Rainier Fog, the latest album from Alice In Chains (and the band's third with vocalist/guitarist William DuVall), marks the first time the group has recorded in Seattle in more than 20 years. The quartet convened at Studio X (formerly Bad Animals) in the warmest months of 2017. It marked the first extended amount of time that DuVall, who came out of the Atlanta music scene, had spent in the city and the first time his bandmates—Sean Kinney, Jerry Cantrell, and Mike Inez—had recorded there since the band's acclaimed 1995 self-titled album.
The sessions were not without their emotional heft. Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell, a friend of the members, had passed around the time the group began tracking (his sister loaned Cantrell and DuVall one of the late singer's acoustic guitars which can be heard on the album) and the past that Kinney, Inez and Cantrell shared in the city loomed in the air.
The ghosts the group confronted there included the specter of original vocalist Layne Staley, who died in 2002, and original bassist Mike Starr, who passed in 2011. There was also the collective's ongoing narrative which saw Alice In Chains rise from a promising local act to million-selling success, then back to starting over with a new singer and no promise that its following would remain.
If those spirits still linger they've proven themselves benevolent forces. Rainer Fog, which was released on August 24, reached the top of Billboard's Rock, Alternative and Hard Rock album chart as well as the top spot on iTunes' Rock Album chart in the first week of release. The band is currently on a headlining tour which sees regional stops on the following dates:
- Sept 10 – Tulsa, OK – Brady Theatre
- Sept 11 – Kansas City, MO - Midland Theatre
- Sept 13 – Denver, CO – Fillmore
- October 18 – Colorado Springs – Pikes Peak Center
- October 20 – Newkirk, OK – First Council Casino
- October 21 - Durant, OK - Choctaw Grand Theater
DuVall recently spoke with KMUW about the recording of Rainer Fog and some of the forces that have influenced his musical life.
It seems to me that Alice In Chains is like that old Paul Masson wine commercial. Like, "We'll make no album before its time."
[Laughs.] You're exactly right. I hear Orson Welles' voice as you're saying that. It's so true.
We're not a band that makes records by committee. It really is the four guys in this band and the producer, in this case, and the last three albums, Nick Raskulinecz and our engineer, Paul Figueroa. That's about it. Nobody else hears the music, not our management, not anyone until after it's done. We've always found a partner to release the material long after it's done. It's always been a case of our partner, in terms of a label, receiving a finished product.
One of the songs on the new album is "Never Fade." That's one that you had a pretty big hand in writing, right?
Most of the lyrics to that were written by me right there in Studio X. Everyone had gone home for the night after a long workday. I stayed. I stayed in there all night and I just made a conscious decision that I was going to let all of those emotions and all of that stuff that had been circulating in the background come to the foreground and wash over me and let the chips fall where they may.
I was thinking about all of it. I was thinking about all of the dearly departed, and that includes the musicians who I'm sure are obvious, I was thinking about Layne and Chris Cornell, who had passed the month before, I was also thinking about my grandmother who passed on New Year's Day 2017. She was a huge figure in our family, a real matriarchal figure in our family. She lived to be 105 years old and it was the end of an era, for me, for our entire family. I was thinking about a lot of friends of mine who passed, over the years, many of whom are not as famous as some of the more obvious names. They all hit me the same way: You never get used to it. I was just thinking about all of that and how the one monofilament through all of that is the love and the high regard you feel for these people allows them to never truly leave you.
Having seen Alice In Chains live and knowing the story of the band, it occurs to me that you guys know that tomorrow isn't promised.
You're right. You're absolutely right. It's not. And one day all of this will be over.
Nobody gets onstage well adjusted. Nobody that really does this at a high level for a long period of time came into this well adjusted. Everybody's got some massive grief or some massive other … there's always a story there and it usually involves some kind of horror. If you keep going it's because you're still fueled by that. You'll do whatever's necessary to destroy once you get on the stage because that's all you have. And if you don't do that, then what the hell are you doing, period?
You mentioned earlier that your grandmother had passed. Had she been able to see you perform live, in particular with Alice In Chains?
Thankfully she was able to see a lot of this stuff as it was unfolding and she was still mobile enough to come to some gigs. It was always a huge honor. I'm originally from Washington, D.C., so the shows she attended were always there. And they were always in these venues that I grew up either attending as a small kid or grew up wanting to play one day. She would come to gigs at the 9:30 Club or Constitution Hall.
It was always a very, very cool thing. I'm very grateful that she got to see it. We just recently played Washington, D.C. at The Anthem, a new venue there. That venue happens to be right on the waterfront where I grew up. I definitely made a point of talking about that onstage because my mother was there, a lot of family members. You could see her apartment from out the back door of The Anthem. You could see the waterfront where I played as a child.
That was one gig I wish she could have made but she was definitely there in spirit.