TORONTO -- Alice in Chains' second album since their recent reunion, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard chart in Canada and the U.S. with more than 60,000 in sales.
Positive numbers, to be sure -- at least, for bands who don't remember the 1990s.
"Doing well in today's market is a lot different than doing well in the '90s market as far as records go, you know what I mean?" said founding guitarist/songwriter Jerry Cantrell in a recent telephone interview with a rueful laugh.
"You can't even really compare the two."
True enough. So the lofty heights the Seattle band reached in the early-'90s heyday of its muck-encrusted hard rock are largely unreachable nowadays -- after all, 1992's Dirt and 1994's Jar of Flies EP went platinum a combined seven times in the U.S. and thrice in Canada.
But he says it wasn't just sales that were better then.
"The fact is, I don't feel that we value people's efforts and commitments and investments (anymore), in music particularly," said the 47-year-old. "I think in general, we've grown to expect less and pay the same or more for it, and actually be OK with that."
Hoping to be the exception to the rule, Cantrell says the band pushed themselves hard in making this, their second record with a revised lineup that features vocalist William DuVall in place of founding singer Layne Staley, who died of a drug overdose in 2002.
Cantrell talked to The Canadian Press about the inspiration behind the new album, touring Canada -- they play the MTS Centre Monday with Chevelle and Monster Truck -- and wanting to take Alice in Chains into new musical territory.
CP: 2009's Black Gives Way to Blue was your first album with William singing lead vocals. Has playing together since given him a greater comfort level in the band?
JC: I wouldn't say the balance is much different. I mean, we kind of figured out how we operate during the process of making the first record, and this record is a continuation of (that). We're a team and we don't classically have a lead singer. That's what this band kind of evolved into being. There's a lot of bands that have more than one voice in rock and roll, and we've kind of modelled ourselves after being that. We do it in our own way.
CP: The second single from your new album, Stone, is built on a riff that sounds a little uneasy, even queasy.
JC: It makes you sick? Sick in a good way? I'll take that. It's a good one, man. It's very simple. I've always been a fan of that, and recognized that simplicity is a beautiful thing. I learned that lesson from AC/DC. And I'm not even calling them a simple band, but the formula and the riffs are based in really good chunks of bedrock. It's just a simple idea that just kicks ass. I would say the same thing about Stone. The funny thing about that song is I didn't even write it on guitar. I kind of hummed it into the phone when I was in a sling (after shoulder surgery). I couldn't even play guitar, but I was hearing this riff, so I sang it into my phone and saved it for later.
CP: The title track has been called Alice in Chains' most politicized song (it features the refrain: "Jesus don't like a queer/ The Devil put dinosaurs here/ No problem with faith, just fear.") What were you trying to say with that song?
JC: It's always funny to me -- it's almost not even worth saying anything, you know what I mean, because it gets taken out of context. It's not a political record and that's not a political song. There's nothing politics about it. It's about religion. I don't know where people are getting off saying that. Obviously they're not reading the lyrics. But yeah, it's got something to say on the subject of organized religion, and some of the areas it falls incredibly short -- the proliferation of myth over fact, you know?
CP: Alice in Chains has gigs in nine Canadian cities this summer. Many bands only play some combination of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, so why did you decide to do a more thorough tour here?
JC: For that exact point. We haven't done a proper tour across the country, and it's been a long time. A couple of the times we were going to do it, it was in the dead of winter or just didn't work out schedule-wise, so it was a point we discussed. We need to get up to Canada and we need to do a proper (tour) across there instead of just hitting a couple major cities. We're really glad we had the opportunity to make a good run across there. We love to see you guys.
-- The Canadian Press