Interview: Jerry Cantrell of Alice In Chains talks "Star Wars," "BlackDiamondSkye" and "Got Me Wrong"
Thu, 29 Jul 2010 09:10:52
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Alice In Chains have always had it.
They have that dark mystique that millions of other bands yearn for but can hardly conjure. It's that strange aura that's simultaneously mesmerizing and dangerous. This is a band that can take you to hell and back one minute on "Hate to Feel" and then make you feel all warm and fuzzy with "No Excuses" the next.
Few artists can do that regardless of the medium. However, it's something that Alice In Chains has made a career out of. It's a tradition that's proudly upheld on their phenomenal 2010 comeback album, Black Gives Way to Blue. Halfway through "Acid Bubble," Jerry Cantrell's riff is just as destructive as anything on "Dirt," but the title track is one of the most beautiful things that he's ever committed to tape. The album picks up where they left off in 1996, while pushing themselves (and rock 'n' roll) further.
Now, it all culminates with BlackDiamondSkye, the band's soon-to-be legendary jaunt alongside Deftones and Mastodon. Few events this fall will be this epic.
Alice In Chains architect Jerry Cantrell sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about how Black Gives Way to Blue is his Star Wars: A New Hope, what makes BlackDiamondSkye so special and soundtracks…
Do you feel like BlackDiamondSkye is a musical crossroads of sorts? What's your vision of it?
Jerry Cantrell: It's a good crossroads but not in the Ralph Macchio-way [Laughs]. The cool thing is you've got three very individual bands that are hard to put a definite tag on. In general, it's probably easier to digest or write about something if you can put a tag on it. We've got grunge, and that encompasses five or six different bands from one town that don't sound anything like each other [Laughs]. I'm sure the other guys have their takes on it too. We've all worked really hard, and we wanted to put together something special to end the touring cycle. We figured Mastodon would be done because they've been touring their asses off on Crack the Skye. Luckily, they came along to be a part of it.
You can't really define Alice In Chains, Deftones or Mastodon.
Jerry Cantrell: There are three individual musical fingerprints, and you get a hand with three fingers so obviously we've done some things wrong [Laughs]. We've lost a few fingers along the way, but these three fingers are kickass, dude [Laughs].
Were there any package tours similar to BlackDiamondSkye that you went to when you were a kid?
Jerry Cantrell: To me, concerts have always been about a group of bands. I don't think we're doing anything new here. It's just a really cool collection of bands. Some of my best moments going to concerts have been bills with two or three bands. We do a lot of festivals, so we end up playing a lot of shows with 40 or 50 bands [Laughs].
All three bands can headline on their own. There are very few tours like that anymore. BlackDiamondSkye really stands out in that aspect.
Jerry Cantrell: Without a doubt, I agree. Thank you for saying that [Laughs]. Do I pay you now?
Later is fine. That's the magic of this tour. It's a t-shirt fans will want to have.
Jerry Cantrell: It's a t-shirt I want to have [Laughs]. When do we get those?
Hopefully soon…if Black Gives Way to Blue were a movie or a combination of movies what would it be?
Jerry Cantrell: That's a tough one. I'm going to go with Star Wars: A New Hope. The first line of the album is, "Hope, a new beginning." You've got hope. The credits for Star Wars start out with at least one word in common [Laughs]. It has to be Star Wars!
"Got Me Wrong" has always stood out. What's the story behind that song?
Jerry Cantrell: We play "Got Me Wrong" a lot. Actually, we've played it more over the last couple of years. Sometimes, we'll go out and do acoustic tours where we play the songs that are based on that and then we take some of the heavier stuff and play it acoustically. "Got Me Wrong" always gets a big reaction. There's a funny story about that song and the EP it comes from—Sap. When we did our first record, it did really well. It took a lot of work and a long time for it to actually do well though. Then, we did "Would?" for Singles, we got Cameron Crowe and the studio to pay for us to basically demo ten songs—one of which they used. We had all of this extra stuff which we turned into Sap. It wasn't really received well at the time. We didn't officially release it though either. We knew we were going to be between records before we did Dirt, so we put Sap out specifically for the fans. We didn't advertise it or do anything; we just put it in the bins! Columbia went with us on that. It was put out there for fans. Way after Sap came out, "Got Me Wrong" ended up being on The Clerks soundtrack. I love that movie, by the way. That's when that song started to get some life and people began to know it. I'd hear people say, "Oh man, that new song's awesome!" I'd simply respond, "Dude, that's been out for two or three years!" [Laughs] It is a special song. It's great. It's one of those songs that we get a lot of audience participation on. We turn it, and they can sing it back to us.
It's the perfect anthem for the misunderstood.
Jerry Cantrell: Thank you very much! Nobody really understands me [Laughs].
Speaking of soundtracks, was "What the Hell Have I" recorded specifically for Last Action Hero?
Jerry Cantrell: That was something we had. Sometimes, you can have a song around that kind of relates to a movie. It's in the can, but it works. That's been the case for us a couple of times. We were all huge "Arnie" fans, and we were hoping for something like Predator. The soundtrack was pretty cool. There was some AC/DC, Megadeth and a bunch of other great shit on there. We had "A Little Bitter" and "What the Hell Have I" sitting around, and we went in and recorded them specifically for the soundtrack. I think the filmmakers heard some demos beforehand. Music and film are pretty interconnected. Even music, in general, creates visuals for you anyway. I listen to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin or any number of bands, and the music takes you to a place or creates a landscape. It's a visual thing. Being a kid who sort of lived in his own head, I remember that. You listen to music, and it takes you somewhere. It's an obvious marriage of expression; it's just a different art form. The two together go hand-in-hand. I love doing stuff for film. You create visuals with the music anyway, and that just takes it to another level.
Do you have any defining tour memories from the Dirt era?
Jerry Cantrell: I don't remember a lot of Dirt [Laughs]. It can be a blur. The things I remember about that particular tour or any tour are some of the places we played and the bands we played with and things that went on. When you've been together for a long time, it's hard to pick a line or two out of the book anymore. There's a lot of shit in there to weed through.
Will you be attending BlackDiamondSkye?