RIP Magazine, February '93
Dirt is Alice's fourth release overall following the We Die Young EP, the gold Facelift album, and the Spa EP [SAP], which was inspired by a dream Sean Kinney had Grammy nominations, spots on the Clash Of The Titans and Van Halen tours, an appearance in movie Singles, and now Dirt, which debuted at number six on the Billboard charts, have fumed the Seattle sons into the world's property.
For Alice, it's been half a decade of, yes, some decadence, but also a lot of creativity and personal growth. And Cantrell is the same, if not better, for his success. Hanging out at his Seattle home prior to Alice In Chains' headlining tour, he was doing the regular-guy thing.
"Last night I played some pool, drank some beers, smoke a lot of cigarettes. Today I set up a new fish tank for my Oscars. They're the only pets I can keep, 'cause I travel so much. I'd love to have a dog to cruise around with." This is the man who wrote the nakedly confessional "Them Bones"? As the saying goes, you can't judge a book by the cover, and as Cantrell proves, you can't always judge a band by their lyrics.
RIP: What defines success to you?
JERRY CANTRELL: That so many people are really into the music, and that when we play, people will come out to see us. That's success to me.
RIP: What's it like being recognized when you go out in public?
JERRY: It's a weird feeling. You're basically known on a two-dimensional level. People yank on your hair, not realizing you're a real person. They have a right to say hello and stuff, but sometimes you lose yourself. People think you're something else a piece of plastic or a poster but you're just another dude walking down the road; one who's just as smart as the next guy, and just as dumb.
RIP: Growing up you had more commercial tastes in music everything from Lindsey Buckingham to Elton John to George Lynch. Did Alice form with a heavier goal in mind?
JERRY: No, it was way more free-form than that. It was, "Let's get a band, let's write some songs, let's play some clubs so we can get beer and women." Really, that's about it. We did that for a year and a half, just playing, and then we finally started gelling, as far as what we wanted to do musically. It was kind of a natural thing, not anything that was thought out. It was just something that happens when you spend time with people and start growing together. Stuff comes out. Like Dirt.
RIP: I read that Sean said, "I don't want to hear the word Seattle again."
JERRY: Oh, god. No shit! I'm just tired of answering the same old questions. There's not much light I can shed on it. It's our most-asked question: "What is the Seattle sound Why is Seattle so big?" Fuck, I don't know. We write good songs, I think. This is my home. I was born in Tacoma. I'm a Northern boy with Southern roots.
RIP: Was Dirt written in Washington?
JERRY: About half the album is a year and a half to two years old, written on the Clash Of The Titans tour. I think "Dirt" and "Rooster" are even older. The other half was written and put together about a month before we recorded. So a lot of it's really new, which is good for us, really exciting.
RIP: Does your environment have an effect on your writing?
JERRY: Not really. I definitely have to feel right. I don't just sit down and go, "Okay, I'm going to write a song." You get a riff, an idea, and you go with it. It's a natural process. The place doesn't matter as long as you have the vibe. I can write anywhere, it's just when. I haven't written anything since the album. It's been months. I don't even feel like it. The most time I haven't written is two or three months; then I'll just get full of shit and blow out ten songs or ten ideas, anyway.
RIP: Is "Dam That River" directed at anyone in particular ?
JERRY: Yeah, it's about a fight Sean and I had three or four years ago. A stupid, dumb fight. We got really pissed off and shit, and you can't hold back emotions. Sometimes you have to blow off steam. And we did. He [Sean] didn't get the song right away. I told him later. That's how most of the lyrics are pretty personal, but we can all relate to them on a different level. Everyone has a different meaning, which is cool. I like that. I don't like everything being concrete. I like having fuzzy edges once in a while. There's no lines to read. It's all over the page, like a painting. You see what you see.
RIP: "Rooster" is about your dad, right ?
JERRY: Yeah, it's his nickname. It's about my pop when he was in Vietnam. He's really proud of that one. He's a total country-and-western fan, so he's not really into our shit, but he definitely digs coming out to our shows. The song really touched home with him, 'cause it's something he never talks about and we've never talked about. I asked him about it once, and he said, "That's dead, son, let it lie." When I was getting this vibe, thinking about him a lot and the shit he'd lived through two tours of Vietnam; he's been a prison guard. The guy has lived a life. And I was thinking about the things he might have thought and felt there. It was pretty close. It hit home to him.
RIP: Is there a bit of humor in "Them Bones"?
JERRY: We definitely have a very sarcastic sense of humor even toward ourselves. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. The music is a way for us to let some serious things out because we're not really talkative people. It's hard for a lot of people to talk about emotions that are really deep pain and hurt and shit like that. "Them Bones" is pretty cut and dried. It's a little sarcastic, but it's pretty much about dealing with your mortality and life. Everybody's going to die someday. Instead of being afraid of it, that's the way it is: so enjoy the time you've got. Live as much as you can, have as much fun as possible. Face your fear and live.
RIP: Have you always been that way ?
JERRY: Well , I had family members die at a fairly early age; so I've always had kind of a phobia about it. Death freaks me out. I think it freaks a lot of people out. It's the end of life, depending on your views. It's a pretty scary thing. "Them Bones" is trying to put that thought to rest. Use what you have left, and use it well.
RIP: Would you call Dirt a depressing album ?
JERRY: It's a dark album, but it's not meant to be a bummer. They're just songs. They're points of view from one period of time. One hour of one day I felt that way, you know ? The reason I think it's cool is that a lot of people can relate to feeling down. Shit happens. That's what it's about. It's a release for us. I'd hate for somebody to get the picture that I'm saying you've got to be bummed out all the time and go out and get fucked up. I'm not telling anybody to do anything. That's not what the album is about at all, and that's not what we're about. There's a lot of fiction and symbolism involved on the record, but there's heavy grain of truth too.
RIP: Is reality that harsh for you?
JERRY: Not really. When I write, I'm usually hating' it, not feeling really balanced, and my way to speak is through my music. Instead of keeping feelings inside, all twisted up, we let it out in the music. It's out of your body, out of your soul, and spoken. Taking something that's ugly and making it beautiful is something that's interest to me. I think it's dark album and very harsh, but I also think it's beautiful as hell. I'm really into duality. You have to have positives and negatives. I guess that's what we do subconsciously. There's that word again! Subconsciously. People's perceptions get very distorted. We do what we do, and we live life the way we live it. We're searching ourselves a lot on Dirt, but the songs are not all personal diaries or our personal horrors. We did a lot of soul searching on this album. There's a lot of intense feelings. We've had some interesting and some hard times. We had a great year last year, but along with success come some of the darker things. With this record we've crossed another hurdle; we've grown a little bit more.
RIP: You had to know that songs like "Sickman" and "Junkhead" would open a can of worms.
JERRY: Actually, I think "Sickman" is not that bad. I thought most of the hassle would come from "Junkhead" and "Godsmack." Those songs are put in sequence on the second side those five songs from "Junkhead" to "Angry Chair" for a reason: Because it tells a story. It starts out with a really young naive attitude with "Junkhead" like drugs are great, sex is great, rock 'n' roll, yeah ! Then, as it progresses, there's a little bit of growing up and a little bit of a realization of what it's about, and that ain't what it's about. I've been using this phrase a lot, but it makes a lot of sense: It's really easy to die; it's really hard to live. It takes a lot of guts to live. It doesn't take a lot of guts to die.
RIP: Were those songs written in that order?
JERRY: No, not one after the other. They just kind of fell together. They were all basically written by Layne.
RIP: There's been a lot of rumors and speculation about Layne, thanks to those songs and the fact that he's not doing very many interviews.
JERRY: He's just fuckin' sick of interviews. It's really hard sometimes, because people come at you with a slant. They want a certain thing out of you. They want to dig something out of you, and it gets annoying. He's just tired of that mentality. Sometimes it gets too fucking scary, doing interviews.
RIP: You were speaking about that particular sequence of songs, but it seems nearly all the songs on the album have drug references.
JERRY: Those five and "Sickman" are the only ones talking about that type of mentality. The rest of the stuff is not like that at all. "Rain When I Die" is a son to a girl. There's a lot of stuff on it. A good portion of it is a story, and it's meant to be that way. It's kind of overwhelming and unpleasant at times, unsettling maybe, but that's why all those songs are together. Even if it's disturbing, it's not something anybody else needs to worry about or the way somebody else needs to live their life.
RIP: Was your record company concerned about the lyrical content?
JERRY: No, Columbia was great. They were behind us 100 percent.
RIP: Do you think the partying/drinking/recreational drug thing helps creativity or hinders it?
JERRY: We don't get fucked up to play or write. When we get fucked up, it's a product of the situation. It's common n this business. You have so much waiting time, and everybody wants to give you everything. You have all this time to kill, and you might end up drinking a little bit. It's not a daily habit. I can't even drink a beer until halfway through the set, 'cause I get heartburn running around. Getting fucked up to play, that ain't right not for us, anyway.
RIP: Did Andy Wood's death have a lasting effect on you guys?
JERRY: I'm sorry that he's not around, because he was a really cool guy.
RIP: You seem so down to earth and grounded. Is the whole band that way?
JERRY: I fake it really well ! We're a family, four corners on the box. You don't have one, and there's a hole. That's always pretty much how it's been. Ad far as the writing, it's the same. Everyone's so individual and incredible in the way they work. It blows my mind what Sean, Layne and Mike do every time we play. It's just a reaffirmation that these are a great bunch of guys to play with, and that I'm really lucky to be in this band. They're my brothers.
RIP: What would you like Alice In Chains to be remembered for?
JERRY: That we wrote some incredible songs, and that we made something for ourselves out of nothing, just by being together.
RIP: And what are your personal goals ?
JERRY: I want to try to become a pilot after this album. Seriously. Chris DeGarmo [Queensryche] flies, and he took me out in his plane before we went on tour. I've been thinking about it for a long time. Scott, the drummer for Gruntruck, who we're taking out on our headlining tour, is a pilot also. It's always been a dream of mine. That's my next goal become a pilot, be able to fly my own plane and live someplace fairly secluded that I can cruise into a major city from in 30 minutes.
RIP: So is success what you expected ?
JERRY: No, not at all. Some parts, maybe tons of money, parties, whatever, sure. But there's a whole lot more to it than I expected. We bit off a big chunk, but we're chewing it up and spitting it out.
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