From RIP February 1993
Alice In Chains- Digging Dirt
by Katherine Turman
Dirt is Alice's fourth release overall following the We Die Young EP,
the gold Facelift album, and the Sap EP, 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 the 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,
smoked a lot of cigarettes. Today I set up a new fishtank 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 for 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 a 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 of interest to me. I
think it's a 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 song 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 in 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. As 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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