In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.
But did you know it was Satan who buried "67-million-year-old giant fossilized lizard bones" all over this spinning rock just to trick gullible humans into believing that our planet isn't 6,000 years old and Our Father is a sham?
Yes, certain Christians (and elected public servants) actually believe that insanity. And they want to teach it to kids in American schools. You know, as an alternative to science. That's partly why, in protest against irrational beliefs and intolerant attitudes, Alice in Chains decided to record an album titled The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.
Only the band's second release since the 2002 death of original lead singer Layne Staley, this 12-track slab's core message is "read a fucking paper," according to longtime bandleader and guitarist Jerry Cantrell. And if you ask current singer William DuVall, he'll reassert that same point, just a little more academically and with fewer F-bombs.
New Times: "This is what's going to survive in 100 years." In the movie This Is 40, that's what Paul Rudd's character says about Alice in Chains. Entirely accurate? Too much hype?
William DuVall: Well, that's a very kind assessment.[laughs] And I'm sure we'll take it.
How do you think the latest Alice in Chains single, "Hollow," matches up against classic stuff like "Rooster"? Obviously, the fans are feeling it.
I think it's largely a futile exercise, trying to compare this too much with that, matching the past with the present. The ultimate barometer is just what you mentioned — the fans are feeling it. And if we weren't feeling it, we wouldn't put it out. That's all that matters. We like it. Then the music comes out. And hopefully, it resonates with people, just like "Rooster" did.
When you joined the band, nobody — including you, Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney — seemed too certain it would become a long-term project. But now you're all two albums deep. How did everyone come to the conclusion that this version of Alice in Chains is for real?
As a rule, we don't plan too far ahead. Everyone in this band has learned that making plans is usually pointless. Life teaches us that lesson. [laughs] There are your plans, and then there's life. And very often, those two things do not coincide harmoniously.
So there wasn't some meeting where we sat down at a table and said, "OK, now." Obviously, though, when we started touring heavily in 2006, there were a lot of indicators. We weren't going to talk too much in public about it. But after we'd done 30-some countries in a year, it was clear.
But even when we made Black Gives Way to Blue, everyone started asking, "So when's the next one?" And we said what we always say — "We'll just have to see" — because we take things on a record-by-record basis and a tour-by-tour basis. It just seems to be what works best.
The new album comes with a pretty provocative tag line: The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. What exactly does the album have to say about Satan and giant lizards?
Well... [laughs] It's actually a comment on intolerance, a gentle or maybe not-so-gentle jab at a certain sector of society that's decided their particular brand of religious conviction should legislate all of our behavior and even our rights as citizens.
I think, in the past few years, we have seen an aggressive push from the ultra-right-wing religious conservative minority in this country, certainly since the election of President Obama. Some of the things we've seen politicians say on national television and in the press... You can try to have a sense of humor. But at a certain point, it just gets to be like, "Wow."
Of course, Alice in Chains has never been especially known for social commentary. But we thought, If not now, then when? [laughs] Yes, the band has been generally known for a more insular subject matter in its lyrical content. And "The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here" is just one song, but I think the decision to also make it the title of the album — and therefore put a different kind of emphasis on that message — was a good move. I view it as a step forward for this band.
There was a great deal of discussion among the four of us about the potential blowback. But we have people being elected to our government who are trying to bar science from being taught to kids in school. So not only do we have to deal with the assault on women's reproductive rights and this battle over whether homosexuals even have the right to equal protection under the law, but they actually want to roll back evolution? Didn't we solve this issue about 100 years ago? It's ridiculous.
So when it got to that level of buffoonery, we just had to say something.
As you say, there's war and upheaval and economic strife. But there aren't a hell of a lot of rock bands making aggressively social or political music. Do you think that's a failure?
For the most part, music should be about expressing one's feelings regarding all aspects of the human condition. So for some artists, that's going to mean a whole lot of social commentary. But for others, that's going to mean far less. I mean, Alice in Chains is not about to become some protest band. [laughs] It's not like we're trying to pick up where Rage Against the Machine left off.
With this album, it's more of a subtle, tongue-in-cheek, somewhat serious thing. The actual lyric in the song is "No problem with faith, just fear." So again, it's about intolerance. We're not going after anybody for having religious faith, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Hindu. It's all fine — until it starts infringing on our rights and trying to control the legislative branch. [laughs] That is a problem.