Alice in Chains' Drummer Sean Kinney: "You Have to Be True to Yourself"
It's hard to believe that nearly ten years have passed since former Comes with the Fall lead singer William DuVall took the helm as the vocalist for Alice in Chains. It was a move that proved questionable for Alice in Chain fans at the time. How could the group stand to replace Layne Staley's epic howls? Staley, who passed away in 2002 from drug addiction, and his eerily cathartic croons were a centerpiece of the storied, chart-topping grunge act.
Despite the naysayers, founding members, guitarist Jerry Cantrell and drummer Sean Kinney persevered with AIC's new lineup, touring some and subsequentally putting out a new album in 2008 titled Black Gives Way to Blue. Tearing a page from hard rocking Aussie troupe AC/DC's illustrious comeback, the album won record charting accolades (certified gold by the RIAA).
Part of the reason for the success was due to the band's ability to stick to their guns, delivering an effort that was just as gloomy and brooding as its predecessor -- a self-titled effort released 14 years prior -- that never sounding calculated or deliberate. "We didn't try to recapture any former glory, we just recorded what made us happy with ourselves," said Kinney when New Times chatted with the seasoned drummer while he was in L.A. gearing up for a day of press, in preparation for AIC's globetrotting 41-date Summer tour.
"It's funny to me how many people told us 'but you ended up sounding like yourselves,'" said Kinney about the public reaction to their comeback record and its 2013 release The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here (which proved to be another hit, charting at number two on the Billboard charts). "I get it though, and with Layne gone, it proved to be a challenge, but we've always had double harmonies," Kinney stated about the group maintaining their roots. "You don't want to take on some new identity, you have to be true to yourself and with the records we just naturally did what we normally do."
For Kinney, the coming together of the renewed Alice in Chains was an organic one. It was a reunion that was not contrived and manipulated by corporate record label fat cats looking to stuff their pockets. Kinney saw it as a chance to play alongside some of his lifelong friends and make music again. But Kinney and Cantrell has some financial concerns when the guys began playing together. "How are we going to do this and not go broke?" Kinney asked, mentioning just one of the many reservations he had when he started jamming out with the AIC crew he'd been with for more than half his life.
Kinney says it was a long, arduous process from the time when the band first played together in 2005, a Seattle benefit show for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster to to the time four years later when it released Black Gives Way To Blue. AIC played it cautiously, experimenting with several lead vocalist, including Damageplan's Pat Lachman and Pantera's Phil Anselmo before settling on Duvall and doing some serious soul-searching. "We all sat down and said, do we really want to do this again, and we decided to do it with baby steps." One benefit show lead to a VH1 Decades Rock Live performance led to a small U.S. club concert tour before embarking on a summer festival tour later on.
"The industry has changed so much since we first came up, we wanted to make sure we had what it takes to tour." Kinney points out that most people don't realize how much money it costs for a band to hit the road, and the limited amount of funding that comes back to them. "Its not like you rake in the dough," adds Kinney. "With moving a crew of 20 people around, PAs, lights, and everything else, it can turn out to be an expensive hobby." Kinney tells us managers and agents get paid regardless, but and the end of the day, people would be shocked y the amount touring groups net when it's all said and done. "You don't really come home with a suitcase of dough, sure there are some [acts] that do, but for 99 percent of bands, that is not the case."
As for this current tour, Kinney says he's been happy with the wide assortment of fans he's been seeing at shows. "Our music has been out so long now that we are a attracting a huge range of audiences, we see people older that us, down to even 12-year-olds at shows."
Kinney says the group has matured with age too. When AIC was coming onto the national stage in the early '90s, it grew tired of playing its breakout hit "Man in the Box" and neglected to included it in its set lists. This was to the chagrin of many fans. "We've come to realize that there are a good amount of people at shows their for the first time, and then there are people at the same show who will never have another chance at seeing you perform ever again." Because of this insight, AIC represents stuff from every record they've released.
SunFest with Alice in Chains, Robin Thicke, J. Cole, Ellie Goulding, and others. 5 to 10 p.m. April 30 to May 2, noon to 11 p.m. on May 3, noon to 9:20 p.m. on May 4, at 525 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $30 to $71 plus fees. Call 561-659-5980, or visit sunfest.com.