It’s been 16 years since beloved Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley died, and for many he’ll always be the key figure, the ingredient X, in the iconic Seattle band. Jerry Cantrell may have always been the driving force, but Staley's distinctive, dark croon and enigmatic charisma offered something different.
That said, Alice In Chains had been on hiatus for three years when Staley died, drugs taking a firm hold of more than one band member. A break was needed, though it wasn’t ever intended to be permanent. Staley’s speedball overdose forced everyone to put their plans on hold.
It’s now been 13 years since the band reconvened, with William DuVall taking vocal duties. In that time, the band have put out three albums, adding to the three they had released with Staley. The most recent, Rainier Fog, came out this week and bassist Mike Inez, a San Fernando native, says the band have grown massively alongside DuVall thanks to the huge amount of gigs they’ve played around the globe.
“We’ve played hundreds and hundreds of shows with William at this point, worldwide, every country you can think of,” Inez says. “We’re still hitting new countries. We’re still hitting places we never played before. Between the old band and the new band, obviously it’s a different singer, different human being completely. I hate to compare Layne to William because they’re two different guys. As far as William growing from the time that we started jamming with him in 2006, it’s been 12 years of just touring, being in rehearsal places and recording studios, arguing over parts, and you either grow together in that kind of environment or you grow apart really quickly. I’m happy to report that after 12 years, we still love William and it’s a team sport for sure. We move like a basketball team — every person plays their part.”
When any band loses a member, and particularly a frontman as key as Staley, there will be murmurs of discontent from fans and critics if that group “dare” to carry on with a new guy. Just ask Van Halen, or AC/DC, or Iron Maiden. Shit, Queen and The Doors. But three albums in, fans have fully accepted DuVall even prior to the release of Rainier Fog.
“We kinda live in a bubble,” Inez says. “We don’t sit there and look at the comments section or anything like that. We just go about stuff. We keep things very simple for ourselves. We just walk into a studio, plug our old guitars into our old amps, and what comes out of it sounds like Alice In Chains. Even before I joined the band in ’93, the bones of the machine were well in place. It works for us. We go in and make a bunch of racket in a room, and try to get it on tape as best we can, then go and try to do the same live. We play hundreds of shows a year, and at this point we’re a well-oiled machine. I’ve never seen a singer prepare more than William, out of all the guys I’ve jammed with in my career. The way he does his warmups, really takes care of himself, gets up there and puts his chin out to everybody. Leaves it all on the field.”
The first single AIC unleashed from the new album is a driving rocker called “Never Fade.” Inez says that, when they recorded the song, the idea of it being released first was the furthest thing from their minds.
“It’s funny because we don’t think in terms of ‘This is going to be a single,’” he says. “It’s always surprising to us even back in the early days — you write a song and think it’s so great and you’re happy about it, and think that’s gonna make the record and be a single. Then you record 20 songs, and sometimes the song you thought was the one that would be successful doesn’t even make the record. That’s the exciting part about going into a studio with these ideas. You’ve got to ride it like a wave. So some of the songs you don’t think are going to be that good end up rising to the top. That’s what ‘Never Fade’ was to me. I thought it was an upbeat kind of rocker tune, but it’s all about taste. I would be the worst A&R guy at a record label. Everything I love just does not sell an album.”
Alice In Chains will, of course, always be considered a Seattle band. That’s where they formed, that’s where the original lineup (with the late Mike Starr on bass) is from, that’s the grunge rock ground zero. But Inez is an L.A. guy, and Cantrell has a place here now, too.
“Jerry and I spend most of our time in L.A.,” Inez says. “I lived in Seattle during the early part of the band, so I have two hometowns. I love L.A. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, I was born in the San Fernando Valley, and all my sports teams are L.A. sports teams. I’m a big Laker guy, and I love the Raiders. There’s nothing like L.A. That being said, Seattle is an amazing city. It was nice to go up there and record the album this time last year. Surrounded by water and snow-capped mountains across the way.”
On Wednesday, Alice In Chains play the Hollywood Palladium. Inez says they’re still not sure what the set will look like; they’re blessed with so many great songs and they can fit only so many into a 90-minute set.
“Some of our greatest band arguments are because one guy wants to play one thing one night and another guy wants to play another thing,” Inez says. “We have too many songs to play. I’m hoping for new stuff. I want to run these new songs through their paces and see what we’ve got. Hopefully that will be a highlight of this leg. Of course, you have to do ‘Would’ and ‘Rooster,’ and you have to do ‘Man in the Box’ or else they’ll skin us alive. We try to do a representation of each album, and some deep tracks from the early albums.”
As the self-proclaimed metal-head in the group (he was in Ozzy Osbourne’s band prior to joining AIC), Inez admits that he pushes for the heavier tunes when the guys are putting a set together.
“William is really versatile, he can play anything,” the bassist says. “He got the gig by playing ‘Love, Hate, Love’ off the first record. He picked that himself. It’s one of the most challenging vocally. I’m trying to get him to play some of the heavier stuff, like ‘Sickman’ and ‘Godsmack.’ Some of those heavier ones from Dirt. See, we’re already way over 90 minutes. ‘Love, Hate, Love’ is a nine-minute song, ‘Rooster’ is seven. We don’t have a lot of short songs. Ten of those and we’re already pushing it.”
The rest of the year, going into 2019, will see Alice In Chains touring this record like crazy. DuVall is a fantastic singer and frontman, and the new album does nothing to cheapen the band’s glorious musical past. There’s simply no stopping them.
Alice In Chains plays with The Pink Slips and Starbenders at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at the Hollywood Palladium.