Alice in Chains Talk ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,’ Single Success + Fan Support
Alice in Chains are getting ready to release their second album with singer-guitarist William DuVall in the fold, as well as co-headline the upcoming Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival. The band’s latest effort, ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here,’ is due on May 28 and Loudwire recently had a chance to speak with singer-guitarist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney about the experience of putting the disc together. In the first of our two-part interview, the guys go in-depth about the recording of the effort and speak about the two breakout singles — ‘Hollow’ and ‘Stone.’ Check out the interview below:
Did you have a good idea of the direction you wanted going in on the new album and did that change over time as you were putting it together?
Jerry Cantrell: Every record is different in the aspect of it’s a different body of time and it’s a different body of work. The basic part of it has always been the same and this record is no different than any record we’ve done in the past. A portion of it is collected ideas, collected riffs and beginnings of beginnings of ideas that we collect over that tour for the last record. And that record was collected over the tours we did before playing the old stuff. And then you get in and start working on it and new s— starts to happen spontaneously cause you’re in the room together. So there’s no thought process other than we decide that it’s time to do it. It’s time to do it because we have enough stuff that we feel we have to start working on or we’re f—ing bored and it’s time to do it again. It’s a combination of that. Then you just get in there and you slug it out.
Jerry, you mentioned the shoulder and having some time off. I know a lot of times it’s a consistent grind, but did having a little time to live life factor into any of the creativity for this record?
JC: Not at all. It was f—ing lame. I spent my time off rehabbing and it sucked ass. I didn’t have time to have a vacation.
Sean Kinney: Mine was great.
JC: Yeah his was killer and it was far too long because of my shoulder. It was like let’s get back to f—ing work, and I’m just like, ‘I’m still f—ed up.’
SK: [laughingly] Guess I’ll just go back to Hawaii. Oh poor you, I guess I’ll just go back to Hawaii with all this time. But you do like to work and you do like to do this stuff and we are humans and you want everybody to want to be there. This is our lives and it’s serious and it’s our whole lives’ work. We’re not working on a record company or someone else’s time clock. We’re not punching in for someone else, we’re punching in for ourselves. You’re gonna get nowhere if everybody isn’t ready to clock in and do the work so we just wait until everyone’s ready and then let’s go do this and then you sit in there and drive yourself crazy in that sterile room…
JC: …Until you’re done.
SK: And you try to have enough people around you to gauge when you’re done, because there’s a small chance that we might just keep staring at the thing. You’ve gotta know when to pull the chord and be like, ‘Let’s move.’
On ‘Black Gives Way to Blue,’ there was so much anticipation because nobody knew for sure what the new Alice in Chains would be like after so much time. With that out of the way, with the fans being so accepting, did that make this album process any less pressure-filled?
JC: Sure man, it means a lot [that they've supported us]. It’s something that we believed all along and we knew wasn’t going to be a f—ing easy thing. We don’t do it because it’s easy, we do it because it’s hard. It was like let’s see if we can do this. Let’s see if we can pull this off, so it feels great to do what you feel is right for yourself and then have a lot of people who’ve supported you feel that way too, along with the whole crowd of new people too. A whole lot of young kids came on board that maybe didn’t get to [see us] or maybe dug back through their parents’ album collection. You know, it feels good.
For us, the experience is so much more personal than you will ever know or will ever hear. It’s just not any of your business for us, I mean, and that’s gonna stay here. But what is everybody else’s [experience] with the music, at some point? It’s always gonna be ours, but at some point it becomes everyone else’s too. And to get the response that it had and to get to stand in front of all those people that we did everywhere and see that happen was nice. It put a lot of things to rest for everyone else. We’d already put it to rest by going through the process of continuing on and it was the right thing for us to do. Now it’s like, ‘What the f— do you do?’ Well, here’s the next one.
Let’s get into the album a bit with ‘Hollow,’ which hit No. 1 on the rock chart despite originally being meant as a teaser song and not a single. You kind of had that with ‘A Looking in View’ off the last record, too, where that just took off….
JC: Yeah, f—, that got nominated for a Grammy. It wasn’t intended as a single, it was just it’s gonna be a while so here’s a good f—ing chunky thick album track that we all love and it’s six minutes long and we put it out for them. We know how radio is. We’ve been doing this for a long time and if it’s not a four-minute f—ing ditty, then they don’t play it very much.
SK: Except for they’ve been playing some of our seven minute songs for 25 years [laughs], so I think we get a little due to history, and I think we get a little, ‘Let’s give it a whirl.’ We’re fortunate because they continue to play those songs all these years. I think that gives us a leg up.
JC: It’s not that we didn’t think the song had a shot. We talked about it and it was like, ‘What song would be the best? That song could be a single.’ It’s not like we didn’t know that that wasn’t a good f—ing song, it’s just within reality you don’t expect it to do that, so to see it prove people wrong that have a certain cookie-cutter way of doing things, this song is a single, this is not and you have to chop this down to a single, to see that song do what it did is kind of a cool, ‘Yeahhhh!’ It’s nice.
SK: It’s kind of like, ‘Told ya!’ We didn’t have those expectations, but it’s a nice thing to know that you can still do what you pretty much want to do. It can work because that’s what it’s all about anyway. They try to shove it through a template like, ‘Oh, it always works this way.’ Well that’s why it doesn’t f—ing work anymore cause it doesn’t always work that way for every band because every band is different. When you’re trying to shove everyone through the same little Play-Dough Fun Factory, it doesn’t work that way and this is why it’s getting dumber and sterile.
I know why radio exists is the same reason TV exists — it’s to sell the advertising in between. That’s why it exists. They don’t care that the show is great and you’re the greatest actor, they just want to sell some toilet paper and hope that this is entertaining enough. And those who are trying to create some art are dealing with people trying to sell toilet paper. It’s always like that. There’s the business and the creative part and we’ve worked with a lot of business that’s been great with us, but we’ve also kept separate from that. We keep control of all things you see and hear from us. We do all that and bring it in and it’s like these are the singles. We pick singles, we never let anyone else pick anything. So that way, for us, we can live with it. If it f—ing tanks, we’re cool with it. We drove our f—ing car into the rockery, but at least we drove it. We didn’t let someone else take our car and turn it into the rockery, cause we still have to live with it. So I’m good with f—ing up, so long as it’s on our terms.
Speaking of the creative process and control, ‘Hollow’ was a great video that you turned over to Roboshobo. Can you talk about the clip and how much input you had on it?
JC: It’s kind of liberating to do that. We’re involved in every aspect of our business from every t-shirt to album cover to video … everything. We endlessly vote and talk and pick on s— until we get the best stuff that everyone agrees on. And videos are always tough. [Sean] f—ing hates ‘em and rightfully so. He’s basically window dressing for all the f—ing guys up front, and he has to do three times the takes to make me look good and Will look good and Mike look good playing behind us …
SK: And faking your songs, I mean you’re playing it, but your not.
JC: And there’s rubber things on the set, it doesn’t play like a real instrument for him. I can still kind of play my guitar and fake it but it’s kind of tough for him to. I think performance videos are challenging, so sometimes it’s cool to do a conceptual piece and having a guy like Robo involved — we actually had him involved early on in something we were talking about doing, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to do which was working on a much bigger project, but we liked his ideas and we trusted him to go on his own. He wrote a thing out and he brought it in about 95 percent to what he wrote out. Even though it’s not even literal at all, it totally fits the vibe of the song. He was picking elements to fit with the song, yet be abstract at the same time.
The isolation element of you can go a little crazy if you’re out there on your own too long kind of thing, that’s in the song, but he took it out into space, like ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ kind of thing.
SK: And making a story when there’s not really a VH1 or MTV in this day and age. A lot of people may be like, ‘Why do you do these?’ Well, because they’re just another part of the creative process and to be able to focus on that too. There’s just so many moving parts and we like doing that.
JC: It’s interesting to do it and also to work with other creative people like ourselves in a different medium.
SK: You just sit there and think, ‘Well, what if this happened?’ You don’t want to lose that and if it’s just like, ‘Make us look neat,’ then you’ll always be let down.
‘Stone,’ which recently arrived, it’s got that great Mike Inez bass on there and Sean’s drumming really kicks it off. Let’s talk about how ‘Stone’ came together.
JC: It’s a classic f—ing Alice tune. I actually came up with that riff when I was recovering from shoulder surgery and I couldn’t play guitar, but I was hearing a riff in my head and I actually hummed it into the phone. I have it somewhere and it’s f—ing retarded. Do-de-do-duh-duh-do-do-do. It’s on there. And that’s how I came up with the initial idea.
And it’s a very simple song. I think some of the simpler songs kind of react that way. And maybe not initially in an interesting way to us, like maybe there’s more involved stuff, but some of the simpler basic riffs are the ones that really react the most to people. I’ve always believed in that riff for that particular purpose has that seasick drone to it, you know. It’s a cool tune and the video, even though it was tough to shoot, turned out pretty cool.
‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ is definitely an interesting thought for an album title. What’s the story behind that becoming the album title?
SK: Nobody’s naming their album that. [Chuckle] I just have a hard time believing that a man with cloven hooves put bones all over the earth to fool us. Personally, I don’t think that’s real and I’ve heard that some people say that they believe that and I disagree. I find that that’s a tough pill for me to swallow.
Everybody’s entitled to their own beliefs. Yours isn’t right, mine isn’t right, and people should treat each other with more respect and be kind to each other and not use fear and power to …
JC: It’s a mirror reflecting back all the horrible s— that we see. There’s nothing wrong with the basic truths of a lot of belief systems for sure, but it’s reflecting back a lot of the heinous s— that we do to each other in the name of that. It’s horrible, it’s f—ing horrible the things that are done because you believe in something against someone else who believes something else or someone who different from outside of your group of people that seem to believe they have the answer and nobody else does. It’s just discounting fact and that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.
For me, you would hope that as a living and breathing person, I’m trying to grow my experience and find some facts and maybe things I didn’t know and you would hope that maybe as a people we can continue to move forward. It just seems somehow that we’re not. The unfortunate thing is a lot of these ideas, these lame ideas that teach people to hurt each other, are driven into their f—ing skulls at such a young age that that’s all they know. And for me, remembering what it was like as a 16, 17, 18 year old kid, once you’ve got something in your head, then you’re angry and you’re young and a lot of bad s— can happen. But it’s also said with a bit of humor, too. [chuckles]
SK: It’s not preachy too. It’s not preaching one thing at all. Like Jerry said, it’s just kind of a mirror of what’s with that? It’s more of a question than anything. Like maybe you guys should discuss that. It’s like, ‘Don’t talk politics or religion at the dinner table,’ but we’re not really going that deep into it.
JC: When people who run your government, when the president says he’s not sure if all the facts are in on that evolution thing, it’s like, ‘Really, dude? Really?’ It’s like the world is flat, or at least it was a few years ago. That really blew me away. There are people who are senators or running education in this country that want to teach creationism and it’s like, ‘Education, really?’ So facts verses belief. Really?
SK: And they still think Columbus discovered America when that’s been proven wrong. It costs too much to change the book. Really? You know, deny reality.
JC: That kind of s— blows me away. It blows us away and so we put it into a song and you know we weren’t unaware that it might stir a little s—, but it was something that needed to be said in that particular way. It came together in a really cool song, too. That song is f—ing awesome. It’s one of the strongest songs on the record and it’s unlike any song on the record. And every once in a while you say a little something. It’s not like we haven’t before. We have elements of that — ‘Man in the Box,’ ‘Goddamn,’ it’s not the first time we’ve addressed this issue. It’s like maybe our opinions are like, ‘What the f—?’ about this issue. It’s not like we haven’t done it before. [Laughs]
Our thanks to Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney for the interview. ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’ album is currently available for order here, while Alice in Chains are set to headline this year’s Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival. Check back soon for Part 2 of our interview with Alice in Chains, and be sure to enter our flyaway contest below: