LOOKING BACK TO MOVE FORWARD
JERRY CANTRELL LOOKED TO THE TONES OF THE BAND’S FIRST TWO RECORDS FOR INSPIRATION ON THE NEW ALICE IN CHAINS ALBUM, RAINIERFOG. WORDS BY PETER HODGSON.
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.