After tragedy, Alice in Chains celebrates a new chapter

Kevin C. Johnson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

Seattle rockers Alice in Chains looked like a wrap after the 2002 death of lead singer Layne Staley, ending a storied career that included hit singles, multimillion-selling albums and a Grammy Award.

But surviving guitarist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney proved that chains really do bind.

A benefit concert in 2005 led to an intimate acoustic tour with new lead singer William DuVall.

Now, Alice in Chains has a new tour and "Black Gives Way to Blue," its first new CD in 14 years.

"We're having fun and we're rockin' it," Inez says. "It's a testament to our friendship that we wanted to do it.

"It was a record we didn't have to do. None of us were losing our houses. But in a different way, we had to do it. It's a process the three of us had to go through, and I'm glad we did."

Inez concedes that "Black Gives Way to Blue" was a difficult record to make. Walking into the recording studio without Staley was tough for the band.

"He was a family member," Inez says. "We run this band like family. It wasn't just about his voice, but his personality. There was so much dark written about him. People don't know he was nice and funny and loved life."

The band auditioned DuVall and a few other singers, but it made sense to select DuVall, who had played in Cantrell's solo band.

The first song they attempted with DuVall was an oldie, "Love, Hate, Love."

"He made it his own," Inez says. "He didn't try to emulate Layne. That's what drew us to him."

Rather than jump right into a new CD, the musicians decided to try out the new lineup with the acoustic tour.

Inez says he told DuVall early on that the only way to win over fans would be at gigs, face-to-face and one-at-a-time.

"Fans sat there with their arms crossed, and he went for it," Inez says. "A couple of songs in their arms came down and, by the end of the show, their arms were up in the air. He won them over gradually. That solidified the band to later go in and do the record."

Inez calls the new album a mix of vintage and new Alice in Chains.

The band will play about a half-dozen of the "Black Gives Way to Blue" songs in concert, which is the best part of the show for the band.

"We equate it to moving the ball forward," Inez says. "We're not just a retro act. It's nice to play the new stuff."

Alice in Chains also will resurrect many of the hits made famous with Staley.

Compiling the set list for each show is a monumental task for the band.

"It's a good problem to have so many songs," Inez says. "We didn't realize we had so much. We all sit there before the show and go down the list and decide which are the favorite kids we have to kill off the set list."

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