The Real Dirt
Rolling Stone; February 24, 1994
Alice In Chains take a hard look at the dark side of Seattle on the new EP Jar Of Flies
. The Central Tavern has changed.
"This place used to be a sea of beer,"
says Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney. "They'd sell these cheap pitchers and cram 2,000 people in here, with [an inch] of beer on the floor, and people were killing each other. It was great."
These days, the Seattle landmark is well-scrubbed and well-lighted -- more in line with its newly gentrified surroundings. Pioneer Square has traded in winos and punkers for a relentless lineup of artsy, trendy stores. Want a Chinese kite? Malachite desk accessories? An unbearably perky velvet hat ? Seattle's you town. The last show Mother Love Bone overdose casualty Andrew Wood ever did at the tavern, "he climbed up there and jammed,"
recalls vocalist Layne Staley, gesturing toward a narrow ledge 10 feet up. "He had keyboards set up there."
"This was our biggest dream,"
Staley adds, "to headline the Central."
Alice in Chains are here today, talking, because it's close to the offices of the band's manager, Susan Silver (who also handles Soundgarden). In the intervening years, the remnants of Mother Love Bone became Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains went double platinum with Dirt, grunge fashion was featured in couture collections, and the Central doesn't even have pitchers anymore. Everyone settles for mugs of Labatt's on tap, except for Staley, who orders milk and real food.
"I'll have the rosemary chicken linguine,"
Staley says, "or maybe the small version, the Rosemary's Baby chicken linguine."
The waitress is unamused.
"She didn't like that,"
laughs Kinney. "The Rosemary's Fetus -- she gave us the glare."
The members of Alice in Chains have always been able to glean rude humor from daily life, even when they're burned out and troubled. Like around late 1992, after Dirt was released, and Alice in Chains drug rumors were the rock gossips' dish of the month, and the band was just beginning a year and a half cycle of touring that included Lollapalooza '93. In its spare time, the group recorded a new seven-song EP, Jar of Flies
, while band members also contributed music to the soundtrack and score of Last Action Hero. At the end of it all, everyone is -- surprise! -- healthy looking and upbeat.
"We're home now,"
says guitarist Jerry Cantrell. "This is an insane schedule to keep. Hopefully you learn things as you go through them. We're trying to do the best we can."
Jar of Flies
is a surprise as well. Musically, the band has always been the voice of the other Seattle, the dark reality that was here way before decaf latte was available on every street corner: the above-average rate of suicides (which, as if on cue, are currently sweeping the city); the drugs, thanks to brisk traffic through this major port city; convicted serial killer Ted Bundy; and the Green River Killer, perhaps America's most prolific, never-captured serial murderer. (Kinney's dad, a homicide detective, was once on the Green River Task Force.
"He had a lot of guns around, and once in a while you'd get to see pictures of dead people,"
Kinney says about life at home as a kid.
Alice in Chains' two critically acclaimed albums, Facelift
, are steeped in gloom and angst, weaving gorgeously depressed tales of animal rights ("Man in the Box"
, the band's first big hit) and the ravages of the Vietnam War ("Rooster,"
whose video featured Cantrell's father, a Vietnam vet).
In contrast, Jar of Flies
is more relaxed and quirky. "We were fucking around for a while, and that's what came out,"
Staley says recording the EP was a way of winding down after a long stint on tour. "We told [our label, Columbia], 'We got hundreds of songs,'" -- he laughs. "Then we went [into the studio] and looked at each other -- do you have any ideas? No. Do you have any ideas? Oh, well, let's just do it."
"We had seven days to write, arrange, record and produce it,"
says Mike Inez, previously bassist for Ozzy Osbourne. Inez, who met AIC when the band opened for Ozzy on tour last year, ultimately replaced Alice in Chains' bassist Mike Starr midtour. (The rift with Starr occurred, Staley explains, as "just a difference in priorities. We wanted to continue in tense touring and press, Mike was ready to go home."
) Now considered a permanent member of Alice in Chains, Inez's experience with Osbourne -- jumping in the space of two weeks from Los Angeles club gigs to London's Wembley Arena -- was good preparation for his AIC debut.
"We did 27 gigs in 32 days. It was like stepping into a tornado,"
he says. Unlike some of their Seattle brethren, Alice in Chains enjoy the trappings of stardom while simultaneously making fun of them. They're quick to regale you with tales of mayhem and treachery on and off the road. About women calling them from Australia. About roving youths in Rio. "In Brazil,"
says Kinney, "there's gangs of 9 -year-olds who'll kill you for a fucking earring. They mugged my drum tech twice in broad daylight."
The second time, he adds, they came back for the man's hat. "A thousand people walking by, he's got a knife to his throat, and no one helped him. The police tell you: Don't wear any jewelry."
And about hoisting a few in Japan. After one such occasion, "Layne goes and jumps on a fuckin' tractor on a street they're working on and starts it up,"
says Inez. "It takes off, he doesn't know how to stop it, it's ripping up the street and then rams into a big neon sign. These worker guys grab him, our security guy comes running up, 'I'll take care of it, I'll take care of it.'"
During Lollapalooza '93, the merry pranksters were accompanied by Inez's now-deceased golden retriever, Chuck. "He had his own laminate [VIP pass], and some girl stole it,"
says Staley. "That's so low, to rip off the dog's laminate,"
adds Kinney. "It had this smiling dog face on it, and she got backstage with it."
Now, the band's new mascot, Kinney's too-adorable Siberian husky puppy, Nikko, chews the branches of Susan Silver Management's Christmas tree. Two months old, the dog works the office like a pro.
"Having a dog [on tour] was real helpful,"
deadpans Kinney. "Everyone else passes out, and I'm still drunk, talking to the dog."
More stories? Alice in Chains have got a million of 'em. Nasty fun with cameras and obsessive Japanese fans. Promo kits from strippers. Even business-as-usual talk about an upcoming local gig is punctuated by dead-on comic timing.
"I wanna play [around town], just so they'll go, 'He's not from Seattle, he's from L.A.'"
Inez drawls, spitting out the name of his old hometown like the world's worst epithet.
Adds Kinney in perfect dudespeak: "L.A.'s poseur diiick. I'm not a poseur. I'm wearing shorts when it's 40 below, but I'm not a poseur. I'm wearing flannel, and I'm fucking cool, look at my boots."
He sighs. "Seattle's changed so much."
Later on that evening at the Seattle Center Arena, Pearl Jam are playing their third sold-out night. The crowd is replete with Kurt Cobain look-alike contest winners in badly bleached hair and ratty jackets. Two security guys are conferring. Says one: " We gotta get some stuff for, uh, vomit control."
Inez and Kinney have come to check out the night's opening band, Hater, the side project of AIC's Soundgarden buddies Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd. The backstage crowd represents the musical power structure of the new Seattle. Alice in Chains manage to be both its darkest and most lighthearted hope.
Cantrell made the scene last night with Metallica's Lars Ulrich in tow, and once was enough. Cantrell is refreshingly candid about why he didn't make it back to town for his press appointments today, too. "I had some carpeting put in and furniture being delivered,"
he explains cheerfully. His new house is way north in the sticks, and he likes it that way.
"Looking out my door now, all I can see is woods and hills,"
he says. "I got a little pond outside with trout. It's where I feel comfortable, it's part of who I am. You gotta have both."
Having come to this pleasant, laid-back place, Alice in Chains don't give a second thought to the insanities in their past. "It's done,"
says Kinney. "Move on. You drive yourself crazy thinking about something that happened two years ago."
"I never planned out my life,"
says Staley. "Shit just happens."
And then they break into a chorus of "We've Only Just Begun" in gloriously, atrociously, off-key harmony.