of Alice In Chains dive deep into The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here and so much more…
In many ways, this feels like you're deepest work…
Jerry Cantrell: Nothing that does well just happens. There's a lot of fucking work and thought behind that. There's a lot of investment, time, and tearing your hair out. You can apply our experience here to anything worth doing.
How did "Lab Monkey" form?
Jerry Cantrell: A lot of the songs started with collected riffs. It would be me and him in a dressing room or during a sound check. It can be voice messages recorded on a phone. Baldy will be following us around with a camera, and we'll be like, "Hey Baldy, record this!" You'll get home and have thirty or forty fucking two-minute blips, a riff, or whatever. Then, you wade through that. Every song always starts with a joke title. That one was called "Manmouth" because we were sound-checking at Monmouth. We started to call it "Manmouth" of course [Laughs]. That song is cool because it goes in a lot of different places. It's basically got four or five things that could be songs on their own put together to make one. It's got that creepy Black Sabbath thing in the Geezer Butler-type intro.
Sean Kinney: It has a really danceable beat.
Jerry Cantrell: It does. You'll see a lot of fucking strippers dancing to it [Laughs].
Sean Kinney: Those are the fun big album tracks.
Do you feel like "Breath on a Window" has the same unpredictable feeling?
Jerry Cantrell: Yeah, that takes a couple of weird turns. There's that middle section and the outro. We went over to Ocean for a while, and we had a couple of ideas. We had "Voices", "Stone", and maybe a couple of other things. We kind of crapped out and shutdown. Then, Sean and I were cramped in my fucking guest bedroom, which he loves.
Sean Kinney: Playing plastic drums!
Jerry Cantrell: We were working on the Pro Tools. I think it came from that part of demoing.
Sean Kinney: A lot of them are different. Take "Voices". Sitting on my couch, he'd get an idea. He's playing the guitar. It's like, "Great!" That was a couple of years ago. I think, "Fucking hell!" That's stuff you can sing. It's cool to still be a fan of my best friend and be excited about that shit. There aren't a lot of cringe-worthy moments.
Jerry Cantrell: I was jamming "Hunk on a Hook" on your couch too. That came from a dressing room in England.
Sean Kinney: As long as you still have the inspiration and don't get jaded, it's exciting. There are torturous elements of always doing it because nobody is a bigger critic than we are.
Jerry Cantrell: Going through the process, you know why you put yourself through that torture because there's a bigger fucking thing. It's fucking cool. It's work. It's always funny to me. The thing we did to not have a job ended up being a career [Laughs].
If you were to compare The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here to a movie or a combination of movies what would you compare it to?
Jerry Cantrell: That's tough. I don't know.
Sean Kinney: That entire Fright Night series is pretty sweet.
Jerry Cantrell: The original or the remake with Colin Farrell?
Sean Kinney: All ninety-six of them…I don't know. I'd say one of the last five The Incredible Hulk movies made in the last ten years. Apparently, they make one every other year, and they think it's going to work. I could say High Plains Drifter dude.
What about The Outlaw Josie Wales?
Jerry Cantrell: That's also great.
What's the story behind "Choke"?
Sean Kinney: It's a bummer [Laughs].
That line "I'm practiced at goodbyes" stands out…
Jerry Cantrell: That's a real line.
Sean Kinney: Relationships are hard [Laughs].
Jerry Cantrell: That goes for everybody. That song could relate to your best friend, your girlfriend, your brother, or business partner. It's not necessarily saying, "Splitting". It's essentially assessing, "Where are we at here? Is this working? Is it not working?" It's keeping the communication open to figure that out. It speaks to that. At the same time, I think this is a common theme through all of our work. When a lot of people get hung up on the negativity and the darker elements of the songs, that's not the end of it. It's more like, "Okay, where do we go? We can go this way or that way? Where are we going here?" There's an opportunity to steer it back on to the road. There's always the urge to take it off into the fucking railing. You know what I mean? That's fucking life. It's just a quick twitch into the fucking headlights, or you're like, "No, I'm not going to do that. Let's bring it back on to the road". That song speaks to all of those elements.
Sean Kinney: It's a really good-sounding song.
Jerry Cantrell: Nick Raskulinecz is not super heavy-handed, but he does put his foot down on certain things. That's a song where he did. He did it on a song from the last record in a similar way. They're two different songs, but both we're way more upbeat. Nick grabbed a hold of them. "When the Sun Rose Again" was an upbeat tune, and he totally fucking minimalized that. We didn't think that it worked initially, but it ended up being right. "Choke" was the same way. He took that song down, especially in the verses to let it lift in the chorus and B-section. That was his call. We didn't agree with it at first.
Sean Kinney: I wasn't digging it [Laughs]. On all of those previous records, nobody ever said anything in our whole career. I guess we're fortunate for that. We weren't really open to that. With Nick, he had some suggestions. With how we get along, we listened.
Jerry Cantrell: We have a lot of respect for him. He's the kind of guy we'd allow in. He know what he's doing.
To your point Jerry, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel on your records.
Jerry Cantrell: All of that shit is totally relevant! You're right. We're trying to do all of that, and it's also coupled with this thing. It's not just the pain, the fucking mess, and all of that shit. There's an element of survival and living through it. That's really important, and it's always there. That's a part I'm really proud of it.
Sean Kinney: We're slowly working towards making an album about cars and chicks [Laughs].
Jerry Cantrell: Flowers and sunshine…
Sean Kinney: We just haven't gotten there yet.
Jerry Cantrell: It's going to take another twenty years to get there. That'll be the one we win the Grammy on. It'll be one in eighteen [Laughs].
Sean Kinney: We'll make the shittiest, fucking most cliché rock album of all-time. We'll get some "That a boy" award at the end like, "Hey, thanks for playing!"
Jerry Cantrell: I think it's the Susan Lucci award.
What's your favorite song from The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here?
See our review of The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here here!
See what other bands have to say about Alice In Chains here!