Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell On His Unique Partnership With Layne Staley
Many cult rock acts have a unique ‘pair’ whose creative collaboration defines the band, such as Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. The dynamics between the two members may vary from one band to another, but their work comes out as a collaborative effort. One of these iconic collaborations occurred in Alice In Chains between the lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell and the late frontman Layne Staley.
While discussing his chemistry with Layne Staley during a conversation with Billboard, Jerry Cantrell paid homage to the ‘natural bond‘ between them. He explained that the duo could work together very well as they completed each other’s efforts. When the host mentioned the song ‘Rains When I Die,’ Cantrell remembered the prominent songwriting partnership between him and Staley.
The guitarist mentioned how well he and the late frontman collaborated as they didn’t need to have an extensive conversation to create together. Cantrell explained that the duo wouldn’t talk too much but could still step in for one another when needed. The partnership functioned almost entirely thanks to that natural bond.
Jerry Cantrell on partnering with the late frontman:
“We work in a really interesting way, especially lyrically and melodically. The way that Layne and I worked together, we had a pretty good partnership. We didn’t really talk about things too much, but we just filled the other half of what the other guy didn’t have. Like if I was stuck somewhere or I didn’t have an idea, Layne always had it, and if he was stuck somewhere, I always had it. It was a really cool thing we had.”
The unique chemistry also proved itself while the pair were working on ‘Rains When I Die.’ Jerry expressed that he had mapped out the song’s structure but struggled to fill some gaps. That was when Layne stepped in. As the duo exchanged their respective lyrics with each other, Cantrell was surprised to see that Staley’s work aligned quite well with his, and they filled each other’s gaps.
The guitarist said the following about the partnership with Staley on ‘Rains When I Die’:
“On that particular song, I had a really strong vocal idea and a cadence for the song, and so did he. He showed me his idea, and I showed him mine. And the weird part of it was where I had written lyrics, and places to sing were the spaces and the breaths in the song for him. So I’m like, ‘Dude check it out. My line fits your gap, and your line fits my gap. Let’s put them together.'”
Cantrell and Staley created the iconic song without exchanging any ideas in between. When the duo lacked communication, the unique harmony they shared stepped in. The guitarist continued by emphasizing the ‘weird’ way the process worked and revealed that ‘Rains When I Die’ is one of his favorite songs on the record ‘Dirt.’
Jerry Cantrell remarked the following:
“We just combined them lyrically, and it was weird how well it worked. We totally did not communicate what we were writing about, but it worked together. That’s one of my favorite songs on the record.”
Even when Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley didn’t communicate with each other during their songwriting processes, their natural talent and connection were there to save the day. Perhaps, it can be said that this unique chemistry between the two musicians defined Alice In Chains’ cult sound. Cantrell fondly recalled Staley’s memory, and it is clear that the late frontman continues to live through his iconic lyrics.