It may be their first studio album in nearly 15 years, and the first to feature singer-guitarist William DuVall subbing for the late Layne Staley, but Alice in Chains co-founder Jerry Cantrell says the music is still very much Alice in Chains, even if the album is set to feature rock legend Elton John.
As unlikely as it sounds, Sir Elton sings and plays the keys on the title track to the grunge rock band's upcoming album, Black Gives Way to Blue, a tribute to the group's late front-man Staley, who died of a drug overdose in 2002.
The collaboration initially came about when Cantrell thought the track could use some piano. A friend suggested calling up John.
"I remember laughing and saying, 'Yeah, I'll get right on that,'" Cantrell said in a statement. "But I decided it was worth trying and wrote Elton an email explaining what that song means to us - that it's a real, raw, openhearted song for Layne."
Ironically, John was slated to record at a studio complex at the same time as the band, and it only took one listen of the song's demo to convince the rock icon to hop on board.
"[While out for lunch on break] we got a call from our studio manager saying that Elton wanted to talk to us," AP quotes Cantrell as saying. "We jumped in the car, left our lunches on the table, and cruised back to the studio and walked into the studio where he was recording.
"He got up and gave us a couple of hugs, and said, 'Well, Jerry, I just wanted to tell you that I think it's a beautiful song... I really dig the sentiment of what it's about and who it's for and I just want to tell you that I'm going to play on the song.'"
The band flew to Las Vegas where John was performing shortly afterwards to finish the recording, though Cantrell says working with the star definitely made him nervous.
"One of the most nerve-racking moments I had was actually making a suggestion to him. What do you say to Elton John?" Cantrell said. "But he was really open to the process... He fit into the song, and he really brought something that was really necessary and took the song to another level."
Keep your eyes open for Black Gives Way to Blue when it's released on September 29. Until then, you might want to start getting those flannel shirts out of storage.