CANTRELL SEEKS OUT A SOLO IDENTITY ON FIRST TOUR AWAY FROM ALICE
by Gene Stout
From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer October 30, 1998
Transcribed and contributed by Josh
Jerry Cantrell was nursing a sore throat in his San Francisco hotel room when I talked to him this week by phone.
"It's sort of a chronic thing," said the guitarist, songwriter and alternate lead singer for Alice In Chains. "I think I need to get my tonsils hacked."
Despite his ailing throat, Cantrell was looking forward to his homecoming Halloween shows with his new rock group, the Jerry Cantrell Band, tonight at DV8 and tomorrow night at the Showbox - the final dates of the group's nearly six-month debut tour.
Cantrell was upbeat and bullish about the future of the Jerry Cantrell Band, a group that draws comparisons to Alice In Chains yet has its own distinct identity.
In Seattle, Cantrell's band will include Alice In Chains drummer Sean Kinney, former Queensrÿche guitarist Chris DeGarmo, Old Lady Litterbug bassist Nick Rhinehart and multi-instrumentalist Unity, a friend of Fishbone's Chris Dowd, who played on an earlier leg of the tour in support of Cantrell's solo debut album, 'Boggy Depot'.
The tour featured a number of dates with Metallica, including one at The Gorge on Labor Day weekend. Cantrell talked about his life outside Alice In Chains, his high school years in Spanaway, his family's Oklahoma roots, his interest in country music and his hopes for the future - with or without Alice In Chains and its lead singer, Layne Staley.
Q: It was clear that you were enjoying yourself at the Metallica show at The Gorge. Has the solo tour been liberating?
Cantrell: It's been surprising. All the stuff that we did with Alice In Chains, that was my only experience. That was my first band. It was really good to get out and play. But it was also intimidating, in a way, stepping up to the mike... I was making it up as I went along, including playing live and putting together the lineup that we have now, a killer band. It's been a journey and it was a challenge and I'm really glad that we did it.
Q: What were the biggest challenges in recording a solo album?
Cantrell: I didn't want to put out something that was a piece of crap. With Alice, there's a lot of great music there. Although you can't compare the two [bands], there's a certain standard there that I didn't want to screw up. But what I had to do is just forget about Alice and not think about Alice. To put that out of my mind and move on to something else was what this project was really all about.
Q: You met a lot of the guys who played on your album, including John Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore of Fishbone and Les Claypool of Primus, on the 1993 Lollapalooza tour. How did those connections pay off later?
Cantrell: The '93 Lollapalooza was one of the coolest bills because everybody really played with each other and everybody was guesting with each other onstage. The vibe was killer. I mean, I was always ending up playing with Primus or Fishbone and they'd be playing with us. So when it came time to do this album, I gave those guys a call. I wanted quality players and I wanted to do some stuff with guys I admired. I thought everyone would be busy with their own bands, but everybody wanted to do it.
Q: Your album, 'Boggy Depot', is named for the area where your dad grew up in Oklahoma. On the album cover, you're shown waist-deep in a river. Your bare chest is covered with mud. What's the story behind that?
Cantrell: The river I'm standing in is [a branch of] the Boggy River. Every once in a while I'll take a trip down there. It's a great place to just chill out and fish, hunt or whatever. It's country. It's like steppin' off the train 40 years ago.
As I was writing for the album, I actually made a few trips to Oklahoma. I would drive my truck down to the edge of the river where we shot the cover of the album. I wrote quite a few of the lyrics there. And I just had this [vision] of me with mud all over myself. It was kind of like an 'Apocalypse Now'/Martin Sheen type of thing. It just fit the vibe of the stuff I was writing.
Q: A few critics have suggested that the song Between might have been influenced by your interest in country legend Hank Williams Sr. Are you a country music fan?
Cantrell: I was raised on country music. That was the first music I spent a lot of time listening to because it was always on in the house. When I heard rock 'n' roll, that was the thing for me. But I've still got this kind of collective memory of every country tune from the '50s, '60s and '70s.
Q: Do you see any other connections between the country music you grew up with and the songs you've written for Alice In Chains and the Jerry Cantrell Band?
Cantrell: A lot of my music and a lot of the music Alice wrote deals with the darker emotions or the sadder side of life. And music is a way to overcome that traditionally. And country music is about the saddest [music] you can listen to [laughs]. It's got strong emotion in it and it's really simple. I've always admired that.
Q: You went to junior high and high school in Spanaway and you were a member of your high school choir. What did you learn there that might have prepared you for a music career?
Cantrell: We did a lot of state competitions. I was actually the president of the choir in my senior year. We had, like, a quartet. We would sing the national anthem at basketball games and we would win competitions, pulling 1's, the highest mark you could get.
My choir teacher and my drama teacher were the two people early on in my quest for music who really pushed me. When [Alice In Chains'] first record went gold [for sales of more than 500,000 copies], I sent both my teachers gold records.
Q: You've been pretty mum about Alice In Chains' hiatus and bandmate Layne Staley's absence. Why are you so tight-lipped?
Cantrell: We don't say anything about each other. That's a trust among ourselves. With all the rumor and innuendo, it's something we just won't respond to. What we do is make music and [the private stuff] is nobody's business. Even if we've written a lot of personal things about life in our music, that's where it belongs. It doesn't belong in magazines.
Q: What if Alice In Chains never records another album?
Cantrell: If we never do another record, I'd be completely happy with what we did. We did some amazing stuff. I think we surpassed any of our wildest dreams of where we would go.