MUSIC, ENTERTAINMENT, LIFESTYLE AND LOW RENT CULTURE

ALICE IN CHAINS – A CHAT WITH SEAN KINNEY

Alice in chains
Alice in chains


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

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