ALICE IN CHAINS
Ross Baker Talks to Sean Kinney
Alice In Chains drummer Sean Kinney is a charming man but also a soldier of rock who has seen more than his fair share of excess and personal tragedies along the road to redemption. Whilst Sean has an infectious laugh he answers questions in a slow deliberate tone often going off at a tangent. This can be somewhat challenging when limited to twenty minutes on a transatlantic phone call however the 46 year old is friendly and affable as they come. Alice In Chains’ career has been about overcoming adversity having withstood the tragic deaths of iconic former frontman Layne Staley and former bassist Mike Starr; their’s is an inspiring tale of three friends who visited the depths of addiction, took on personal demons and lived to tell the tale. “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” follows on from the band’s highly successful comeback “Black Gives Way To Blue” but recording an album for Alice In Chains is seldom simple as Sean would elaborate. “There was a delay in recording the album as Jerry had to have shoulder surgery. He had some bone spurs that needed removing which was an old injury he had from years back. The Original plan was we would move into the studio and live out of it for a year. We had to give up that plan when Jerry had the injury. I don’t think it affected the writing of the album too much but making records has always been something this band finds harder than most.”
While the tragic passing of Layne Staley is well documented, less so is the fate of former A.I.C. bassist Mike Starr who was found dead at his home in Salt Lake City on March 8th 2011 having apparently overdosed. Aside from the obvious effect this terrible event would have on Sean and his bandmates who attended a memorial for their fallen comrade, had Starr’s death impacted the new record at all? “These aren’t things that are easy to talk about. These things have not just a huge effect on your album but your life. We lost a family member, we loved him and it affected us deeply and continues to do so.”
Religion is a topic the new album addresses more directly with the title referencing creationism, a sub section of Christianity which holds the radical and frankly ridiculous belief that the world is only a few thousand years old and that Satan placed dinosaur bones on earth to “test our faith”. “My take on it is that a lot of people decide to not live by their own rules in that they pick and choose which parts (Of religion) they want to believe in. It’s a concept Jerry and I have spoken about for years which we decided to address. It’s not us poking fun at anyone’s beliefs but I don’t personally think there was this mythical cloven hoved beast running around the desert placing hundreds of thousand year old bones there. That’s a tough pill for me to swallow.” Religion has clearly had an impact on Alice in Chains in some fashion. As a student vocalist William Duvall did a degree in philosophy which specialised in religion and Guitarist/ Vocalist Jerry Cantrell performed acapella Gregorian chants dating from the 14th and 15th centuries which influenced the haunting vocal style that has become an Alice In Chains trademark. “We don’t all share the same beliefs.” Kinney began. “Jerry and I have similar ideas but you can’t discard all the findings of science like some groups do. There are places in the U.S. where it snows in summer now and yet some people deny the existence of climate change! It’s like they’re stood there in the snow trying to pretend it’s hot and sunny! I think everyone needs something to believe in but you can’t deny proven facts.”
While Sean does not condemn religious doctrine, the lyrics on the title track certainly pull no punches. ““The devil put dinosaurs here/Jesus don’t like no queer/No problem with faith just fear”. It’s certainly critical of groups who defy logic as well as being anti-homophobic. “We are just commenting on how so many people do hateful things in the name of religion. There are many positive messages in religions, helping each other out, loving your brother, acceptance, tolerance and not killing or stealing but human beings still seem to screw those things up. Life is gonna get ya at some point. I just thing we should treat everybody equally and not judge them. Just don’t be a shitty human! That’s the code we live by but some people lose sight of that message especially when they get together on mass. Starting a conversation with the “I’m right and you’re wrong” argument isn’t a great conversation starter!”
“The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” sees the group working with Rush/Foo Fighters producer Nick Rasculinecz. “We never feel that comfortable in the studio so we wanted to keep the team together. We were very happy with “Black Gives…” We kind of have a tradition of doing two albums with each producer as we did a couple with Dave Jerden and a couple with Toby Wright so it seemed the natural thing to do.”
Darkness and tragedy has always followed the band around/. People forget the sense of humour which helped the members get through the dark times. Long time fans will remember the 1995 mockumentary “The Nona Tapes” where Cantrell dressed in drag to assume the guise of Nona Weisbaum, news reporter, who interviews his bandmates with hilarious results. Kinney too appears dressed as a clown having taken a dead end job as a children’s entertainer whilst the band were inactive. Fans of the infamous movie can rejoice because there is a follow up. “We have this little documentary we filmed which was great fun.” Sean starts. “It has all of us in there poking fun at ourselves and some stupid interviews with some wacky characters. We also got Kim Thayil, Mike McCready and Rob Trujillo on there. I won’t tell you about the plot too much but you can pick it up on funnyordie.com.” Having seen said spoof film it is certainly a charming, sidesplitting side to a band too commonly thought of as Seattle’s Brothers Grimm. It’s this brotherhood that has helped A.I.C. carry on. What impact has William Duvall had on the new album now he has been in the band for eight years? “William has put his all into this band. He and Jerry spent a lot of time on the lyrics and working on songs for this album. There is a lot of filth on there guitar wise. William brings his own energy to the band. This band is a family and William is part of that. The album is weird and dark but it’s totally us.”
“Black Gives Way To Blue” was a very successful comeback record, their first for fourteen years,, selling over one million albums in the U.S. (no mean feat in today’s download happy climate) and featuring videos for hit singles “Check My Brain”, “Acid Bubble” and choose life anthem “Your Decision” not to mention the moving tribute to Layne Staley that is the title track where they coaxed pop superstar Elton John to provide piano to the heartfelt tribute to Layne. “We were amazed that happened. We played the song for a buddy of ours and they suggested we call Elton to which we were “Yeah right like that’d happen” Kinney laughed. “We had a think and Jerry emailed Elton telling him what the song was about and what it meant to us. Anyway we though nothing would come of it but we then got a call saying he wanted to play on the track. We flew out to Vegas where he was performing to meet him and we hung out for awhile. He’s an interesting guy and it was great we were able to honour Layne like that.” For many acts, following up such a well received release could be somewhat daunting. What had made Kinney and company get back on the treadmill that is the process of making albums? “It’s what we do. We still need to be creative. This band still has ambitions only they are somewhat bigger than when we started. I remember when we just wanted to be able to play a bar in Seattle! We never set out to get on the radio or achieve the success. Our goal was just to be creative and make music we loved. As long as we like what we are doing we will keep doing this.” Brave words from a true survivor but while the band’s storied past may still be a topic of discussion Sean is focused on the present too. “We never planned on doing the last record but then we wrote another. It just came naturally. That’s the way it has to be for us. We are just enjoying the ride.” Alice In Chains “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” is out on May 28th through Virgin/EMI.
Ross Baker talks to the man himself
Prior to three years ago it would not be realistic to expect a Rob Zombie album for around five years, yet fast forward to 2013 and not only do we have new opus “Venomous Rat Regenerator Vendor” being released on his own Zodiac Swan imprint this year will also bear witness to his sixth feature film “The Lords Of Salem” a sinister collaboration with the producers behind chilling features “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious”. When the phone finally rings there is long pause between Zombie’s P.R. checking we are good to go before the familiar drawl of Mr. Zombie reverberates down the transatlantic connection. “Three years ago I decided I had to rededicate myself to the music. I had been touring and performing but it almost felt like a side job at that point.” admits Zombie in response to enquiries about how he was able to focus on the two different aspects of his career. “On this album I wanted everything to be one hundred percent focused, like this was the first time we had ever done it. It made a big difference because you can’t be on ten for twenty five years. Our drummer upped and quit without any warning but rather than that bothering us it inspired us to think “You know what? Fuck him. We will regroup and move on and not look back. That was the catalyst for the rejuvenation of the band.”
Following Tommy Clufetos’ acrimonious departure, Zombie recruited former Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish to complete the line up. Considering the revolving cast of freaks Rob has employed how important were Ginger’s contributions and what was it like having two former members of Marilyn Manson onboard? “Well John 5 has been in my band eight years which is longer than he was with Manson and Ginger has been with us two years so they fit right in. In a way it’s good because they already had a rapport with each other. The reason Ginger joined is of course because of John. Ginger had already quit Marilyn Manson and was sat at home so when Tommy left John suggested Ginger. I didn’t realize how good a drummer he was as his playing in Manson’s band didn’t highlight that. The other thing was whoever came into the band had to be a great showman in addition to being a great musician. You see some bands and you can tell that the guys onstage aren’t into it and are being told what to do and what to wear and it’s fucking boring. That’s why it was such a natural fit. The whole band is great at that. “
Showmanship is something Rob Zombie has always had an abundance of, yet behind the costumes and the spooky goings on is a very driven and focused entrepreneur who analyses every detail of his presentation almost obsessively. Rob’s new movie “The Lords Of Salem” see’s a release on April 26th. What attracted Rob to the script for this feature? “I’d planned to do this movie five or six years ago. Then Momentum films came to me with an offer. I had a low budget but total control. I wanted to do a really chilling supernatural movie.” Indeed while “The Lords Of Salem” is a chilling tale of witchcraft and Satanism, Zombie’s next film projects will surprise a lot of people. “I’m working on a movie called “The Broad Street Bullies”; it’s about the hockey team I supported as a kid, the Philadelphia Flyers. During the early seventies they kinda became the super villains of Hockey, the toughest meanest players around and very successful. The most important thing for any movie is to have great characters because then I can watch them do anything. I never wanted to just be a horror director I want to make great movies with great characters. I don’t want to be associated with just one genre if that’s possible. The genre doesn’t matter, it’s the style.”
Certainly while Zombie’s forthcoming film work will be a great departure stylistically, one constant in his films and music videos has been the appearance of his wife Sherri Moon. Did Sherri ever give Rob creative input? “Obviously she is privy to knowledge before anyone else about a project but I keep everyone out of the loop until it’s ready to bring people in. Whenever I have made music videos or films I want there to be a personal connection. Sherri is synonymous with my videos and is a part of their identity.” What makes such a theatrical performer prefer a role behind the camera rather than in front of it? “Even though I am onstage making a spectacle of myself, I hate being photographed and paid attention to. It’s kinda demented when you think about it. I have no desire to be watched in movies. Maybe someday if the right role came along. I’ve turned down some really cool stuff over the years.”
Indeed the reanimation of Rob Zombie manifests itself in the sleazy stripper grind of the album’s first single “Dead City Radio And The New Gods Of Super Town” and “Behold The Pretty Filthy Creatures”. While subtle and carefully spoken in person Zombie is in many ways the fiendish ringmaster macabre of this freakshow explosion delivering Godzilla size chorus driven tunes which make up this garish Satanic fairground which screams bigger, faster and freakier than ever before as Rob put it. “We wanted to make the weirdest record we could. If anything was too straight up we put it to one side and moved on. I wanted to make a dark, nasty rock ‘n’ roll freakshow record that the fans would love. “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor” features a cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re An American Band”. Zombie has confined his cover versions to soundtracks in the past. What made him include this track on the album? “I wanted to do a song that was iconic and well known but where the band weren’t so active. If you do a Sabbath or Zeppelin cover it’s always going to fall short. Grand Funk Railroad was massive in America and that song is just about how fun and cool it is to be in a rock band.”
It’s encouraging to hear how passionate Zombie is about both music and movies. Are there any similarities when it comes to creating an album or a film? “They used to seem very different to me but with this album and film they were similar creatively in that I was working on them at my house in the middle of nowhere. The band came and stayed with me while we were recording and I worked on the movie in my barn in total seclusion so I was away from all the bullshit you get at movie studios with thousands of secretaries calling all the time. We worked on the record all day everyday and weren’t bothered by anyone.”
To date Rob Zombie has now sold over fifteen million records and grossed over 100 million dollars at the U.S. Box office. Not to mention having worked with greats like Slayer’s Kerry King, shock idol Alice Cooper and of course Ozzy. What new challenges does Rob foresee and what drives him to achieve his goals? “I just always feel hungry. Even when White Zombie came from being a garage band to getting our first gold record I was always asking, “Why isn’t it platinum? Why not triple platinum?” It’s the same now. I could win an academy award and I would want two! It’s a sickness that you get. We are playing big arenas but fucking Coldplay are playing at a bigger arena so I want to play there! It keeps you hungry and motivated but it drives you insane after a while.”
Zombie is nothing if not a perfectionist, while a larger than life monster man exists on stage off of it Rob is an astute businessman more concerned with preserving his artistic vision than living large. “No matter how great the band plays we get on the bus and analyze the show and what went wrong. Some bands come off stage go to the tour bus and get drunk but we sit up all night trying to find new ways to make the show more exciting. There are always so many props and outfits and we always have to top ourselves with more fire, robots, skeletons and stuff.” The devilman is clearly shaping up for what will be a wildly productive year. Regarding plans to tour the new album Rob had this to say. “You want blood and fire and Frankenstein and monsters and ghouls and dancing girls we’ll give it to you! When we come back we want to bring our biggest ever production. We have just got started really playing arenas in the U.K. and I think we can do a lot more production wise to make it fun for everyone!” “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor” is released on April 23rd and “The Lords Of Salem” April 26th.
Genre: Extreme Post Metal
Label: Candlelight Records
Something nasty is brewing over in France. Having given birth to the cold atmospherics of Blut Aus Nord, a new contender has emerged through the mire; that of C.R.O.W.N. a duo capable of creating devastating walls of claustrophobic noise with a harrowing intensity.
This is their full debut album, a towering shadowy figure intend on causing mayhem and torment as it grips you, dragging through its ten epic chapters. Majestic in its oppressive nature; anguished roaring tops glacial ostinatos which evoke a truly chilling feel to both the dense volume of “Blood Runs” and the tranquil build up sections which add tension to the likes of “Serpent And Fire” before the hostility floods back in.
“Man is so infinitely small” the eerie sample which introduces “Psychokinesy II” gives a perfect description of how insignificant and tiny this crushing experience makes you feel whilst ushering in the albums second movement. Pulsing electronics abound adding artificial coldness and while the vocoder glazed vocals are somewhat unnecessary they do little to detract from the overall bleakness and sombre beauty of this compelling work. The jewel here however is the colossal obelisk of guitars that fuel “We Will Crush The Open Sky”; a number as devoid of hope as its moniker suggests. The mood of the album is at times soothing in between moments of utter despair and malignancy which only enhances its ability to render you powerless to resist. “Psychurgy” prowls the dark recesses of the psyche praying on your unsuspecting consciousness and will never want to leave.