The Alice in Chains guitarist-songwriter covers Elton John’s “Goodbye” — with the Rocket Man’s blessing — on his third solo outing.
Sitting on his porch, looking out onto the Puget Sound in Washington State, Jerry Cantrell is feeling lighter, brighter. Ready to release his third solo album, Brighten, today through Think Indie, things are looking up, despite this being the most precarious of times — 17 months into the coronavirus pandemic.
Although not as weighty as Cantrell’s previous offerings on 1998 release Boggy Depot and Degradation Trip in 2002, Brighten is not bereft of heavier subject matter like self-doubt, loss and making amends.
“It’s referencing different shades and putting layers into things, so it’s not just all f–king monochrome like, ‘Hey, this is a happy song,’ or ‘Hey, this is a depressing song,’” says Cantrell. “It’s a mix of all sorts of things. It’s a body of work, and it definitely has an overall feel of energy and a little more light — but there’s also plenty of dark in there, too. Both are interlocked and important, and it just depends on what ratio you have in the ingredients in the mixing bowl.”
After Degradation Trip — which was dedicated to Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley, who died of an overdose at age 34 two months before its release — Cantrell refocused on his main band. Alice in Chains delivered its fourth album, Black Gives Way to Blue, in 2009, followed by 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here and 2018’s Rainier Fog. Post-Rainier Fog, Cantrell began assembling the nine tracks on Brighten by revisiting his backlog of songs previously demoed and shelved, fragments of melodies and riffs held over the years, a mix of new songs — and a cover of an Elton John deep cut — and started recording in 2020.
“Every record I’ve been in involved in has a couple of ideas that either weren’t in their best form or just didn’t fit with that body of work, and this record was the same,” says Cantrell. “There are some ideas I’ve been kicking around for a while and others that happened more spontaneously in the process. Filmmakers never get every film out when they want to do it. Some ideas have to sit for a while or wait for the right actor or producer. Music is no different.”