Jerry Cantrell

American guitarist and singer

Jerry Cantrell (born March 18, 1966) is an American musician who is best known as the founder, lead guitarist, co-lead vocalist and main songwriter for the rock band Alice in Chains. Cantrell also has a solo career and released the albums Boggy Depot in 1998 and Degradation Trip Volumes 1 & 2 in 2002.

Jerry Cantrell in 2010



One of my least favourite things is talking about myself. But I guess it’s part of the process.

I don’t Twitter. I don’t Facebook. I think it’s ridiculous that people are that important that people really need to know they are going to the grocery store or what club they are at [laughs]. I think it’s pretty ridiculous and self-indulgent. I’ll interact with my fans when I see them. We do our Web site, and that type of stuff, but I’m not interested in [social networking] at all. You shouldn’t know that much about people, you know what I mean? Because when it really comes down to it, people aren’t that fuckin’ interesting. They really aren’t. It’s more than a little creepy. You shouldn’t know everything. Everything shouldn’t be so transparent. There should be a little mystery and magic to life, and also people should have a little bit of privacy. Everybody deserves a little bit of that.

I'm not on Twitter. I don't think anybody needs to know anything more about me than what they see on the stage or what they listen to on the record, pretty much. I'm not that interesting.

When we were just getting Alice in Chains together, I actually went and saw Guns N' Roses at the Seattle Center, and I brought a demo tape down to give the band. I met Axl after the show actually, I gave it to him, and as he was walking away I saw him throw it away.

I think I was with [The Cult’s] Billy Duffy, and Axl [Rose] came in, and I saw him come in. He kinda locked eyes with me, and then he kinda started walking towards me with a purpose. He comes over and he’s like, ‘I heard you tell that story about you giving me that demo tape… Are you still with that girl that you met there?’ Because I’d told the story that that’s where I’d met my girlfriend Courtney at the time… and he was more curious about if I was still with Courtney, which was pretty cool. And we chatted for a little bit. It's kind of one of those fun things, where you’re proud of your band when you’re kind of unknown… and they were pretty damn huge,” Cantrell says. “People still give me their demo tapes all the time too, it’s old school.

We all partied, man, so to point the finger at [Layne] — might as well point the finger at all of us. Unfortunately, he's the lead singer, and the lyrical content of what he was writing – he was putting it out there. I always thought that was very brave of him, and I always stood behind that. It's the type of thing that we always supported ourselves in – going all the way with it, whether it was good or bad. I mean about expressing it artistically. We dicked around – I don't think none of us can say we didn't try it, in one form or another. I was first introduced to it in Europe on one of our first tours. There was, like, two days missing that I don't remember very clearly – except all of us being very ill on a bus. I guess it's something that spoke to Layne, but his experience wasn't anything different than ours. We all had our little vices. If you fuck around with that long enough, it's going to turn on you.

Schedules in music, I know people have done it and say you need an album out by this date and you're talking about album tour, it can burn you out quickly. It did with our band. We've been fortunate to be partnered up with companies that respect the process. We're never really forced to make music. If it doesn't happen, then it doesn't.

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 interest to me. I think Dirt 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.

Success has changed our personal lives tremendously, and not at all. From the time we started six years ago, we've gone from living in rehearsal halls with rats to living together in one-room apartments, to having our own places. On the other side, we're always on the road so we never get on enjoy it.

There's no denying our metal roots, but we're also into everything from The Beatles to Pink Floyd to Hank Williams. We pop all our ideas in a mixing bowl and see what comes out.

We caught flack for being a druggie band. People who thought we were aimless heroin addicts were missing the whole point.

When I was a kid, I had a little Dr. Seuss My Book About Me book. I would fill it in, and in the section about what you want to be when you grow up, there were pictures of policemen, firemen, and stuff. Mine said 'rock star'!

My career goal, at the end of the day, has always been to be an old motherfucker, sitting on a fuckin’ porch with my kids, and my wife bitching at me and whatever - and being able to put on any one of the records I’ve done and saying "That did not fuckin’ suck - that kicked ass!". So far, I could say that about everything I’ve put out. Once I’ve done that, I’ve got nothing else to prove, other than to just go out there and play it live as best I can. I ain’t done bad so far.

It's difficult to do interviews - it's hard to talk about it [Layne Staley's death]. I'm just thankful to have a tour and work - something I can focus on.

The shows I played between the time I got the word about Layne and Layne's funeral were very important to me in terms of being able to continue on. It's one of those things where if you take a break and allow things to settle in, it might be harder to get up again.

[Layne Staley's death] It's something I'm still dealing with, and I still think like he's here. I miss him tremendously. I love him and have to move on. I'll remember him and respect the memories of what we did together and just enjoy life... and that's all I'll say about it.

There are two things you never want to get into a conversation or argument about: politics and religion. But fuck, I guess we’re going to be talking about this for awhile [Laughs]. Read a fucking paper. What I’ve seen is the most basic message to most faith systems is in contradiction with how it gets applied. The human element seems to fuck it up. It seems to fuck up the basic truths of acceptance, loving your brother, helping each other out, not trying to kill each other or steal each other’s shit. Those are all pretty good ideas. And most of your major religions have those things as basic tenets of the belief system. It always amazes me that some of the most hateful and hurtful things are done in the name of some sort of belief system.

He's my absolute best friend. I've never been committed to anything for this long through the good and the bad. And we're still doing this, which says a lot. It's meaningful.

Jimi Hendrix is one of our local heroes in Seattle, and we only have a handful. He walked the same streets than we did. Interestingly enough, he had to come over here [The UK] to break out. We were always proud to be from the same town that he came from. I remember in the very early days of this band [Alice in Chains], we would drive to the cemetery, go to his grave and crack a few beers or whatever. We knew that a lot of people did that too. So if we were low on weed, we could probably show up and always find at least a joint or two... Which we did more than a couple of times too [laughs]! People would leave guitar picks, half burnt roaches, sometimes full joints. And we would hang out with Jimi and smoke the pot that people left on his grave.

He was a phenomenal guitar player. The band that he had, the trio on that record [The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced], it's legendary. Are You Experienced? is the first of his albums I was introduced to. And I still think it's the best. He was an innovator, he was extremely unique. He had a uniqueness that passed the test of time. And the only other guy, for me personally, to make that sort of a change, another guitar player of the same calibre that I kind of acknowledge as "this guy is the fucking shit!" is probably Eddie Van Halen, a couple of generations back.

I’m really proud of the musical history of where I’m from, I think the reason so much of the music from Seattle is as cool and as individual as it was is because Seattle is, geographically speaking, outside the business. It’s way the hell out there and was able to develop on its own and nurture itself without any real outside help or goals like getting signed to a major label and shit like that. That was really hard to do because nobody gave a fuck unless you were from New York or LA. The business didn’t make Seattle, Seattle made the business. That afforded us opportunities to take it to the next level and we took advantage of that, but first and foremost it was about making great music.

A big part of life is learning how to deal with loss. We have a limited amount of time here; you should spend your life doing what you want to do because you only get a certain amount of it and you never know when that’s going to stop. Life takes work, and you don’t do that on your own. I’ve got that with my band, family and friends.

We're not in this to win awards. And that's the attitude I went there with. And I have to say, in fairness, that my opinion was a bit changed by being a guest with Heart and seeing how much it meant for them. It was a cool show, it was with a lot of respect. I was kind of moved. The best part was [Rush guitarist] Alex Lifeson's speech, but I also liked what [drummer] Neil Peart said: 'For years, we've been saying that this isn't a big deal. Turns out: it's a pretty big deal!' It was cool to see him say that.

I didn't really know Kurt that well, but there was a guy I always admired. We didn't spent much time together, but the few times we did spend together, you know, were times I'll always remember. You know, he was a really sweet guy, and a really genuine soul, you know, and an incredibly talented artist.

I was surprised to see them [Nirvana] go in before Pearl Jam. They went in for 'Bleach,' which wasn't a big record till 'Nevermind' became a big record. It’s well-deserved. I loved those guys. If even one of our group was considered and inducted, it says a lot for them and, associatively, about our whole city.

The great thing about being a writer is you can be whatever you want to be. You can make things autobiographical, or you can make them sound autobiographical and they’re not. They’re about little bits and pieces of other things all put together. As long as it tells a little bit of a story, I guess, and has some emotion in it and performed like you mean it, and for us, we’ve probably leaned on the sharper edge of that throughout our career, and that was a conscious decision to do that. So there’s a lot of us in there, and has been throughout our career.

I personally like to leave things a little open and vague and you can find what you want to find in there, as you should.

I asked her [his mom], ‘Why didn’t you take us to church? What am I? Am I Christian? Am I Lutheran? Blah blah blah,’ and she’s like, ‘I wanted you to make up your mind for yourself. You be whatever you want to be. You be what makes sense to you,’ and that’s cool.

The singer who probably caught my ear first was Elton John. That was when the light bulb went on for me.

After my mother passed away, her brother Miland told me: “You have a chance here to give your dream a shot. It was your mom’s dream too to be a musician, but she never got to do that. You don’t have anything holding you down now so go for it.” It meant a lot that he would say that.

I’ve had conversations with both James and Lars from Metallica throughout the years. And we were pretty tight with Chris Cornell and the guys from Soundgarden. I still look up to those guys.

Chris [Cornell] represented a strong strain running through our whole town – he was always so honest, from the moment I met him. I share a lot of the issues Chris communicated in his songwriting. And there's a power in sharing your weakness with the people who need to hear that, so they can consider, 'Fuck, that guy's dealing with it.' You don't feel so alone. he was the last guy in the world I thought that [suicide] would happen to. That's not the way that book was supposed to end. And it was not the way that book was going. Cornell always had it, the same thing as when I saw Layne [Staley] for the first time – the commitment to take that ride. There was something that I recognized and aspired to – to have your own voice and sound. Nobody else sounds like that guy. Nobody will. There is a space now and forever empty because of that. It's never going to make sense. It's never going to feel right. And it's always going to hurt.

Chris [Cornell] was a friend for many years, and an incredible artist, a wonderful human being. I’ve always been inspired by his work ethic and talent, and his band Soundgarden, they were a big influence on us. It’s obviously very sad, I still don’t really know how to really discuss it personally, but I think at this point it’s time to maybe focus on the type of man he was, and the type of human being, and the type of artist. And [his] incredible depth. Our bands helped each other in the early days, we were all under the same roof with Susan Silver managing them, Kelly Curtis managing Mother Love Bone and then Pearl Jam, and they jointly managed us. We were all in the same little office above The Central Tavern, and that was the home base. I’m going to miss him immensely, but I also celebrate his life and his life’s work. Ann Wilson called me and said she was thinking about doing something for our friend [the tribute to Chris Cornell during the 2018 Rock and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony], and asked me if I would join her. Anytime she calls I’m there, and if it’s for Chris, of course, absolutely.

I'm a kind of a bury-myself-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods writer, where I prefer to go out there and have everybody leave me alone until I'm done. It's a little bit of a trek into yourself. Which can be fucking scary, man—your head is not a neighborhood you should always travel in alone.

Everybody was affected by the tsunami, even if you weren’t personally affected by it. Across the world people were holding benefit shows and raising money. After Layne had passed, we were, “That’s it. We’re done. We’re not gonna fucking do this again.” [Prior to that] we’d had a conversation here or there, there and I was like, “We didn’t leave it in a good place. Maybe we can invite our friends, do a limited run thing. And we bring Layne with us—we honor our bro, and also honor ourselves and the people that supported it.” And Sean wasn’t that into it. Then the tsunami happened. And Sean called me up and said, “Let’s do it for this thing.” And that’s what we did. We made some money for the cause. But for our purposes, that was a really heavy night to stand up there without Layne and play those tunes. It was fucking heartbreaking. But it was also very triumphant and cathartic.

Layne was just an incomparable talent. He was like a fucking myna bird. Any accent or sound or voice, he could just immediately repeat it. He just had a gift. And I’d like to think that I have a bit of a gift myself. One of the funniest descriptions I’ve ever heard, and I don’t know that it’s true, but it just sounds fucking great, was we sound like “the satanic Everly Brothers.” Together we were kind of a two-headed monster. It added a lot of depth to the material the way we worked together; and that would be later continued with the addition of William.

On Alice in Chains


Alice [in Chains] plays a big part [in my life] every single day. I’m very proud of Alice. These kids that come to the show every night go fucking nuts for those songs and sometimes it’s easy for me to forget just how big a part Alice played, or just how much the music meant to somebody. Somehow we made a connection with someone and it meant something to them. It’s easy for me to forget that shit, because I really don’t live in that whole rock world. Everybody has a certain amount of ego, and I certainly have mine, but I’m just a dude who plays in a band and somehow I’ve been able to come up with shit that not only means something to me, but also means something to other people as well. I’ve always written from the viewpoint of a fan. I always wrote what I wanted to hear and for other people to dig on that, well, that’s just the ultimate compliment.

  • When asked what part did Alice in Chains played in his life during his solo career. **Taking a Solo Trip. (May 14, 2001).

We [Alice in Chains] don’t really sound like anybody else, we have a unique style. One thing that you hope for when you want to be a musician is that you have that recognizable sound. A Zeppelin song starts and you know two notes in that it’s Led Zeppelin. Or Black Sabbath, or AC/DC — you know it instantly. It’s a sonic fingerprint and we have that. We’ve moved on, but our fingerprint is still there. Shit fucking happens and things are not going to work out the way you want them to all the time in life. You get knocked on your ass, like you inevitably will, and it’s really about how you go about picking yourself back up. This is our process, this is what we’re doing.

Personally, I really didn’t have any thought of continuing at all. This whole thing pretty much started with something that didn’t have anything to do with us as a band. We didn’t just ring each other up like, ‘Let’s get the band back together!’ or get a message from God, Blues Brothers-style. It started with a benefit gig that we did for the tsunami victims that Sean organized in Seattle. He called up a bunch of friends and he called us and said, ‘Hey, do you want to do this? I think we should do this to try to help.’ So that was the first time that we played together. And it was a really cathartic experience. We were surrounded by our friends and played our songs. We had Maynard [Tool] come down and Ann and Nancy [Heart] came in and William was there. It was a cool experience. That show turned into us spending more time together and wanting to get a rehearsal room. Then we brought a couple of friends in and brought Will down and were just having fun. That turned into a couple of shows and that turned into a tour and that turned into us saying, ‘Let’s really do this right, let’s play all this stuff and go out open-heartedly and just celebrate the music and remember Layne and do this with all our fans in public.’ Part of the healing process is sharing with other people who care. It wasn’t some big master plan. There wasn’t anybody that paid us to do this; we did this on our own — self-funded, home-grown.

That darkness was always part of the band [Alice in Chains], but it wasn’t all about that. There was always an optimism, even in the darkest shit we wrote. With Dirt, it’s not like we were saying ‘Oh yeah, this is a good thing.’ It was more of a warning than anything else, rather than ‘Hey, come and check this out, it’s great!’ We were talking about what was going on at the time, but within that there was always a survivor element – a kind of triumph over the darker elements of being a human being. I still think we have all of that intact, but maybe the percentage has shifted.

I think right off the bat. The cool thing about our band is knowing that you are a band, not just in a musical sense, but you’re a band of people. We all lived for each other and helped each other out. Our primary purpose was always to make music and take care of each other. We banded together. So, I knew early on. Things happened quickly for us, and I’m really proud of what we’ve done. I’m extremely proud of all my friends who made music around the same time we did — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden. We’ve made great music and touched a lot of people.

We’re trying to make good music, and I think that’s probably everybody’s goal, so as a musician, you try and make some music that makes you happy and then maybe connects to other people as well and maybe last. Maybe you don’t think about that so much when you start, but it’s kind of nice when that ends up happening. It’s satisfying in the first form just because you’re basically just doing it for yourself; it’s what you wanted to do, and this band’s always kind of approached music that way.

We’ve never approached it with the audience in mind first. It’s always with what we want, what we can achieve, and trying to move forward and create something new and different and something that we’re proud of, and that pretty much is where it stops after that. We don’t really have any control over that. You can hope, you know? You can hope that people dig it.

We've been really fortunate in most of our career to be able to make music when we feel like it, rather than having to be on somebody else's schedule. Which is really nice. So, we take advantage of that and there's really no reason to put music out unless it's something we feel strongly and stand behind.

[Seattle] It's a small town and we all knew each other. It means the world to me that I was able to spend time with the guy [Chris Cornell] to create what we all created in the same town.

It gets really difficult to be the guy that has to talk about your dead friends all the time. ... After 15 years of talking about my friends dying, you just really want to focus on life and moving forward because that's really all I can control. I miss the hell out of all of them.

Maybe [writing lyrics] it's a little hard because you have already said so much. I can't write 'Them Bones' again, I can't write about my dad again. I can't write about my brother again. I can't write about that ex-girlfriend again. But it's easy to be pissed off about something. Stuff still makes me emotional. Stuff still makes me love. I experience things. I see people going through things. Shit happens to you. There's still stuff to grab, but it's challenging to me. It's always the part where I feel I'm stumbling around in the fucking dark.

I'm excited every time we put a record out. You never know when you're not going to get to make another record again, or another show. Life happens. We've been through a few instances of stoppage – of OK, that's it. We know what that's about. That makes you really cherish the time that you have and the opportunities you get when you get them. That makes it mean a little bit more. Life is impermanent, and bands are even more so.

It's weird to be 52 years old and have been in a band for 30 years and still doing it at a high level. In life, a lot of time is about finding your family, and it's not blood family. I found my family. We're still going through this thing.

There's only ever been six members of this band, and there'll only ever be six members of this band.

I met Vinnie [Paul] and Dime in '85. Thirty-three years ago. That's a fucking trip, man – Vinnie and Dime always had a thing about threes. Back then, I had quit college with a couple buddies of mine and was working doing asbestos abatement all around the Dallas and Houston area, where I lived for about a year. We got paid really well to do it because it's a shit job, but what we would do is we'd work all day and then we'd go to clubs at night and check out bands. And there was a great club called Cardi's where rock bands came through all the time. I saw Yngwie Malmsteen there. I saw Talas there. And I saw Pantera there, when they had Terry Glaze singing. I loved their band. I was mesmerized by Darrell, and I loved how Vinnie played. I remember we talked a little bit after their show and we just hit it off. So, actually, I knew Vinnie and Dime longer than I've known the guys in my own band. I didn't meet Layne [Staley] and Sean [Kinney] and Mike [Starr] until I was 21. I was 19 when I met Vinnie. That's a long time, man.

We reconnected a few years later when they had found Phil [Anselmo], and Pantera came out with Cowboys From Hell and we came out with Facelift. There were a lot of parallels between our two bands, and we always got along. We were brothers. I'd also see Vinnie and Dime when I was off the road. My dad is from southeast Oklahoma, and I'd always visit him for the holidays. It's easier to fly into Dallas than it is Oklahoma City, so every Thanksgiving, every Christmas, like clockwork, I'd roll in and hang out with Vinnie and Dime in Dallas before I headed to the ranch in Oklahoma. And then I'd hit 'em again on the way out! Even after Vinnie moved out to Vegas he'd come back to Dallas for the holidays and we'd get together. I'd go deer hunting with my dad, and we'd get a deer at Thanksgiving. By Christmas we'd be into sausage, and so my dad would always have me drop off some deer sausage at Vinnie's before hitting the airport.

I heard Vinnie [Paul] had passed when Alice in Chains was in Copenhagen on our European tour. We always give a shout-out to Layne and Mike when we play "Nutshell", and at our next show [Hellfest in France on June 24, 2018] we dedicated it to Vinnie.

To me, personally, Vinnie was one of the few people in my life – and there's only a handful of 'em – where it doesn't matter if I don't see you for a year or two years or 10 years, it's always consistent. Vinnie was always consistent. He was someone I could rely on – a friendly pair of eyes. Every time you'd look in 'em they'd look the same looking back at you. I'm gonna miss the hell of him. We've been moving so fast out here on the road that I don't think it's even really sunk in for me. Today we're in Zagreb. It kills me that I won't be there for Vinnie's service, but my family is going to go and represent.

As for me, I'm gonna go out and play a rock show tonight, and that's exactly what Vinnie would've wanted me to do. And I'll be thinking of him when I do it.

I was like I am today. I’m a pretty quiet and internal person, and that drives a lot of people in my life crazy sometimes (laughs). I can get lost in thought, which can be a really good thing, but it can be a bad thing too. For instance, I remember being in first grade in Alaska because my dad was stationed there for military service. I got so engrossed in what I was reading that I literally didn’t hear the teacher call the rest of the class over to the other side of the room to do an activity. It freaked me out when I came to and everyone else was over there. They said, ‘Well, we didn’t want to bother you.’

My mother played the organ and we had a little Wurlitzer in the house. My grandmother played the accordion and this thing called a melodica, which is like a keyboard where you blow into it. They were Norwegian-Czechs and very musical. We would watch [American bandleader] Lawrence Welk and any musical show. My mum and dad were big country music fans. Anything musical was celebrated in our house.

I knew what being a rock star was from an early age. I knew it meant making music, having people like it, and travelling all over the world. It seemed fucking badass. I wanted to be The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, AC/DC, KISS… I could go on and on. I also knew it wasn’t a safe path to be on and that it’d be a gamble, but I’ve always been a bit of a gambler.

My mum’s probably my heart and my dad’s probably my drive. They got divorced when I was pretty young, and I was the oldest of three. I got the love of music from my mum, for sure, and being a musician was her secret dream too, which my uncle told me when she passed. It was a really tough time, and he gave me the confidence to give it a shot. My dad is a really tenacious individual. He’s got fucking drive but he’s also stubborn as fuck, so nothing will knock him off his path. He does what he feels is right and that’s it, and I got that from him.

I got my first guitar from my mum, which was around the time of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours [1977], which is still one of my favourite records of all time. She was dating a guy who’d play guitar while she played organ. He showed me a few chords, and I played a song within the first 10 minutes so he said, ‘You should get him a guitar.’ So she got me a little Spanish guitar; I messed around with it but it ended up in the closet. I wanted an electric guitar like my heroes. I cut out a picture of a Les Paul and put it on my Christmas list, and was really disappointed to open the guitar-shaped present to find it was another acoustic guitar. I was a totally shitty kid when I opened it, and my dad said, ‘If you learn to play that I’ll get you a Les Paul.’ I only really got the bug when I got an electric guitar.

Those losses really tilted my horizon. My whole fucking life was basically taken away from me within the period of a year, and I felt like I was on my own. I don’t know everything, and I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of an all-knowing God sitting up on a cloud. I get more answers from a scientific view; nothing is really destroyed, it’s just transformed, and there’s a balance to nature; a darkness and a light. When something is taken away, something is given. My grandmother and mother were such huge losses, but I got Layne, the guys, and I got this.

The first time I saw Layne perform was in my hometown, Tacoma. His band, they were called Alice N’ Chains at the time, played, and as soon as he opened his mouth I thought, ‘Oh my God, that guy is fucking next level – I have to be in a band with him!’ We met and we hit it off immediately, and he invited me to move into the rehearsal place he was living in and he got me a job there. Layne would be fucking around jamming with us, but I needed to get him to commit to it properly, because he was in about three different bands then. So Mike [Starr, former Alice In Chains bassist] and I pulled a bit of a stunt on him: we put ads out and started purposely auditioning the worst people we could find, including a male stripper. We did it at the rehearsal so he’d see, and acted like we really liked them in order to piss Layne off and get him to join instead. It worked and he eventually did commit to us. We told him all about what we’d done afterwards (laughs).

Songwriting to me is an emotional and experiential process. We as human beings are fucking funny monkeys, man, but we share a lot of the same stuff. Songwriting is very simply about taking anything that’s internal to you, expressing it, and if you’re lucky that translates for someone else. And if you’re really lucky, it translates for lots of people.

I’m a professional musician, and I’ve been doing this a lot of years, and talking to someone about sensitive subjects is part of the fucking deal. Having to talk about losses over and over and over again with people I don’t know means I can’t turn my own emotions off, which can be difficult. I understand why people ask, but sometimes it gets really fucking tiring.

When we were younger we signed a seven album deal and we didn’t even make it that long. To have that sort of a yoke on you, I don’t know that we could work like that now. I think it’s better and more freer that we’re able to operate on, ‘What are we going to do next?’ I think it’s good to not look too far behind you and not look too far down the road. Just be happy where you are.

The best thing you can do as an artist and if you’ve had some success is not to listen to your old fucking records anymore – unless you need to learn a song. When it comes time to writing and making a new record, don’t fucking listen to that shit.

The cool thing about this band, and it’s a goal that we always had, we start from zero every time. It doesn’t matter what we did before, how much success we had before or which records had more impact than the others. None of that shit. You’ve got to start from fucking zero every time.

The thing that carries over is us. We’ve been doing this a long time and William’s been with us quite a while now too. We know collectively and individually what this thing needs to be.

It's never been my intention to be dark. I guess I just maybe talk about stuff that's more real, you know what I mean? There's plenty of stuff out there to distract you from stuff. I'm not really trying to distract anybody from anything, and I'm trying not to look away from myself or somebody else that's either scary, disturbing, something that I don't like about somebody or myself. I'm trying to look at those things without looking away.

Song meanings


I'd just temporarily moved in with Susan Silver because Sean [Kinney] and I had just had a fight. So I was riding the bus to rehearsal and I saw all these 9, 10, 11 year old kids with beepers dealing drugs. The sight of a 10 year old kid with a beeper and a cell phone dealing drugs equaled "We Die Young" to me.

It's basically about how government and media control the public's perception of events in the world or whatever, and they build you into a box by feeding it to you in your home. And it's about breaking out of that box and looking outside of that box that has been built for you.

The song is us against the world, those people who put you down: "I put up with many years of you putting us down and watching us bleed, now I'd like to see you bleed some back."

We [Alice in Chains] 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. 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.

I was just thinking about mortality, that one of these days we'll end up a pile of bones. It's a thought for every human being, whether you believe in an after-life or that when we die, that's it. The thought that all the beautiful things and knowledge and experiences you've been through just end when you end scares me, the thought that when you close your eyes for good, it's gone forever.

It was the start of the healing process between my dad and I from all that damage that Vietnam caused. This was all my perception of his experiences out there. The first time I ever heard him talk about it was when we made the video and he did a 45-minute interview with Mark Pellington and I was amazed he did it. He was totally cool, totally calm, accepted it all and had a good time doing it. It even brought him to the point of tears. It was beautiful. He said it was a weird experience, a sad experience and he hoped that nobody else had to go through it.

That was pretty much at the height of publicity about canceled tours, heroin, amputations, everything, thus it was another "FUCK YOU for saying something about my life" song. Any single rumor you can imagine, I've heard. I've been dead a few times, Layne's been dead countless times and lost limbs. I get on the phone every time I hear a new one, "Hey Layne, radio in New York says you lost two more fingers." "Oh really? Cool." I'd spoof The Six Million Dollar Man; "Since technology's moved on it only cost us 2 million to put Layne back together and we got better parts.

That's about a girl I was dating in between one of the times I broke up with my true love. A lot of times you'll tell someone how you don't want to be in a relationship and why, and what kind of person you are, and they hear all that but think that they can change you. That's what the song's about, getting me wrong and the different ways that men and women see each other.

That song's about me. It was directed towards my ex-girlfriend. I had been going out with her for about six years off and on. It was all about me trying to be a monogamous person, which I had never been. It would get to where I felt choked and would blow up at her, and that would be it. I had to stop. So, that song's about kicking myself for being such a jerk to her. I love her to death and I always will, but it's just not healthy for us to be together.

That's about the band. It's about the breakup that took place between us. Those lines "Can you stand right here and look me in the eye and tell me it's over?" We couldn't, when it came right down to it. Even if it ended today, though, I love the guys in this band, even if we never recorded again. I would be sad, but if it came down to where it's killing us and we're growing too far apart... It's like that line, "When it's all worn out, I'd rather go without."

I was thinking a lot about Andrew Wood at the time. We always had a great time when we did hang out, much like Chris Cornell and I do. There was never really a serious moment or conversation, it was all fun. Andy was a hilarious guy, full of life and it was really sad to lose him. But I always hate people who judge the decisions others make. So it was also directed towards people who pass judgments.

["Down in a Hole"]'s in my top three, personally. It's to my long-time love. It's the reality of my life, the path I've chosen and in a weird way it kind of foretold where we are right now. It's hard for us to both understand...that this life is not conducive to much success with long-term relationships.

I was pretty hammered when I wrote that tune - I just started humming this thing I had in my head, and I grabbed this guitar I made in high school - it's a white Strat that I call Embo. Anyway, I grabbed the guitar and wrote it out in about 20 to 30 minutes.

The song is directed at the type of folk who ride with you when shit is good. But when your situation turns south, they're the first to bail–unlike true friends.

The song basically speaks to any number of things that keep you balled up inside. A cell of our own making with an unlocked door that we choose to remain in. Focusing our attention inward instead of reaching out to a much larger world. I think this is common to us all. It's funny how hard we fight to hang on to a bone we can't pull through a hole in the fence, or how difficult it is to put down the bag of bricks and move on.

There's a certain aspect of sarcasm, I guess, being a guy from Seattle who lives in L.A., ex-drug addict who lives in the belly of the beast and doesn't partake, and being totally cool with that...It's like being the bad gambler and living in Vegas. It's right there. It's just the irony of that and a little bit of sarcasm. And it's not putting this place down at all. It's just kind of like, 'Wow, you know, check my brain, wow.'

Yeah, it's kind of a funny thing. Being from Seattle, it's pretty easy to make fun of the Southern California lifestyle, or maybe it's easy for a lot of people to take a shot at it. But this is where I ended up, and still can't believe I'm living here. But I'm digging it! No need to rock the boat, man.

That one was pretty immediate. It came about on the last night of the BlackDiamondSkye tour we did [in 2010], our headlining run with the Deftones and Mastodon. It was the very last show, we were in Vegas and I was sick as hell - I was about a click above pneumonia. But I was warming up in my dressing room, and I started playing that riff. Right away, I knew it was a good one to store away for later, so I recorded it. Nick [Raskulinecz] happened to be at that show, and so were my managers. Everybody perked up when they heard me playing it. 'What's that? That's pretty good!' [Laughs] I was like, 'Yeah, it is.' So I tucked it away. It was pretty immediate the way it came to me.

My arm was f--ked up and I couldn't play guitar so I just hummed that riff into a phone and that's how that song came to be. When I could play a little bit and we were going through riffs, I remember doing some riffs with Paul Figueroa, our engineer. I'm like, 'Wait a minute, I got a good one, man. Check this out.' I started f--kin' playing it to him and it was me singing into the f--kin' phone. I'm like, 'Dude, this riff is killer. Give me a guitar and I'll f--kin' work it out.' So that song I actually came up with just off a voice message on a phone. I didn't even have a guitar; I just f--kin' hummed it into the phone.

Before I had the surgery I think I demoed 'Voices' really quick, that was a kind of quick song and came together within a couple of days of just me messing around here at the house. It was right after tour and it was a good, strong song and so I sent it around to everybody and everybody liked it and I thought, 'F--k, that's good.' That was the first thing that came together on the record, so I knew there was a good song there.

"Voices," in terms of songwriting, is very internal, it's not external. It comes from a very personal place, but of course it can be applied to anything, from any place in society.

People miss the point, like we’re trying to attack people that have a belief. If you look any further into the song, you can see there’s a line in there that says, ‘No problem with faith, just fear,’ so I don’t have any problem with anybody’s belief or faith or anything like that.

It’s not the first time we’ve written about the subject. With ‘Man the Box,’ we had people picketing our shows for us saying, ‘Deny your maker.’ As a matter of fact, we just played Singapore and they wouldn’t allow us to play the song because of that line. I guess nobody read the following line, that, ‘He who tries will be wasted.’ There’s a valid story in there. We’re not trying to push anything on anybody, but you also cannot ignore a lot of heinous shit that gets done in the name of believing something and outright denial of facts that gets perpetuated from generation to generation. I think it’s a mind killer for an individual, stunting somebody’s growth.

It’s not coming down on anybody for any particular belief system. It’s just when that belief system is used as a tool to hurt, hold back, discriminate, or even kill somebody because they believe something different, then that’s what that song is about.

It's always really difficult for me to lay out what it is. Cause I'd rather you tell me… and not even tell me, it be whatever it is to you. And I'm also a little selfish too, I like to keep what it is for me as well. The cool part of songwriting, I think, and the challenge of it is taking something personal that is internal and making it universally translatable to everybody. We're all human beings, so we're not that far apart, and we're all pretty much the same, basically. So if you feel something and you put it out in a way that's not completely so spelled out, I think it's easier for people to make it their own.

It's really aggressive, it's got a super-aggro riff. I was thinking kind of a [David] Bowie when I was writing it a little bit. So, it's got kind of a metal Fame shuffle to it almost. It's a good aggro riff, and it's got the classic Alice in Chains chorus, with a weird kind of trippy middle part.

A really significant thing for all of us - was kind of a heavier foreshadowing of some things that would directly affect us and our friends - was the death of Andy Wood. That song was me thinking about him like we all did, and trying to put that down and just kind of write a little ode for him. Because he wasn't there, and everything was taking off... It was a nice thing to be able to use that song, it was very poignant I thought, because we kind of carried him with us.

That's Layne. That's Layne and Mike. Mister Staley and Mister Starr. They're still with us. I just started writing, and it ended up being about where we come from and who we are. Honouring the home town, all of the players here and gone, and all of it. It's a personal reflection on a life lived. But not just over the shoulder – looking forwards too. Being very proud and honoured to still be doing this. Duff McKagan demoed it with me and said: 'That's your single, man!'. I hope it is one.

We had the song ‘Rainier Fog’ and that kind of encompasses our whole existence, where we come from, who we are as a band – also where we are now. It’s taking into account 1987 to here.

We’re very proud to be from the Northwest. It’s just a great place to live, to be from, to create in. So that was an important song and after we had recorded there, it made sense to call the record [Rainier Fog] too. It just all lined up.

About Seattle bands


Bands don’t last. Bands don’t last forever—it’s a rarity when they do. I don’t think it’s built to last, it was just built to make a mark and make a noise and we certainly did that. We did it in a way that hadn’t been done before and it’s not been duplicated yet, and that kind of fuckin’ explosion out of one city and the impact that that music had.

I think I heard about Nirvana from Chris – Cornell would wear Nirvana T-shirts. The first time I heard Bleach, I hated it. I can say the same for a lot of my favorite all-time records. It was like, "This guy fucking sucks. He can't play guitar, blah blah blah." Self-righteous shit, and also having some attitude about your own band. One particular listen at one time, and everything changed – I'm like, "Oh, I get it. I fucking get it. These guys are great." But it took a while, I didn't know a whole lot about them. I didn't see a whole lot of their gigs. I remember the guys in the band [Alice in Chains] were really stoked on it – Layne [Staley] and Sean [Kinney] really liked it a lot. I was a little bit hesitant – it took me a couple more "bites" to realize that I loved it [laughs].

I thought it was amazing. It was a serious step up from the record before. It was like three or four steps up.

It [Ten] was a rebirth for those guys. They had such an unfortunate blow with the loss of Andy [Wood] right as their album is coming out. There was a real kind of a brotherhood between all of the artists in Seattle and it was really meaningful to see them pick themselves up, start again and invite Ed and Dave [Krusen] into the band. To have that record have the sort of impact that it has is really powerful. It was very right for those guys all find each other and we were really, really, really happy for that — I still am. They’re one of the greatest bands in the history of rock and roll and they made one really important record together.

“Black” is a great record, just as a piece of work, but every track on the album I think is really important. They started out with “Alive” in 91 and then “Even Flow” and “Jeremy” huge fucking song. But “Black” has always been my favorite from the record.

They deserve a ton of credit for fighting through adversity and starting anew. That record is still really powerful.

It was ’92 when that record really took off and when everything really came together. Nevermind is one of those records, forget rock and roll history, it’s just it’s a really significant record. It’s a perfect piece of work is what it is. There was a good handful of those I would argue in our little town. That one I think is obviously the crown jewel, nobody can really compete with the reach of that record. It’s perfect from beginning to end. The artwork is amazing, the band was in perfect form on that record. Bleach was cool as fuck, but this was something else. This was a whole other level.

Every song on it is great. But my personal favorite is probably “Come As You Are.” This has got that real dreamy cool roll to it and it’s sexy and well written. Kurt truly was an amazing songwriter. He did a lot with a little, you know what I mean? Very simple. Very simple songwriting. Super powerful. Great melodies, great lyrics. And the band is badass, Kurt Krist and Dave — it was just amazing.

About Jerry Cantrell


I met Jerry at a party, just out of the blue. I didn't think he was the coolest guy in the world or anything. He had no family in the area, so he's kind of struggling, didn't have any money or a place to stay or anything. And me being completely drunk, just offered this total stranger a place to stay and clothes, and food and musical instruments. I think two days later he moved his stuff up into the rehearsal room that I was working [out of]. And he's got himself a little 4-track, and kinda started out there, writing and jamming with some people. He was playing with some guys that I thought... you know, weren't up too pair with the music that he was writing. And I remember meeting Mike [Starr] and Sean [Kinney] prior to that.

Jerry really loved Layne [Staley]. They had a bond I haven't seen before.

I lost my grandfather in the same week [that Layne Staley died], so Cantrell and I both hit the road with immense personal losses dogging us. There were times on stage—there was one show in Charlotte where it was just so heavy. I'm holding back tears onstage, and Jerry would start crying onstage too a lot at that point, and a lot of times we would just look at each other when we were singing the stuff because it was the only way... it was heavy. I can't quantify it really in words.

Jerry's a very complex person. He's very guarded of himself and especially of those whom he cares about. It's very hard, because he has so many different sides to him, and it just depends on what side you get in the morning. I never, ever thought he would be as big as he is today. I thought he would end up working for Safeway or at a video place or something.

When it comes to guitar playing, I think the layering and the honest feel that Jerry Cantrell gets on the new Alice in Chains record [Dirt] is worth a lot more than someone who plays five million notes. I was listening to two songs off Dirt with him in L.A. and Jerry was saying that he just did his solos, and he was just playing around letting it come out, and not planning on keeping 'em. But the solos were so good the band wanted him to keep them. I think Jerry played his ass off on that record. That’s what I’m into, not all this total perfection shit.

Show & Tell: Speaking of working with people you admire, Jerry Cantrell jumped on for a single.

Patrick Lachman: Oh man, JC. Awesome. That’s one of those things... It’s gonna get a little surreal now. I’ve worked with Halford, I worked with Tommy Victor from Prong, working with Vinnie and Dime is just a dream come true on a daily basis and then, “oh shit, here comes Corey Taylor singin’ on the record, and here’s Zakk Wylde, one of the most ridiculous guitar players on the planet and oh, here comes Jerry Cantrell, he wants to sing on a song with me?” I mean, Jesus Christ! [laughs] It’s off the hook. But yeh, fucking Jerry is amazing. Great guitar player, great singer, amazing lyricist, fucking melodies and harmonies... I mean, that dude is personally responsible for creating a fucking style that everyone has ripped off. Him and Layne, just fucking groundbreaking. Shit, I’d never thought in a million years that I’d be working side by side with Jerry Cantrell.

Basically he had come down for Thanksgiving, he usually comes down has Thanksgiving at Vinnie’s house every year. I just turned around and there he was, no warning [laughs]. We had this song, and it was actually the first song that Vinnie and Dime did when they started writing this stuff, and it was kind of a departure from what you hear on the record and we sorta didn’t know what to do with it and it kinda got set on the backburner. And it wasn’t until JC came down and he heard it and he’s like, “man, I really like those chords,” and he just came up with this melody off the top of his head and Dime just grabbed him and pulled him in the other room, stuck a 4-track and a microphone in his face and said, “just fucking lay it down.” He came out an hour later with a fucking masterpiece.

At the end of 2007, Jerry dug deeper than I've ever seen him dig and wrote many of the songs [from Alice in Chains' album Black Gives Way to Blue, and in 2008, they decided it was time to lay them down.

The guitar players that inspire me today are basically all the same guitar players that inspired me when I first started. That hasn't really changed, but additionally I think that Tom Morello, Jack White & Jerry Cantrell are great and are some of the really inspiring lead guitar players that have come out in the last 20 years.

When I met with the band, I told Jerry Cantrell, ‘Metallica took Tony Iommi and sped him up. What you’ve done is you’ve slowed him down again.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘You got it.’ That’s how I got the gig. I totally understood what they were doing.

My best friend in music… I don’t think anybody’s ever asked me that question before! That’s a tough one… My best friend… Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains.

When the person who made you fall in love with playing a guitar gives you his guitar you absolutely fucking lose it. Thank you @aliceinchains I love ya.

  • Dallas Green's post on his Instagram account about Jerry Cantrell giving him one of his guitars during a concert in Montreal on April 27, 2019. **Dallas Green Instagram post. Instagram (April 28, 2019).

They [Alice In Chains] definitely had a huge impact on us, what a fantastic band. Those harmonies are incredible, just haunting and perfect. Jerry Cantrell writes amazing riffs, they’re not super technical and yet it’s hard to make anything sound the way he does.

Sometimes the technicality doesn’t have to be 32nd note picking, but rather just how a part is played. Some of the easiest stuff to learn can be the hardest stuff to replicate. His tone is very recognizable and heavy… they were a fantastic band back then and they still. They still put out all this amazing music.

Bringing Jerry to the Gibson to family is a dream come true. He is one of the riff lord heroes that personally influenced and inspired me to play guitar. It’s a privilege to have such an icon become one of our ambassadors. He continues to shape sound in a way that is unique to his artistry. Together we will be a on quest to make music matter more than ever.

The band [Alice in Chains] and I have seen the world together, celebrated many successes and mourned too many losses — including two of the original members of this band, Layne Staley and Mike Starr. After the 2004 tsunami hit Southeast Asia, the three remaining members came back together for a benefit to help the survivors. Their performance reignited their passion and purpose to be Alice in Chains," she continued. In 2005, they invited William DuVall into the band and they toured tirelessly for the next three years while new music of reclamation and healing brewed inside them. Alice in Chains released Black Gives Way to Blue, their first full-length release since 1995's Alice in Chains and their first with DuVall on vocals, in 2009. When the record was finished, my then nine-year-old daughter Lily asked me, 'Mama, what does Black Gives Way to Blue mean?' I suggested we call her uncle Jerry [Cantrell]] and ask him. Jerry ever-so-patiently explained to Lily that sometimes there are very dark and challenging times in life and it may seem like things will never get better. But if you stay strong and keep moving forward and look out on the horizon, you'll start to see a little point of light way out there. And slowly, the black would give way to blue.

Wikipedia has an article about: