Alice In Chains are exploding! With two killer new tracks in the can and a major slot on the upcoming Lollapalooza tour lined up, the S… you-know-where stars are just busting a gut to get out there! And on the case, our very own gut-buster, STEFFAN CHIRAZI…
JERRY CANTRELL, the goateed guitarist from masters of the dark Alice In Chains, and new bassist Mike Inez are vigorously slapping ‘fives’ with each other. The band have been in LA finishing two songs for the new Arnold Schwarzenegger film, The Last Action Hero, and it is these which are causing the two to wear cavernous, gleeful grins.
The first track is a seductive, sensual number called ‘A Little Bitter’, and the second, ‘What The Hell Do I Have?’, sees Alice kicking teeth down throats with a steel-coated Cantrell riff. Both are the first new songs with Inez as a contributing writer.
“Those two tunes kick ass,” roars Jerry, “It’s Alice with an afterburner — it’s us, and it’s more intense than ever. We’re growing so much as a band, we’re almost a SUPERNOVA!”
Dirt, AIC’s second full-length album, is steaming towards Platinum status. The movie involvement will no doubt catapult the band further… and then there’s their slot on the Lollapalooza tour this Summer.
Despite the pressures, and people thinking they’re a ‘new band’ just breaking through, Cantrell is one happy camper right now.
“It’s weird, the perception of what it takes to get here,” he laughs. “It actually takes years of hard work, but the public think you’re an overnight success, that you came out of nowhere. I didn’t come right outta High School into this; it’s taken a lot of time.
“I can see the growth of our whole circus-spectacle thing, and it’s kinda hard to gauge it, because we tend to stay inside the bubble we created for ourselves — which means that you create defences and safe places to live. Even though this is a great job, it’s also so f**king insane and intense. It does take a lotta strength and will-power to get thorough a lot of the pressures.”
The Alice inner circle isn’t infiltrated easily. Outsiders are viewed with extreme caution.
“You have to love somebody and you have to be loved by somebody,” says Cantrell softly. “If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. I don’t let strangers into my pack — my pack is my pack and that’s it. If somebody f**ks with my pack, I bite.
“We are a pack all the way through the band, the crew, people we work with. It’s so important to us, and we don’t like to be f**ked with in any way.”
Right now, what outside pressures get to the band?
“Each pressure on its own is pretty much cool, whether it’s press or just what people say about you. Both together is when it’s real tough…”
“But the pay-off is getting onstage, getting into studios and playing the music — forgetting about the circus, forgetting about LIFE,” enthuses Inez.
“The music is the escape that has created your reality, your day-to-day life and associated pressures,” sighs Cantrell. “It’s really weird to look at it that way. It’s sick!”
And a lot different from those days when you’re a kid dreaming of all this.
“All you see then are the pay-offs, the glory and all that kinda shit; you don’t see the hard work it takes. Not that I’m saying it’s any harder work than anything else, but it’s a serious f**kin’ business. And that’s what it is; a business. Which is where things become a drag.
“That side of it’s necessary and I’ll do it, because I want my business to be good. But I hate f**kin’ doing business! I’d rather sit and be able to smoke a joint, drink a beer and do whatever I need to do, because the business part is a f**kin’ drag. But y’have to take care of it.”
Those mounting business duties must surely cramp the leisurely writing style Alice In Chains enjoy. “I’ll tell you what — the more shit we get through, the better the songs get. Seriously. And sure, things get tough the bigger it gets; you’re away longer, which means you miss things like friends. You get tired — you miss your life.
“I don’t have many close friends; I have a good, small group, and that’s the same for everyone. You have some people that you build your life around, and not being with them you miss the support, the trust. Without them, things get to be scary after a while, so you shut down. You need to recharge your batteries.
“One time on the last leg of the tour, I was really f**king miserable, so I sat down and wrote a song. I instantly felt better. We do write some dark music, but it’s very therapeutic. These thoughts we put into the songs — believe me, they’re no worse than anything anybody else has thought of.
“Just look at humanity around us and tell me people don’t have bad thoughts. We’re just writing about feelings, and it pisses me off when people give you shit about it — ‘they’re too this and that’…”
You’re referring to people asking you why you write songs about drugs.
“Oh, of course, but also in general. It’s just f**kin’ music! Like the censorship stuff; my prediction is that it’s gonna get worse. That’s my gut feeling, because I sure don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s serious stranglehold today — you can feel the fingers and they’re closing on the necks of the people. It scares me.”
So things are just going to get darker and darker?
“I hope not. I’m just saying that unless everybody wakes up, things are gonna get even more out of hand, and I don’t care if I sound like a preacher or whatever.
“I think America could do more, and it doesn’t, which I think is a major factor in what’s going on in the world. I love this country, but I’m just saying there’s some serious problems that aren’t being addressed.
“Your whole life is about taking what you’ve got and dealing with it, doing something with it. Just be yourself and try to do what you do right; it doesn’t even have to be right but try, do something!”
Right now, as well as the movie songs, Alice are looking after personal matters, in particular those of enigmatic Layne Staley.
“We’re just trying to get things straightened out, and Layne’s gotta get some things take care of for himself. We just did this two-week tour and we only cancelled four shows. It wasn’t a huge deal; we were just keeping ourselves warmed up for Lollapalooza. We just came off the back of a whole string of shows too, as well as a pretty long European tour.”
Cantrell is confident that Staley will come through his ‘illness’ and that everything will be fine. This has allowed him to get on with other things during the band’s time off the road.
“Exactly. There’s still so much other shit going ton in general that you gotta go on and do your deal. I mean, Layne’s my bro, I’m his bro and we’re all there for each other. We all get hagged out at one time or another. Dude, believe me, it’s real easy to!”
With Layne’s problems right now, is it all down to the pressure of everything?
“I think partly it’s that, but it’s also other things. I’ll put it this way. If you wake up and there’s a buffet of whatever you want — the food, the sex, the drugs, the whatever — when it’s put in front of your face every day, it’s hard not to take it. It really is, it really f**kin’ is.”
Ozzy Osbourne once said that people have to get through all that for themselves, like he finally managed to.
Inez: “The great ones always do…”
Cantrell: “…And Layne’s a great one. I’ll state that right now, he’s f**kin’ GREAT! The shit he did with Last Action Hero material… he was ready to nail a vocal at 5am after singin’ all that night!”
Is this the point at which Alice’s fists become even more tightly clenched?
“I think that’s the case — it’s the only way I can see it,” agrees Cantrell.
Inez: “On the European tour, we worked really hard; and it was a tough tour, lots of shows in a row, but we had eight-track machines out there, we did stuff. We’re all smart guys, we know what we want and we know what we wanna say, right or wrong.”
It’s obvious that Mike Inez has become a vital link in the ‘Chain. When exactly did Cantrell know that Mike was in?
“We got asked to do a song for the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and ended up coming up with five songs in one f**kin’ day — BOOM! That was the first time I really knew he was in, when we wrote all that stuff that day.”
It seems that Inez’s arrival has ignited a long-lost sense of band camaraderie.
“Well, I wouldn’t say that, although I’d say that for a period before we lost Mike Starr, things were definitely going downhill. But the original band was tight; we were so into each other’s shit, it was pathetic!
“All four of us were like a shark attack team — if we wanted and got it, did it. And Mike Inez is the same way, which is the only way it could work in this band.
“Dealing with Mike (Starr) was the hardest thing to do, man. His departure wasn’t, as is the common belief, drug related; it was more like we couldn’t connect any more, and that was the tough thing. He’s still my friend, but the thing was it was affecting business so much and what we wanted to do.
“I hate to keep referring to it as ‘business’, but you have to remember that your business is playing music, and you have to make sure it’s in good shape so as you can carry on playing music.
“Having said that, if this business ever made me totally lose touch with my life, if it ever became a problem that way for me, then I’d rather stop and have my life back. But I wanna have my life and my music, which I can. It’s not even having my cake and eating it, it’s something I have right now and won’t let go of.”
Peer respect for Alice In Chains is approaching a peek high. They were even approached to open for… U2!
“And I remember one time,” enthuses Cantrell., “after our set at one of the Clash Of The Titans gigs, I bumped into this guy. I looked and it was Kirk Hammett of Metallica! I was like, ‘Wow dude, it’s Kirk Hammett!’, and he was just immediately ‘Hey, man, what’s going on? I totally dig your shit!’. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, Kirk Hammett knows who the f**k I am’!”
Cantrell also received a phone call the other day from Gene Simmons. He hasn’t yet lost his boner.
“Don’t ever think that when that shit happens, I don’t still hang up the phone and go, ‘WOW F**KIN’ COOL, MAN! TOTALLY HAPPENIN’!, that I don’t crack open a beer, call our tour manager, Kevan, and brag about it; ‘Gene Simmons just f**kin’ called me!’.
“Dude, I LOVE Kiss! Kiss was my wallpaper. You could not see a piece of my wall, because I had Kiss everywhere for two or three years.
“And now, there’s this Kiss tribute album coming together and they asked us if we’d do a song — it’s all just old Kiss covers. ‘Larger Than Life’ would be cool to do; that song rules.
“See, I’m still a big kid and I wanna keep the kid alive in me as long as I can, so as when I have a kid myself, I’ll still be able to relate to the f**kin’ guy. That’s why I did this job, because I could stay a kid. For good or for bad, whatever I was gonna go through, I figured I’d be able to get through it and still be a big kid at the end of it.”
Jerry Cantrell, the goateed guitarist in the band taking over the world, isn’t wrong.
© Steffan Chirazi, Kerrang!, 15 May 1993