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William DuVall on Fronting Alice in Chains

January 30, 2014
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SINGER/GUITARIST WILLIAM DUVALL enjoyed a long, fruitful career before joining Alice in Chains, and his many credits include writing, singing, playing guitar, and producing for his band Comes with the Fall. (He also co-wrote the monster hit “I Know” for Dionne Farris.) He joined AIC in 2006 after Comes with the Fall backed up Jerry Cantrell on his Degradation Trip tour and has been a huge presence in the band ever since, as he is on their latest, The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here. —MB

How would you characterize your guitar role in Alice in Chains?

It’s everything from writing riffs to providing counterpoint to what Cantrell is doing to doubling what he’s doing to playing solos. I do the solo on “Phantom Limb” on this new album. So, it’s really everything that you would expect from a two-guitar band. My being in the group also gives the band another guitar player who can write things, and we’ve also turned into a bit more of a jamming outfit when we rehearse. I’m told they didn’t really do a whole lot of that before. But that’s sort of where I come from: a jamming background. I’ll start up something and see where it goes in rehearsal. That’s a different way of interacting, which is cool.

How naturally did you guys settle in to your roles when you first started playing together?

I would say we’re still settling in—it’s always a work in progress. There are a lot of things that we have in common and then there are a lot of things that set us very much apart from one another. He tends to write a lot of parts for songs and layer a lot of things, and before Alice in Chains was a two-guitar band reproducing that stuff wasn’t possible. Now it’s much more feasible. Not only can we more accurately reproduce things from the previous albums, but we can also write in a way that lends itself to being presented in a two-guitar format onstage. If he writes something that has five or six parts to it, rather than having to just pick one, we can pick at least two and add the most important piece of another part. We really present it very close to, if not exactly like, the record on a lot of songs.

Was there a guitar and amp that was your main rig for this record?

I would say my go-to guitar is probably my number one Les Paul. It’s an ’08 1960 Standard VOS Sunburst. Ever since Gibson started doing the Historic Series, reproducing the vintage models, I think for the most part they’ve done a fantastic job. I happened to get a really, really good-sounding one, and it has proven itself time and time again. The binding is coming off and it’s got all these wear spots because I’ve played it so much. It’s a really well seasoned guitar now.

Amp-wise, this band has always favored a hot-rodded Marshall philosophy. My own taste still tends towards the old non-master-volume models, or boutique amps that are sort of trying to reproduce the non-master-volume Marshalls or Vox amps of the ’60s. But it’s been cool to discover some of the really good companies that are making a more high-end nuclear amp, like Bogner. Cantrell’s been using Friedman Marshas on tour for the last couple of years, and I really like the sound of those. I actually used one of his Marshas for the solo in “Phantom Limb.” It was my number one Les Paul through the Marsha and it was a wrap. I nailed it in one take or two because it just sounded so right.

What’s your live setup?

I think there’s going to be a hybrid of all of those philosophies on my end of the stage. I’ve been using a Bogner Uberschall for that low-end, heavy metal, thunking kind of thing that Alice in Chains needs. I’ve historically used a Matchless C-30 head somewhere in my rig. And then I’ll probably go with a Friedman Brown Eye to kind of bridge the gap between the Matchless and the Bogner.

What do you hear when Jerry plays?

He’s definitely got a vibe. At his best a lot of his stuff is so simple. You hear a riff like “Check My Brain,” and you say, “Oh god, I wish I’d thought of that!” It’s deceptively simple and it’s distinctly him. He and I go back a good long time now, way before my joining Alice in Chains. Everybody’s got his or her thing, and I dig his thing. It’s cool.

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