After enduring the overdose of his bandmate and severing ties with his label, former Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell is putting his life back together and enjoying the reconstruction.
"The past couple of years have been rough," Cantrell admitted. And how. Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley died on the first date of Cantrell's tour in support of his 2002 album, Degradation Trip, which meant the end of Alice in Chains (see "Layne Staley Died From Mix Of Heroin, Cocaine, Report Says"). "It was a lot to get used to," Cantrell said, "but I'm in a much different space now."
A far more productive one, too. Since Cantrell moved from Seattle to Los Angeles eight months ago, he has written several new songs, recorded with numerous other high-profile rockers and played with some of his favorite musicians. He's also been in communication with former Chains bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney, and plans to jam with them later this month.
"We don't have any expectations," he stressed. "We're gonna get in a room, have a little fun and see what goes down. Anything's possible."
Inez and Kinney performed on Cantrell's 1998 solo album, Boggy Depot, but haven't played with him since Alice disbanded. Cantrell was busy working on other solo material with other musicians, but that wasn't the only reason for the separation.
"I was kinda waiting to see if the Alice thing would ever materialize again," he said. "But I really miss playing with those guys."
Even if nothing magical happens with Inez and Kinney, if the last six months are any indication, Cantrell will remain busy. A top priority is writing new material and figuring out what to do with the tunes he wrote last year, which he said are unlike anything he's previously recorded. "It's really its own thing," he said. "I'm not sure which direction I'm gonna go with them, but the music's great. It's definitely a next chapter, which is satisfying."
One of the tracks features vocals by Cantrell's friend, Filter frontman Richard Patrick. After the recording, Patrick returned the favor by having Cantrell record guitar riffs that may end up on the next Filter album.
Cantrell is also excited about "Ashes to Ashes," a track he recorded last November with Damageplan, the brutal metal band consisting of former Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell and drummer Vinnie Paul (see "Damageplan Put Pantera Behind Them With New Found Power"). The song, submitted for the "Punisher" film soundtrack, features Cantrell on vocals alongside Damageplan singer Patrick Lachman, Cantrell said.
"It happened around Thanksgiving," he recalled. "I went hunting with my dad and brother, and we bagged a deer and then headed down to Dallas. I always give Darrell some of my kill, and we ended up hanging out. He had a tune he wanted me to check out, and it was great. So he said, 'We don't have any vocals on this. Why don't you try to throw something down?' I was really tired 'cause it was like 6 a.m., but he was really persistent. So I threw something down and it became this great track that sounds like Pantera crossed with Alice in Chains."
Visiting another musical dimension, Cantrell entered the studio two weeks ago with veteran rockers Heart to record a solo for "Fallen Ones," scheduled to appear on the group's upcoming album. "The song is really rocking and soulful, and that was fun," he said. "They guested on [Alice in Chains' 1992 EP] Sap, so we've been friends for a long time."
Cantrell recently played two gigs with supergroup cover band Camp Freddy, which also features Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, former Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum, Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith and Cult guitarist Billy Duffy. The experience inspired Cantrell to schedule a jam session with Smith and talk to Duffy about forming their own cover band.
Camp Freddy played at a Houston Super Bowl party, and earlier that day Cantrell did a solo show as part of Sammy Hagar's Super Bash.
On February 22 in Seattle, Cantrell will help celebrate the music of Jimi Hendrix. The guitarist will join Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Billy Cox of Hendrix's Band of Gypsies for versions of "Hey Joe," "Manic Depression," "Spanish Castle Magic" and "Stone Free," the latter of which will feature vocals by Bad Company's Paul Rodgers.
Later this year, Columbia Records plans to release a double-disc "essential" Alice in Chains compilation, which will likely mean more performance and promotion obligations for Cantrell.
"The funny thing is, I didn't plan to be this busy, it's just happening," Cantrell said. "I actually slated some time to chill out in my new hometown and write. But all these opportunities have presented themselves just from hanging out with my buddies. It's a great thing, and I'm really happy to be in the space I'm at."