So. If you know me, you know I’m a huge Jerry Cantrell nut-swinger. I celebrate the man’s entire catalogue. The new Alice In Chains album Ranier Fog is released at the end of this week and it’s a killer evolution of the Alice In Chains sound: just like everything else AIC, it’s recognisably them yet recognisably different at the same time. I had the chance to talk with Jerry about it, along with as many other nerdy guitar questions as I could cram in to the chat. I hope you dig it. You can check it out on iTunes, at BlogTalkRadio or on pretty much all good podcast catchers (and if it’s not on yours, let me know and I’ll change that).
Man, I’m continually blown away by how well Dirt by Alice In Chains holds up today. For all its darkness and brutal honesty there’s something strangely beautiful about it. It’s not an easy listen. You can tell even at this stage that the band was surrounded by and drawn towards self-destruction. The lyrics speak not just of addiction in an abstract sense, but of surrendering willingly to it, throwing yourself into it and letting it take you over completely. Embracing the hopelessness and the fuck-it-ness of it all.
When I first heard the record, I couldn’t relate to that at all. Hell, the biggest addition I had was playing guitar, and I managed to turn that into something constructive. But as I got older I started to understand Dirt a little more. I was never a drug guy but I came to understand self-destruction, hopelessness, the compulsion to see how far you can take something that is bad for you, how low you can get before you admit you need help, how much you can dislike yourself before you decide to either do something about it or give in.
There are a lot of albums I love that I don’t particularly feel like I need to listen to regularly any more, just because they’re so burned into my brain. But this one keeps calling to me and I keep hearing new things. And although Dirt has been out there in the world for 25 years now and has been a part of my life since my teens, I don’t listen to it for nostalgia. I listen to it because it feels like a living, evolving document of the human condition. It’s filtered through the lens of depression, addiction, desperation and surrender but as a listener you can superimpose all sorts of demons onto it and hopefully exorcise them in the process.
Dirt is still not an easy listen. If you’re a sensitive soul, you’re going to feel a lot of things and you’re probably going to want to just sit in silence for a few minutes afterwards, letting your mind come back from wherever you’ve just been. But it’s a very worthwhile listen too.
Pearl Aday and her band play kickass high-energy, slightly dark-tinged rock. It’s no surprise that the band rocks so hard. In addition to Pearl’s impressive resume and family history (for instance, she’s toured as a backing vocalist for Motley Crue as well as for her dad Meat Loaf), the band Pearl consists of the members of Mother Superior – who for a while were the new Rollins Band – and her husband Scott Ian of Anthrax. Being surrounded by rock her whole life, Pearl kicks off her debut album – Little Immaculate White Fox – with a raging anthem called Rock Child which immediately shatters any idea that rock is anything but in her blood.
“It’s just a rock song, high energy rock and roll. It’s pretty straight forward,” Pearl says. “The lyrics are about how I guess I am a, y’know, rock child. My dad’s a rock singer, and the lyrics are pretty autobiographical. When I was little my mom worked in a recording studio, and an open guitar place was a really good place for a baby to sleep if you put in a blanket and a pillow. So I actually did sleep in a guitar case. We just felt it was a fun song and a really good opener to kickstart the album.” Pearl could be forgiven for skirting the issue and not writing a song about it, but what would be the point? “I’m not ashamed of it,” she says. “I’m proud of where I come from. It’s part of who I am and what I do, so why not celebrate it?”
I took these shots at the G&L booth at NAMM. You’ll see the Tribute series Jerry Cantrell Rampage, along with some other tasty Rampage models, including the forthcoming Blue Dress reissue and, sweet lord, is that Jerry’s own actual Rampage on display? Y’know, the one that recorded dozens of classic Alice In Chains tracks? Or is it a replica? The whole relicing thing has become so well-honed these days that it’s kinda hard to tell! And check out the other models on display too. Can’t seem to dig up any info on if all of these will be available, or if they’re Jerry’s stage guitars on display, but they’re nice to look at, aren’t they?
Check out this G&L Rampage tour at NAMM by Premier Guitar. To be honest I haven’t even watched this myself yet cos I just found it and right now I’m trying to be mega quiet cos my son is trying to sleep a few feet away (I’m at a hotel in San Francisco right now) and I can’t get to my headphones without waking him up, but Premier Guitar always do awesome videos, and hey, maybe they answer the questions I asked earlier in the post! Bring on morning so I can find out for myself!
Today I trudged along for my very first NAMM and I think it’s safe to say my mind was utterly and stupefyingly blown. Below I’ll list some of my gear highlights, but first, here were a few incredibly cool things that happened today:
Geekboy alert: I saw both Michael Molenda and Brad Tolinski, two journalistic heroes of mine. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll work up the guts to say hello to them!
I had my photo taken with Nuno Bettencourt!
I met designer Rick Turner (and Seymour Duncan’s Evan Skopp)
I met probably the most friendly guy on earth, Vernon Reid. Seriously, I’ve heard stories about what a lovely guy he is and they’re all totally true. I just wanna hug him!
I saw Quincy Jones. QUINCY JONES!
I met Blake from the What’s That Dude Play website – awesome dude.
Finally met Pauline France in person. You may remember her from the awesome King of the Blues coverage she provided recently.
I interviewed Joe Knaggs, formerly of Paul Reed Smith and now with his own company, Knaggs. Can’t wait to get the interview transcribed and on the site – he was a very cool guy with lots of interesting stuff to say.
I met Brandon from Jim Dunlop, who has been great in supporting I Heart Guitar with info.
Checking out the new Martin gear. Look for a report soon.
Now for my day at NAMM. Apologies for the fuzzy iPhone shots – I took a camera but it’s having trouble interfacing with the computer, and I was clever enough to use my phone for some backups.
First off, here’s my view as I walked to NAMM. I literally got butterflies in my tummy like a little kid.
OK. Gear highlights.
The Ibanez UV77MC multicolour swirl 7-string reissue, painted by the artist who did the originals, Darren Johannsen.
Marshall‘s Dave Mustaine Megastack
Checking out the entire Blackstar amp range. Love that HT Club 40.
The new Randall Nuno Bettencourt mini combo amp.
The EVH Wolfgang Special! Yes, after a year of the EVH Wolfgang being totally freaking awesome on its own, it’s now going to be joined (in April) by a flat-topped version. You will also now be able to buy the Wolfgang neck and bridge pickups separately to add to your own guitar.
Seymour Duncan Slash signature pickup – designed to make Slash’s non-Derrick Les Pauls sound like his Derrick Les Paul!
G&L Rampage Jerry Cantrell signature models! In addition to the cream-coloured one everyone expected, there are a few other models with cool graphics.
Peavey Devin Townsend baritone V 7-string prototype. This axe is being displayed at NAMM to gauge the response, and if things go well it’ll make it to production. Devin’s latest CD, ‘Addicted,’ is so freaking awesome that I hope there’s huge support for the guitar. I checked it out and it was incredible – great attack and sustain.
More info on these items and others in the morning!
Whoa! Check out this Premier Guitar video about the G&L Rampage Jerry Cantrell model. The guitar will be available in Tribute and US-made versions in 2010.
Look at the specs of the Tribute version.
Kahler 4300 bridge
Alnico 5 humbucker designed with Jerry
Soft maple body
The US-made version will have a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker and an upgraded Kahler bridge.
Alice In Chains has released a new single, A Looking In View, via their website, www.aliceinchains.com – rock on over there now to download it for free, in return for signing up to their mailing list. Small price to pay, methinks. The track is from the forthcoming album ‘Black Gives Way To Blue’ which is due for release on September 29. CLICK HERE to preorder the album from Amazon.com.
So what do you think of the track? Here are a few thoughts, in dot points because they’re fun.
• Huge guitar tone from Jerry Cantrell. It reminds me of his sound on Dirt but, I dunno, bigger. More body and oomph. Something about the pick attack reminds me of Sepultura’s ‘Against’ CD, which is a kinda weird comparison, but there it is.
• Big production with lots of overdubs and audio candy. This shouldn’t really be a surprise since AIC’s best stuff was heavily layered.
• One thing this song does is once again remind me that Jerry’s vocals are a huge part of the Alice In Chains sound. His role had gradually increased during the band’s first, Layne Staley-led incarnation, to the point where now Jerry and William DuVall seem to be sharing the lead vocalist slot equally.
• Speaking of Duvall, he seems to be purposefully using a Staley-like vibrato in a few spots, but his voice is more nasal than Staley’s. I quite like that he’s not trying too hard to sound like Layne, but at the same time isn’t denying what a huge part Layne played in the AIC sound.
With Alice In Chains in town recently for the Soundwave festival and their own side shows, now seems like as good a time as any to look at the guitar tones of Jerry Cantrell. The band’s defining moment was the 1993 album Dirt, which stripped away the slightly 80s-rock elements of their debut and ratcheted up the dark, foreboding, Sabbath-y elements instead. Cantrell’s tone was huge and warm, and a lot more ‘boutique’ than most of his grunge-era contemporaries. Read More …