"Who the fuck is Alice?"

LiveDaily Interview: William DuVall of Alice in Chains


Published September 1, 2009 01:09 PM

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski / LiveDaily Contributor


In its heyday, Alice in Chains garnered multiple Grammy nominations, sold more than 17 million albums worldwide, wrote and recorded 11 Top 10 singles and stood atop The Billboard 200 album chart with two No. 1 records. But when singer Layne Staley died of a drug overdose in 2002, the band came to a screeching halt--until now.

These days, things are more positive for Alice in Chains. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez reunited in 2005 at a benefit for victims of the tsunami in Indonesia. The following year, they began touring with new lead singer William DuVall, with whom Cantrell shares vocal duties.

Now, the band is celebrating the forthcoming release of "Black Gives Way To Blue," due in stores Sept. 29. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz in Foo Fighter Dave Grohl's private Studio 606 in Northridge, CA, and Henson Studios in Hollywood, the album is AIC's first new studio set in 14 years.

DuVall, whose band recently released the lead-off single "Check My Brain," spoke to LiveDaily about the album, working with Elton John on the title track, and filling "some big shoes."

LiveDaily: You're playing clubs on your forthcoming tour. Why did you decide to play small clubs, when you could play larger venues?

William DuVall: I think there's several reasons for that. It's kind of a standard plan of attack when you have a new album coming out. You kind of want to work the kinks out in smaller venues, and also it gives the fans a little something exclusive and a little more intimate while you're working your kinks out. We're still figuring out how to play some of these new songs live. It provides both a little less of a pressurized environment for us and something more intimate for the fans. It's a little bit of an appetizer before the full meal deal comes rolling down.

You must be pretty excited about the album coming out. What can we expect from it?

Well, I think you can expect a really dense, really heavy, but really ethereal and cathartic, sonic experience. We took our time with this record. There was certainly no shortage of thoughts and feelings to address with everything that's gone down. It's a snapshot of our journey from early 2006 to this point right now. It's the story of our coming together. It's also the story of a band that is both celebrating its legacy but also opening the door to the future, and mourning the loss of a friend--one of the great singers of all time, Layne Staley.

But it really is a testament to [the fact that], for every door that closes, there's another one that opens, if you chose to open it. They lost somebody but they also gained somebody. We came together on the road as brothers. I've known Cantrell for 10 years now. There's a long, long backstory that got us to that point. None of us saw this stuff coming. This is where it naturally evolved to, from even when I met him back in 2000. In the beginning of 2006, the four of us--Mike, Sean, Cantrell and myself--we all came together and bonded on the road, in a way any real band should. This is the result. This is an honest look at our lives, unflinching look at a journey of personal growth and collective growth that it took for us to get here.

Like I said before, I think it provides a lesson for people who want to see that lesson: You might get knocked down and from there you have a choice--you can lay there and die or you can get up and start walking. If you get up and start walking, life has a way of rewarding you. Even if you're walking through the desert, you're blind and you don't know where the hell you're going, you'll eventually come to an oasis if you keep putting one foot in front of the other. This is all that record has to say and more. Hopefully, it resonates with people the way it resonates with us.

Just the fact that we're putting it out at all, seeing the light of day is the testament to how we feel about it. This was a totally self-funded, self-directed endeavor. At any point, we could have pulled the plug. We weren't contractually obligated to anyone. There was no agenda being pushed from anyone on the outside. This was all us doing this thing for all the right reasons. Just the fact that it's coming out at all was a big thing.

It sounds like there wasn't a lot of pressure in recording it because there certainly could have been. For example, it's the first Alice in Chains album in 14 years.

Well, there is [pressure] internally. We are our own worst critics. We are gonna be harder on ourselves than anyone can possibly be on us. In that respect, certainly there was a lot of pressure. We want to do the best work we can. We only wanted to put something out that was going to add to the incredible legacy this group already has. In that respect, there was pressure--but that's good pressure. That's the kind that makes you strive, and dig deeper and work harder. And we did. We put in the hours and we did the digging. It was painful sometimes. But I think the results are well worth it--and I just mean that in terms of outside pressure. Had there been some label commissioning or demanding something from us, that would have tipped it over into something else that we wouldn't really want to be a part of. Luckily, we are able to do this thing the way we wanted. It was that much more liberating and rewarding.

You've been in the band for about four years now. How have you seen it evolve?

I've seen a lot of personal growth on the part of all four of us rising to this occasion. We kind of came together on the road. We did a lot of our growing up in public. It demands a lot of all of us. Certainly, to a lot of people, I'm in the hot seat, as it were. Yeah, man, all of that to me is a challenge that just provides an opportunity for you to be better and grow as a human being. I tried to concentrate on that--seize that opportunity. I think we all did. I've seen a lot of evolution, a lot of personal evolution on the part of all four of us. It's pretty incredible. It's one of the best things about this whole trip.

What was it like to work with Elton John?

Elton's great. He's certainly an important musician to all of us. We all grew up with [his music]. Our parents were huge fans of his and all that. As Cantrell will tell anyone, Elton represents the beginning of his musical journey. It was a really heavy day walking into the studio to do that session with Sir Elton John. We're all geekin' out. There's no other way to say it.

He was great. He was so gracious with his time and just a consummate pro. He tried attacking the part a million different ways. He took suggestions from us like the absolute master musician that he is. After trying it a bunch of different ways, he hit on the approach you hear on the album. I think it's beautiful and perfect fitting to the song. Again, yet another indication from the universe that maybe we're on to something here, that what we're doing is for the right reasons. It's kind of a green light from the world. You have this guy who represents all of our childhoods. In Cantrell's case, it's the beginning of his musical journey before any hard rock or guitar-oriented bands came into his world, it was Elton John, and he's got him playing on this song that represents kind of a heartfelt goodbye to a dear departed friend and also the opening of some new doors, some new chapters yet to be written in the book, with me and all of us coming together. That's heavy in and of itself. Add to that the fact that Layne Staley's first concert was Elton John. It was an incredibly heavy day and an incredibly beautiful day. It's such a landmark thing for all of us. We're really glad it was able to come together.



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