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"Be sure to speak up!"
Jerry Cantrell has been laughing until now, in a small recording studio in Burbank, California, spending the last hour with four friends and collaborators, ready to listen to his 19th year The playback of a personal album. But starting with the first ominous, harsh note of a song called "Atone", things have changed, because low volume is better for dinner music than an afternoon of rock and roll.
The singer and guitar hero jumped up from the sofa. "You can't listen to music like that!" He said, leaning on the mixing board, pushing it up, and smiling again. As Cantrell returned to the sofa and accompanied by the players and producers who helped make it happen, "Atonement" soon unfolded, accompanied by Enio Morricone's heavy roar and some echoes of the spaghetti west.
They reunited here at Igloo Music, recalling the recent past and the production of Brighten. This is a 9-song album. This is Cantrell's first solo project since it successfully reconvened Alice in Chains in 2006. The impromptu repetition of "Atone" is something he has dabbled in for many years, even now he is still playing air guitar, wearing camouflage green pants and black motorcycle boots, with straight hair straight to his chest.
As the album played, Cantrell leaned on the shoulders of singer Greg Puciato. He is known as the lead singer of the now-defunct Dillinger Escape Plan. This is a confrontational and noisy mathematical core act that has never been popular. His voice is all over Brighten, mixed with Cantrell's voice, which is just part of the unusual gathering of talents on the record.
Although "Alice in Chains" is still Cantrell's core focus, Brighten allows him to stretch out in amazing ways, from noisy to sublime. In addition to the two former members of the Dillinger Escape Plan, the cast also includes Duff McKagan of Guns N'Roses. Musically, this album contains explosive electric guitar and pedal steel, hard rock and injured folk songs. At least one song made Elton John cry.
For many contributors, the collaboration started when Cantrell agreed to hold two Los Angeles solo concerts in December 2019. This concert was called "Night with Jerry Cantrell" and he needed a band . On the second guitar, he already has film composer and rock producer Taylor Bates. The drummer is Gil Sharone, a veteran of Dillinger, Team Sleep, and various movies and TV shows.
Cantrell knew that there was still one element missing: the second singer. The mixing of sounds is a basic element in the sound of Alice in Chains, first with Layne Staley, and when the band re-worked with William DuVall. Sharon suggested recruiting Pusiato.
"I said,'Believe me, he has a tube-he sings karaoke to Jodeci,'" Sharon recalled, knowing the metal singer's range and interests first-hand. Then he called Pucciato: "I thought,'Oh, do you want to come over and blow these guys away?'"
Puciato was invited to meet Cantrell at his home in Los Angeles at 1 pm the next day. He was totally unprepared for this, nor did he expect to sing soon. He is between projects with Killer Be Killed, Black Queen and his own solo album. He didn't pay attention to his own voice, and said that he "goes out often and speaks loudly in bars...damn it, buddy!"
Now he is asked to sing some classic songs in the Alice chain with the people who originally wrote and recorded them. A difficult task, considering that when he was 16 years old, Puerto drove a red 87 Ford Escort and only had two cassettes to play: Metallica... and Alice in Chains Justice for All And Dirt.
"I got to his place, there were a few stools there, and I thought,'Let's just do this in the living room, for example?'" Pucciato recalled, leaning forward and looking at Igloo. "Do I have flashlights, fog, and shit? No, I don't have anything. He started playing'Would?'" On the stereo, he was looking at me. God, is this happening? without MIC. I was about to sing in this bastard's living room, listening to the sound outside. "
He got the job. The performance went smoothly. Soon after, Cantrell recruited Brighten again.
The urge to record another solo album came to Cantrell in mid-2019, just like Alice in the Alice chain is completing the three-year cycle of creating, recording and touring for Rainier Fog. The band decided to rest for a year. At the last stop of the tour, the singer and guitarist began to draw up plans for a solo record.
As always, Cantrell was in the backstage, in the locker room, in the hotel, watching TV, or during his home break, and these thoughts were eventually collected on his phone in fragmentary form. He researched numerous ideas with Paul Fig, an engineer and producer collaborator, and he referred to Cantrell's process as "improvised mining."
Fig participated in the earliest stages of the album, just like he participated in the last three Alice in Chains records. "I trust Fig very much," Cantrell said. "That guy is with me on every bad day, every good day:'JC, what did you get?' "I have nothing, man. "He stayed with me all the way, it's not always easy."
When Cantrell entered the recording studio of Igloo Music, Fig and Bates joined him, and he was ready to record most of the songs. After completing the basic repertoire, Cantrell traveled across the San Fernando Valley to Fig's acoustic and electric guitar studio, and completed the first draft of most of the album during the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020. Almost the entire music world is closed, and a lot of work has yet to be completed.
"Every record has its challenges, and life is like that. You fucking have to face what you encounter," Cantrell said. "I have to admit that all the extra time and start and stop make it a better record."
The next step in recording was in Cantrell's house, in a small bedroom that was converted into a studio. They were accompanied there by two Cornish Rex cats from Cantrell, who were free to roam the course, hop around on the computer keyboard, up and down on the neck of the guitar or sitting on his shoulders. "If you lock them out, they will make more noise than if you leave them in the room," Cantrell said, "so we have learned how to deal with them."
Most vocal music is done in the house. When many businesses are closed and the highway is empty, Cantrell and Puerto are still working. From noon to midnight, the sounds blend together in surprising ways.
"The harmony is very close, and sometimes it is difficult to tell us apart," Pucciato said now.
It was during these bedroom meetings that McKagan came to add some bass lines to the recording. Before Guns N'Roses, McKagan had come out of the Seattle punk scene and was an old friend of Alice in Chains. He ended up staying for a few days, enough to record bass tracks for most songs. "He planned to play only one or two songs, but once I let him sit in a chair, I was like,'Look at this!'" Cantrell recalled. "He sat face to face with me, we just passed the bass back and forth."
Cantrell's last solo album, Degradation Trip, was produced during his dark days with Alice in Chains, and was released only two months after Staley died of overdose in 2002. Friends are dying, and the band he loves seems to be over. Cantrell himself is still a year away from being sober.
Brighten comes from a different place and time, and Alice in Chains is now resurrected as a fully functional and successful hard rock band. Its nine solo songs have obvious advantages, but sometimes they also have obvious optimism. When Cantrell first shared an early demo of the song "Brighten" with Bates, the producer immediately regarded it as the title and core of the record.
The song starts with a heavy guitar improvisation and then expands into something shiny and psychedelic, even if the lyrics linger between light and darkness, they can soar. Amidst the stacks of guitars, Cantrell roared: "All your love is not wasted/shining like stars, taken home from the edge of space."
"I always think that in many of my works, there is more light than people see, breaking through the clouds," Cantrell said. "My lifelong pursuit is to play with two things-major and minor, darkness and light, find balance, and turn the table over every once in a while. It's like,'Wow, what the fuck is that?' I like that Downshifts, or unexpected roller coaster turns."
When recording the album's opening song "Atone", Bates earned the nickname "Tyler in Chains" because the producer added sound effects by putting the actual chain into the barrel, hoping to capture the "Back in the Saddle" flavor of Aerosmith. But, it is through the lyrics sung by Cantrell ("Don't care too much about being another me/person playing the role of the enemy"), Bates said this is for "anyone who aspires to be a better person-and handle it well. We now realize All the things in the past, these things were not our best selves in the past."
"This is a strong proof," Bates explained. "This record might be about something."
At lunch at a local favorite sandwich shop near the studio, Cantrell ate pastrami, and the two older guys sat next to him, talking deeply, laughing and talking loudly. One of them asked the other, "Do you think it's a foul? Did he get shot?" The second replied: "Or lead poisoning, I don't know."
Cantrell didn't care: he had other things on his mind. Brighten's release is still a few weeks away, and he feels good about it, just like he usually does when the project is completed. But when he thinks about the past years and future things, he also sounds very philosophical, almost fatalistic.
"I'm 55 years old. I don't know how much time I have left. I hope I can live another 20 or 30 years, who the fuck knows?" He said cheerfully, and then thought about the decades of losses. "Before I started [Alice in Chains], I went through many endings in my life-in this band, in life. I don't take everything for granted."
Over the years, Cantrell has worked in Los Angeles for many years. He once again separated time from Seattle, spent his summers there, and often came back to fish for salmon and so on. The town is still too important to his identity to leave completely. Alice's last album Rainier Fog tells the life and world that Seattle raised for him in the shadow of Mount Rainier.
He grew up mainly in the Tacoma area, less than 40 minutes south of Seattle. His mother played the organ and guitar at home, and music always played on TV: the Lawrence Welk Show, the American Bandstand, the usual awards ceremony. "Everyone on my mother's side plays some kind of musical instrument," Cantrell explained. "Clarinet, drums, keys, melody, squeezebox, etc."
Cantrell played an air guitar, picked up a tennis racket or playing cards from the fireplace, and was attracted by the popular music of the time: Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, KISS. One day, a man his mother was dating brought his stereo and noticed 10-year-old Jerry pretending to play with him. He showed the boy some chords, was very impressed, and told his mother: "You should give him a guitar. He picked up the guitar in two minutes, and then he bounced it back to me."
Soon, Cantrell had his first nylon string soundtrack and began to teach himself to play. His first concert experience was when he was 14 years old: Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio (Ronnie James Dio) behind the microphone, touring behind their heaven and hell albums. By then, he would know what he wanted to do.
Many years later, Cantrell quit the university and moved to Dallas for a year, where he played with some people (and met Pantera's Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul). Then he jumped between Tacoma/Seattle and Los Angeles, where he tried a band called Sibling Rivalry. He didn't stay long and was shut down by promoters on Sunset Boulevard, forcing young rockers to buy and sell their tickets to get club shows-essentially a paid game system.
"At least in Seattle, you have free beer and part of the door," Cantrell said with a smile now. "This is a fucking scam. And then there are derivatives of everyone-this is something we don't have."
He met Staley at a house party in Seattle, and Alice in Chains formed with bassist Mike Starr and drummer Sean Kinney in the winter of 1987. Their humble goal is to perform in Central Tavern, where there are many performances destined to contribute to the upcoming grunge explosion: Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Nirvana, Screaming Trees. It was a generation of young hard rock and metal fans who grew up in classic rock and was ignited by the punk revolution.
"If any of these bands are playing, you will go to those shows-and vice versa, pay close attention to what is going on, kick each other's ass," Cantrell recalled, he remembered one night I heard a new song from the Sound Garden. "'My God, man, did you hear'hunting'? This is disgusting!' Or [Nirvana's] Bleach or Mother Love Bone's record? It's really inspiring."
In 1988, when the mighty Guns N'Roses played at the Seattle Center Arena, Cantrell also had to be there. Although he liked other bands in the metal industry in the 80s, GN'R stood out. "Let's put it this way: it's more disgusting, more fucking and smellier," Cantrell said. "It's very attractive to me. This is the way to go. There is a ball."
In that stage performance, Cantrell returned to the backstage, and at the 2010 Sunset Strip Music Festival, he publicly told a story for the first time in a tribute speech to Slash. When Axl Rose appeared after the performance, he returned there. Cantrell handed him a cassette tape of the demo recording in the early Alice chain.
"He came out to meet a group of fans, and I was there. Actually, I was more interested in this chick who wandered around," Cantrell said with a smile. Rose took the tape and handed it to a bodyguard. When they walked away, Cantrell saw his tape being thrown into the trash can. He didn't take it as a personal opinion: "People are scolding me all the time. I fully understand."
Cantrell moved on, and when he returned to Los Angeles in the last few years of the metal scene on the Sunset Strip, he realized that the situation was different and expected to be discovered. "We came down and we made some clubs like this. But the music is definitely changing," he said, recognizing that the Seattle scene offers something different, more dynamic than the exhausted splendor that MTV is still providing audiences. "I like that we all play rock and roll, and we are all independent."
By recording Alice in Chains' first album, Facelift in 1990, the band had "approximately 96% of their attention focused," Cantrell reports. "This is a short-lived development. There are a lot of performances, a lot of rehearsals, a lot of time playing, a lot of time in the van, sleeping on the sofa and sticky carpet."
Two years later, the band raised their stakes through Dirt, and sophomore LP demonstrated the fully realized Alice in Chains. The album will be 30 years old in 2022, but the band not only remains relevant, but also very active. It is one of the very few bands still standing in the 90s grunge wave.
"You want your music to have that kind of staying power, but you don't know," Cantrell said. "Every time you start from fucking nothing. I am always surprised and surprised, and even completed at the beginning, because it is an effort. It has never been an easy task for me."
Brighten's last album is the cover of Elton John's "Goodbye". The original 1971 (co-authored by John and the lyricist Bernie Taupin) took less than two minutes and ended with a regrettable farewell to his "Lunatic Drifting Over Water" album, which is regrettable. And powerful.
Cantrell performed this piece in his 2019 solo exhibition in Los Angeles, faithful to the emotion of the original, and added enough courage to make it his own. Elton was the first artist in Cantrell who felt connected as a child. He became a global sensation at his peak in the 1970s. He discovered the British singer who owns several popular songs. And gorgeous costumes. Cantrell finally met him.
When Alice in Chains released Black Gives Way to Blue in 2009, Elton played piano in the title song as Cantrell's farewell to Staley. This is also a statement of survival and a requirement for the future. "For Elton, being involved is like the universe telling you that you are doing the right thing," Cantrell said now.
When he recorded the performance of "Goodbye," Cantrell said he needed Elton's permission and sent him the song.
When the phone rang at 3 in the morning, the guitarist in Alice’s chain was on the bed, and Elton’s husband David Furnish told him: “Elton is sitting at the breakfast table now, praising his song for you Weeping for the excellent work done." A few minutes later, John called in himself and told Cantrell, "You did it yourself. Of course, I allow you to record it."
After hanging up, Pucciato received a call from Cantrell. "We are all night owls, so he knew it wouldn't be a big deal if he called me at 3:30 in the morning," Pucciato said with a smile. "He was like,'Man, Elton John just called me!' He was very excited. It was a cool moment because it was like a 15-year-old thing: yes, your partner was very excited. "
The listening session in the igloo is over. When Cantrell took out a handful of dice and a five-dollar bill to play the pony quick game, these guys were getting up and leaving. This often happens when Cantrell is in the studio.
"This is an ancient tradition," Cantrell said, as these people cheered or moaned as the numbers appeared as they threw dice and banknotes on the floor. "This is a nervous spoiler. Keep everyone on the floor, laughing and pooping."
Cantrell expects more gambling activities in the future. He will tour the United States with a band including Puerto, Bates and Sharone in 2022, sharing new music with the world, and his career may end many times early.
"If this is the last album I made, will I be happy that it becomes my last album? It is enough to be my last album," he reflected. "I like its challenges. It's irritating and totally intimidating, but it's really fucking satisfying, like anything worthwhile in life."
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