Alice In Chains
R.I.P. LAYNE STANLEY ONE OF THE GREATEST SINGERS TO WALK THIS EARTH
Formed: Jan 1, 1987 in Seattle, WA
Styles: Metal, Hard Rock, Metal, Other, Rock, Alternative Grunge
Group Members: Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Layne Staley, Mike Starr, Mike Inez
In many ways, Alice in Chains was the definitive heavy metal band of the early '90s. Drawing equally from the heavy riffing of post-Van Halen metal and the gloomy strains of post-punk, the band developed a bleak, nihilistic sound that balanced grinding hard rock with subtly textured acoustic numbers. They were hard enough for metal fans, yet their dark subject matter and punky attack placed them among the front ranks of the Seattle-based grunge bands. While this dichotomy helped the group soar to multi-platinum status with their second album, 1992's Dirt, it also divided them. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell always leaned toward the mainstream, while vocalist Layne Staley was fascinated with the seamy underground. Such tension drove the band toward stardom in their early years, but following Dirt, Alice in Chains suffered from near-crippling internal tensions that kept the band off the road for the remainder of the '90s and, consequently, the group never quite fulfilled their potential.
Staley formed the initial incarnation of the band while in high school in the mid-'80s, naming the group Alice N Chains. Staley met Cantrell in 1987 at the Seattle rehearsal warehouse the Music Bank and the two began working together, changing the group's name to Alice in Chains. Cantrell's friends Mike Starr (bass) and Sean Kinney (drums) rounded out the lineup,and the band began playing local Seattle clubs. Columbia Records signed the group in 1989 and the label quickly made the band a priority, targeting heavy metal audiences. Early in 1990, the label released the We Die Young EP as a promotional device and the song became a hit on metal radio, setting the stage for the summer release of the group's debut, Facelift. Alice in Chains supported the album by opening for Van Halen, Poison, and Iggy Pop, and it became a hit, going gold by the end of the year. As the band prepared their second album, they released the largely acoustic EP Sap in 1991 to strong reviews.
Prior to the release of Alice in Chains' second album, Seattle became a media sensation thanks to the surprise success of Nirvana. As a result, Alice was now marketed as an alternative band, not as a metal outfit, and the group landed a song, the menacing "Would?," on the Singles soundtrack during the summer of 1992. "Would?" helped build anticipation for Dirt, the group's relentlessly bleak second album that was released in the fall of 1992 to very good reviews. Following its release, Starr left and was replaced by Mike Inez. Dirt went platinum by the end of 1992, but its gloomy lyrics launched many rumors that Staley was addicted to heroin. Alice in Chains soldiered on in the face of such criticism, performing successfully on the third Lollapalooza tour in 1993, which helped Dirt reach sales of three million.
The band released the low-key EP Jar of Flies in early 1994. It debuted at number one upon its release, becoming the first EP to top the album charts. Despite the band's continued success, they stayed off the road, which fueled speculation that Staley was mired in heroin addiction. Later that year, Staley did give a few concerts as part of the Gacy Bunch, a Seattle supergroup also featuring Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, the Screaming Trees' Barrett Martin, and John Saunders. The group subsequently renamed itself Mad Season and released Above in early 1995. Later that year, Alice in Chains re-emerged with an eponymous third album, which debuted at number one on the American charts. Again, the band chose not to tour, which launched yet another round of speculation that band was suffering from various addictions and were on the verge of disbanding. The group did give one concert -- their first in three years -- in 1996, performing for an episode of MTV Unplugged, which was released as an album that summer. Despite its success, the album did nothing to dispel doubts about the group's future and neither did Cantrell's solo album, Boggy Depot, in 1998.
Cantrell basically released Boggy Depot because he couldn't get Staley to work, but its very existence -- and the presence of Inez and Kinney on the record, not to mention Alice producer Toby Wright -- seemed to confirm that the group was on moratorium at best, defunct at worst. Staley, for his part, stayed quiet, conceding his spot on Mad Season's second album to Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan. In 1999, Sony put together a three-disc Alice in Chains box set, Music Bank, divided between the group's best work and assorted rarities. At the turn of the new millennium, Columbia Records issued Live, which plucked material from bootlegs, demos, and festival shows covering the years 1990, 1993, and 1996.
As if the group hadn't been repackaged as many times as possible with its limited repertoire, a ten-track best-of set, Greatest Hits, appeared in July 2001. With no sign of the group reclaiming their spot atop the alt-metal heap (and such copycat acts as Godsmack, Days of the New, Puddle of Mudd, and Creed taking the Alice in Chains formula to the top of the charts), Cantrell completed his sophomore solo effort, Degradation Trip, in 2002. But just two months before the album's release, in April 2002, the news that every Alice in Chains fan had been fearing for years had finally come to pass: Layne Staley was found dead due to a lethal overdose of cocaine and heroin.
ABOUT LAYNE STANLEY
Few rock vocalists created such a dark and eerie body of work as Alice in Chains' Layne Staley. Born in Kirkland, WA, on August 22, 1967, Staley showed musical talent at an early age, and took up the drums. But upon joining garage bands and discovering rock music as a teenager (Black Sabbath, the Doors, etc.), Staley switched to singing. He met guitarist Jerry Cantrell shortly thereafter, and both formed a Van Halen/Guns N' Roses-esque glam metal band, Alice N' Chaynz (along with drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Starr). Taking a hint from fellow Seattle bands (Soundgarden, Melvins, Screaming Trees, etc.), the group rejected their early showy direction in favor of a more straight-ahead approach both musically and visually, and ultimately changed the spelling of their name to Alice in Chains.
Staley was quickly creating an original vocal style -- borrowing the creepiness of such metal vocalists as Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper, and merging it with the such classic rockers as Jim Morrison, as the group's sound slowed down to a Sabbath-like crawl. Signed to Columbia Records in the late '80s, AIC issued their first album, Facelift, in 1990. Hardcore touring built a fan base, but it wasn't until the summer of 1991 that the single/video "Man in the Box" became a hit and broke the band to the big-time. Further releases (the hard rock full-lengths Dirt and Alice in Chains, as well as the acoustic EPs Sap and Jar of Flies) garnered more attention and huge sales, solidifying the group as one of Seattle's finest and earning Staley the respect as one of rock's most original frontmen. Indeed, Staley's influence permeated much of the late-'90s alt metal landscape, as such singers as Scott Stapp (Creed), Travis Meeks (Days of the New), and Sully Erna (Godsmack), clearly contained elements of the Alice in Chains frontman's vocal style in their delivery.
Despite all the success, things were going wrong behind the scenes. Rumors that Staley had developed into a hardcore drug user began spreading by the mid-'90s, and the speculation only grew louder when the band refused to mount any substantial tours after an appearance on Lollapalooza 1993. By the late '90s, the group was on hiatus, as a best of (Nothing Safe), a box set (Music Bank), and an in-concert set (Live) appeared, but no new album was planned. Staley had appeared as part of the one-off Seattle supergroup Mad Season (1995's Above), as well as on the motion picture soundtrack for The Faculty (a cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall - Part 2").
But the sporadic work eventually ground to a halt, as Staley seemed more interested in feeding his drug habit than pursuing music. His life took a turn for the worst in 1996 when his fiance died from drugs, which friends say made the former Alice in Chains frontman blot out the pain with further drug abuse. During the last few years of his life, Staley rarely left his Seattle condominium, and refused to answer the door or phone when former bandmates or friends came around to check on the singer's condition (which had supposedly deteriorated to the point that he had lost most of his teeth and had abscesses all over his arms). Although it shouldn't have come as quite a surprise, the rock music world was shocked when Staley's dead body was found on a sofa in his condo, the victim of a lethal overdose of heroin and cocaine. Since the body had been in the apartment for two weeks and had begun to decompose, it was hard to determine at first the exact date of Staley's passing.