They came of age alongside such contemporaries as [artist id="1002"]Nirvana[/artist], [artist id="1019"]Soundgarden[/artist] and [artist id="1012"]Red Hot Chili Peppers[/artist]. Now, seven years after the death of troubled frontman Layne Staley, multiplatinum rock group [artist id="966"]Alice in Chains[/artist] are returning to the spotlight with a new singer, a new album and a forthcoming world tour. And while fans have cautiously watched the new venture take shape, the band is confident they can recapture the magic that made Alice in Chains one of the most influential acts of the 1990s.
"We've seen the crossed arms for the first couple of songs," relates vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell of their recent shows. "[But] then, by the end, people are having fun. They've let go of whatever personal reservations they may've had, and they're seeing why we're doing this."
The decision to re-form Alice in Chains with Comes With the Fall singer William DuVall taking co-vocalist duties with Cantrell was a difficult one for the group, which also includes original members Sean Kinney and Mike Inez. The trio had frantically tried to save Staley from a devastating drug addiction, and his passing left the band shaken beyond repair.
"When Layne [died], I doubt we even thought about doing this," Kinney solemnly recalls. "We never thought about getting a new singer. It wasn't an option and it wasn't how we went about this. We just slowly took little steps until it felt right."
"We hadn't committed to do anything after that initial charity show that we did [in 2005]," Cantrell explained. "Playing that show with a group of friends, including William, seemed to cough up a real f---ing sh--ball of f---ing grief. It was something that we had been walking around with, and something that we chose not to discuss in public. It was a private matter for us. So it's something we couldn't take lightly and we knew we didn't have to do. It just continued to feel right enough to continue trying, and it continues to feel right to move forward."
Like other bands that have reformed over the years with missing members, questions over the legitimacy of using the Alice in Chains name have been floated in some circles. But for Cantrell, there was no other option.
"The band's changed. I get that," Cantrell said. "But some of the [questions] are kind of annoying, like, 'How could you call yourself Alice in Chains?' Well, because it's our f---ing band. And we decided as a group that we can live up to that name, and we will, and it's our choice. But it's cool that it strikes such a chord and that it's so personal to everybody, and we dig that."
The evolution of Alice in Chains is evident in the new album, Black Gives Way to Blue, slated for a September 29 release. The LP comes from a matured sensibility, and Cantrell promises its themes will fill in the band's missing pieces. There's also more to the lyrics than drug use and depression, he asserts.
"It's easy just to f---ing put a blanket thing on those two particular subjects because that sh-- was there and we did write songs about that. But there are songs about our relationships with each other, there are songs about my brother, there are songs I wrote for my dog, there are songs Layne wrote for his girlfriend. We didn't just write about f---ing drugs," Cantrell laughed. "It's there, but it's an easy catchphrase and I find that that's kind of a drag sometimes living inside of that.
"It was a dark factor to all of that," he continued, "but I think that came from just dealing with things through a gut level and in a truthful way. But there are a lot of other subjects that we wrote about, and on this record there are a lot of subjects we brought to it. There's a lot to address, and from the time we stopped to where we are now, that's all on the record."
In the end, it's a contemplative experience for Cantrell, as he and his bandmates prepare to begin the next chapter in the storied history of Alice in Chains.
"There's a bigger message for us personally," he said, "which is, 'Sh-- happens to everybody, and life is not always good, and you take your f---ing lumps.' We've done it together, so regardless of how well this record does financially, we're really proud of the music that we created and we're really looking forward to the future. More than all of that, I'm totally f---ing proud of all of us for manning the f--- up and continuing to live."