Album: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here out now. Canadian tour dates: Vancouver (July 1), Calgary (July 2), Edmonton (July 4), Regina (July 6), Winnipeg (July 8), London (July 11), Ottawa (July 14), Montreal (July 15), Toronto (August 20)
Grunge-era icons Alice In Chains weren’t sure how bruised they’d end up from fans and critics after moving forward with a new lead singer in William DuVall. The 2009 comeback album Black Gives Way To Blue surprised many with guitarist Jerry Cantrell sounding stellar while DuVall did justice to songs made famous by the late vocalist Layne Staley.
So with those questions answered, it’s no shock Cantrell says the latest album The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here came with a little less pressure.
“I think we probably felt better, more at ease in some ways,” the guitarist says. “You have the opportunity every time you make one to completely f—king destroy your reputation and f—king lay a turd. But it couldn’t have gone any better. We had a successful tour, people dug it, it performed well in a dwindling economy and also a dwindling music business. So we kind of reestablished the band, brought in a new member, did a lot of stuff and it worked out. Now we don’t have to worry about that so now where do we go?”
Where Alice In Chains went with the new album was to the charts, reaching #2 on the Billboard Top 200 upon its impressive, anticipated release. Cantrell says while they are two different albums, both went through an array of phases to ensure they were up to qualitative snuff.
“They get torn apart, they get performed, maybe it doesn’t come across because the guitar doesn’t sound right or the drums don’t sound right,” he says. “And you got to get in there and fight through all of that s–t. What you come up with in the end is what you have in your hand right now and that’s because everybody went through the process and we worked as a team. That means it made it through all the filters where it could have got cut off.
“There’s a period spent however long collecting ideas, right?” Cantrell says. “Then at some point you start to tinker around with ideas and you get motivated to create new stuff. Whenever that happens I just try to keep myself open to the fact and not to push it until it does. So once that process begins you’re in it until the end no matter what it takes to get that done and make the best record that you can.”
The group – consisting of Cantrell, DuVall, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney — started working on The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here during their last tour with a few demos but got down to business in 2011. Producer Nick Raskulinecz also returned to work with Alice In Chains after the success of the last record, somebody Cantrell says was vital.
“Obviously he did a good job and we felt really comfortable having him in the mix,” he says. “You know he’s great, he’s a fan of music, he cares, he gets it. He’s willing to put his ego aside to make the best record for the band. I think that’s a really strong and positive attribute to a producer who’s not bigger than the project. He’s someone you can trust too and we had to trust to be able to take our hands off the wheel occasionally and let him drive it.”
And what both band and producer drove is a long, hard and sonically heavy road from the opening notes of “Hollow” to the closing “Choke” nearly 70 minutes later. It’s as if the band never quite grew out of their Dirt and Jar Of Flies days. Another album keeper is “Breath On A Window” which isn’t as sludge-y and shows another side of the group.
“That’s got elements of just a real kind of ’70s rock, almost classic American rock,” Cantrell says of the tune. “I like the sound of that one, it’s kind of a desert-y, road type of song, it evokes those images. And it’s big and it rocks.”
Despite having toured a bit before The Devils Put Dinosaurs Here came out, Alice In Chains only played “Stone” and “Hollow” in concert. Cantrell says the band will work in the new songs over the next year or so of touring but are balancing the new stuff with the crowd-placating warhorses.
“For us to play half of this new record means we can’t play ‘Man In The Box’ or ‘Rooster’ or ‘Nutshell’ or ‘Got Me Wrong’ or ‘No Excuses’ or ‘Down In A Hole,’” he says. “Even though you do have a new record, you want to try to represent songs from all the records. People even to this day maybe never seen you before.
“I remember having this discussion with Ann Wilson (Heart vocalist) about ‘Barracuda.’ She was like, ‘F—k, I’m tired of playing that song! But you know what? People love that f—king song and I’ve been playing that song for them. It’s not about me! It’s about them!’ So you put your feelings aside and perform it as well as you can because people f—king paid money and they might only have that one opportunity to see you come play one of your bigger songs. It’s a quality problem to have, not to be able to play all your f—king big tunes people want to hear in the span of a night.”
One night Cantrell was quick to discuss was his performance with Heart at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“It was really fun, I was really honoured to be asked by Ann to accompany her to the awards ceremony and then to be able to play with them,” he says. “That was a real kick for me to be the only guy on the stage to get to play with those guys and the current lineup of the band. They’re family and friends and before that they were musical heroes of mine and an inspiration to do what I do. So to seem them have their moment and get their due and be a little fly on the wall as a part of the process was pretty great.”
Alice In Chains launch a Canadian trek in early July before returning to Toronto as headliners on the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival with Jane’s Addiction on the bill. Surprisingly it marks the first time both bands have toured together.
“We’re good friends and looking forward to it,” Cantrell says. “They’re an amazing band and they definitely hold their place in rock history for sure as well as we do.”
And as for the next studio album, Cantrell hasn’t even considered it.
“Oh no way, not even,” he says with a laugh. “That will be well after we take a nice long vacation after this one.”