Australian Guitar - - Feature -

Jerry Cantrell has al­ways been Alice In Chains’ not-so-se­cret in­gre­di­ent. Sure, his riffage and mas­sive gui­tar tones are in­te­gral to the band’s sound. But from the very first al­bum,

Facelift, Cantrell’s vo­cals have also been an im­por­tant pres­ence in the band, from the lines sung in-be­tween Layne Sta­ley’s words in “Man In The Box” to the in­tri­cate har­monies in the cho­rus of “Them Bones”.

As much as his gui­tar sound has de­fined Alice In Chains, so has his voice. This is why, when Alice In Chains re­formed with Wil­liam Du­Vall on vo­cals af­ter the passing of Sta­ley, the band still sounded like them­selves. Their lat­est al­bum, RainierFog, is the band’s third with Du­Vall and sixth over­all, and it finds Alice In Chains stay­ing true to their sig­na­ture sound while also ex­plor­ing some new edges.

You’ll be able to recog­nise it as Alice In Chains straight away, but just as Dirt was dif­fer­ent to

Facelift, RainierFog is dif­fer­ent to Black­GivesWay To Blue and The Devil Put Di­nosaurs Here.

Is there an in­ten­tional science be­hind the band’s per­fect bal­ance of sound­ing dif­fer­ent, yet the same, or is it more or­ganic than that?

It’s re­ally un­der­thought and or­ganic, y’know? It re­ally is. I can’t say that we’ve ever even sat down and had a meet­ing be­fore it started. We just start to feel that it’s time again; we nat­u­rally start writ­ing, and we get a good grip of stuff and start call­ing each other. ‘Hey man, I’ve got a thing!’ ‘Hey man, check this shit out!’ Then we just get in a room and start hash­ing it out. That process takes how­ever long it takes, and at the end of it, what we come out with is what’s on the record. It’s kind of fun, not know­ing where you’re go­ing, and also not having any ex­pec­ta­tions other than try­ing to make the best mu­sic you can, and see­ing if you can make a bunch of cool and in­ter­est­ing songs – if you can get a body of work that fits to­gether as an al­bum. The cool thing about it is that we’ve done it be­fore and we know we can get there.

We’re pretty f***ing lucky to even have a sound, so which­ever di­rec­tion we’re go­ing to head in, it’s go­ing to sound like us just by the me­chan­ics of how we sound as in­di­vid­ual play­ers and how we fit to­gether as a band. That el­e­ment of new­ness comes from the ma­te­rial. I’m re­ally proud of the fact that ev­ery one of our records sounds dif­fer­ent to ev­ery other one.

The gui­tar sound on Dirt is re­ally iconic. Pro­ducer Dave Jer­den has talked about how it in­volves stack­ing a lot of amps, but what’s the main com­po­nent of that sound?

Well, that’s some­thing I’ve been try­ing to chase my­self, and I think I’ve got­ten close to it again. It’s this one head – it’s a head that I could never get, and it was re­cently of­fered to me again by the es­tate of Brian Carl­son, who was Dave Jer­den’s en­gi­neer on those first two records. It was a Mar­shall mod­i­fied by Bogner, which is why I ended up play­ing Bogn­ers for many years.

Brian re­cently passed, and some­one rep­re­sent­ing his es­tate called me and asked me if I wanted to buy the amp. I had to take it – that’s my f***in’ sound! I of­fered a good chunk of money for it, but they didn’t take it be­cause they wanted me to buy a bunch of other shit with it. But that’s al­right, Dave Fried­man and I made a head that’s ev­ery bit as good. But I do agree that the gui­tar sounds on that record are pretty f***ing out­stand­ing. I take a lit­tle credit for play­ing it, I give Dave Jer­den credit for record­ing it and I give Brian credit for loan­ing me his amp... But I still want that f***ing amp, man!

So what went into the tone on this record?

That’s a good place to start; let’s start with

Facelift and Dirt. I learned a lot of stuff from Dave – there are things I’ve used on ev­ery sin­gle record that I learned from Dave. One was lay­er­ing dif­fer­ent amps for dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies and dif­fer­ent parts. An­other was us­ing a bari­tone. He had a Cantrell Jones bari­tone that we used on those two records, and I’ve used a bari­tone on ev­ery record we’ve done since.

Some­times, in cer­tain sec­tions of a song, there’ll be a lit­tle sig­na­ture lead line or a colour line, but usu­ally it’s just there un­der­neath ev­ery­thing else to give it that ex­tra bit of grunt – that f***ing deep, growly, ballsy thing, y’know? I learned a lot from Dave and I’ve continued those tra­di­tions I learned from him.

What about gui­tars them­selves? Were you play­ing on any­thing un­usual?

My buddy Mike Tem­pesta, who works at Gretsch, asked me if I wanted a limited replica of Mal­colm Young’s iconic gui­tar. I’m not sure how many were made, but I got one of them, and I used that on a few songs on this record. There’s a re­ally f***ing cool tone to that gui­tar. As a mat­ter of fact, I was f***ing around with a song just yes­ter­day, and I used that gui­tar. It has a real warm, barky, straight-up rock’n’roll tone to it.

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