On Alice in Chains’ current tour, headed to the Riviera on Tuesday, audiences get to hear the first new taste of music from the venerable rock band in five years. Released earlier this month, the new single “The One You Know” is a sludgy incantation that devolves into a melodic haze partly inspired by David Bowie.
It could easily be one of the band’s best songs since its ’90s reign, which produced such alternative classics as “Would?,” “Down in a Hole” and “Man in the Box” and have led to album sales in surplus of 30 million units.
ALICE IN CHAINS When: 7:30 p.m., May 15 Where: Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine Tickets: sold out
To create the track, the band had to go back to the beginning, back to Seattle where the roots of Alice in Chains took shape more than 30 years ago at the dawn of what would become known as the grunge movement. The musicians chose to record at the famed Studio X, which helped put the polish on their landmark self-titled album in 1995. “I was kind of scared about it,” bassist Mike Inez admits. “On the plane I was having anxiety attacks about the ghosts I thought I’d have to deal with.”
Part of it was the timing. The band — also including vocalist-guitarist Jerry Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney and vocalist-guitarist William DuVall —had booked time at the studio right after the passing of comrade Chris Cornell in May 2017. “That was really strange for us, going back there right after Chris passed away,” says Inez. “There was definitely a lot of emotion going into this record it came from a heavy place.” Cantrell recently joined forces with Heart singer Ann Wilson (along with sister Nancy, the original owners of Studio X, which was then known as Bad Animals) to pay tribute to Cornell with a cover of “Black Hole Sun” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in April.
Alice in Chains has its own beleaguered past, of course, having dealt with the incredible loss of former frontman Layne Staley in in 2002 and original bassist Mike Starr (who played with the band from the early days until Inez took over in 1993) in 2011, both from drug overdoses.
When Alice in Chains kicked off its latest tour in Boston April 30, Cantrell admitted to the crowd, “We like to take a minute most every night to think about Layne and Mike as well,” before playing one of the band’s most gut-wrenching tracks, “Nutshell,” made famous in a 1996 MTV Unplugged performance.
“Layne put everything he had into that song and the lyrics,” says Inez, who remembers first meeting Staley when Alice in Chains opened for Ozzy Osbourne on the initial No More Tours tour in 1992. Inez was Osbourne’s bassist at the time.
“People always talk about Layne as this dark, brooding, mysterious, depressed dude, and there’s so much more to him than that. He was always such a happy guy and his laugh was one of my favorite things I ever heard in my life.”
In 2006, Alice in Chains decided to pick up the pieces and reform the group. The surviving members enlisted singer DuVall, who uncannily has the same sweet-sounding growl that identified Staley.
“I’ve never seen a singer prepare so much,” says Inez. “It’s so important for him to be a professional and give 110 percent every show, which inspires me. And you know he just has so much courage. He took a beating at the beginning when everyone was like ‘no Layne, no Chains,’ but he stuck with it.”
Inez said the band never actually expected to create new records in version 2.0. “We just wanted to go around the world one more time and say goodbye, and then it morphed into the ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’ album [in 2009], and here we are in 2018 talking about a new single and a 20-country tour before August. It really is special every night to know that people still dig our music, and we’re just happy to still be running away with the circus at our age.”
Though the band has remained mostly mum about the new album — the rumor is that it will come out in August — Cantrell divulged to Guitar World, “We certainly have something to say with this one. It’s a f—ing strong record … and it’s a record we haven’t done yet.”
Alice in Chains signed a new deal with BMG, which has Inez excited. “We’re talking videos and trying to come up with what the next [single] is, and listening to everyone’s take on the album, which has everyone really pumped,” he says. And of recording in Seattle, Inez admits, “We had great time up there last year. Now we feel we have a bit of new pure memories to reflect on.”