The reformed version of Alice in Chains has been around for nearly as long as the first incarnation was functional. They're ready to move on from the questions about frontman Layne Staley's drug-fueled self-immolation and 2002 overdose, which accompanied their 2005 return and 2009 reunion disc, Black Gives Way to Blue. For drummer Sean Kinney, rehashing those dark days was just a setback on the comeback trail.
"It really comes down to if you decide to do something, you take it for what it is, and for the reasons that are important to why you're doing it," Kinney says from Los Angeles, where they're prepping for tour. "A lot of the stuff's not comfortable to talk about, but it's also things that happen in life to everybody at sometime or another. I guess it's just not everybody has to deal with some sort of public slant on it."
Kinney has backed guitarist Jerry Cantrell since the '80s, well before they even met Staley and formed Alice in Chains. He and the band's bassist Mike Inez joined Cantrell on his two between-Alice solo albums, so the team's not changed much over the years. William Duvall (Neon Christ, Madfly, Comes with the Fall ), a 30-year vet of the Atlanta hardcore/metal scene, replaced Staley when a couple 2005 benefit shows turned into a full-fledged reunion.
The methodical manner with which those shows grew into their Grammy-nominated fourth album is par for the course. Everything's very organic, because that's how Kinney and company have always done it.
"It's always been that way from the get-go. You take things in real time. As things went on, we made other records, but we never thought about them," Kinney says. "We just feel what we're doing then.
"We're not in a race," he continues. "We don't do it for fame or attention. I'm sure we could up our profile. It's just going for what works. What feels good. Doing things with your friends."
That's how last year's The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here came into being. Though they don't live in the same cities anymore, tracks are swapped regularly over the internet. Some songs on the album, like "Hung on a Hook" and "Voices," were written while Cantrell and Kinney were hanging out on the couch. Cantrell logs and records riffs any and everywhere, and they're as likely to get worked out in the green room as the home studio.
"We don't have a method," he says. "There's no one way that works. It's whatever works and whenever you catch something."
After they finished touring behind Black Gives Way to Blue, Cantrell took time off for surgery to fix cartilage and bone spurs in his shoulder. When he recovered, they brought back Black Gives producer Nick Raskulinecz (Deftones, Foo Fighters, Mastodon) to work on Dinosaurs. It was a long, old-fashioned process with plenty of live recording and a minimum of overdubs.
"We still go into studios, spend way too much money, sit there for months, drive ourselves crazy, and play all the parts for real," he says. "We don't let technology soften us. I think we just don't know how to do that, because we didn't grow up with any of that stuff."
Indeed, that's part of Dinosaurs' great appeal — it's a thoroughly Alice in Chains album without feeling like a rehash. It's a brooding, muscular, surprisingly groovy album that isn't as aggressive as their last effort. It exchanges their return's roar for a more measured, yet grimly majestic sound. At 70 minutes for 12 tracks, it's a particularly expansive, exceptionally moody album.
"We've always used space. We've never tried to shoehorn every lick and squiddly-doo that we can do or play all our instruments in every song. We write songs for what the songs need," Kinney says. "We actually spend a lot of time taking stuff out. Like 'I shouldn't be doing this, it steps on the vocal.' I think it just comes with maturity.
"Sometimes we're like, 'Eh, maybe the song is a little long, but we need that other verse to feel right,"' he laughs. "We're not 'Oh, we better trim it down.' We've never had a 'we need another single to get spins on the radio' moment. We do this because we care about it, and it's what we like. We've just been very fortunate that a lot of others have liked it, too."
Dinosaurs debuted at No. 2, bettering Alice in Chain's 2005 comeback and posting their best showing since their 1995 self-titled third album debuted atop the charts. Its reception may have been boosted by the incipient '90s revival.
Kinney sees a particular hardiness in the sound and how it's still remained vital despite the passage of time.
"That music hasn't gone away. A lot of music of that era took on a life of its own. It hasn't been serviced by bands constantly working it. Many of the bands aren't around, or they've changed quite a bit. It's not from record companies cutting deals with radio," Kinney says. "That's solely down to listeners and fans of music. They kept it going all those years. We didn't talk to anybody for 14 years, and yet it didn't go away."
Indeed, it's evolved into something different.
"Let's just call it what it is, it's now officially classic rock," Kinney says. "I used to laugh at [classic rock] as a kid. That's the irony and the honor of it. You can never fathom being involved in something that could possibly end up there. Then years later, you're driving around in L.A. in a rental car listening to classic rock on satellite or whatever, and you're on there. And it's like, 'Whoa.' You'll be wedged in there with some greats, and you're like 'Wow, what the hell are we doing in there?' "