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Alice In Chains’ William DuVall on ‘One Alone,’ and the country’s divisiveness

Posted by on October 17, 2019

Alice In Chains vocalist/guitarist William DuVall’s debut solo effort, One Alone was released on October 4th (order here). Between the musician’s career with AIC and introducing his own material to the world, it’s clear he has a lot to say. We caught up with DuVall to discuss his new album, conquering anxiety, and going into great detail on the current divisiveness in the country. 

 

How long have you been working on One Alone?

Oh, this record was just done piecemeal over time, I guess, a few years. It was no intention initially that, “I’m going to put out an acoustic album, and I’m going to set to work on it right now.” It more or less just happened where I recorded a few songs acoustically and held onto them for a bit. And then some time went by, and I thought about putting it out like, “Oh, maybe I should put out an EP or maybe I should do this or do that.” And different plans went through my mind over those few years. And then finally, I just thought, “I have almost enough for an album. If I record a few more, there’ll be a long-player here, and I’ll do that.” So that’s what happened.

Yeah, it started with “Til The Light Guides Me Home.” I was recording that as a demo. Strangely enough, I thought maybe somebody else would sing it. So, I went in to record it for myself and to give to someone else who I was going to be working with at the time. While I was in the studio, it went so quickly, just recording that one tune, and I was like, “I’m here; let me just do a few more.” So I knocked out a few more. I had about eight songs by the end of the day, including the demo for “Til The Light Guides Me Home.” That’s what started it all and me thinking, “Well, maybe I should keep this for myself, and maybe I should put something out.” So, now, here we are.

 

Can you talk more about “Til The Light Guides Me Home”and its meaning? 

There’s a lot in there. There are probably things in there that even I’m just coming to grips with. There are mentions of family and mistakes made and things like that. That’s the gist of it; someone coming to terms with their mistakes and maybe trying to own them. I didn’t want to put too fine a point on, “Oh, this was autobiographical” and all that stuff because I would hope that that’s a tune that anyone could inhabit. Because if you’re any member of a particular family group or family dynamic. Whether you’re in the parent role or the child role, it’s like look, there’s something in there for anyone in any of those positions to identify with.

 

Of course. What I noticed from that song were things on insecurity and it made me think about anxiety. And I was thinking about you. You must have gone through a heap of emotions with anxiety and insecurity from when you first joined Alice in Chains because of the obvious reasons, what you probably had to go through such as, “Oh, he’s not the original singer.” So, how have you personally overcome your feelings of fear and anxiety?

You have to summon every bit of rage, overdrive, adrenaline, and everything else. Joy too. That’s also a huge component of the whole thing. I think joy gives you a particular kind of courage that you can’t get any other way. And once you’re willing to go out and conjure, and then channel all of those different emotions from anger to joy and everything in between, then you might have something interesting. So, that’s what I bring to the stage every night. From day one, it was like, “Well, this is going to have to be what it is.” Otherwise, this whole thing crumbles. And there’s nothing to talk about.

Anybody who wanted to see it fail will have won, and there’s no way I’m having that. Your choices become bottle-necked. There are only a few options here. It’s either you go out and crush it, or you die. That’s it. So, I don’t know, just go out there and do everything you can do. Also, try to get as many of the other aspects of your life together as you can, too, because this whole thing is a bit of a cartoon. If you live in a cartoon all the time, then you become a cartoon and then your life’s not worth living anymore, in my opinion. So, yeah, it’s all of those things. That was some of what has gotten me through thus far and also keeping up with my own work too.

 

 

That’s a positive perspective and great to hear. Your solo album, I know it isn’t anything like Alice in Chains. It doesn’t have that kind of heaviness to it.

It’s Heavy emotionally.

 

Of course, but what would you say to those fans expecting to hear an Alice in Chains type of album? 

You’re not going to get it. That’s not going to happen. My sound is a different sound. It always has been. If you look at anything in my history, there’s a lot there, man. There’s a lot of material that predates Alice in Chains. That led to being asked to join Alice In Chains. It was Jerry Cantrell digging Comes With The Fall that started the whole thing between the two of us. That band had its own sound. I wrote a lot for that band. I also produced those records, and there was a vision going into all of it. So that carries on. My records are going to sound different. It’s a whole different thing coming. It’s coming from a different source. 

What was it like to create Rainier Fog and straight to your solo material?

It’s a lot. And there’s a lot of administrative stuff that goes on with both things to some extent. But with Alice, there’s this huge committee of people handling all of these different aspects. For better or for worse, there’s a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of people to do it. There are a lot of channels and protocols that you always have to negotiate. It’s like Battleship. A whole host of things have to happen to make the left turn, like a slight pivot. Whereas my thing, it’s a much smaller operation. More of the nitty-gritty work falls to a much smaller group of people and to me. But we can pivot faster, and there’s a lot less committee negotiation that goes on with everything. So, there’s advantages to both for sure. But for my thing, nothing else made sense.

Speaking of ambitions, you guys launched the video series for Black Antenna. Between the film, your solo work and everything else AIC, are there any other creative endeavors that you’d like to explore that you haven’t yet?

I think more things in film could be nice. I also would like to expand the scope of my solo work so that I will get back to rock and roll music. It just seemed like this was a really good starting point to whittle it all down to one thing. Even call it One Alone, let’s see what happens. That leaves you a point from which you can expand. That seems to me to be logical and kind of cool. It’s like, “Oh wow, this dude just came out with a solo album for real. There’s no band on it to be seen and nothing.” And then maybe the next one is more of a band record. But yeah. So I’d love to do all of that stuff.

The United States seems divided now more than ever. It was horrifying when we woke up on August 4th to find out about the two shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. I mean, we opened our eyes to see a back to back horror story. I can’t avoid asking this because I feel like this has to be said, and we need some positivity during this time. In your opinion, do you think there are any solutions, if any, that could probably stop this excessive hate and violence that’s happening right now? 

We have to come to terms with how this country was founded, what the origin points are. This country was founded on violence. And it was also based on the idea that all human beings are created equal. Now there were obviously huge contradictions going on when that idea was first espoused. The guys that were saying it didn’t mean me. They didn’t mean you. They didn’t mean most of the people walking around on the street. But since then, a lot of people from all over the world has worked, fought, and died to expand the notion of that idea: equality. This was so that it lives up to the words on the page. Those two philosophical strains of absolute violence, white supremacy, domination at all costs if everyone that doesn’t look like you and think like you versus this equality of all people, regardless of where you’re coming from, what you look like. Those two ideological strains had been at war for this entire time that the country has existed.

At different points, it seems like one might be slightly winning over the other. And right now, definitely the violent strain is winning. The white supremacist strain is winning. There are too many of us who don’t even want to deal with what’s happening in an honest way. I heard on the news that they do seem to be making more of an effort to call these mass shootings that occurred domestic terrorism. But again, the current administration seems to feel like the huge existential threat to America is not coming from the kinds of people who do these shootings. It’s coming from the types of people who were being shot.

The people just came out on the news about the Dayton shooting just before I came down here. They read off the list of names of nine people who died, and most of them were black. The thing is, in El Paso, that shooter, I mean, these people are telling you what they’re doing and why. They’re honest about it. And then you have a President and an administration who are being very flagrant about what their agenda is in what’s happening. Now, it’s no coincidence that these two things are happening concurrently, that these shootings are on the rise in the wake of all this rhetoric and in the wake of all this policy because that’s the key thing.

You can say a bunch of stuff, but these people are enacting policies that are brutal. There are Kids in cages, I mean, come on. We can’t separate these two things. Even Sanders came on television saying, “I don’t think Donald Trump wants anyone going around shooting people.” But it’s like, I don’t know, really? I’m not sure about that. I feel like the current administration is like, “I don’t give a damn how it happens, but this is happening. We have to stem this tide of this country not becoming, no longer being white majority country or white male-dominated country. We’ve got to stem this tide, however, it happens. Hey, man. Some ugliness might go down, but hey, whatever.” They got kids in cages. I’m not giving them that kind of credit. I’m just not.

Again, I think it’s going to come down to policy. It usually does. I think that anybody that’s coming down talking about, “Oh, get the government out of everything. That is the problem.” And I was like, “Well, every step forward that we’ve taken has happened through the court system and the federal system.” They had to call out the National Guard to have children that looked like me go to school in lots of cities in this country in the ’50s and ’60s. They had to do that because the mob violence would have been so extreme. That was the only way to get the kid in the door. So, when we talk about, “Oh government, get the government eh eh, blah blah blah.” I noticed the majority of the people who are saying that. If you look at other views that they espouse, well look, I think you might’ve been in the mob when my mother was trying to go to school.

It’s the courts, and it’s policy, and it’s at the national level. You have to enact these things on the national level. Every segregation, back in the day, was talking about states’ rights. That was their euphemism for how to keep all these people down. “Don’t tell us how to run Georgia. Don’t tell us how to run Arkansas. Don’t tell us how to run Alabama.” That was their thing. It’s going to take action at the federal level, period. You notice they’re never afraid to enact action at the federal level when it comes to bailing out a fricking bank.

They’re never afraid to do it when it comes to sending a bunch of kids to fight somewhere. They’re never afraid to do it then. It’s only when it comes down to helping people and certain kinds of people. Especially that they talk about, “Oh, the government can’t… Hands off of states’ rights.” It’s just insane. And they’re doing it with the gun policies. They’re doing it with a lot of these. Obviously, they’re trying to do it with immigration. It’s a total fallacy. 99% of the American people or something close to that, over 90% want basic stuff with the gun stuff, the background checks, and the basic stuff of gun owners, non-gun owners alike. It hasn’t happened yet. Right?

 

And it’s just getting worse.

That kind of change can only happen at the federal level, and people have to be not shy about saying it. I’m glad that these kids and these activists, the kids in Florida, all these people. And look at how they’re being demonized? Look at how they went after that girl, Emma. I feel like it’s the last gasp of a lot of this stuff. 

The majority is going to change in this country period. These folks are pulling out all the stops to slow it as much as they can. They won’t be able to stop it. They know they won’t be able to stop it. The only question is how many people, how much bloodshed, how much horror, how much brutality has to happen in the meantime. I’m heartened by all of the regular folks who are not down with this agenda and who are being open and outspoken about it, who are doing things at the grassroots level. I’m really heartened by all of that stuff. I look forward to seeing more of that.

I look forward to seeing more of that work being done and donating money wherever they can.

All we can do is just do our best until something changes for the better.

Yeah, man. If you’re out somewhere and you see something going down. If you hear somebody saying some awful stuff, we see things all the time. There’s a lot of people always having to congregate somewhere just because there are so many people here, and they’re all having to move and get around places. If you see something that’s not cool, you should stand up. You should, at the moment, in this situation, on the subway, on the street corner, in the restaurant, wherever. That’s where these battles are being fought. Those are the front lines.

 

There are also people that don’t want to put politics in music but it’s almost unavoidable. What’s your overall opinion on placing politics in music?

It’s like anything; every artist has to figure out what works for them. I don’t tend to want to get into songwriting and make a Rage Against The Machine record. But they do, and it worked for them really well. I feel like we should all have our choices. The artists should have their choices about what they want to do. And obviously, the listener has a choice about what they want to take in or not. But the idea that musicians or artists shouldn’t have a say in any of this or should never comment under any circumstances is utterly ridiculous to me. We’re citizens; we pay taxes.

I understand the thing of not wanting to lose fans and all that stuff. There have been times when I’ve had people say stuff online about things I’ve said or stuff I’ve done or whatever. I went to Iowa for Sanders in 2015 when nobody thought he had a prayer. And played a show with Wayne Kramer and a bunch of other people and there was some flack for that kind of thing. We’re all Americans, so we have to be able to disagree. It’s part of being an American.

It’s fine, but I do feel like, again, that certain philosophical strain that’s always been here, that the country was founded on, the violence, white supremacy, that stuff is so dominant right now. And the current administration is flogging that so hard right now and people are dying and families are being destroyed. Agree to disagree to a point. Well look, then it’s like this is insane, right? Now, it’s not the first time this stuff has been insane here, and it won’t be the last. We fought a fricking civil war here over this stuff.

I guess, in my generation, we grew up knowing that what’s happening now is bad and that history shouldn’t repeat itself. Now we’re seeing a whole nother movement happening. And it makes one think, didn’t we learn from our past?

No, but see, it’s always three steps forward. And then two, two-and-a-half steps back. It’s always this ebb and flow, man. This stuff is never going away. There’s always going to be people who want to demonize other people for whatever reason. There’s always going to be people who want to feel a little bit better about themselves. Or, more to the point, want to pit this group of people against this group of people. It’s like, “You know you’re better than them. You know you are. You know you’re better than them. You always will be. You always have been. You vote for me. I will make sure that you always feel better than them no matter what is going on. They are your problem. All you got to do is just get rid of them and everything will be back to normal. You’ll have a job again; you’ll have your life back. Everything will be perfect. They’ve always been your problem. Why don’t we just solve that problem once and for all together?”

There’s always going to be that. Always, always, always. Always has been in every country throughout the world. There’s some version of this and through every era. So, it isn’t going away. This particular country here though is a social experiment. It was founded on an idea. And again, the idea was so contradictory at the time because slave owners were saying all men are created equal. 

There have been enough people at the right time to come along and lift the idea to such a height that it’s like, “Man, I can believe in that.” When Martin Luther King comes around, you’re like, “Oh man, oh my God, you’re right.” Barack Obama comes along, becomes president, and wins, and that guy is amazing. Oh my God, I believe in this again. So there’s been things like that and again, battles being fought at the ground level, the street level. Fearless people.

I just saw a thing when I went to Birmingham airport; they had a video display of Fred Shuttlesworth. He was one of the preachers in Alabama, and that was just one of the fearless guys. He was one of the guys that would, by himself, be confronting mobs of Klansmen. Where it’s just like, I can’t even believe this guy. He was amazing. And he never got cynical. A guy like that, they need more video displays. It’s taken a long time, but now, they finally have something in their airport that you can walk by the corridor and you can see. Now, most people pass it by. But I stopped, and I was like, “Well that’s Fred Shuttlesworth. Oh, my God. It’s about time.”

And battles like that are being fought right now today. I just saw a documentary on this lady. I wish I could remember her name now. But this lady, she’s taken legal guardianship of over 2000 Latino kids from all these different countries because they’re born here. They’re just trying to deport everybody and deport the parents, crush the family, get rid of all of them. This lady has sacrificed her own family. She sacrificed her own relationship, her own life. Everything goes into trying to keep these kids and advocating for these kids. And it’s people like that. It’s just like, wow. They’re the real heroes, and that’s what it’s going to take. It’s going to take people like that. It sucks that it has to get that far, but it’s going to take people like that.

 

We’re now at that time where we need extreme measures that doesn’t involve violence.

Yeah Man.

 

Is there anything you want to say or add about your solo album?

I’ll be playing shows. The music speaks for itself. Just dig it. 

 

Tour Dates:

10/21 Atlanta, GA @ City Winery

10/23 New York, NY @ Cutting Room

10/25 Philadelphia, PA @ City Winery

10/26 Washington, DC @ City Winery

10/28 Boston, MA @ City Winery

10/31 Nashville, TN @ City Winery

11/03 Chicago, IL @ City Winery

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