How Jerry Cantrell Entered Uncharted Territory With ‘Cut You In’

Despite never officially disbanding, Alice in Chains had become essentially inactive by the end of the ’90s, due largely to Layne Staley‘s debilitating heroin addiction. Still, the grunge titans’ specter loomed over guitarist Jerry Cantrell when he released “Cut You In,” the lead single from his debut solo album, Boggy Depot, in January 1998.

After filming an MTV Unplugged special and opening a handful of dates on Kissreunion tour in 1996, Alice in Chains went on an indefinite hiatus as Staley disappeared from the public eye, suffering a slow, agonizing demise that culminated in his death in April 2002. With his band stuck in limbo, Cantrell began working on material for his first album in 1996. He made his debut solo excursion that same year with the single “Leave Me Alone,” which appeared on the soundtrack to the Ben Stiller-directed black comedy The Cable Guy, starring Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick.

Whereas “Leave Me Alone” featured the same grinding guitars and sinister vocal melodies that made Alice in Chains grunge kingpins, Boggy Depot incorporated piano-driven dirges and country-tinged laments into Cantrell’s alt-metal arsenal. “Cut You In” deviated from the AIC template with its lurching, samba-like groove and prominent horn arrangement, courtesy of Fishbone saxophonist Angelo Moore. “I was pretty hammered when I wrote that tune,” Cantrell told Guitar World in 1998.

“I just started humming this thing I had in my head, and I grabbed this guitar I made in high school — it’s a white Strat that I call EMBO, which stands for ‘Eat My Butt Out.’ Anyway, I grabbed the guitar and wrote it in about 20 to 30 minutes.”

Watch the Video for Jerry Cantrell’s ‘Cut You In’

With lyrics like “I lose myself, hide from the sun / I make a trip when I’m out of fun” and “I call you up whenever I’m stoned / We chew the skin, choke on the bones,” “Cut You In” sounds like a hedonistic drug-buddy anthem on the surface. But as Cantrell explained to Billboard a few months after the song’s release, it’s a rebuke of those fickle relationships, “directed at the type of folk who ride with you when shit is good. But when your situation turns south, they’re the first to bail — unlike true friends.”

Cantrell recorded the track with help from a pair of true friends: Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez and drummer Sean Kinney. (The latter also appears in the song’s music video as a car thief who jacks Cantrell’s ride, which Cantrell first stole from a middle-aged man.) At the time, the singer and guitarist wasn’t sure if the band associations would help or hinder his solo venture. “It could be that programmers know my work and will be more likely to pick up the advance and throw the cut on. Or they may hate it on sight,” he mused. “Either way, Alice is a big legacy to live up to. Hopefully, the fans like it. They’re the real bosses.”

The real bosses expressed their approval by sending “Cut You In” to No. 5 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Airplay chart and No. 15 on the Alternative Airplay (formerly Modern Rock Tracks) chart, the highest placements of Cantrell’s solo career. It validated the guitarist’s extracurricular endeavor, which he still found unfamiliar and a little nerve-racking.

“Everyone knows I had plenty of time to waste for a while. The question was, do I want to sit on my couch, or do I want to make music?” Cantrell asked Billboard. “I decided to explore my solo side. It’s weird to wear all the hats. In a band, you have more shoulders to carry the load and more brains to bounce ideas around. I’m still adjusting to going it alone.”

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