If improving the final product is easier than ever today, Kinney is not entirely comfortable with the idea of post-production. “I’m still coming to grips with it,” he says. “I’ll play the whole song and then if there’s one or two little screw-ups or weird things or something, then I’m learning to be okay with [fixing it], but we don’t go in there, ’Hey, we’re going to do it in tiny pieces and play the verse four different ways and have the producer slap it together’ … We don’t do that at all. We go for performance takes. We play the whole thing and maybe there’s some punch-ins here and there or we might fly something from one other full take or take the outro out because it’s better on that one.
“We use the technology but we don’t rely on it, and so it takes us longer to make records,” he continues. “We’re from the school of you had to play your song right [in the studio] since you are going to have to play it eventually somewhere, right? But at the same time, we’re not going for ’70s Tom Petty style, where he’s trying to get the perfect live take by doing the song 150 times if necessary.
“We want to be able to play the song even if everything isn’t mapped out. I don’t always come in and have every fill mapped out. For me it’s more interesting to not do that.”
It’s the things that Kinney doesn’t do that stand out. When he does need to accent, like the unexpected strike on the 19" AA in “Beneath A Window,” it practically detonates. “I think that comes with maturity and having been doing it for a while. That one crash that puts a shiver down your arms and you don’t know why, but then a big huge drum fill just pulls you out of the whole vibe of the song.”
Drums DW Collector's Series ("Psychedelic Liberace" custom finish)
1 23" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 7" Edge Snare
3 13" x 9" Tom
4 16" x 14" Floor Tom
5 18" x 16" Floor Tom
6 15" x 13" Floor Tom
7 8" x 7" Tom
A 15" Sizzle HH Hit-Hat
B 19" AA Rock Crash
C 7" Vault Radia Bell
D 20" AA Rock Crash
E 9" Vault Radia Bell
F 24" Vault Liquid Ride
G 21" Medium Crash/Ride
H 19" Paragon China
I 22" AA Medium Crash
Sean Kinney also uses DW hardware, Vater Nude Series Universal sticks, and Remo heads (Coarted Emperor, tom batter; Coated Controlled Sound snare batter, and Clar Power stroke3 bass batter).
Whether we’re calling it alt-metal, sludge, grunge or something else, Alice In Chains is about great songs that transcend marketing categories. “[Devil] sounds like we sound when we do the thing we do,” he says sounding slightly Zen. “We’ve been through a lot. We’ve lost a lot. And for us to be able to continue that and still be who we are, and honor the past and try to move forward, is really the challenge that keeps us going – especially in a day and age where it’s almost pointless. If you’re getting into this game to be rich and be on Cribs, good luck with that. It ain’t going to happen.”
Dated MTV references aside, the only time Kinney shows his age is when he rails against the way music consumer behavior has changed, echoing the infamous Lars Ulrich campaign against Napster. But the drummer reserves his deepest ire for labels seeking instant mega-sellers instead of nurturing an artist over the long term. “How can people expect to get good music when it’s not supported?”
In another echo of the past, Alice filmed a visually stunning video for first single “Hollow” (evocative of sci-fi films such as Silent Running or Solaris). Besides the disturbing storyline – as opposed to all the cutesy irony of today’s videos – it’s a ballsy move that recalls the days of big budgets and other excesses. Kinney doesn’t see it that way: “I don’t know if there’s a real way to quantify if it really helps the presence of your band or not,” he says. “I’m sure it does on some levels, but does it justify the cost? Probably not. But it’s about the creative process and the art of the whole thing.”
How long can Alice In Chains, to paraphrase Kinney, ’do the thing they do?’ When we ask, he proceeds to paint a picture of himself playing “Man In A Box” when he’s 79 before audibly shuddering. But it’s not the kind of thing that keeps him up at night. Even during the band’s uncertain post—Jar Of Flies years, the drummer continued to ply his trade, most notably in Cantrell’s solo project, Boggy Depot, which showcases more sophisticated pop licks and drum flare than most anything in Alice In Chains. “That’s cool if Jerry wants to do [Boggy Depot] again, but this is what were doing now.”
As the sun goes down it’s clear Kinney wants to get off the phone. He’s got errands to run before he showers and picks out a non-douche-y outfit for the Soundgarden show. “Their new record’s good. I’m not saying that because they’re my friends.”
Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden – the Seattle stars all came up together. Kinney recalls that period as a mutually nurturing scene rather than a competitive one between the bands and their respective drummers. Drumming influences tend to be guys he would hang out with even if they weren’t noted players. “A lot of them are peers and people I know as friends. Brann [Dailor] is one of the newer ones. I love the way Abe Cunningham plays – he’s a great guy. Josh Freese is just amazing. He always seems to play the right thing. You know, just good friends like Matt Cameron, Matt Chamberlin. Interesting, cools guys that march to their own thing.
“I’m not a fame-chasing kind of guy,” he adds. “I don’t have my ego running my world for me. I appreciate the simpler stuff. Phil Rudd is probably one of the greatest rock drummers ever. And I don’t feel like I need to compete with anybody – I just don’t. I’m the best drummer in my band. And that’s because nobody else can play drums in my band. I got that down.”