Wednesday, February 6, 2008




Randy from Neon Christ was telling me about how he was able to write some stuff for a weekly that comes out near where he lives, and that he was able to interview his old Neon Christ bandmate Kip Duvall last year in something that was also printed online. I found it, and it is a interesting read because Kip strikes me as someone who truly loves all music and has a great intelligence to boot. I also got the impression that all of his old buddies from Atlanta seem to be really stoked on his journey and not at all the least bit negative about what he has been able to do. That often seems rare in the world that a lot of us come out of. I have edited quite a bit of this especially towards the end because it is very loooong indeed but the man has a lot to say. A few questions I might have asked of him have also been asked care of Randy and answered care of Kip. I wish more interviews were this interesting.

A crackberry interview with my former bandmate William ‘Kip’ DuVall, now lead singer for Alice in Chains

AUGUSTA, GA - When a reunited Alice in Chains played the Tabernacle in Atlanta last year, the significance was huge on several levels. It was the first tour AIC had embarked on since the passing of Layne Staley, the charismatic, if not conflicted, singer who overdosed in 2002.
It was also the band’s Atlanta debut for native-son William DuVall, who developed his licks on a stage a few blocks down Luckie Street at venerable punk rock institution The Metroplex.
Back in the day, I was the frontman for Neon Christ, the hardcore band William “Kip” DuVall started in the fall of 1983. Because of those days as a member of “the only Atlanta punk band that mattered” (Creative Loafing, 1995), I’ve had the opportunity and privilege of witnessing the metamorphosis of DuVall’s pure musical talent from an insider’s perspective.

Last year (2006) was a very interesting year for DuVall. On New Year’s Eve he played with singer-guitarist Michael Tolcher. A week later he reunited with Neon Christ, his hardcore band circa ’83-’86, for a set of reunion shows that were filmed for a pending documentary.

A couple of months later he performed live on VH-1 with a reunited Alice in Chains during a tribute to Heart. And then he got to bring the show home. Before the year ended, his travel tickets would include numerous European stops as well.

By all accounts, DuVall nailed his position with Alice on that tour. Though many were skeptical, DuVall stepped into the role previously held by one of the most distinctive voices in rock, and made it happen to a stunning degree.

Following last year’s tour, the band was mum on its plans, but now I can report that Alice in Chains is working on new material, and looks to enter the studio following its current tour with Velvet Revolver.

Through the years, DuVall has been in a diverse collection of groups, whose influences were as varied as the music that inspired him. Outside of Alice in Chains, DuVall is in Comes With the Fall, an L.A.-based outfit who released their fourth album, “Beyond the Last Light,” on DuVall’s DVL label on Sept. 4.
Over the last few months, I’ve been “e-interviewing” DuVall. E-mail and Blackberry is decidedly more sophisticated than what we were used to as young punks, and the process has filled in a lot of details about the life of someone I consider a friend and an inspiration.

DuVall has an interesting story, and I think the following conversation bears that out. The beauty in the story, however, is that it’s a work in progress. Whatever success is garnered today only sets up the expectation of what will be created in the future. With DuVall, there will be plenty to look forward to.

Randy DuTeau: I remember a story about when you were 13 years old, and a show you attended in D.C. that really had a profound effect on you. Can you share that?

William DuVall: I was 13 years old living in Washington, D.C., when I heard that the Art Ensemble of Chicago were going to play the 9:30 Club.

The Art Ensemble was one of my favorite bands. I first read about them in Musician Magazine and managed to track down a couple of their albums. However, in those days, the 9:30 Club did not do all-ages shows. And the Art Ensemble was hardly what one would call “kid’s music.”

Therefore, I needed a guardian. I begged my grandfather to take me to the gig and he agreed. As I remember, the concert was being broadcast live over public radio. I was so excited to be there. I felt very cool and grown-up being at a real, late-night jazz gig.
I sat right on the edge of the stage front and center staring at all their equipment. Surrounding the drum kit and gigantic double bass were all these strange percussion instruments — shakers, wood blocks, hand drums, bells and a huge gong.

When the Art Ensemble finally hit the stage, it was one of the most awesome things I had ever seen. They had this wonderful sense of theatricality. Several of them were in full-blown African ceremonial garb, complete with colorful face paint.

Bassist Malachi Favors was especially arresting with his broad face and wide, ecstatic smile. Trumpeter Lester Bowie was known for wearing either a surgeon’s uniform or an immaculate chef’s outfit onstage. As they did two sets that night, I believe he wore one of each.

Before they played one note of music, they stood silently in formation for several moments facing east, similar to the ritual associated with Muslims. The entire sold-out club went dead quiet out of respect. Then the band picked up their instruments and started playing. They didn’t stop for a full hour. It was unbelievable.

Even at my age then, I could tell that I was witnessing masters at work. They had an almost telepathic connection tying them together. The music, almost all improvised, pulled the audience in like a riptide. I’ll never forget the sheer joy the band exuded, not only from playing, but also from listening to one another. Whenever one of them would take a solo, the others would listen intently, often laughing and cheering with delight at a particularly righteous phrase.

For them, improvisation was celebration. It was such a beautiful thing to see and hear.
Though, as mentioned before, they never stopped playing for their entire hour-long set, at one point they did break it down to near silence, and Bowie, perhaps a bit surprised to see such a young kid so engaged in the Art Ensemble experience, said (into the mic), “This is for the little brother right here.” Then he leaned right down to me and literally spoke to me through his horn.

The story he told was equal parts fiery, heartbreakingly tragic and knee-slap funny. To this day, it’s one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.
RD: That story says a lot about how you would approach your own music. Neon Christ, for example, was “born” a thrash band. However, at some point the songs became longer, and there was less reliance on speed and more emphasis on structure and melody. As the musical instigator, what were you thoughts? Is this where the band needed to go, or is this where you wanted to go? As the band evolved, the lyrics became less overt, and the music integrated more diverse elements (Bo Diddley riffs, free-form jazz elements). It was decidedly not hardcore, but was it punk?

WD: For me at the time, the direction I wanted to pursue personally, the direction in which I believed the band should go, and the ways in which I thought the music scene as a whole should expand were all one in the same.

I was shaped in my early adolescence, from about age 12, by the writings of people like Lester Bangs, who eloquently pointed out the aesthetic and spiritual similarities between free jazz and punk rock. By the time of mid- to-late-period Neon Christ, I was 16 or 17 and already an “old hand” at viewing people like John Coltrane, Hendrix, the Stooges, Ornette Coleman, the Doors, Blood Ulmer, the MC5, Sun Ra, Greg Ginn, Albert Ayler and Tom Verlaine (just to name a few) as warriors in the same cause: freedom.

I wanted to pursue my own version of that idea. I thought it only natural that the music move forward in that way. The writing was already on the wall. Where else could you go with thrash?
Other musicians in the underground scene at the time were asking the same question. Most answered it by rediscovering their love of Black Sabbath and AC/DC records and moving in a more traditional Rock-with-a-capital-R direction.
Some of the music that resulted was OK but, to me, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to incorporate early rock (like Bo Diddley), free jazz, Moroccan music, Indian music, etc. This explains why I was so enamored by what Black Flag were doing at the time, particularly records like “Family Man” and “The Process of Weeding Out.” Greg Ginn had developed his own language on the guitar based upon the freedom principles evident in the best music from all parts of the world. It was obvious to me that he was listening to Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Blood Ulmer, Shankar, the Master Musicians of Joujouka, etc., and filtering them through his own sensibilities.

(Ginn told me many years later that I was one of the very few people at that time that recognized the jazz- and world-music influences in his playing. I was flattered on the one hand, but bewildered on the other because it seemed so clear to me then.)
Of course, this approach wasn’t entirely unique. The MC5 were doing punk-rock-meets-free-jazz freakouts as early as 1966 (“Black to Comm,” “Starship”).

Then you have Lou Reed’s explosive Cecil Taylor-influenced lead guitar work with the Velvet Underground on songs like “European Son” and “I Heard Her Call My Name” in 1967, the Stooges’ landmark “Funhouse” album in 1970 and Tom Verlaine’s transcendent solo flights in concert with Television on the expanded live arrangements of songs like “Little Johnny Jewel” and “Marquee Moon” several years later.

Other examples certainly exist throughout the years (Sonic Youth’s entire career, for instance) but the point is, whether we’re talking about 1966, 1985 or even 2007, this isn’t exactly well-traveled territory. It’s pretty wide open to this day and definitely was in the mid-’80s.

As I saw it, the freedom principle — as exemplified by bands from the past like the MC5 and contemporary bands like Black Flag — was the best way to move Neon Christ’s music forward. It was where things had to go, the way of the future. After we disbanded in February ’86 and I joined Bl’ast! several months later, I was rather disappointed at how close-minded they were. They were surfers who just wanted to amp out and rock. Nothing else.
As much as we shared a love for Black Flag, they were only interested in the two-guitar, mutant metal period of the band circa ’82. They had no appreciation or desire to learn about any of the music that led up to that (MC5, Coltrane) or to concern themselves with how to push the music forward. Almost as soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew I probably wouldn’t be staying long.

The Final Offering (’87-’88) was definitely a step in the right direction. At least you had guys who were really engaged in music. Mike Dean was a great lead bass player. Greg Psomas was a savage drummer. We all liked Sabbath and jazz equally and wanted to push some boundaries. But Psomas’ heroin habit prohibited us from working consistently. [Greg Psomas would die of an overdose in the mid-’90s.] It wasn’t until late 1988 that I would form a unit that could more fully explore these ideas: No Walls.

RD: I always thought that if the No Walls album had been released on a major label it would have received every critic’s marks as a best album, but it would not have been commercially viable. How do you look at it?

WD: Who knows? You might be right. It’s hard to say. At the time (1988-1992), I viewed No Walls as a pop group. I thought there were loads of people just waiting for a band that could assimilate Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Sonic Youth, Ornette Coleman, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Beatles and many others into a seamless blend and take rock music forward.

It seemed abundantly clear to me that this was how the culture needed to evolve — rock, jazz, pop and world music all fusing together to form one truly universal language. No Walls was the embodiment of everything I had dreamed of since I first got turned on to music. We were the Freedom Principle in action!

I was certain I had the keys to the kingdom, that I knew the way and that people would dig it if they only got the chance to hear it. I pictured No Walls on MTV with U2, REM, Guns N’ Roses and whatever else was happening then. I had pipe dreams of duetting with Edie Brickell on the Grammys and then maybe grabbing a drink with her afterward. Obviously, the industry saw things differently.

Other than Vernon Reid of Living Colour, David Fricke at Rolling Stone and a few other tastemakers, No Walls, ironically, hit a rather huge wall, particularly among the A&R types at major labels. We confused the hell out of them.

You have to remember, most of No Walls’ existence was prior to Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album. The explosion of that record changed the music business, at least for a while. But before that you were being evaluated by the guy promoting the new MC Hammer single, or Warrant’s new album.

No Walls was told we had “no songs,” that our live show “wasn’t polished enough.” Some even said we were “ahead of our time.” Then Jeff Buckley came along a few years later doing a similar thing to No Walls, albeit in his own uniquely fantastic way, and managed to get quite a heavy promo push from Columbia Records.

And yet, great as he was, with all that major label support, even Buckley didn’t really sell a significant number of records until after he died. So it’s difficult to speculate on what might have been. I’m just glad I’m still in the ring swinging.

RD: In 1997 I saw you with Madfly at The Cotton Club during Music Midtown. The last time I’d seen you was at the Little 5 Points Pub (probably under a different name, but I just remember the Pub) with No Walls. Madfly took me by surprise. I had never seen you without a guitar. Madfly was quite different than No Walls. When was the transition, and how did it come about?

WD: Madfly (1996-1999) was simply the next logical step for me after all that had happened with Neon Christ, Bl’ast!, The Final Offering and particularly No Walls. By the early ’90s, I’d pretty much been branded as someone playing music that was supposed to be “difficult” and/or “ahead of its time.”

Problem was, I could never understand what was so difficult about anything I did. As I said, I thought No Walls was a pop band. Nevertheless, by ’92, when No Walls finally called it quits, it seemed there was a contingent of people in Atlanta and elsewhere who were interested in me being some kind of underground martyr for them. I was supposed to suffer and die on the cross of obscurity for all that was wrong with mainstream music.
That was my fate, period. They had me boxed in. Of course, I wanted no such title or distinction. The whole point with everything I had ever done in my life was, first, to be heard, and second, not to be put in anybody’s box.

I felt compelled to crush that perception as fast and as thoroughly as I could. Ergo, Madfly — with the glam clothes, the more elaborate stage show, the overtly “anthemic” songs, etc. That was the only uncharted territory I had left to cover in my evolution: Drop the guitar (at least sometimes). Be a “frontman.” And, on top of that, be a bit of a dandy. Dress up. Nobody saw that coming, not from me.

It pissed off a lot of people, especially some of the supporters of my previous bands. They felt betrayed, outraged. There was a lot of “How dare you!” Then some people who hadn’t known me before were like, “Who does this fool think he is?” Local Atlanta rock bands just didn’t do the kinds of things Madfly did.

I remember one early show of ours where I painted myself silver — face, hair, hands, every inch of exposed skin — and wore a form-fitting silver pullover shirt and skintight black stovepipe corduroys. I don’t think I ever wore the same thing onstage twice with Madfly.

I made a point of befriending several up-and-coming Atlanta clothing designers. So I had clothes custom-made every week, the most outrageous things I could imagine. The designers and I were so proud of some of the pieces. I even did a few runway shows for them.

For a kid who graduated (with honors) from the blood ‘n’ guts Black Flag School of Performing Arts, there couldn’t have been a more dramatic about-face. Was it somewhat reactionary on my part? Sure. Was it a bit ridiculous at times? Absolutely. But it was also fun as hell.

And, bottom line, the music came first and foremost with Madfly. On that front, we were without equal. Some great tunes came out of that band. The albums bear that out.

RD: Madfly “became” Comes With the Fall, and then you moved to LA…

WD: Madfly evolved into Comes With The Fall quite naturally. For the most part, the membership stayed the same — myself, Bevan Davies on drums, Nico Constantine on guitar. The difference was Adam Stanger joined on bass in summer ’99 after Jeffrey Blount departed.

That sealed the deal. Madfly had run its course. It had been fun but I’d proven everything I wanted to prove to myself. I had purposefully donned a mask and taken on the trappings of theatricality, but it eventually grew tiresome, as I had always known it would.

Besides, by ’98, people like Marilyn Manson and Courtney Love had “gone glam” and MTV was heralding it as “The Return of the Rock Star.” Inevitably, other Atlanta bands, some of whom had scoffed at Madfly in ’96, jumped aboard the “glam wagon.”

But regardless of all that, my personal compass was telling me it was time to drop the mask, pick up the guitar (full-time) and kick out the jams again. It was time to take the music back to a darker, more dynamic place — the place I most naturally live — while drawing on everything I’d learned over the years with all my bands. It was also time to start writing more directly from the heart again, something I’d put on hold somewhat since No Walls, perhaps as a protection device.

CWTF immediately abandoned the entire Madfly songbook and started from scratch. From that moment, the floodgates opened. In one eight-week hurricane of activity, from August to October ’99, we wrote and recorded the first Comes With the Fall album.

Everything happened so quickly it felt more like the album was more channeled than written. Shortly thereafter, in February 2000, we decided to leave Atlanta and take our chances in Los Angeles. It was time. We had all done as much as we could in Atlanta, both collectively and individually. There was too much water under the bridge, too many years, too many memories, both good and bad. We needed a new start for this new band.

From the moment CWTF landed in L.A., it was like all the shackles fell away at once. We felt freer than we ever had. We had our first album, a crushing live show replete with years of pent-up aggression brought with us from Atlanta, and the perfect balance of newfound hope and hard-won experience.

We couldn’t lose. We played every club (the Viper Room, the Whisky, the Troubador, Spaceland, etc.), got into every “exclusive” velvet rope hang-out, hosted many spectacular parties of our own and met some truly amazing people. To this day, one of the band’s closest friends here refers to the summer of 2000 as “that magic summer.”
CWTF were the newest, baddest gang in town and we totally dropped a bomb on Hollywood. It was an incredible time.

RD: It was with CWTF you first met Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains…

WD: Jerry Cantrell was one of the first people CWTF met when we arrived in Los Angeles. He came up and introduced himself to me at a club called the Dragonfly, saying he was a big fan of ours. A mutual friend had turned him on to our first album.
Soon afterward, he started hanging out with us virtually every day, often crashing out at our pad. Then he learned a couple of songs off our album and would jump onstage to play them with us at every gig we had in Hollywood. People thought he was joining our band. Like I said before, it was an incredible time.

The fact that a guy like Cantrell immediately got where we were coming from, and felt that what we were doing was pure and cutting edge, really meant the world to us. It was such a much-needed validation after all the years we’d spent, both individually and collectively, being misunderstood and/or ignored in Atlanta. It told us, once and for all, in no uncertain terms, that we weren’t crazy, that we really were really onto something.

RD: Obviously a lot of notoriety would come out of the Alice in Chains gig. However, you have had some other notable experiences. Talk about writing “I Know” for Dionne Farris.

WD: My involvement in Dionne Farris’ album came about because she’d just left Arrested Development (having been the featured singer on their breakout hit “Tennessee”) and wanted a solo career playing music that was a bit more eclectic than strict R&B/hip-hop.

She wanted a bit of rock ‘n’ roll in there. So she sought out David Harris, whose band Follow for Now were one of the great black rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time, and who were then still a major local and regional force. Then David told her something like, “If I’m going to be involved, you should also get the guy who’s my favorite writer, William DuVall.”

Around that time (’02-’03), David and I were thinking of forming a songwriter’s collective along with Milton Davis. It was supposed to be based on the Holland/Dozier/Holland-style partnerships of Motown in the ’60s, a good idea that never really got off the ground but did find expression, at least somewhat, on Dionne’s record. Ironically, it was Milton and me who wrote “I Know,” the song that got Dionne signed to Columbia Records and became her big single, though he and I barely said five words to one another during our entire association.

How popular was “I Know”? No. 1 for radio in 1995 (according to the industry authority Radio & Record Magazine). Dionne made all the rounds on television as well — Leno, Letterman, “Saturday Night Live,” Conan, Jon Stewart (before the “Daily Show”), etc.
I received an ASCAP Pop Award for writing one of the biggest records of ’94-’95. Other honorees that year included Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (for their writing/production for Janet Jackson) and Tom Petty. “I Know” also got Dionne nominated for a Grammy. And, yes, the windfall from co-writing a single that does that well is very helpful indeed.

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