Three decades in, Alice in Chains is still going strong. 'Rainier Fog,' the band's latest offering, has been nominated for Best Rock Album at this Sunday's Grammys. It marks the band's return to its gloomy roots, and is also a testament to how they've reinvented themselves and overcome some significant obstacles.
The Seattle embrace of Alice in Chains’ latest album, “Rainier Fog” was immediate and meaningful.
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The August release of the band’s sixth studio album in 29 years (and its first record in five years) was celebrated with a small show on top of the Space Needle; a celebratory night at a Seattle Mariners game, where founding member Jerry Cantrell threw out the first pitch; and a pop-up exhibit and show at the The Crocodile, where there were lines around the block.
But for all the hometown love, there was just as much love within the music industry: “Rainier Fog” has been nominated for a Grammy for best rock album — Alice in Chains’ first Grammy nomination since 2010. It is the ninth time Alice in Chains’ music has been recognized by Grammy voters (even though they’ve never won), and clear proof that the band’s sound has sustained its power despite the years. Their journey has included the deaths of two founding members, a six-year hiatus between 1996 and 2002 and a reformation.
“It’s a nice capper. It all lines up,” Cantrell said of the Grammy nomination. The guitarist/vocalist was on the phone from Los Angeles, where he was editing the record’s title track for radio play. (“Chopping up your tune,” he said, ruefully. “It’s brutal.”)
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“We’ve been doing this a long time and this band exists in two different eras,” Cantrell said. “To continue on and still be relevant; to operate the same way we always did before and for the same reasons, which are to make the best music and the best records we can possible make; and to make ourselves happy, well … it’s nice.”
Drummer Sean Kinney, who started the band with Cantrell in 1987, echoed that feeling: “We live and breathe for it. We don’t write pop music, we don’t write things for the radio. With that said, we’ve had a lot of success.”
The nomination has a lot tied up in it. It was the first time the band recorded an album in Seattle in 22 years, and “Rainier Fog” is one of the last albums recorded at Belltown’s Studio X, where Alice in Chains recorded their self-titled album in 1995, and where so many of their musical brethren found inspiration and success. Soundgarden’s “Superunknown,” Nirvana’s “In Utero” — the list goes on.
“I love that guy and that place and what it means for the city,” Kinney said of studio manager Reed Ruddy, who, in true Seattle form, is moving the studio to Capitol Hill to make way for new development.
“And it’s a shining example of what music means, in the scheme of things,” Kinney said. “For people like us who play everything, and play real tracks, it’s old guard.”
The record is a clear return to the band’s gloomy, grimy roots — hence the name — but also carries the speed and shine of metal brought by bassist Mike Inez, who replaced the late Mike Starr; and vocalist William DuVall, who stepped in for the late, great Layne Staley.
The record is up against Fall Out Boy’s “MANIA”; Ghost’s “Prequelle”; Greta Van Fleet’s “From the Fires”; and Weezer’s “Pacific Daydream.”
Kinney being Kinney, the wisecracks weren’t far behind. The band has been nominated for music nine times, he said. It’s a streak he’d like to continue.
“I’m more interested in being the most nominated band in history,” he said. “Megadeth and I are battling it out. You win by losing.”
(For the record, Brian McKnight is the artist with the most Grammy nominations — 17 — and no wins.)
“In all seriousness, whoever in the cabal of people in dark rooms smoking cigars with hats and complicated facial hair think the noise you made with your buddies is the top of the crop and they want to honor you for it, that’s cool.”
Kinney — who still lives in the area and is an owner of The Crocodile — isn’t attending the Grammys. (“I’ve been to enough. As long as you’re motivated to create, and you’re all on the same page, then that’s what’s important.”)
But Cantrell, Inez and DuVall are planning to attend.
“It should be fun,” Cantrell said. “It’s the music community and to be recognized for your work … We feel it’s a great record and we are really proud of where we’re from, and I’m glad we recorded it in Seattle.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Snoop Dogg is the artist with the most Grammy nominations and no wins. He has 16 nominations and zero wins, according to the Recording Academy’s website.