Alice in Chains
Alice in Chains is a popular and influential rock band that formed in Seattle, Washington in 1987, and was one of the most commercially successful bands from the Seattle grunge music scene, selling over 10 million albums worldwide (counting only their three studio albums and their EP Jar of Flies). Unlike many of their peers, Alice in Chains owed more to heavy metal than to punk rock or classic rock, but the group became closely associated with grunge due to their Seattle roots, their image, and their introspective and sometimes morbid lyrics.
In 1987, Layne Staley met guitarist and song-writer Jerry Cantrell at a party and allowed him to stay at the Music Bank with him. Eventually, Cantrell invited Staley to join his band, Diamond Lie, which soon added Cantrell's friend, bassist Mike Starr. They recruited drummer Sean Kinney, who was dating Starr's sister, to complete the lineup.
The new group began writing original material and playing clubs in Seattle, eventually taking the name "Alice in Chains." (The name derived from one of Layne Staley's former bands, Alice N' Chainz. According to Staley, Alice N' Chainz would dress in drag at concerts, and he noted that he felt the name would fit a band that "dressed in drag and played speed metal.")
The band signed with Columbia Records in 1989. After recording a series of demos in early 1989, the band offered its first official release in July 1990, We Die Young EP. The title track became a moderate hit on metal-oriented radio, preparing the way for the release later that year of the group's first full LP, Facelift. The album produced an unexpected hit in the crunchy and infectious "Man in the Box", the video for which went into regular rotation on MTV. Supported by a tour opening for Van Halen and Iggy Pop, Facelift went Gold by the end of the year.
The band next released an unexpected EP of acoustic compositions, Sap, which also featured guest artists Ann Wilson of Heart, who joined Staley and Cantrell for the choruses on "Brother", "Am I Inside" and "Love Song", as well as Mark Arm of Mudhoney and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, who appeared on the song "Right Turn" (credited in the liner notes as Alice Mudgarden). Chris Cornell also sang some backing vocals on the track "Brother."
The group received more exposure in 1992 when one of their new songs, "Would?", appeared on the soundtrack for Singles, a motion picture by filmmaker Cameron Crowe based on the lives of Seattle singles. The band also appeared in the film, performing the songs "Would?" and "It Ain't Like That" during one of the club scenes. The early release of "Would?" helped build anticipation for the group's next LP.
The album Dirt, released in the fall of 1992, exemplifies the group's heavy, guitar-driven, distortion-drenched sound. It was both a critical and commercial success, going Platinum by the end of the year and remaining the band's most successful album to date. However, the dark lyrics, dealing mostly with isolation and addiction, increased speculation that Staley was addicted to heroin. It is now known that this speculation was correct.
While the band was touring to promote Dirt, Mike Starr left the group due to the band's nonstop schedule and eventually joined a hard rock band called Sun Red Sun. Starr was soon replaced by former Ozzy Osbourne bassist Mike Inez. The band met in the studio once again in 1993 to record two new songs, "What the Hell Have I?" and "A Little Bitter", for the soundtrack of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Last Action Hero.
During the summer of 1993, Alice in Chains joined bands such as Primus, Tool, Rage Against the Machine, and Babes in Toyland for the alternative music festival Lollapalooza, where the band was very well received. It would be the last time, however, that Alice in Chains would undertake a major tour.
After their explosive performances on the Lollapalooza tour, the alternative music scene braced for another hard, angry, loud release from the Seattle quartet. In January 1994, however, the band surprised fans and critics with Jar of Flies, which was a return to more mellow acoustic arrangements, well-developed pieces complete with subtle string arrangements, fused with exclamation points from Cantrell's signature electric guitar attack and Staley's singing.
Released as an EP, though of album quality in design and length, Jar of Flies debuted at No. 1 on album sales charts, the first EP ever to reach that position. Evolving from the alternative, progressive sound of the first track to more traditional ballads, the album seems to pay homage to Cantrell's musical roots. Although the songs were all written and recorded in a week, some critics hailed it as a mini-masterpiece.
The band stayed off the road for the remainder of their run, adding fuel to speculation about Staley's addiction. Nonetheless, Staley performed a few shows with Gacy Bunch (Mad Season), a "grunge supergroup" side project formed in 1995 with Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. They later renamed themselves Mad Season and released a single LP, Above.
In November 1995, Alice in Chains returned with the release of a self-titled album, Alice in Chains, commonly referred to as "Tripod", "Three" or "Three Legged Dog" due to the image of a forlorn three-legged-dog on the album cover, and because it was the band's third full album. This album was a return to the heavy metal roots of the band, though unlike the sound of their previous albums and even less like the more acoustic Jar of Flies record. For some fans this return to form was welcome, for others it wasn't so much a step forward as a step backward into more familiar ground. The album debuted at number one on the charts, but the group again failed to support it with a tour, sparking further discussion about Staley's heroin addiction. Ultimately, this would be the last official album that Alice in Chains produced.
The group surfaced again in 1996 to perform their first concert in three years on MTV Unplugged, a program featuring all-acoustic sets. The set included the popular single "Down in a Hole". The group reworked their harder material with fresh acoustic arrangements and included a rhythm guitarist, Scott Olson, to round out the sound. They also introduced a new song, "Killer Is Me". An album of the performance was released later that year, the album debuting at number three on the charts.
After the Unplugged show, the band opened four shows on the KISS reunion tour filling in for Stone Temple Pilots, who had to pull out because of lead singer Scott Weiland's drug problems. Their July 3rd concert in Kansas City was the last concert Alice in Chains gave with Staley as lead singer.
Cantrell wanted to keep the band together and tried to stay in touch with Staley, but it became clear that Staley's health would not allow him to return to work any time soon. Cantrell began work and soon released his first solo album, Boggy Depot, in 1998. Since Alice in Chains' bassist Mike Inez, drummer Kinney, not to mention producer Toby Wright made significant contributions to the album, many fans consider Boggy Depot to be a "lost" Alice in Chains album.
In 1998, Staley reunited with the other members of the group for the last time to record two more songs, "Get Born Again" and "Died". These songs were released in the fall of 1999 on the career-spanning box set, Music Bank. The set contains 48 songs, including rarities, old demos, the two new recordings, and a majority of the album cuts. The group also released Nothing Safe: Best of the Box, which served as a 15-song sampler of Music Bank, as well as their first best-of compilation. The two new recordings, "Get Born Again" and "Died", would be the last songs that Staley would record, while Music Bank would be the last release of new studio material from the band. A live album, Live, and a 10-song greatest-hits compilation, Greatest Hits round out the group's official releases. Later, in 2004, Sony announced the release of a third Alice in Chains best-of compilation, The Essential Alice in Chains, a double album set including 28 songs. It was eventually released on September 5, 2006.
Although the band never officially disbanded, Staley spiraled deeper into depression when his girlfriend died from bacterial endocarditis in 1996. He became reclusive, rarely leaving his Seattle condo. The possibility of a full Alice in Chains reunion finally ended on April 20, 2002, when Layne Staley was found dead in his condominium from an apparent lethal overdose of heroin and cocaine. The coroner approximated Staley's day of death as April 5, which, coincidentally, was the same approximate date as Kurt Cobain's death eight years earlier.
Jerry Cantrell, shaken by the death of his friend and bandmate, dedicated his second solo album, Degradation Trip (2002), to Staley. The album was released about two months after the passing of Staley as a single disc release and was later re-released, as originally intended and with added songs, as a double disc. While some of the songs on the album appear to be written about Cantrell's former bandmate's death ("Thinking 'bout my dead friends whose voices ring on"), Degradation Trip was completed prior to Staley's passing.
In 2005, Cantrell, Inez, and Kinney reunited to perform a benefit concert in Seattle for victims of the Tsunami Disaster that struck south Asia. The band included former Damageplan lead singer Pat Lachman as its primary vocalist. Surprise guests Wes Scantlin of Puddle of Mudd and Maynard James Keenan of Tool appeared to chip in with vocal duties, and Ann Wilson of Heart guest-starred to reprise her co-vocals on "Brother". The surviving members of the group reportedly enjoyed the reunion, and Cantrell said it felt right playing with his old band again and having Lachman as lead singer.
On March 10, 2006, the surviving members of Alice in Chains performed at the VH1's Decades Rock Live concert honoring Seattle rockers Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. The band followed it with a short US club tour, several festival dates in Europe, and a brief tour of Japan. For the reunion shows, the band enlisted Comes With the Fall's William DuVall, who previously performed with Cantrell's solo band, to sing lead vocals. Velvet Revolver's Duff McKagan joined the band for the tour, playing second guitar on a few songs. The band has recently concluded a US tour.
Alice in Chains recorded a gig at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel on October 31 in Providence, Rhode Island and are planning to record their November Los Angeles shows for a new live DVD set for release in 2007. Which show is going to be chosen has yet to be decided.
Prior to the tour, Kinney mentioned in a interview that he would be interested in writing new material, but not as Alice in Chains.
In October 2006 it was reported that Sharon Osbourne was in talks to have the newly re-formed Alice in Chains headline the 2007 edition of the Ozzfest tour.
* William DuVall - vocals, rhythm guitar (2006-Present)
* Jerry Cantrell - lead guitar, vocals (1987-Present)
* Mike Inez - bass (1993-Present)
* Sean Kinney - drums (1987-Present)
* William DuVall - vocals, rhythm guitar (2006-Present)
* Duff McKagan - rhythm guitar (2006-Present)
* Layne Staley - vocals, rhythm guitar (1987-2002) (deceased)
* Mike Starr - bass (1987-1992)