INTERVIEW: William DuVall of Alice In Chains finds musical rediscovery on ‘One Alone’

William DuVall, Alice in Chains

William DuVall, Courtesy Photo.

William DuVall has covered a lot of musical ground over his expansive nearly 30-year career. From the mid-’80s to the present day, DuVall has played in a number of bands rooted in rock, ranging from hardcore punk to ’90s grunge. Since 2006, he’s been the co-lead vocalist for Alice In Chains. Throughout that time, DuVall, 52, never tapped into his most intimately personal musical identity—his own.

William DuVall 
8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 26
Cornerstone Berkeley
Tickets: $20.

“It was quite a hurdle for me psychologically and emotionally to even make this happen,” DuVall said. “I’d been a band guy all my life, and to even come to grips with putting out music under my own name was a challenge I had to conquer.”

DuVall said that while the process initially felt very foreign to him, he found it to be a very worthwhile endeavor to take on the challenge of releasing music under his own name.

“I think the nature of the music itself helped me to get to the place I needed to get to,” DuVall said. “The fact that this particular collection of songs is one voice and one guitar all the way through, it felt dishonest to call it anything but what it is: William DuVall.”

DuVall didn’t go into the studio with the intention of writing songs, let alone an entire record worth of material, for himself. The plan was to produce someone else’s album and he was going to contribute one song. First, DuVall penned “‘Til the Light Guides Me Home.”

“What you hear on the One Alone album is actually what I thought was going to be the demo of that song for this other artist,” DuVall said. “As soon as I laid down that tune, just solo acoustic, the engineer said, ‘Man, you might want to rethink giving that away.'”

The songs that were meant for his solo endeavor presented themselves very quickly.

“The song itself can clarify things for you, even when you might be a bit foggy,” he said. “Most of the time you just kinda know where something might fit best.”

The decision to limit the record strictly to an acoustic guitar and vocals was a conscious choice to make it more intimate and personal, as well as to spotlight the lyricism and songwriting. It also made the project a nerve-wracking experience, and liberating at the same time.

“Everything is laid bare,” he said.

Those nerves manifested themselves even more when DuVall prepared to hit the stage for his first solo acoustic show in Atlanta last October. The singer recalled being “terrified” in the hours leading up to showtime.

“Whew, that was a day; I definitely went through some stuff,” he said. “But once you sit down in front of the folks and get into it, it turned out really well, and then I had to go out and do it again and again until I finally realized that I was now ‘a thing.'”

DuVall said he still has nerves when he performs in front of people, but now he’s figured out what his shows are supposed to be, which provides confidence.

“‘Is this set OK? Can I even pull this off? Can I even physically do this?'” he said, describing the thoughts that race through his mind. “It’s a lot, and the acoustic guitar is such an unforgiving instrument. You gotta have your stuff together, man, or that thing will stop you dead in your tracks.”

At his recent solo shows, DuVall has looked forward to the spontaneous moments of interaction with audiences. He’s already helped a fan propose on stage in  Indianapolis, and noticed others crying. One of his favorite moments came at a show in Washington, D.C., where a young boy whose mother brought him to the show was crying near the merch table. DuVall found out that the boy had been bullied at school. Watching the show inspired him to want to make his own music.

“I thought, ‘My God, how amazing is that?'” DuVall said. “That’s the highest aspiration for this music.”

DuVall has played in a number of bands over the years, including Neon Christ and Comes With the Fall. After releasing a triptych of albums as the co-lead vocalist of Alice In Chains (the most recent was 2018’s Rainier Fog), he felt it was was a natural point to take a little time to do something entirely different for himself. He spoke enthusiastically about how now that his solo identity is established, he can return to it whenever the mood strikes.

“There’s a certain adrenaline rush that comes with … playing to thousands of people on really big stages,” he said “But man, when you really fall into a groove with an audience in a one-man show, and you all catch that wave together and ride it into shore together, that is pretty unbelievable too, I gotta tell you.”

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