ALICE IN CHAINS – “It’s Not Like We’re Trying To Recapture Dirt … We Already Made That Fucking Record!”

Hot Flashes

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2013 at 13:48:19 EST

By Martin Popoff

About the grungiest of Seattle grunge bands (and that’s a good thing!) are back with their second slammin’ record of the William DuVall era. The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here... it’s hard to talk about in any sort of substantial terms, ‘cos like the new SOUNDGARDEN record, it’s entirely what’s expected: high quality song after song hitting all the marks of what one would expect from a creative Seattle juggernaut. Forsooth (!), it’s very much like the last album, Black Gives Way To Blue, which houses a kernel of the negative, but up on the downside, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here... man, wipe the dates off the back of all the catalogue, and likely many blind taste-testers would pick it as the heaviest, best recorded, most ambitious and well-appointed of the catalogue.

“We don’t really have too big of a mission,” begins drummer Sean Kinney. “We try to write a bunch of songs, songs we like. The same way on every record, we write songs that we like, probably guided unintentionally by just where we are in life, and what people are kind of gravitating to or thinking about. Try to write songs, play some songs, and just decide which ones we all think are the best at the time, and record them and put them in a sequence that flows the way we want it to. Same goddamn selfish reasons we always do. You know, there’s very little... there’s no thought of anyone else. We just do what we do and just put it out, and you go through the hoops. You never realize it until you get to now. Oh, okay, talk about it, people start hearing it. You always want people to dig what you’re doing, but we’re kind of... we’re not a band designed for the masses, and we’ve learned that long ago. So we try live up to our standards of our bar that we set for ourselves, and if we don’t think we have it, I don’t think we’d be talking right now. We’re never in a position where we have to make a record on some timeline, where the record company has control and picks the singles. We’ve never been that group. We’ve always picked our singles, all the artwork we do, we do everything, and then work with the record label for their sake, and their infrastructure, and get it to people—if anybody wants it, then maybe they can get a hold of it. That’s how it works. I mean, we don’t have an A&R guy picking singles. Who’s in rehearsals hearing out records. They hear them when we let them hear them. Not like they have a right to hear them.”

But ALICE IN CHAINS now give the label what they want anyway. I mean, the only times they didn’t... let’s take score here: Facelift was unexpected and turned out enormously fortuitous; the acoustic EPs, yeah, unexpected but what ginormo-corp wouldn’t want those? Dirt was expected, and then probably the only huge creative big gulp... the grim self-titled. Do the guys ever debate an’ discuss being too conservative?

“No. Like I said, it’s really simple. We write songs and go, ‘Oh, that’s cool, that’s cool, that’s cool, I like that.’ And we work on it until we dig it, and if it doesn’t get to where we are all feeling good about it, nobody else hears it. And then we move on. But I get it, I guess... what are you trying to say? That we have some kind of formula? I mean, we sound like us, and that’s what we do. I don’t foresee us making a fucking spoken word or ska record ever, in the future. But we don’t sit around and decide like, we need to sound like this. We just sound like us. And we’ve been through a lot. And it’s hard. You know, we sound like Alice, which is really a testament due to the fact of all we’ve been through. We don’t try to recapture who we were. That was then. We wouldn’t be doing that anyway if everybody would’ve survived. I don’t know where we would be. This is where we’re at now.”

“But it’s not like we’re trying to, ‘We need to recapture Dirt!’ You know, I already made that fucking record. And as far as I’m concerned, I love all the records we’ve done, but we lived that shit. I don’t want to relive it. Not all of us survived it. We did that a long time ago, and this is where we are now, and this is what we sound like, and this is what we are interested in. It’s really a lot easier than people probably think. We operate exactly the same, pretty much, how we always did, the same belief system, the same way of going about stuff, the same way, how we control things and how we’re presented.”

“I mean that may sound kind of stupid,” continues Sean, “but that’s our decision. We can live with that: ‘Oh, that didn’t work out the way we wanted it to.’ We can live with that. We would have a harder time living with listening to some guy who sells widgets trying to tell us what the fuck to do. And that’s a real factor in a majority, good chunk of bands that you hear out there. Take your record, and some A&R guy who learned the first... you know, he’s got a guitar in his office and he learned the first part of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ wrong, and is telling these people who are creating music, that, you know, he’s not hearing it. ‘You need another song like your last song!’ You know, that really starts getting into a gray area, and we’ve been fortunate to never have that.”

“But we make long songs. I mean, shit, we’ve been like that all along. ‘Man In A Box’, they were saying that back then. We’d say, ‘That’s the single,’ and they’re like, ‘No. That’s it, you’re going to wreck your career, that’s done.’ We’re like, whatever. Put it out, you can’t tell us what to do. And they put it out and it works. And that actually gave us a little bit more leeway, like some realization, like they should shut up. And back then, that was our first record, and you know, you can’t have a song that’s longer than a couple minutes on the radio. It’s like, I have a radio, there are tons of songs that are on there. Some of my favourite songs... So we put out ‘Rooster’; ‘You can’t do that; that song pushes the seven minute mark.’ It was on the radio for 24 years!”

“If you allow yourself to be put into the template of how it’s supposed to be, you are limiting yourself, and this is what we do this for. We’re not trying to get on radio. We’ve never written a song to be on radio. We never had that conversation: ‘We need another radio song.’ And the thing is, we’re just as likely... Jerry and the band just write songs occasionally that are kind of like that. And I think why that seems like the radio songs, is because it’s been a long time, and it’s because we’ve been on the radio all this time. So people think it sounds, oh, it sounds like normal, because it’s been normal from this band for all this time. I think you’d be shocked if we made a fucking ska record.”

And there’s really the rub right there: these guys are so serious about being creative, writing a varied and long record of hugely constructed songs—ha ha, echoes of my recent conversation with LOU GRAMM from FOREIGNER—there’s going to be some commercially viable music on any Alice in Chains record (except for three-legged dog!), and in these guys’ case, it’s going to be because they bent radio to get on board their smeary doom metal express, and not the other way around.

Final word and words... it’s a question about William DuVall and his writing and his lyrics, but it gets answered more broadly about singing...

“He’s always writing; he’s got some lyrics on the last record---he’s a band member,” says Kinney, emphatically. “So he contributes. It’s kind of a collective thing, like whatever works best here and there. It’s not about who does this or that. Because Jerry is a never-ending wealth of writing stuff, that we’ll hear something and go, ‘Fucking cool.’ And Will is finding his room. It’s a tough thing to do. There’s a circumstances and all that, for him; it takes a little while for him to come into a pre-existing dynamic. He’s the guy. He’s immensely talented, and he’s a really great intelligent guy. But to try to find your way into a band that has a sound that quite naturally we create, and then... a big part of the band is we have harmonies. We have always had two people singing all the time, trading lines, singing together. And that’s hard to do.”

“We’re still old school, man. We still really record records; we don’t play with it too much. When we play live, we don’t have any tracks ever playing ever. And we kind of take pride in that (laughs). And so he’s just, by nature, doing the shows that come together. It’s just finding your way more into it. It’s become easier and easier for him. And going over that last hurdle of just whatever the public is doing. You know, like replacing... you can’t fill the shoes! Nobody is filling shoes. You know, you can’t replace, and you can’t replace... stop, it’s impossible. You never replace your friends. It’s just a horrible and sad and terrible fact. And so he’s just added into the band. He’s a band member. He adds him and his flavour. He doesn’t sound just like that, because nobody can, and we’re not trying to make him. He fits in, that’s why he’s there.”