When it was recently revealed that Alice in Chains had put the finishing touches on their sixth full-length album, the news was greeted with a certain amount of surprise—especially in light of the fact that nobody even knew they were working on new music at all. But as guitarist and co-vocalist Jerry Cantrell explains to Guitar World, “It’s not that we were keeping it a secret—we just didn’t want to say a whole lot about it until we had something to say. And we certainly have something to say with this one. It’s a fucking strong record.”
Cantrell is speaking to Guitar World from L.A., where the as-yet-untitled record is being mixed by Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens of the Stone Age). He’s relieved to be through the recording process but admits with a laugh that “I’m still in the last few weeks of anxiety about screwing up this record. The nitpicky and manic part of me keeps saying, ‘We’re not done yet!’ But we’re almost there. The finish line’s in sight.”
The road to get to this point has been a long and winding one. The band—which also includes co-vocalist and guitarist William DuVall, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney—first convened last year at Studio X in Seattle to lay down basic tracks with producer Nick Raskulinecz. According to Cantrell, it was the first time Alice in Chains had recorded in Seattle in more than 20 years, since tracking their 1995 self-titled album at the same facility back when it was known as Bad Animals. “It was cool to be back, because the studio is a part of our history,” Cantrell says, then laughs. “And Seattle’s always great—in the summer, anyways.”
From Seattle, the band moved to Nashville to record vocals and lead guitars at Raskulinecz’s home studio—though Cantrell says he had to take an unexpected break from work after “getting sick on a trip to Cabo for Sammy Hagar’s birthday. Then the doctor gave me something that made me sicker. So I was kind of out of it for a couple weeks. But after we got done in Nashville, I set up at my house and had our engineer, Paul Figueroa, come in and record a lot of my vocals and solos here. Then we finished up at Henson [Recording Studios in L.A.]. So that’s four stops for this one record.”
Gear-wise, Cantrell reports that he “used a lot of the old standard stuff. There’s always going to be a ton of G&L and Les Pauls with me, and there’s also a lot of my Dave Friedman ‘Double J’ amp that we put out a few years ago. Then we also used all sorts of cool, cleaner amps, like AC30s and Fenders. We even had a cigar box amp that Nick bought at the Pike Place Market [in Seattle]. We used that on about three or four songs with a baritone guitar and it sounded ridiculous.”
When it comes to describing what fans will hear on the record, Cantrell is considerably cagier. “It’s a record we haven’t done yet, I can tell you that,” he says. “But it’s also a record that has all the elements of anything you would expect from us. It’s got our fingerprint. And we’re really proud of the material that we wrote and the performances we captured. There’s some really heavy shit, some really ugly stuff, some real beautiful stuff, some weirdo trippy shit… it’s good!”
Cantrell says he expects the album to be out “probably sometime this summer,” at which point Alice in Chains will already be well into a new touring cycle, with plans to hit Europe, Asia and Australia, as well as the U.S. multiple times. “Touring is its own animal, and it’s really the best reward, because you get to stand in front of people that care about you and want to hear you play,” he says. “And to this day it’s still amazing to me that people show up to see me play. But somehow it worked out where we were able to, through a lot of life, a lot of ups and downs and a lot of records, make some music that people gave a shit about. And the cool thing is we give a shit about it, too.
“You know, it’s a lot of work doing a record,” he continues, “and I think it gets harder the older we get. But we just wait until we’re ready and until we have enough material that’s up to the Alice in Chains standard, and then we do what we do. This is just the racket that we make when we get together.”