Interview with Jerry Cantrell: Alice In Chains, Too Long On The Outside

I know that vocal harmonies are such a big part of the Alice In Chains sound, but was there ever a feeling that you could simply do this yourself, strip the harmonies back and Alice In Chains would be a three-piece for all intents and purposes?

Absolutely not (laughs). No way. God, Layne was such a huge part, you know. And although I was a part of that too, he carried the lion’s share of that, and he was just amazing. I think the reason that it worked was we both created something together. We’re able to continue on because we sound the same as a band and we write a certain way as a band and a lot of the elements are still intact although Layne is gone. And that’s obviously something we miss a lot.

When you lose things in life or you get your ass kicked, at some point, you consider getting up (laughs). You know what I mean? And so the challenge we’ve taken on is a pretty immense one and what that requires is you digging really deep inside yourself and finding stuff that maybe you didn’t think you had.

I had to step up quite a bit more than I ever had. He always gave me a lot of confidence to do that, to sing more lead. And you can hear that as the albums progress, I kind of start growing into that role. I attribute a lot of that to the confidence that Layne gave me. Basically, him just saying, ‘Dude, you gotta fucking sing. These songs are your songs, you write all this fucking great material, and it’s not like I don’t like singing ‘em or whatever, but they’re personal to you, you should fucking sing ‘em.’ (laughs) ‘You can do it.’ I’m always forever grateful to him for that.

And having some experience touring on my own and doing that, it’s kind of a natural progression to take on a larger role on this record and this incarnation of the band. The cool thing about that is I have William to work together with, and that’s a lot like the band worked together before. It was never about one guy, it never was about one guy. We were all extremely important and the perception might be that it’s more about one guy, but it’s not. It’s about the way that we all work together. It’s also about why we do it. We really care about it and we put a lot of time and a lot of effort into trying to create something for ourselves. It makes us happy, it’s something that we’re proud of. I think that that drive and that level of commitment is the reason that those albums sounded the way that they do and also the reason they’ve last as long as they have. And I think this new record is in step with that tradition. I think that we delivered big time on this record.

Why did you decide to go with such a long song, ‘A Looking In View’ for the first song released?

I think just because of what it was. It made it the right choice because it was such a big chunk. Just a heavy, dense and long chunk of music that was a lot to digest. The record company came into the picture way late—we were actually done with this record before we signed with Virgin. It takes a few months to get to know everybody and get up to speed and formulate a plan. And we knew the record wasn’t coming out anytime before September, and we were working really hard to make sure it wasn’t the next year, so we knew it was going to be a period of time before we released the first single, ‘Check My Brain.’ A lot of things have happened that are just cool little coincidences, and for the title of that song to be ‘A Looking In View,’ to just give you a little look at what we’re doing, it made sense. It was just really cool. It seemed to make sense. And we didn’t serve it as a single to radio, we didn’t sell it. We put it online for free through our site, and of course it was listed to buy.

There were a couple of cool things that happened organically. One, people downloaded it and started to respond to it. And then a lot of those people went and bought it after they had it for free already. That was really cool and restored some of my faith in the times we live in. That people still care and invest in something that means something to them, because it’s not free for us to do this (laughs). The attitude of you want everything for free, you want everything fast, you want all the access but you don’t want to pay for it, well you’re gonna get what you pay for. You’re not going to get really good stuff if you don’t support what you dig. So to see people come to the table like that and vote with their dollar when they didn’t have to was really cool. And then the flipside of that, we didn’t service it to radio—we just put it out there, and radio just picked it up and started playing it. That’s cool on its own that they responded to it, and then the listeners responded to it, and it’s a seven-minute fucking song (laughs). All that stuff’s really good. That’s good stuff, good signs. Not only for us, but for people out there that appreciate the story, follow it, and also appreciate the quality we try to bring. That’s a really difficult task to do especially in light of all the hurdles we’ve had to cross.