Alice in Chains

Sep 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Bud Scoppa



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Kinney was behind his custom DW kit, boasting a 23-inch kick drum, lots of big cymbals and an oversized hi-hat. Raskulinecz and Fig soon realized they needed to use dynamic mics so that the cymbals didn't overpower the snare and kick, eventually going with Audio-Technica ATM 125s, with an AKG D 112 on the front, while sticking with AKG 451 and 414 condensers on the toms. They added a touch of compression on the kick and snare, and had a tent built around the kick drum. RCA 44s on crush were used left and right for the close room sound, with a pair of Earthworks in the back. “We actually multi'd a couple of scratch-vocal mics for extra room sound and pushed it hard through an 1176,” says Fig.

The most important sonic issue, obviously, was Cantrell's guitar setup. “A lot of Jerry's sound comes from his G&L guitars — he's nicknamed them ‘Porno’ and ‘No War,’” says Fig. “He used this Bogner Fish preamp he's had for years and went out to a couple of his own 1412s, and then Nick has an awesome collection of vintage Marshall cabs. Then it was about getting the right mic and finding the sweet spot. I placed it right in front of the cone, and if it got too dark or too bright, I'd go out there and make sure it was feeling good. We didn't use any EQ; it was all mic and guitar amp. Jerry can be an intimidating guy, and when we got our sound up, he came in, grabbed his guitar, turned around, smiled, and said, ‘Yeah, man.’ We knew then we were on the right track.”

Cantrell switched between his G&Ls and Les Pauls on the main rhythm parts, and cherry-picked from Raskulinecz's collection for flavors, favoring a '57 Gold Top — a Les Paul Custom Raskulinecz describes as “fretless” because the frets are so worn down — and, on almost every track, a '63 SG with P-90 pickups. “Jerry has a staging amp that goes to two cabs,” Fig continues, “and we'd blend in a HiWatt, an Orange and sometimes Nick's favorite Marshall, a 2550, and we'd do a whole pass on four or five tracks on one guitar. We'd blend a couple of mics per cab, which kept it open-sounding and more flexible for Nick. On top of that, Jerry likes to double his parts, and thank God he's an awesome player who can hear himself great.” The rhythm parts were placed left and right, doubled left and right, and centered. “That took awhile,” says Fig, “because of tuning and making sure the tones really locked in together. We didn't want a big smearing of guitars; we wanted it to sound like one big hand.”

The first song they tackled was “Check My Brain.” “When we finished the vocals on the first song, everybody breathed a sigh of relief,” Raskulinecz recalls. “We were all going, ‘Yes! This is gonna work.’ I felt a lot of personal satisfaction because I knew then we'd really done it.”

Fig still marvels at “that bendy riff — it's so killer, so catchy and so heavy. Jerry had to play it perfectly because we had to stack the guitars and make everything fit. Then Mike's bass had to go on, and Jerry and Will had to sing on top of it. That was the hardest part: You go from guitar to guitar, and the scale on the G&L is different from the Les Paul's. The guitar tech was doing lots of tuning to make sure we could intonate for parts.”

When asked how he did it, Cantrell laughs. “Even guys that play are like, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’ It's basically two notes on an E string. You start already into your bend on the first fret and let down, and then you bend up on the second fret and then go into the bend on the first fret, and it just repeats itself. It's a tough bend because it's right next to the nut, and on the bass it's even more difficult. Mike's fingers were starting to bleed, so we tuned it down so he could do the bend on the G, but his hand was still hamburger by the time he got done with it. That song's pretty basic, but it's not the rote thing that somebody would come up with, and that's where you get the individuality of this band.

“Sonically and musically, the band is intact, and on this record we did what we've always done — we make it thicker, layer, do different tones and get blends — and that requires you to give performances that are exact,” Cantrell points out. “There are a few punches — ‘This part isn't right; cut me in’ — but for the most part, vocally and in terms of musical performances, it's either top to bottom or seriously long passes.”

When the band and the production team reconvened at Henson (Hollywood, the site of this month's cover shoot) in March, they attacked guitar overdubs and the bulk of the lead and harmony vocals. “Jerry and Will have great pitch together and a great vibe,” Fig raves. “That part of Alice didn't die; when you hear those harmonies, it's almost like hearing a ghost.”

As for their ability to perpetuate those trademark harmonies with DuVall, “It doesn't undermine Layne's contribution to this band at all,” says Cantrell. “If anything, it should stamp it in stone that it's something we created together, and he gave me the confidence to take on that challenge and become a better vocalist.”

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