In the ’90s, Jerry Cantrell and his Alice in Chains mates were one of the biggest bands on the planet. The hardest-rocking act to emerge from the Seattle grunge scene, the quartet dominated the charts and airwaves with songs like “Would?” “Rooster,” “No Excuses,” and “Man in the Box.” However, the band disappeared from the music landscape in 1996 when lead singer Layne Staley succumbed to an addiction that eventually killed him in 2002. With Staley’s passing, most thought Alice was destined to live on only in catalogue and through the numerous acts that ripped off their sound.
But Alice is back. With new member William DuVall helping Cantrell with vocal duties, the grunge icons are returning after 14 years with their first new album, Black Gives Way to Blue. Largely influenced by the memory of their fallen band member and the arduous journey they’ve taken, the album is vintage Alice, mixing raw pain with the strength of moving on and the familiar sludge and kick-ass hard rock with some moments of great beauty—like the stunning title track, featuring piano from Cantrell’s musical hero, Elton John.
The day before heading overseas to take the album to Europe, Cantrell spoke candidly with INKED about his tattoos, the new music, and the pain of losing Staley and why it will never be all right.
INKED: When did you get your first tattoo?
JERRY CANTRELL: It’s been a while, but I wanna say in ’88. My mother had passed away right before I met Layne, and she’d left me a little bit of money to live on. We used that on gear and a couple of demo sessions that we did early on. I had a little bit of spending cash left over so Layne and I were talking about getting the brother tattoos. We went down to this place on Pike Street in Seattle, right above the market on the hill, and I got this screaming skull-type thing on my right shoulder, and he got a skull with an Elvis hairdo and some sunglasses on his left shoulder. They were both wall tattoos, my only wall tattoo—and, generally, the first one usually is. [Laughs.] But the cool thing about doing it was doing it with Layne; he had one on one shoulder and I had one on the other. They were kind of connected and obviously we were too.
Did you guys get any other tattoos done together after that?
The first video we did, “Man in the Box,” we had a Jesus character in the video with his eyes sewn shut and Layne got that tattooed on his back. I always loved that tattoo. So he got those two and I’ve got one on either side. I’ve got the right arm—I pretty much augmented the skull I had a little bit—and then I have a full arm piece, and two separate pieces on my other arm, on my left shoulder. The majority of the tattoos I have were done in Louisiana, and it’s been so many years I can’t remember the name of the place. [Editor’s note: Electric Ladyland Tattoo Studio.] It was run by a really cool lady, and I met this kid named Henry Rhodes. I got some New Orleans-style [tattoos]; I got a weird teddy bear–type voodoo doll. It’s connected to another tattoo that I did first, which is kind of like a demon holding a couple of masks in front of his face. And then I have two thigh pieces I also did in New Orleans. The left forearm piece was done in Dallas. I think that was done by a guy named Chuck Jones.