Jerry Cantrell – ‘Back to Brighten Your Life with Rock’s Finest Figures’

Nineteen years is a long time between drinks but that’s how long it’s been since Jerry Cantrell released his last solo venture Degradation Trip back in 2002. An album that in the end was made in tribute to his friend and Alice In Chains bandmate Layne Staley. Nearly two decades later and Jerry is back, along with a cast of some of music’s finest to produce his third solo outing, Brighten, a beautifully crafted album that is well worth the 19 year wait (my review here).

I asked about when the idea to finally start developing the Brighten album, to which Jerry explained:

“I think I’d started kind of started thinking about making a record middle of 2019. So that was toward the tail end of the (Alice In Chains) Rainier Fog tour. And we were kind of closing out our tour, as Korn was starting out on theirs and releasing a record.

When that tour finished in September, I spent the next few months demoing with Paul Figueroa, my buddy Tyler Bates, and Joe Breezy came on board to to help out kind of direct a project. Between the four of us we just started going through ideas, demoing stuff, inviting some friends in, you know, some new, really cool musicians. We put together a couple of live shows in LA in December. Did two nights at the Pico Union Project with a good portion of musicians that ended up playing on the record.

I think that was important getting on the stage with some of these folks that I’d never played with before. We took it into the studio and started recording everything and got most of the basic tracks recorded in March, right as the shutdown happened. So we went into lockdown with a good portion of the record intact. It was you know, it was a challenge like it has been for everybody else, to figure out how to operate in that environment. But I’m glad I had the record to focus on and then I had so much completed already.”

As a result of the initial lockdown, Cantrell was afforded a bit more time to complete the record, which also meant he was able to invite some world class musicians to contribute further to the album.

“Because it took longer than I expected, I got to have another three or four really talented musicians on the record which I didn’t initially intend on. Duff McKagan came to the picture, Abe Laboriel Jr, Vincent Jones on top of the excellent musicians that I already had. So it’s a very diverse record. It’s very, very warm. I’m really proud of it. It’s a very alive sounding record. I want to really give a shout out to everybody who helped me make it from the production side, and all the musicians who put their time and heart into the tracks. You can hear it and you can feel it.”

So how long have you known Duff McKagan I quizzed?

Oh, man, you know. Probably late 80s, early 90s I think we probably, I think we met down in LA somewhere at some some hovel, some rock hovel and ended up at his house and I think the first time we hung I think there were many drinks that were had and I believe we ended up around a pool table in his house. You know, playing pool, shooting pool and talking shit. Having a few laughs, a few drinks”

Another friendship that Jerry had formed over the years is with aforementioned collaborator Tyler Bates (Manson, John Wick, 300, DC Dark Nights: Metal Soundtrack), and whilst he’s not the most prolific personality on this album, it turns out that you’ve almost definitely been listening to his work for at least the last decade or so.

“We did a song. Gil Sharone, Tyler Bates and myself did a song called ‘A Job To Do’ for the second John Wick movie. So that was our first kind of debut of working together and creating a piece of work, and the (DC) Dark Nights (soundtrack) came after that. Funnily enough, we met because we live in the same neighbourhood. You know, I was walking in front of his house and I had met his wife, Lisa, and she’s like, “Oh, my husband’s a guitar player. He’s a musician. He’s he’s out touring with Manson right now. You guys should meet.

We jammed a few times over at the studio and told me he was working on that John Wick soundtrack and we were off and rolling from then then on, you know. He’s kind of a low profile dude as far as the public goes. But he has done some incredible soundtracks and some great producing and songwriting for artists as well, and he’s a really talented musician himself.”

But Cantrell’s trademark vocal harmony is as huge a part of this album as any he’s produced. More often than not he’s had a singing partner, whether it was Layne Staley in the early days of Alice In Chains or William Duvall in the latter. How did he come to work with Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan, Killer Be Killed), a vocalist who is traditionally associated with a more heavier sound?

“Well, you know Gil, Gil Sharone was in Dillinger for a bit with Greg. So they had a relationship, and that’s how we were introduced is through Gil. Gil’s, like, ‘Hey man, why don’t we call Greg, you know, for these shows that we had planned’ Greg came down, and we tried out a couple of tunes, and we hit it off instantly.

I’ve had the good fortune to share the stage with some really amazing singers, and I think that you’re correct in describing Greg in that way. He’s got a lot more firepower than I do vocally. And, you know, I do a certain thing. But that’s, I always admired that about Layne, And Will certainly has more firepower than I do. I think I’ve worked very well in tandem, and in partnership with somebody who has a little bit more gas.

So it was great having him involved, he kind of came in, you know, as we were kind of already in the process of writing. His texture added to what I had already done vocally, really kind of made things come alive. He had a couple of really great ideas to which we came up with on the spot. Some really powerful ad libs. He’s just a good dude. He’s really, really talented. I’m really happy I met him. You know, he has a saying, and I think it’s a really good saying, it’s like, I don’t care when I meet somebody. Like, if my criteria for hanging out with somebody is when we were 14, would we have got along? If we were 14 years old, would we have started a band together? Answer is yes. That’s pretty good criteria. I get him and I really appreciate him. We’ve had a lot of fun together.

Is there any chance of him touring with you when you tour North America next March?

“I certainly hope so. I think Greg is going to come along. If I can tear Tyler away from the three movies and four TV shows and two records that he’s producing at once. There’s a few more spots I need to fill.”

Well Duff was supposed to be touring Australia with Guns ‘N Roses in November, but that’s been postponed to 2022 on the back of Covid and their next show isn’t until June in Europe. What’s the chance of getting him on board for your tour?

“He’s got the biggest band of us all. So I don’t expect him to have time to do that. You know Duff and I have been friends for a long time, and I would like to say, you know, when we were restarting the band and inviting William to come out, you know, Duff spent a lot of time on the road with us just playing guitar. He was like, the fifth Alice, you know, if you want to play on the fifth Beatle. But that dude, he’s a true blue friend, and I would be honoured to share the stage with him anytime.” 

After touring America through til May, are their any plans to continue the tour abroad?

“COVID depending, I’m looking at Europe in the summer. We we haven’t really held any dates or anything. I would love it if we could get to Australia, maybe through the (American) winter of 2022 or going into 2023. That would be the best.”

But you don’t become an icon over a thirty year period without getting to work with some of the biggest hitters in the game, and you’ll be hard up trying to find a bigger name than Elton John. Cantrell used Elton’s song Goodbye’ as the album closer, and it was signed off by the great knight himself:

“Yeah it’s a song I’ve always really dug. He played on Black Gives Way to Blue, which is a similar kind of song actually. It’s a closer and it’s very short and potent. I also like things that are not the obvious, you know, and have a little bit more of a kind of an earnest emotion to them. That song always spoke to me when we did the two live shows. In the middle of the making of the record in LA in December, we closed both nights with that song and I had a great experience performing it. When we came to wrapping the record up, I felt like we needed one more track and it just seemed to make sense.

I sent the demo to Elton just to make sure he was cool with it and he dug it. He’s like ‘absolutely you should put it on the record. You got my permission. You did a great version.’ So happily it sits in exactly the same spot it sits on on his record Madman Across the Water. It ends the nine song record and ends Brighten, a nine song record as well.

Who am I to argue with Sir Elton John when it comes to music? What a record. An absolute triumph, filled with some of the most iconic musicians on the planet. Throw that much knowledge and experience into a room and it’s only natural that they produce a huge contender for album of the year. Get online and order your “beer coloured” vinyl now. You’ve only waited 19 years to do so. Was it worth the wait? Bloody oath it was.

Interview by Duane James @duanejames666

Jerry Cantrell’s new album Brighten is out now

Jerry Cantrell – Brighten tracklisting:

1. Atone
2. Brighten
3. Prism of Doubt
4. Black Hearts and Evil Done
5. Siren Song
6. Had To Know
7. Nobody Breaks You
8. Dismembered
9. Goodbye

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