Jerry Cantrell has resurfaced in his new home base of San Francisco with a new set of bandmates and a new album in the can.
Cantrell intends to issue his latest album as a double CD, although he is still without a label. The title, Cantrell said, Degradation Trip, Vol. 1 and 2, is taken from a song on the album called "Solitude."
He wrote the album in about four months after coming off touring in support of his debut solo effort, 1998's Boggy Depot. He recorded it with former Faith No More drummer (and occasional Ozzy Osbourne and Korn sidekick) Mike Bordin and Ozzy bassist Robert Trujillo over the past year and a half.
"We went in with 30-plus tunes and came out with 25," Cantrell said.
The guitarist said he originally went into the studio with Dave Jerden, who had produced Alice in Chains' Dirt and Facelift, and who had also begun work on two new tracks for the group's 1999 retrospective, Music Bank, but ended up being replaced by Tobey Wright (see "Alice In Chains Still Plans To Lock Up Retrospective"). Jerden's pairing with Cantrell also failed.
"I ended up firing him after two days," Cantrell said. "He's great guy and we did some great music together, but sometimes I guess you just can't go home."
The guitarist decided to produce it on his own and turned to engineer Jeff Tomei (Smashing Pumpkins, Corrosion of Conformity) for support. He also recorded the album without any help (or hindrance) from a record company.
"My contract was complete with Sony; we started out doing this as another [Sony] record, but I ended up financing it on my own. I didn't want to make a deal with another label until I knew the record was right.
"It's the best work I've done yet," Cantrell said about his new album. "I wouldn't call it above Alice, but I'd call it beyond."
And how does it compare to Boggy Depot?
"From Boggy to this record is like the jump that Alice made from Facelift to Dirt times two, as far as the musical growth goes."
Cantrell moved to San Francisco four months ago, after living for a time in Los Angeles.
"That town can kill you," Cantrell said with a laugh. "Anyway, I'm from Seattle, I need some weather changes and sh-- to feel normal. San Francisco was a nice mix between the two. Besides, my drummer, Mike Bordin, lives here, and I have other friends here. I'll probably live here for another six or seven months then move back up to Seattle."
As for recent rumors that Cantrell was coming out of a "dark period" in his life, "My whole life has been a dark period," he said. "Alice was a dark band.
"After that, I was just moving on," he continued, "dealing with the separation and inactivity of Alice. Sometimes I like singing back up and hiding out by the drums. Being up front, all the pressure is on you."
And what of Alice in Chains?
"Alice's status is the same as always, almost nonexistent," Cantrell said. "There comes a period when it's time to put it down. And we did that a long time ago, and we did it on our own terms and we did it at the height of our game. ... we never put out substandard material, and we did it because we loved to do it.
"That's not saying we can't do anything again in the future," he added. "It's just not my focus ... it hasn't been for a while; I've been going in a different direction. But as long as everybody's still walking around and breathing, we're still Alice in Chains."
Cantrell resurfaced after a long hiatus to perform a show at Slim's in San Francisco earlier this month, although he was without his regular band. Bordin was appearing on TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" at the time. (He won $1,000.)
The guitarist's next performance will be the opening of a new San Francisco club called The Pound on February 8, again with cohorts Swarm (whose members were formerly Death Angel), and Comes With the Fall, whose members sat in for Cantrell's missing musicians at Slim's.
Cantrell will be with his regular band this time Bordin, Trujillo and guitarist Brian Kehoe, from the band MIRV.
Cantrell said he plans to add another member when the group begins a short tour of roughly 15 shows at colleges in the Western states next month.
"I'm looking for a multi-man," Cantrell said. "Someone who can provide some guitar, vocals, some percussion ... maybe a little acoustic guitar but definitely someone to help out with vocals. Vocals have always been a big part of my writing, and I think for this record, vocals took an even bigger step up. So its real important for me to represent that live."