The current lineup of Alice in Chains has hit a stride on its third album together, Rainier Fog. From left to right: guitarist/vocalist William DuVall, drummer Sean Kinney, guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell, and bassist Mike Inez.
Photo by Pamela Littky
It’s been five long years without a release from Alice in Chains. And with harder music disappearing from the airwaves, rock ’n’ roll was desperate for their return. Well, return they have. Rainier Fog, the band’s latest offering of haunting harmonies, pummeling guitar work, and dark imagery, is sure to instantly grab the attention of all AIC fans. But the band’s new-found ability to embrace their past with a triumphant look forward separates this album from anything in their lauded catalog.
As this incarnation of the band—guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell, guitarist/vocalist William DuVall, bassist Mike Inez, and drummer Sean Kinney—drops their third full-length album, it’s hard to believe they’ve been together longer than any of the band’s previous lineups. And in fact, Cantrell and DuVall were actually sowing the seeds years prior.
As part of Cantrell’s touring solo band in the early 2000s, DuVall had all the opportunity he needed to learn the ins and outs of Cantrell and the late Layne Staley’s unique sound. “2001 and 2002 were heavy groundwork years,” DuVall says. “Everything happening now is a result of that.”
But it wasn’t an easy road getting to now. Throughout the band’s career, it has been infamously plagued by addiction, the passing of bandmates [original frontman Staley in 2002 and original bassist Mike Starr in 2011], and the loss of friends and notable musicians who shared the ’90s spotlight on Seattle.
It’s a history that weighed particularly heavy on Rainier Fog. “I was thinking about Chris Cornell who had just passed the month before,” laments DuVall. “Of course, I was also thinking about Layne Staley. And of course, I was thinking about Cobain.”
But times do change, and wounds do begin to heal. And for what may be the first time, the rays of hope and celebration are able to cut through the cement-thick grooves and minor-key dirges that fill Rainier Fog. It’s hope and celebration that comes from confronting the band’s ties to the Emerald City, the pain brought by years of loss, and most importantly, the victory and hallowed place in rock history that AIC and their fellow Seattle rockers share.
“There was a lot of looking toward home, and it wasn’t in any sort of bummer or negative way,” Cantrell explains. “It’s just that we’re a Seattle band. It’s where we fucking started and it’s still who we are. We’re really proud to be part of the history of our town.”
That pride in their hometown is why the band chose to track much of Rainier Fog at Studio X in Seattle, the same studio the band recorded their last full-length with their legendary original frontman. And the band was meticulous in taking their time to get it right. They even brought back Nick Raskulinecz, the man behind the desk for the band’s successful Black Gives Way to Blue (2009) and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (2013). One listen through punishingly heavy tracks such as “Red Giant” and the album’s second single, “So Far Under,” as well as the band’s trademark acoustic-driven tracks like “Maybe,” and it’s clear the effort has been fruitful.
Fresh off a European leg of a tour supporting the new album, Cantrell and DuVall took time to speak to Premier Guitar about what it means to be in Alice in Chains today. From waxing ecstatic about their own signature guitars and amplifiers to illustrating how the spirit of Seattle remains the fifth member of the band, it’s clear both guitarists still carry a passion for their music while embracing their past and future more readily than ever.
Rainier Fog mates elements of classic Alice in Chains with new sonic twists. Were you focused on having such a broad reach?
Jerry Cantrell: There’s not really a plan ahead of time on where we’re going. It’s just that we’re starting a journey, and we don’t know where it’s going to end. Wherever it ends up, that’s what the record’s going to be. I think that’s a hallmark of this band, that we don’t know where the fuck we’re going [laughs]. But we know we’re going to get somewhere. And if we didn’t get there, you wouldn’t hear it [laughs].
Will, this is your third album with the band. What do you think you bring to the classic Alice in Chains sound?
William DuVall: It’s just myself. Even if I write something I know those guys will respond to, like I wrote “So Far Under” on the new album and the lyrics to “Never Fade,” and a song like “Last of My Kind” on the Black Gives Way to Blue album, or the riffs I wrote for “A Looking in View” and “Phantom Limb,” those are all things that, even if it’s being adapted to the certain sonic signature of this band, it’s still me.
Alice in Chains recorded Rainier Fog in Seattle’s Studio X, the same studio the band used to record its 1995 self-titled album. They enlisted Nick Raskulinecz, who produced the previous two AIC studio albums in 2013 and 2009.
Cantrell: He always comes up with some really important stuff for each record, just like all of us do, “So Far Under” in particular. From “It Ain’t Like That” [Facelift] on, there’s always a song or two that’s based on a weird, bendy riff. On the last couple records, there was “Stone” and “Check My Brain.” But on this one, I didn’t write one of those. And the funny part is that the signature bendy Alice-type song, Will wrote this time. And that’s cool because Layne did the same thing with “Hate to Feel” and “Angry Chair.” So it’s a tradition, and it means he’s really in there.
Another one of those signature Alice in Chains elements is the way you work acoustic guitars into your songs and arrangements. What is it that appeals to you about the heavy and acoustic juxtaposition?
Cantrell: I’ve actually been talking a lot about this recently, about the importance of that Sap EP. The importance of putting that EP out immediately following a really successful record [Facelift] that put us on the map. And it was the only record we had, so that’s what people identified us as. It was a gamble. But by doing that, it set a tradition for us and opened up the playing field of, “We can do whatever the fuck we want. We don’t just have to be a fucking heavy band all the time.” You could even make the argument that some of the heavier shit we’ve done is the acoustic-based stuff. “Nutshell” has just as much weight as “Them Bones.”