Photo credit: AlternativeNation.net photographer Dustin Halter
Over a decade into his run in Alice In Chains, singer/guitarist William DuVall has firmly established himself as part of the iconic Seattle band’s legacy. DuVall is now venturing out on his own with his new supergroup Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, which also features Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan), Brent Hinds (Mastodon), Pete Griffin, and Thomas Pridgen. GTO will release their debut album Broken Lines on September 23rd.
In Part 1 of Alternative Nation’s exclusive interview, DuVall discusses his Alice In Chains bandmates reactions to the GTO record, gives an update on Alice In Chains’ next album, and tells a touching story about meeting late Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland for the first time when Layne Staley passed away in 2002.
In Part 2, DuVall discusses bonding with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, his thoughts on Alice In Chains’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chances, and how he and Jerry Cantrell write songs together. CLICK HERE to read Part 2.
First off, happy belated birthday. I can’t believe you’re 49, you still look the same as you did during the Degradation Trip tour.
(Laughs) Thank you man. I can’t believe it either, it’s crazy.
I remember first hearing the name Giraffe Tongue Orchestra about 6 years ago when Eric Avery had just left Jane’s Addiction and he was involved, along with Jon Theodore from Queens of the Stone Age I believe. How much did the project change since then, and how did you change it when you joined and began to work on Broken Lines?
Ben Weinman and Brent Hinds first approached me about GTO back then as well, and at the time they only had some really rudimentary demos, almost like home demos. I believe that Eric Avery was involved at the stage, but for a number of reasons, the moment wasn’t quite right for it to come together with me. So I got bumped back into the Alice In Chains tornado, then of course Ben and Brent got busy with their bands as well. My understanding is that they went through several permutations of this group involving bass players, drummers, and singers. I would even read something occasionally online: ‘Oh, Juliet Lewis is with them now.’ I would say, ‘Oh cool.’ But for whatever reason, none of those situations worked out.
So fast forward to last year, I run into Brent Hinds at the grocery store down in Atlanta. He brought it up once again, he said, ‘Man, I’d really still love you to do GTO.’ I said, ‘Okay, let me get on the phone with Ben and get the straight scoop on what’s going on here.’ So Ben and I spoke on the phone and quickly came to an agreement about what we wanted this thing to be, as opposed to what we didn’t want it to be. So I said to send me the music, and that’s what kick started what we have now. At that point they had been in the studio with Thomas Pridgen and Pete Griffin, and they recorded the instrumental tracks you hear on the album. That’s what I received, and began writing to. I would send songs as I completed them. The first two that I sent off were “Adapt or Die” and “Crucifixion,” the first two songs on the album. When I got their immediate extreme positive reaction, that’s when it became real to me, and that’s when I really dove into all of the songs, and suddenly we had a 10-song album, which we are just incredibly proud of.
How did you try to differentiate your songwriting on the GTO album from Alice In Chains and Comes With The Fall? Because influence wise so far I’ve heard Led Zeppelin, hardcore stuff, King Crimson. What were you bringing to the table for this album?
Well I think just an honest response to the music that I was hearing, and a background that includes everything from punk rock, to avant-garde jazz, to progressive music of all kinds throughout my entire history. So I think what this album afforded me was the opportunity to access parts of my personality as a writer and a singer that I hadn’t accessed in many years. I said the quote, but it’s true, it was almost like writing for a theatrical production more than a rock record. I say that just because of the challenging nature of some of the music combined with some of the very swift and abrupt mood swings that occur within the same song.
At times it was almost like okay, I’m going to find a doorway in. I’m going to kind of assume a perspective or worldview, and perhaps even invent a character through which I can convey whatever it is I want to say, then write for that person, write for that point of view. It took me out of rock songwriting 101, which was extremely welcome. It was a very welcome opportunity. I feel very fortunate to have this thing.
Have your Alice In Chains bandmates heard the GTO album?
Yeah, we put out “Crucifixion” awhile back, and we’ve spoken about it in passing. I know [Mike] Inez was like, ‘When it dropped into that verse, it’s so good.’ It’s not something we discuss at length, we’re always so busy with our own stuff when we get together. We’ll see, I guess when the album comes out, that might further discussions.
I know you’ve mentioned in several interviews that Alice In Chains isn’t quite recording a new album yet, but with the next album being your third with the band, where would you like to see the album go creatively? Would you like to contribute more to the songwriting especially after this GTO record, or are there any producers you might be interested in working with?
Oh gosh, of course, I’m always up for contributing to songwriting on an Alice record. As far as producers, I don’t know, we’ve done the last couple of records with Nick Raskulinecz of course, and that’s been really good. We really are not at the stage where we’re talking about that stuff yet (laughs). We’ll just have to see, stay tuned.
We unfortunately lost Scott Weiland last December. I know Alice In Chains and Velvet Revolver toured together nearly a decade ago, with Scott singing “Angry Chair” at a show, and STP and Alice did several festivals together. What was your reaction to Scott’s passing, and can you share any memories or stories about him when you toured with him?
I was very sad to hear of his passing. I was a real fan of the work he did with Stone Temple Pilots especially, I think the sound of those records is just one of the best sounding catalogs to me in terms of ideas and production, and just imagination. They really have a very colorful and beautiful catalog. I’m especially a huge fan of the No. 4 album, that’s just me. When the news of Scott’s passing broke, I actually posted the song “Atlanta,” which is the last song on the No. 4 album, because it’s always been a favorite of mine, and I thought what he did on that was beautiful.
Of course it’s incidental that the song happens to be called “Atlanta,” and I have a lot of history in that town, and the song was as far as I know even recorded in Atlanta, because they did a lot of work at Southern Tracks. Brendan O’Brien used to work out of Southern Tracks quite a bit; some of my favorite records of the last 25 years were recorded in that studio, and with Brendan. I also am longtime friends with another engineer that worked on the No. 4 album, Russ Fowler. He made a bunch of records with me with Comes With The Fall, and other things that I’ve done. So there are just a lot of ties that bind, so I posted that song.
I thought Scott was really great. The first time I met him was probably 2002, I seem to recall [Jerry] Cantrell and I playing a gig in North Carolina, this is going back a ways, but if I remember we played some shows with Stone Temple Pilots, I know that. One of them was in I want to say Charlotte, and I remember it was very soon after the news of Layne Staley’s death broke, and it was also that night that I found out that my grandfather, who was ailing was in the hospital, was probably not going to make it, and I was extremely close to him. Cantrell and I went on stage that night with a lot of heavy stuff we were carrying, it was a very emotional show. I seem to remember meeting Scott Weiland after that; we did the typical pop over to the dressing room thing. He was very warm; everyone was feeling very pleasant that night. I remember he kind of opened his arms and was like, ‘William! It’s so nice to meet you!”