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Jerry Cantrell's first solo album in nearly 20 years was worth the wait

Michael Rietmulder, The Seattle Times on

Published in Entertainment News

A: There really isn't any such thing that's a wrong fit for Alice. I think we proved that with the acoustic EPs that we've done. You go with what feels right and we had some pretty major success with our first record, which was a very [expletive] rock record [laughs]. To follow that up with an EP, "Sap," of acoustic stuff was a bit of a risk. But I'm so glad that we took that because people got used to us being able to do some different [expletive]. And then we came out with "Dirt" and gave you another slammin' rock record and then did "Jar of Flies" as well. So the playing field was wide open.

Q: One thing I like is there's almost an alt-country vibe in certain spots. Twang and pedal steel in there, Wurlitzer. What inspired you to incorporate some of those sounds?

A: Just kinda happenstance. I try to not think about it in an analytical way and I never have. We've always worked that way in Alice and I guess I carry that with me. You don't know where the [expletive] you're going. The coolest way to make that journey is to be kinda blind about it, instead of writing down on paper in a cold, analytical way. It's cooler to go bash the undergrowth in the [expletive] dark and hack your way through it and then you come out the other side with this thing that surprises you even.

Q: What's your process for curating which musicians you want to bring in for certain songs or moments?

A: You follow what's being laid down. Part of the process for me is there's a certain amount of, "What does this song need?" and almost more importantly, "What doesn't it need?" You try to get it to the simplest, purest form. This record is, it's a rock 'n' roll record, it really is, but it definitely has elements of the acoustic side of writing that I've done in my career, too. Having Michael Rozon, that adds that kind of country, western-y vibe to it. Michael's pedal steel is amazing, and Jordan Lewis and especially Vincent Jones' keys are just insane. That's one of those things where I didn't plan it out for that to happen, but you just follow it down the road and I luckily was able to stumble on to meeting those guys through my other friends. It was a record of friends and friends of friends. I think it's very warm and a very alive record.

Q: You mention the album feeling warm and I think of the title track "Brighten." You've described the song as being a cornerstone to the record. What was it about that song that felt very central to this project?

A: That was one of the first songs I wrangled together. I think I demo-ed "Atone" first and then "Brighten" right after that. But normally what you call a record is the absolute last thing and it's usually some frantic, semicomical thing at the end of the record where we're like, "What the [expletive] do we call this thing, man?" I think this is one of the first times where I actually, early in the process, I wrote that song and I was, like, "That sounds right." So, it was baked in really early in the process that this record was going to be called that, probably because of the strength I felt that song had, and it was also a descriptive word of the work.

Q: You had been kicking around some element of "Atone" for 20 years. Can you tell me about the origins?

 

A: Every record you've heard that I've been involved with, there are ideas that have been around for some time. It's a process of collection and cultivation and shelving sometimes. Sometimes you just can't crack the code on it. All I had of that song was a chorus idea and the main guitar riff. It just never was the moment for the other parts to come into existence until late 2019 and I finally cracked the code on it. There's a track or two on every record that I've been a part of that is from previous records or previous periods of writing for other records. The cool thing about ideas is if they're still speaking to you after that [expletive] long, there's something to it [laughs].

Q: The Elton John cover at the end makes a perfectly haunting coda to the record.

A: When I was getting close to wrapping this record, I felt I needed one more song, but the song[s] that I had, it felt like they were a different record. Heavier riffs and [expletive] like that, and it wasn't gonna fit with this body of work. We had closed both shows in L.A. with "Goodbye" and it was just a really chilling, powerful cover. And Tyler [Bates] suggested, "[Expletive] man, why don't we just record 'Goodbye' and call it a record." It made sense and we did it. It's very bare bones and packed full of emotion. I reached out to Elton and sent him the demo and he dug it. Then [John's longtime collaborator] Davey Johnstone called me the next day and he's like, "I heard you covered 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.'" I'm like, "No, it's 'Goodbye.'" [Laughs.] He's like, "Dude, can you send it over man, Elton said it was cool." I'm like, "Yeah, no problem." And I sent it to him and he's like, "[Expletive], that's awesome." So getting a little thumbs up from those guys that you didn't butcher their song [laughs], life's a really funny thing, you know.

Q: What has been your relationship with Elton's music? What has his music meant to you over the years?

A: It was some of the first music that really opened my eyes and ears to the possibility of being a songwriter or being in a band. I was born in '66, so my musical coming of age is in the early '70s and the mid-'70s, and when I started really becoming aware of music and the fact that it made me feel. And he was one of the artists that I connected with.

———

“An Evening with Jerry Cantrell,” including a six-song set, storytelling and a Q&A hosted by actor/comedian Jeff Garlin, streams 9 p.m. ET Dec. 1; $12 preorder, $15 day of show; stream available for 24 hours; momenthouse.com/jerrycantrell

(c)2021 The Seattle Times Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

 
Alright, let’s start this out by admitting something. Prior to National Fritters Day we had no idea that Fritters came in any other variety than Apple. A whole new world was opened up to us when we discovered that there were blueberry fritters, and banana fritters, pineapple fritters and even...

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Alright, let’s start this out by admitting something. Prior to National Fritters Day we had no idea that Fritters came in any other variety than Apple. A whole new world was opened up to us when we discovered that there were blueberry fritters, and banana fritters, pineapple fritters and even...