Read interview outtakes.
Are you calling this a comeback?
Jerry Cantrell: It was a comeback, sure it was. Other than being a different period of time, that was the real difference, but it was the same people, same process, a similar length of time. This was maybe a little bit shorter. For Black Gives Way to Blue, the writing period was four months, and pre-pro and working through things was another couple of months, just hearing what everybody had and actually recording it. We were bouncing around between [Studio] 606 and Ocean [Studios] and Dave Bianco’s place, Dave’s Room for pre-pro, recording at Henson took another six months, so about a year all in. And this was about the same. The process was pretty much the same for me every time and each record is unique unto itself. You’re a couple years perspective, you’re in a different place than you were before. And each album is a snapshot of that period.
What’s the writing process?
Cantrell: I always write on my own, we all do. There’s no set way, sometimes we are in a room together and great ideas and riffs come together. Other times you’ll have ideas when you’re not together. You put down ideas and you record riffs, some things that speak to you, and you shore up a bunch of those and when it feels like it’s time to sift through that stuff and work on another record, then you try to make sense of it all.
I write on acoustic or electric, whatever. There’s no formula. I don’t have a certain style of writing and do the same thing every time. Maybe the motion of writing is the same, but you use whatever tool is handy. I even hum ideas into my iPhone. For Stoned, I was playing a video game and a riff just came to me and I hummed it into the phone.
Is everything just a tool for your imagination then?
Cantrell: Well, I’m a tool! I know that!
How was your shoulder injured?
Cantrell: I am 46, and this is a fairly athletic gig, making music and touring and jumping around and head banging and running across states. You get older and you wear down a little bit. I had surgery on my left shoulder six years ago, and then the shoulder on the right, same thing, for torn ligaments and bone spurs. The posture of a rock guitar player is not very good. And the worse it is, the cooler you look! You’re all wrapped around the guitar and tiny motions over 30 years wore out the cartilage, so I had them repaired. We would have had the album out last year, but I had a long 12 month rehab. It was pretty painful to get better.
What’s the process for singing and guitar tracking?
Cantrell: If the [Gibson] SG is not working we try a Tele. It’s always about the end result, what makes the song work. It’s about the song and it always has been. I like riffs and coming up with cool riffs, but it’s gotta work within a context of a song. I’m not trying to impress anyone with my technique, ’cause I’m middle of the road with technique.
For singing, it’s harder than guitar tracks. You can be sick, pissed off, fucked up, whatever and you can still play guitar. You can’t do that when you’re singing! If the guys look at me and say, “Nope, you don’t have it today dude,” I will try to keep going. “Come on! Let’s do it.” “No, you’re not there man. You’re tight, you’re brassy, you’re not strong.” So I have to be in shape and it takes a long time for me. You have to have the tone and the performance and capture that magical thing, and that takes a ton of repetition for me.
Nick Raskulinecz: Jerry played me completed songs. He sits down and three hours later a song is there. I tell him regarding parts or arrangement. He usually agrees and we love it more. Every song goes through that process, listening to music together. I push him to do his own thing. I’m just steering and guiding him. It’s relaxed and fun. If we get bored, we swim and barbeque.
There’s an old Story about Ted Nugent plugging into Eddie Van Halen’s rig, and no matter what, he still sounded like Ted Nugent. Gear obviously can augment things, and if you need a specific tone, you can do things with certain guitars and amps and effects to achieve what you’re looking for. But the artist is going to always come through that brush, no matter what brush you pick up. If you’re lucky enough to develop a sound or you play long enough you will sound like you no matter what you’re playing. There are a ton of guitar players who play a Les Paul, but they all sound like them playing a Les Paul. It’s in the flesh, it’s in the fingers.