Excite Music News
April 16, 1998

Alice in Chains Guitarist Breaks Free
by Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Now that Alice In Chains, the rock band that sold millions of records about death and decay, is officially 'at rest', guitarist Jerry Cantrell has emerged with a solo project that recalls the group's bleak sensibilities.

Even the album's name, 'Boggy Depot' (Columbia), suggests there is little risk of Cantrell, 32, allowing happy feelings to run rampant in what he considers a very personal record, "a slice of a part of my life".

Yet Cantrell feels a sense of accomplishment about his fledgling solo career, now that he has an album to show for the long and often frustrating recording process.

The release debuted at a healthy No. 28 on the U.S. pop album charts this week. He is now getting a group together to go on the road as an opening act for Metallica's North American tour this summer.

"I feel satisfied, and I also feel kinda excited, because it's unsure, it's uncharted territory," he said in a recent interview with Reuters at his label's Santa Monica office. "It's a place I haven't been, yet, even though it's semi-familiar territory."

Alice In Chains, which Cantrell co-founded in Seattle in 1987, hasn't played live in two years. Its last studio album, a self-titled effort featuring a three-legged dog on the cover, came out in 1995.

The group reached its commercial peak with the Grammy-nominated 1992 opus 'Dirt', whose songs such as God Smack, Junkhead, Sickman and Hate To Feel neatly captured the themes of angst and despair peddled by the Seattle-driven 'grunge' revolution of the early 1990s.

Cantrell, along with vocalist Layne Staley, wrote most of the songs and is philosophical about the wealth that has flowed his way.

"I don't really lack for anything, but I don't have a lust for more, or a lust to maybe live beyond my means either. Life is long, and who knows what's around the next corner?"

Cantrell attributes his attitude to coming from a broken home where times were lean. He spent much of his childhood in Tacoma, Wash., near his mother's family, and as a function of his father's military career he also lived in Alaska, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Germany. Music was his salvation, and he becomes evangelical when talking about it.

"Creating music is so cool, just jamming. I wish everybody played an instrument. It's something that takes you outside of yourself... or your ups and downs. Without getting too metaphysical about it, it's a really spiritual thing."

The downside is that the band has endured frequent speculation as to its own well-being, with much of the focus on Staley's well-publicised battles with drug addiction.

"He's my buddy," Cantrell says of Staley, recalling the emotional support the reclusive singer gave him during the making of 'Boggy Depot'.

"It's really important to remember that stuff instead of the heroin, the drug addiction - all the stuff that's always surrounded us. That's peripheral."

Still, he indicates that Alice In Chains isn't about to resume work in a hurry, often referring to the band in the past tense.

"We're at rest, if you will," he laughs. "But not RIP... We're at a period of rest, and we're at a period of growth."

For now, the focus is on 'Boggy Depot', which is the area of Oklahoma where Cantrell's father, Jerry Sr. - the title character in the hit single Rooster - was raised.

Cantrell worked on his album with Alice In Chains drummer Sean Kinney, and drafted support from Alice bass player Mike Inez as well as bassists from Fishbone, Pantera and Primus.

"It's very much my record," Cantrell says, "and the songs I wrote. But they would not be the same if it was another drummer playing on it, and that is something I can't describe other than the fact there's a bond, there's a connection there that's unspoken."

Two of the songs - Hurt A Long Time, about a family member who killed himself, and Settling Down - date from Alice In Chains recording sessions. Cantrell says Jesus Hands, one of the few songs offering a glimmer of salvation, also has a "really Alice-y thing to it".

The album deals with such recurrent themes as wayward friends, conflicts and guns. But Cantrell says it was not part of a deliberate grand plan.

"I like dramatic stuff," he says. "I like heavy stuff and I like reality, and our reality is pretty heavy... Things that I write about I don't think are that far out.

"At the same time... I always see a light through. Just the fact that I'm still making music, still doing this for me is that light. I'm probably going to come off like some half-cocked monk!"

The payoff for Cantrell, who otherwise describes himself as "a pretty mellow dude", comes when strangers tell him that Alice In Chains' music has saved their lives.

"I have people tell me that, and that's real... [when] some real kid or dude you never met before comes up and lays that on you. That's pretty heavy."