1996 Guitar World Interview: Jerry Cantrell of Alice In Chains Discusses Songwriting and Band's New Self-Titled Album
Is that the official line then?
Look. People have been saying we're over since Dirt. And people will say now that this is our last record and that we'll never tour again. Go ahead and think that. We're the kind of band that has always been able to do the opposite of what people expect.
The media has a tendency to find a weak link and keep hammering on it until it breaks.
Totally. They'll pick on a sore spot until it's an infected scab. Hey, if you want to keep licking, that's cool, but I don't have to let you pick my scabs. I pick my own. [laughs] It's hard not to give people that power. At the end of the day, we've done an incredible job, have great fans and awesome people around us. The band sticks together because we're a tight bunch of friends. We've got that "in the trenches" vibe. Nobody knows what the fuck that's about except for your buddy right across from you.
I'll tell you, the whole experience has been interesting, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I've lived some of the most incredible moments and had some of the most insane adventures of my life -- and I'm only 29 years old. It blows me away sometimes. I feel so thankful for my experiences. Hold on -- I think I'm gonna cry. [laughs]
How has your outlook on life evolved since the band took off?
I think I ended up right back where I always was. Sometimes you have to completely lose yourself to find yourself. There were times in the last year and a half when I didn't even want to play anymore. Or, at least, I thought I didn't want to play. All of the baggage and bullshit that comes along with it didn't seem to be offset by the music we created. I finally slapped some sense into my head and realized that you couldn't ask for anything better than the work we've done and the people we've been fortunate enough to play for. Our fans are almost as die-hard and tough as we are. To take that for granted would be a sad thing. But at the same time you have to be a human being. When you hurt and it's time to rest, you have to sit down, chill out, and hope you can come back swinging.
Overall, has the band's success had a positive or negative impact on you?
It's been positive to me, man. I own my own home, I can feed myself, I can enjoy time with my friends...
Those are certainly the financial rewards, but what about artistically?
Artistically, I'm fine. Success has a lot to do with luck, but it also involves a lot of real hard work. The thing about success is you really can't gauge things by album sales. Of course, I want to sell as many records as I can, but that's not why I do it. You finish a record because you think it's fucking good. We wouldn't be putting records out if we didn't think we were topping ourselves each time. I say that with confidence. I hope I don't come off sounding like a braggart, but it's good shit. There's other great shit out there, but I think we're right up there with the best of them.
What are your thoughts on the new Seattle music explosion? A whole crop of bands, notably the Foo Fighters and the Presidents Of The United States Of America, are all showing up on the charts at the same time, just as it happened with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains a few years ago.
The Foo Fighters are bad-ass, man. I like The Presidents and the Supersuckers, but my favorites by far are the Foo Fighters. I'm just so blown away by the fact that a drummer can play guitar. [laughs] Sorry, Dave! It has meaty, powerful, cool riffs and great vocals, which I totally respect because playing guitar and singing is a bitch. It's like walking on tacks. I can sing fine and I can play guitar fine, but put 'em together and it becomes a thoughtful effort. But the music currently coming out of Seattle has no association with the music that came before. The sound is more pop/punk-oriented, very garagey.
Do you think the Seattle music scene changed after Kurt Cobain's suicide?
I really didn't know Kurt. I ran into him a couple of times and I wish I had known him better. But I felt I knew him through his music. Just the beauty of his songs and how Krist and Kurt and Dave played together was unbelievably cool. I really miss that. But if you're asking if things have become more serious around here since Kurt's death, I don't think so.
Let's talk about your new album. Wasn't this originally intended to be your solo record?
No, though there are two songs, "Grind" and "Again," that came from the demo project I halfheartedly worked on while Layne did the Mad Season sessions. To be honest, I'm too much of a sentimental fuck; I don't want to play with another band. I didn't feel I could put something else out that could top what Alice In Chains could do together.
One of the great things about a new Alice In Chains record is that you never know what it's going to sound like.
We've been really good with the element of surprise. We're a tight bunch of guys. Even now that we live apart and have our own places, that musical tightness never leaves.
Do you still consider Alice In Chains to be a "heavy metal" band or are you just "rock" now?
No, we're part of the metal thing. We're a lot of different things, too. I don't quite know what the mixture is, but there's definitely metal, blues, rock and roll, maybe a touch of punk... The metal part will never leave us. And I never want it to.