The Alice in Chains singer-guitarist was surrounded by friends and musical co-conspirators for the loose and no-pressure recording sessions. As Cantrell told us in our extensive interview, he set out to make a record without any “expectation” except “making some music.”
He describes the resulting nine-song LP as “a journey up through darkness to light,” hence the summery album title. Fans of Alice In Chains’ more acoustic-based material should find a lot to love with the new collection.
Among the players supporting Cantrell on the record include film composer Tyler Bates, Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, former Dillinger Escape Plan singer Greg Puciato, keyboardist Vincent Jones, pedal steel player Michael Rozon, drummers Gil Sharone and Abe Laboriel Jr., and more. It was produced by Cantrell and Bates, with mixed and engineering by Joe Barresi and Paul Figueroa, respecively.
As an extension of our interview with Jerry Cantrell, the legendary musician graciously dove into each song off the new album, offering Consequence an exclusive track by track breakdown. Stream the album in full below as you read Cantrell’s description of each song. You can purchase Brighten via Cantrell’s online store or digitally via Amazon.
That’s Tyler Bates on the chains in a bucket [at the beginning]. Awesome call on that. He had ’em in the studio that day when we were messing around with that song. And he was like, “I’m feeling this has an Aerosmith ‘Back in the Saddle’ kind of vibe” — I think they used cardboard or some chains or something. So Tyler’s like, “Check this out,” and he whips out a bucket with these chains and starts dropping them on the beat. And it was awesome; it was totally perfect. Great call.
It’s got an outlaw vibe to it. It evokes images to me — I didn’t write it to be an exact interpretation of this — but it brings up images of The Man with No Name [Clint Eastwood’s character in the Dollars trilogy]. Out in the wilderness kind of vibe; pack of horses in chase; guns firing. It’s got that attitude to it.
“Brighten” is a really strong song. It’s just pure rock ‘n’ roll. Vincent Jones on keys added a really great track to that and brought it to a new level. He came in late in the project, but he was a really consequential player and addition to this album. Vincent added a lot to about four or five tracks and killed it on that song. It’s just a really good rocker. I’m doing a video for it … so I’ve been running reps, where I’ve been playing along to the song and getting my faux rock moves together. And I can picture it. I can picture standing on a stage and playing it for people and it feels good. It’s a big rock song.
“Prism of Doubt”
I think there’s a summer feel and vibe to this record. And Tyler said that to me too, early on. I was trying to think of what to call it, and that’s why Brighten seemed to make sense. It’s a journey up through darkness to light. That’s similar to my method of writing anything that I’ve done before. It’s just some days are cloudier than others. This record has a little bit more sunshine breaking through the clouds… without being too light. And it’s got plenty of meat to it. “Prism of Doubt,” to me — I feel like the sun is out, I’m driving in my convertible, cruising along the beach. It’s just a good-time song. It makes me exhale, like “Ahhh.” That’s nice [laughs].
“Black Hearts and Evil Done”
It’s really the longest song on the record. And I probably could have made it four minutes instead of six [laughs]. It’s got country elements to it, like the storytelling elements of country. And it also has a folk narrative to it, as well. That Americana storyteller, folklore vibe.
There’s a reason that “Atone” starts side one and “Siren Song” starts side two. They feel like completely different songs, completely unrelated, but they feel like they’re connected somehow. They both have similar feels of that kind of Wild West vibe, but it’s sexy and sultry.
I’m a huge fan of Tom Petty and I loved the organ work. Bentmont [Tench] was a badass and [producer Joe] Barresi is like, ‘I know him, I’ll send this over to him and see if he wants to play on it.’ And I think he was interested for a sec, but something came up and he couldn’t do it. So Vince [Jones] ended up doing a track that has a bit of [Bentmont’s] vibe to it. I can’t say enough about all the players on this record. … The not-set band feel is really cool.
“Had to Know”
It’s got a really sick chorus. The verses give me shades of Joe Walsh, something he might have came up with, a vocal or something. The chorus is a big rock chorus, but it’s got that minor harmony blend that I do. That’s a really cool song, man. I love that one.
“Nobody Breaks You”
There’s a couple songs that I actually got to play bass on this record. Duff [McKagan] initially tracked that song, but we had to re-track the drums. Abe [Laboriel Jr.] came in and re-tracked the drums to get a different feel on it. When you do that, you have to redo all the instruments to lock back to the drums, and we were kind of late in the process. You know, Duff got busy with his side project [laughs], and I ended up playing bass on that as well as “Siren Song.” I was bummed about that because he had such a great part for that heavy breakdown.
For the demos, you often use working titles for songs. The working title for this song was “Creedence Impedance.” So it’s got a little [John] Fogerty to it [laughs], and some other stuff, too. But that middle section is so cool and that bass line is all Duff, and now I’ve gotta try to play that like he played it because it’s so badass. So I saved that middle bit and then tried to do the best I could. That was fun. Got to play a little bass on the record.
“Goodbye” (Elton John cover)
Elton’s an important artist to me, period. He is one of the guys I’ve been listening to the longest out of all of my influences. It kind of started with him. I made a connection with his music before I made a connection with anyone else’s. The light bulb went on when I heard it, and I’m like, “I wanna do that. That’s cool. [Laughs] I wanna learn how to do that, write songs and make other people feel like I’m feeling right now when I’m listening to this guy’s music.” So we closed both of those shows that we did in L.A. with “Goodbye.” We recorded it and did the demo.
Again, I gotta give it up to Vincent. He did that string and key arrangement and then I sang it, and that’s pretty much it. Then I sent it over to [Elton John] — I just wanted to make sure he was cool with it. And he’s like, “Yeah, absolutely. You should definitely use it. I’m really, really happy with the job you did on it.” That just meant a lot to me. Coincidentally, this is a nine-song record and “Goodbye” is the ninth song on one of my favorite Elton John records, Madman Across the Water. So it’s where it should be.
Thanks to Jerry Cantrell for taking the time to break down his new album for us track by track.