Alice in Chains is reminiscent of Layne Staley’s sarcasm

Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney of Alice in Chains discussed the late singer Layne Staley as they reflected on the band’s second album, Dirtreturns to the chart on its 30th anniversary.

The new edition peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 last month, three positions lower than its original arrival in 1992. In a recent interview with Varietyguitarist Cantrell and drummer Kinney recalled how the record represented an explosion of Staley’s writing.

“Layne and I have always considered each other a songwriting team without ever discussing it much,” Cantrell said. “When he got interested in playing guitar, he started writing more and totally wrote songs like ‘Angry Chair’ and ‘Hate to Feel.’ is driven to make good music. They were a step up from what he did [debut album] Face lift. We pushed each other. Dirt was a development for all of us.”

“We were lucky that when we got a lot of money to do our first major label deal, we insisted on control over what we released as singles [and] how we made albums without label interference—which was rare back then,” Kinney added. “Every time they told us we were headed for ‘career suicide,’ we had to remind them that we hadn’t a career. We were only on our first album.”

Cantrell described the band’s writing process as “really about what feels good.” “It was all about jamming and fiddling,” he noted. “With ‘Rooster’ or ‘Angry Chair’ we just left it as it was from the start. We all did our best to put ourselves in the mix and elevate these songs to be all of us while remaining personal testaments from the authors.”

At times, however, he admitted there were “some head butting” between him and Staley, particularly over “Rain When I Die”. “We started playing what we each had. Suddenly I realized that everywhere Layne wrote, I had a space and vice versa,” explained the guitarist. “Put it together and even though he wrote something completely different, it all made sense… It was a classic Reese’s Cup moment where the chocolate made the peanut butter taste better. Then it went through the collective sieve of all four of us , and got the bad stamp of approval.”

Dirt has built a reputation for having a depressing, downbeat tone—like Staley, who died in 2002. But, Kinney argued, “Dirt was never a drug concept album. And Layne wasn’t a dick. He was not tormented, but instead witty, funny and generous. … Part of that album is talking about how cool it all is, then five songs later it’s telling you how drugs stink.” Cantrell said Staley was responsible for many “funny” moments when the band worked together, adding, that “sarcasm [was] a much appreciated item in our camp. And Layne was very human. … We were all trying to create something unique, and that can rub off on a person sometimes. But it is necessary, part of the process.”

Remember that Dirt established Alice in Chains as one of the grunge movement’s leading lights alongside Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jamsaid Cantrell, “We all could have had an effect on each other, associated with a really cool movement, and [it was] one of the few times in my life where it felt like the good guys won. Dirt was one hell of a record. It stands the test of time, and it is a powerful piece of work without a gram of fluff.”

Kinney said their goal of maintaining high standards was why their catalog was relatively lean over a three-decade career. “We keep things tight. If not, we’d pump out albums with a few clinchers in there and we’d talk about why Alice in Chains’ techno album wasn’t well received,” he explained. “There’s a reason we’ve only released six albums in 34 years. We’re preserving the legacy of Dirt and all the rest we recorded—diaries of our lives that I was too lazy to write down.”

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