Tuesday, February 23, 2010

With Alice in Chains, Atlanta punk icon William DuVall finds his audience

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2010 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge BACK IN BLACK: Former Atlantan William DuVall (right) returns home as the new frontman of Alice in Chains.
  • BACK IN BLACK: Former Atlantan William DuVall (right) returns home as the new frontman of Alice in Chains.

More than 25 years have passed since William DuVall's tirades as the guitarist and songwriter for Neon Christ kicked open the door for Atlanta's hardcore scene in the early '80s. Back then people called him Kip, and the same scene that he played a vital role in creating during the Reagan era still resonates on local stages. But like Atlanta's urban landscape, DuVall has changed dramatically since those days. Mention his name to the tight-jeans-wearing kids of the local punk scene now and Neon Christ hangs on their lips like the evocation of an ancient demigod. Mention his later, proto-grunge/art rock trio No Walls, or his more recent and decidedly commercial rock act Comes With the Fall to the same youthful zealots and they only offer blank stares. Truth be told, hardcore was only the beginning of a long legacy in which DuVall has labored to strike a balance between artistic integrity and commercial success.

When news spread in 2006 that DuVall had joined Alice in Chains to replace vocalist Layne Staley, who died of a heroin overdose in 2002, fans of Neon Christ scoffed at the new gig. In the early '90s, Alice in Chains was the watered-down cousin to the post-punk fuzz of Nirvana, Soundgarden and the rest of Seattle's Sub Pop grunge scene. Alice in Chains was a metal band first and foremost, and though the group's songs dwelt on the dark side, they were polished by comparison – and tailored to suit a much larger audience.

Reaching an audience of that size has been DuVall's M.O. almost from the beginning, and every phase of his career has inched him closer to that goal. Joining Alice in Chains – a band that has sold nearly 15 million records in the U.S., including two No. 1 albums and 21 Top 40 singles – is an epic leap that finds DuVall far removed from the hard-line aesthetics of his musical beginnings. And yet, even though he left hardcore's dogmatic ways to embrace commercial music a long time ago, he has never let go of his convictions.

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(Photo by James Minchin)

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