By Jonathan Williams
William DuVall has been a fixture on Atlanta’s underground rock scene since the ’80s, first as a punker and later, in the ’90s, as a member of hard rock acts Madfly and Comes with the Fall.
After the 2002 death of Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley, guitarist Jerry Cantrell set out on his own, taking Comes with the Fall on tour not only as the opening act, but also as his backing band. DuVall eventually was asked to perform with Alice in Chains in a series of shows that ended up being a tour of 23 countries in 2006. Though he’s been performing with the band since 2005, his inclusion on last year’s “Black Gives Way to Blue” legitimizes his place in the pioneering grunge metal band. As Alice in Chains comes to town for two sold-out performances, DuVall discusses his musical career and Atlanta’s rock scene.
Q: The shoes of Layne Staley are obviously big shoes to fill. Having already performed with Alice in Chains, did you have to audition for the part? Was there an official decision to find a new singer and have a reunion of sorts?
A: My first time singing songs like “Would?” was on Cantrell’s “Degradation Trip” tour in 2001 and 2002. I was playing guitar and standing stage left, but I was singing the same stuff I’m singing now. So our synergy was discovered and fortified then.
Playing shows for months at a time [in 2005 and 2006] really galvanized us as a unit, and at that point we were a band with our own collective chemistry. It’s been four years and city after city, country after country, people want to come with us.
Q: At what point did you start writing songs together?
A: That happened pretty much right from the beginning, on the road. During sound checks, long bus rides, in hotel rooms, music is being created. I’ve always been a main songwriter in any band I’ve been in, so I’m always coming up with stuff, as is [the rest of the band]. So by the time we finished touring in ‘07, we had a mountain of ideas, and that’s what we took into the studio with us.
Q: When you’re not on tour, you’re still seen at local shows from time to time. Who are some of your favorite local bands?
A: Dirty Pollyanna is a new band, but I’m excited about what they’re doing and their potential. Nico Constantine, the guitar player, is the visionary of that band, and he’s an old friend of mine. He was in Comes with the Fall when it first started, [and] he had a band called Program the Dead and I actually produced a couple of their records.
I’ll go see Dropsonic, too, no matter what’s going on. I’ve been around the world several times and I’ve never seen a band better than Dropsonic. A band like that should have a scene around it like Soundgarden did in Seattle. But I don’t see that happening unfortunately.
Outkast and Usher and all that is real cool, but we’ve always had great rock musicians. I’ve seen generations of them come and go and be ignored. Everybody that ended up doing anything unfortunately really did have to leave Atlanta to do it.