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The PV Q&A: Life Lessons With Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney

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Few bands can come back like Alice In Chains did. In fact, the second age of AIC has been just as an incendiary as the first in many ways. Their 2009 effort, Black Gives Way to Blue, didn't just breathe new life into the band's catalogue, it breathed life into rock 'n' roll.

 

Vocalist and guitarist Jerry Cantrell, vocalist and guitarist William DuVall, bassist Mike Inez, and drummer Sean Kinney had emerged from doubt and speculation and made work that could stand proudly alongside their seminal output. However, their 2013 offering, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, ups the ante yet again. It's a deeper, darker, and more dynamic journey, and it sees Alice In Chains at their heaviest.

In order to learn about The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, PureVolume sat down with Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney for this exclusive interview about making the album, inspiration, hard work, and so much more.

 

PureVolume: How does this record differ from Black Gives Way to Blue?
Sean Kinney: It's twelve totally different songs [Laughs].
Jerry Cantrell: Every single album is completely different from the other ones. There's not one record we made that's like another. There are a lot of elements that are just "us" as far as how we write and sound. It's a new record.
Does anything tie all 12 tracks together?
Sean Kinney: Well, we make albums. We don't make singles. People don't buy our singles. We don't write singles. We'll always make an album. We find a collection of songs. We record the songs we like and think about how we should sequence them. It's not a concept album, but it's a "full" to record for us. We do that because we're old [Laughs].
Jerry Cantrell: It's an album. We grew up listening to complete pieces of work. Whether it's the intention to do a concept record or whatever, it's such a fucking undertaking. It really is. I don't think a lot of people are very aware of what it takes to do a record from the get-go. You're collecting ideas, getting together to play, working on pre-production, hiring somebody to spend six months locked in a room with you, and then you're mixing. Then, you go out and tour it for a year-and-a-half. It's a chunk of time. It's a piece of your life. Within that, there's a lot of life lived—good and bad. It's regular old life, but it all gets crammed into that fucking record. It gets compressed like a time capsule. That's where we were.
What draws you back to Nick Raskulinecz?
Jerry Cantrell: Well, he's just a great guy. We got really lucky meeting him. Dave Grohl introduced us to him on the last record. He's like us. He's that stoner kid that fucking loves rock. It really means something to him. It's not about a paycheck. Obviously, it's not about a paycheck or we'd all be doing different shit. There are other things to do in order to make a profit. It's about the love for doing it and doing it right. It's about being inspired like we were by artists we listened to when we were growing up. That's why we do it. We wanted to be able to create music and maybe inspire some other people to do the same, becoming the next link in that chain.
Sean Kinney: A lot of producers nowadays will have a "sound." One guy will do five bands that you might hear on the radio. You wonder why those bands sound the same, and it's because the producer has this sound. He uses the same amps and drums. He uses the same guys. He's helping write their songs. Nick doesn't have his own "sound." He's a fan of music. For Rush, he wants them to sound like the best version of Rush. He wants our band to sound like us. His goal is to turn up the game on that. He doesn't have this arrogance like, "This is me."
Jerry Cantrell: That's the mark of a great producer, and he can give it the "stoner test" [Laughs]. It's important. That's not a joke.
Sean Kinney: He tries to gently push you towards the best of your band. Some bands need that when they're trying to figure out who they are. We don't need that. We've already kind of figured that out.



People don't realize how much work goes into putting a record out like this.
Sean Kinney: It's a lot of work!
Jerry Cantrell: And we care about it! You do the work, you watch the bottom line, and you keep an eye on trucking costs.
Sean Kinney: You're picking the font on a T-shirt.
Jerry Cantrell: You're thinking about what radio station is supporting your fucking record or what needs to happen for the campaign. There's a lot more that happens outside of the creation of the music that can be tedious, but it's exciting to keep an eye on detail. You've got to steer your ship. It's really easy to run into the rocks. You can't let somebody else bring you down. If you run it into the rocks and you did it yourself, it's one thing [Laughs].
Sean Kinney: We can live with that. You try to work with people that are really inspiring, like-minded and great at their jobs. We've always been running everything down to the font on a shirt. We're involved in everything you see. It's not like, "Okay, we were surprised at that." Other than the shit that comes out of my own mouth…That's the only thing that surprises me still. That's a cool part. This is essentially all we do. This is our lives. This is what we do, and we're fortunate to do it and have anybody give a shit.
Jerry Cantrell: It's amazing.
Sean Kinney: With all of the ups and downs, it's great to still be able to do it in this economy where it's becoming increasingly impossible to do it. If we really wanted to make dough, you wouldn't see all of this shit we do. That costs dough! All of these things we do to involve people takes a lot of work to pull together.
Jerry Cantrell: It's always about trying to push the bar and create something of quality. That happens by being inspired by things of quality.
What inspires you outside of music?
Jerry Cantrell: I think it's any art form. It can be good writing or putting a film together and acting. We know what it takes to do what we do. It's a lot to do it well. It's also very satisfying to do it well, and you can apply that to pretty much any walk of life.
Sean Kinney: A single mother raising two kids and working two jobs, barely getting by but being happy …
Jerry Cantrell: That's pretty fucking impressive.
Sean Kinney: That's a far more noble person to me. We sit on stage with some lights. We're fortunate to do what we love to do for a career. I think everybody wants to do that. Most people can't. It doesn't mean they don't have the talent. They just can't. It doesn't happen for everybody. It doesn't get lost on me when a guy drives you and your bed to the door of place you play on a million dollar bus. We're honored people still support it. So many people have lost that. It's free! It loses value. They're devaluing something that's a meaningful art. If you take it for granted, it's going to damage the future of people's lives because it's such a bonding element. It's in an elevator, and you don't really notice it. It's in a grocery store, playing softly in the background. Now, people are deeming it nothing. That's really sad to me because it's so important in everybody's lives.


 
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