Jerry Cantrell is set to release his third solo album, Brighten, on Friday (October 29th). It comes after a nearly 20-year gap since 2002’s Degradation Trip, and finds the Alice in Chains singer-guitarist taking a turn toward the light — as the new LP’s title indicates.
Cantrell’s latest effort is warm and lovingly crafted piece of countrified alternative rock. Made with a host of close compatriots and friends before and during the pandemic, there’s a tangible positivity to the album. As Cantrell himself told Heavy Consequence in our extensive interview, Brighten is “a journey up through darkness to light.”
Rising to prominence in a band known for dark songs, Cantrell’s previous solo outings have also been steeped in melancholy. You’ll hear a few of those timeless, brooding Alice in Chains chords on the new album, but there’s an autumnal bliss to the recordings here that make them simply feel good to hear.
Cantrell is set to support Brighten with a North American tour in 2022, with tickets available here. Ahead of the LP’s release, he spoke with Heavy Consequence about the making of the album, nerded out with us about guitars, and pondered the nature of touring during the pandemic.
On how Cantrell’s guest-heavy 2019 solo concerts led to his third solo album
It’s about a three year process when we take on the endeavor of making a record and going out and touring it. So we’ve gotten into the habit of taking a little time off to decompress before we jump into the next thing. So I figured I had some time, and I was thinking it’s been a long time since I did a record. And before I even started thinking about that, I was like, well, maybe I could do a show and play some of those tunes that I haven’t played in a long time off of Boggy Depot and Degradation Trip.
I’ve made a really good friend, Tyler Bates; we’re neighbors. We’ve become really good friends, and he’s a really talented composer and writer. I started talking about doing some shows and Tyler’s like, ‘I’m in.’ And he’s like, ‘I got a few people that might be cool to put together the band,’ maybe use some instruments that you haven’t used a lot or leaned on so heavily. And so he invited [pedal steel player] Michael Rozon and Jordan Lewis on keys. We had a whole bunch of people: James Lomenzo on bass, Gil Sharone, Greg Puciato. It was just a really cool mix of folks. It was a fun little semi-acoustic gig. And we did two nights at the Pico Union Project, and it was really fun.
I usually have tunes stashed around… or ideas of tunes, as a normal way of going about things. So I started going through ideas, old ones and new ones, and picking out some stuff and doing some demos with Paul Figueroa, my longtime engineer. We started demoing stuff out, and that turned into a body of work that we ended up cutting with a good chunk of those folks that did the gig with me.
On recording with friends and working during the pandemic
Tyler helped me co-produce it and bring it all together, bring everybody together and get it done. … It was really fun, super organic. It was just about making some music together with no real expectation other than that. We dove in and got most of the tracking done [before the pandemic], and then everything shut down due to COVID in March.
Luckily, at that point, most of the stuff that needed to be done was me singing and playing guitar [laughs]. So I can do that mostly on my own with Paul. So we worked one on one, and then when we got to backup [vocals]; we’d bring Greg [Puciato] over. And Duff [McKagan of Guns N’ Roses] came into the picture a little later, and we did the same thing. We worked in really small groups, just tried to be careful, masking up and keeping clean. Luckily we got through the process with nobody getting sick, and it gave me something to focus on during a pretty uncertain time. We came out the other side with a really great record.
On the differences between recording Brighten compared to an Alice in Chains album
It’s not the same group of guys that I normally make music with. And so that was new and also a little uncertain and scary. But they’re really talented people. And even the folks that were part of the project that I didn’t know, they were friends of one of my friends or one or more of my friends. If they get along with them, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna, too. We’re not too dissimilar from one another, us music types. We’re kind of circus people [laughs]. We all know the drill; everybody’s got their unique talent. There’s the strong man, and the bearded lady, and the lizard boy: Everybody’s got their role in the show to play.