Tour Profile: Alice in Chains

Jan 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Sarah Benzuly

STRAIGHT-AHEAD GUITAR ROCK HITS SMALL THEATERS

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Front-of-house engineer/production manager Chad Olech and monitor engineer Maxie Williams couldn't ask for a better gig. Alice in Chains are relatively easy to mix: one guitarist (who also sings, Jerry Cantrell), one bassist (Mike Inez), a drummer (Sean Kinney) and new vocalist (who will often sling his own axe, William Duvall) — all done in a straight-up, hard-rockin' fashion. What's more, both engineers are mixing on Yamaha PM5D digital boards, allowing them to rely on onboard effects rather than hauling racks of outboard gear, so it's no wonder that they were all smiles when Mix met with them at San Francisco's Warfield Theater

In the beginning, it wasn't all roses and sunshine. With the passing of longtime band vocalist Layne Staley, Alice in Chains brought in Duvall, who not only had to fill some very big shoes, but also had to win over the crowd — which he's been doing in stride. On the audio end, both engineers came onboard at almost the last minute: Olech (who did a short run for Linkin Park in Japan) arrived just days before a two-week stint of rehearsals. Williams followed him shortly, when he left the current Guns 'N Roses tour (see page 54). Prior to that, Williams was a senior production manager at the new Hard Rock Café in Biloxi, Miss. “It was good until Katrina hit — I lost my job and my house in the same day,” Williams says.

The team chemistry had to be just right, as the band recently switched to in-ears. “At first,” Williams says, “they went through three monitor guys when they were coming off of the wedges. The wedges are off — but they're still onstage as the band wants to see them — and the sidefills [two Clair Bros. R4s and two Clair ML18s] are practically non-existent; it's just kick and snare.” There are also two ML18s for drum subs and four Clair 12AMs as emergency backups: two for Williams and two for the band in case the ears go.

All the bandmembers are on Ultimate Ears UE7s. “I changed Jerry to the Ambient 5s because he's a bit claustrophobic and was having just a little ‘hole closing down,’” Williams says. “He didn't like it and went back to the UE7s, which is fine because his guitar sounds a bit fatter in his ears”

As for mixes, Williams gives everybody a left and right stereo, “and then I have a spare guest mix, and it's also a backup if I have any frequency problems,” Williams adds. “Jerry is straight up the middle with his mix and then he has William's guitar out to his right ear. Same way with Mike: He's got Jerry off to his left ear and William off to his right ear. A little bit of panning on the toms, but nothing silly or complicated. Run audience mics to the guys in-between songs when they talk; Jerry pretty much stays on that.”

The only outboard gear Williams is running for in-ears are Sennheiser G2s and a “high-powered, 50-watt Clair amplifier with a Helicon collapsible antenna,” Williams adds. Olech also carries little in the way of outboard: an Alan Smart C2 compressor on the stereo mix. Why no racks? “It's not needed,” Olech answers. “This is a straight-ahead rock band. If you listen to their records, there is literally only two effects cues that are crucial. I have two reverbs, two delays and one distortion effect. Put the vocals a little on top and guitars a little up because everyone wants to hear Jerry. I mix the guitars a hair louder than I normally would, but that's about it.”

Chad Olech at the Warfield’s FOH position

Perhaps as heavily spotlighted as Cantrell's playing and singing is Duvall, who must remain a powerful force during a grueling two-hour show, which includes an acoustic set. “He's been doing really well,” Olech says of Duvall. “He's easy to work with in the sense that he's consistent: When he's playing guitar, he sings a lot quieter and when he's not playing guitar, he sings a lot louder. As for all the fan reaction, they're saying he's a great choice.”

RACKS AND STACKS
This tour is a Showco/Clair Bros. account for monitors and board groups, but Olech must contend with local racks and stacks. “I prefer Prism,” Olech says, “but you're not going to get that on a local racks and stacks tour, so we usually go with V-DOSC or VerTec.” Because he's coming into a new venue and a new P.A. at every gig, Olech tunes the system with Clair iOs. “More of it is by ear,” Olech says. I'll throw on an iPod and give it a listen, and get it to where I like it. This is my sixth or seventh time at the Warfield and I've never had any significant issues here.”

Augmenting the Clair Bros. gear list is a separate rack that Olech uses to record each show to Nuendo for archival purposes. “From the Yamaha we go ADAT Lightpipe to Nuendo, which accepts the Lightpipe in without extra converters or steps. I have to re-label all the files so that Toby Wright, who is doing the archiving, will be able to have Pro Tools see [the AIFF files] and understand them. Each show has 26 tracks, but it's actually more than that because we do an acoustic set in the middle. Basically, I'm recording two shows a night.

“The original thought was to do a ‘next-day on the Internet sale’ thing,” he continues. “The band knows what they want and I can't do a proper job just taking an hour or two to remix it. You need to edit it; it needs to be done professionally. This can be done, but it all takes time. I'm wearing a couple of different hats on this tour and I would need six or eight hours to get a product that the band would be happy with.”

Monitor engineer Maxie Williams (left) and stage manager Jay Weinburgh at the Yamaha PM5D

Also adding an extra “hat” to his mixing duties is Williams, who is doing his own tech'ing — the first time in six or eight years. “I'm not complaining,” Williams says with a smile. “I'm rockin' and rollin'. It's streamlined now and I don't think anything about it.”

BRING YOUR FRIENDS
Alice in Chains likes to invite their musician friends onstage to do a couple of tunes if they happen to be playing in the same city. The Denver show saw Primus; other guests include Corey Taylor from Stone Sour, Doug Pinnick from King's X, Dave Navarro, Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, Staind's Aaron Lewis at the Houston gig and Metallica's James Hetfield at the Warfield. “You have a spare mix that is already set up,” Williams explains. “A lot of the time, we don't hear about the guests until 10 or 15 minutes before showtime,” Olech adds. “But it doesn't affect us nearly as much as it affects the backline guys.”

“It's been a fun tour,” Williams says. “This is definitely in the top two fun bands I've worked with in my life.” Olech agrees: “Things have been consistent for [Alice in Chains] and that's what they've been striving for. We finally have a team in place and it seems to be working. And it has finally reflected back to the band to where they are not asking for much.”


Sarah Benzuly is Mix's managing editor.

ALL MIKED UP

[Eds. note: Alice in Chains and Maxie Williams are Shure endorsers.]

DRUMS
Kick: SM91 and Beta 52
Snare: Beta 57A (top), KSM27 (bottom)
Hi-Hat: KSM137
Toms: SM98s
Overheads: KSM32s
Ride: 137

Cantrell Vocal: Beta 58
Duvall Vocal: KSM9 wireless
Bass: KSM27
Duvall Guitar: KSM32
Cantrell Guitar: two KSM32s, Beta 57
Spare Vocal: KSM9
Acoustic Dis: Countryman

Alice in Chains Additional Quotes

How did you get involved with this tour?
Front-of-house engineer Chad Olech:
I got a call from ML Procise at Showco, saying they needed somebody to come in and do production manager and front of house and see if I was interested. I just finished doing a very short run with Linkin Park in Japan, filling in for their front-of-house guy, Brad Madix, who was doing Kid Rock at the time. I happened to be free, and said I'll do it. I came in early September. They had previously down a seven-city tour and then off to Europe and some festivals; now they're doing a full U.S. tour.

On mixing with a "new to in-ears" band:
Monitor engineer Maxie Williams:
I use two SquackBoxes for returns back to monitors so that Jerry [Cantrell, vocals/guitar] and Sean [Kinney, drums] can talk back to me. No matter what mix I'm on, I can still hear them.

Olech: So if they have any complaints or problems, they can just step on the button. Especially with going to in-ears; at the start of the tour, it was used a lot. I think Jerry was on it a lot. Now it's just the occasional, "A little more guitar, a little less guitar."

Williams: We've gotten it down so that they're not coming in for soundchecks! [knocks on wood]

Guitar Tech Tim Dawson
Olech:
We have guitar tech Tim Dawson whom we got from Nickelback and he's killed it ever since he got here. A lot of this tour now relies on Tim's shoulders as a guitar tech; if things aren't right in guitar world, it dominoes back to all of us. They're a guitar-driven band. In this band, there are only three guys from the last touring band-with Layne passing-and only two guys from the original, because Mike Inez came in after Mike Starr somewhere right before the Unplugged sessions. So there are only two original members and they're the boss. And now Mike Inez is now officially a member, so there are three bosses.

On having double duties:
Olech:
At the beginning of the tour, it was very difficult. This band has sold a lot of records and they have a certain level of expectations, which is completely reasonable, but if things weren't right, you heard about it. So there was very little leeway for anything to go wrong. And at the start of the tour, especially a tour like this where most of us were hired fairly last-minute, there was very little prep time and most of this stuff was already in place, so we kind of had to deal with what was here, between set design and all this other stuff, and some of this stuff wasn't designed with the thought of going into a truck. So the first couple of load outs were four or five hours long.

The very first night coming out of production rehearsal, we ended up packing the truck twice because the first time it didn't fit. Even our tour manager had only done four shows with this band before this tour. The drum tech is the only guy who has been here from the start. And our stage manager, Jay [Weinburgh], he's actually a rookie who was just supposed to be my production assistant, but he turned out being more stage manager/set carpenter/production assistant. I think Jay wears about 72 hats. He is definitely a live-saver on this tour; without those extra hands, we'd all be floundering. He's been a venue production manager for years at the Casino Ballroom at Hampton Hampshire (Hampton Beach). We basically have an arena's worth of stage production that we try to fit into theaters every night. Our stage set at full width is 48 feet. We're playing houses that have 30-foot stages, 35-foot stages. We're not carrying much crew: There are seven guys: guitar tech, bass tech, drum tech, monitor, front of house, production manager, lighting designer, stage manager/production assistant, tour manager, security and videographer (archival video), and we've got a semi that's literally full top to bottom. It's unbelievable.

WHAT ELSE HAVE THEY BEEN UP TO?
CHAD OLECH

Mudvayne
Story of the Year

MAXIE WILLIAMS
Seal
Marilyn Manson
More Marilyn Manson
Stone Temple Pilots






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