Reporting Brian Ives
“A cloud is my home/ Only some get in/ Got a ‘maginary friend” sounds like something famed humorist/atheist Bill Maher may have written if he were a songwriter. Actually, it’s from “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,” the title track from Alice In Chains‘ fifth studio album released earlier this year. The provocative lyrics (“The devil put dinosaurs here/ Jesus don’t like a queer”) come off as a bit anti-religious, but guitarist/songwriter Jerry Cantrell says that that wasn’t his intent.
He tells Radio.com, “I didn’t really sit down with a thought in mind to write some anti-religious rant. You soak stuff up and you spit it back, you turn a mirror on it and you reflect it back … Some of the most horrible things [people do] are done in the name of what you believe in and saying that someone believes something different. Somehow it’s sanctioned in your religious beliefs to kill somebody because they believe something else. That’s straight f***ed up, man.”
Drummer Sean Kinney continues, “[The] denying of science and fact. It’s hard to move forward as a culture and species, if you don’t use all these things, enlighten yourself, instead of to just push it away.”
The band’s songs have a tendency to range anywhere from sad to tragic, but in person the two founding members have an easygoing relationship with each other, completing the other’s sentences and joking warmly. When discussing the songwriting process, Kinney notes that, no matter what the lineup, “Jerry’s always written the bulk of the tunes, and they get to a certain point and then they kind of come to me. If I don’t respond right aways it’s like, ‘Did you even to listen to it? You didn’t respond yet!’” as Cantrell laughs, “It’s true, it’s true.”
They get a bit more serious when discussing the decision to re-active the band as a recording entity; they released Black Gives Way To Blue, their first album after the passing of singer Layne Staley, in 2009. It wasn’t just a question of whether they would still sound like Alice; Kinney points out that there was also the matter of having to explain themselves to the press. “You have to think about all the other stuff that comes with it: this [referring to the interview]. And addressing things that we’ve gone through in life with our friends and having to talk about that publicly.” Cantrell agrees: “It’s a lot to take on.”
Their fallen members are never far from mind: Kinney’s bass drum is adorned with the letters “LSMS” — a reference to Staley, and the band’s original bassist, the late Mike Starr. Alice In Chains are currently headlining the Uproar Festival, and Jane’s Addiction is also on the bill.
Both bands were extremely influential in the early ’90s scene, and they used to share a producer: Dave Jerden, who produced Alice’s 1990 debut Facelift, their 1992 EP Sap and the ’92 album Dirt as well as Jane’s 1988 Nothing’s Shocking and 1990′s Ritual de lo Habitual. Kinney jokes, “We worked that man to a nub!”
2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of Facelift as well as Alice In Chains’ eligibility for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Cantrell attended this year’s ceremony, performing with Heart, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. Did it get him thinking about Alice as Hall Of Famers?
“We’re not into this to win awards,” said Cantrell, “and that’s the attitude I went there with. And I have to say, in fairness, that my opinion was a bit changed by being a guest with Heart and seeing how much it meant for them. It was a cool show, it was with a lot of respect. I was kind of moved. The best part was [Rush guitarist] Alex Lifeson’s speech, but I also liked what [drummer] Neil Peart said: ‘For years, we’ve been saying that this isn’t a big deal. Turns out: it’s a pretty big deal!’ It was cool to see him say that.”
Cantrell hopes the band is inducted at some point, but notes that Pearl Jam and Nirvana will probably be the first from the ’80s/’90s Seattle scene to be inducted.
He’s glad to have come up during that particular era: “We were really lucky to be a part of, not just in our own town, great bands coming up. We’re really proud to be one of those bands in that generation, there were so many of them.” And it’s fortunate for fans who came up during that era, and for those who were too young to experience it at the time, that many of those bands — including Alice In Chains — are still making records and playing those songs on the road.