Layne Staley Unchained
Maxi and Layne recently spent the evening together in Seattle. Between taxi rides and a tour of a few quiet taverns, Layne recorded these remarks.
Maxi: Has Alice in Chains broken up?
Layne: No. Alice in Chains has taken a break from the strict, stressful, busy routine. We’re going to relax a little more. We’ve renegotiated our record contract to take the pressure off of having to deliver so many finished albums. We’re giving them one new album, and then we’ll see what happens.
M: What about the Metallica tour? Why did you pull out?
L: We decided that we needed some time to grow individually. We were all tired.
M: The rumor mill is rich with tales of a huge fight between you and Jerry Cantrell. Is any of this true?
L: No, we get along fine. We have no differences about music or direction. We started this band as kids, and as time has gone on, we’ve grown and we are learning to accommodate each others differences as friends and bandmates.
M: What do you think about the treatment that you’ve been getting by the press lately?
L: I haven’t read anything but regurgitated rumors. They [the press] are borrowing insults from the previous article. Nothing new, and nothing true.
M: What have you been doing since releasing Jar of Flies?
L: I have, so far, written songs for half of a record that I plan to do myself at the end of the summer, and I recorded the full Mad Season record. I also had a feature show at an art gallery with my pen and ink drawings.
M: One of those drawings is on the cover of your new album.
L: Right. On the Mad Season album.
M: Give me a brief history of the early days of your career with Alice in Chains.
L: We played the Seattle scene for two and a half to three years, then went in to record what we intended to be our own independent record. We thought we could find someone to distribute it for us locally. What ended up happening, was that Susan Silver and Kelly Curtis came down to the studio to hear us recording. Our manager at the time couldn’t stay with us, and Susan and Kelly said they wanted to help us out. They said that if they didn’t get us what we wanted in six months we wouldn’t have to pay them anything, because they felt certain they could get us a record deal in six months. They made good on their promise, and we made good on our promise to let them manage us. Next we did a couple of tours. Our first tour was with Extreme from Boston. We saw how ridiculous Rock ‘n Roll is on the touring side of the business. It’s no different than the movie Spinal Tap.
M: What station was it that first started giving you radio attention?
L: KISW. Damon Stewart was the first DJ to start spinning our songs.
M: How did audiences react to Alice in Chains at first hearing?
L: They just looked at us at first. But the more we circled around and came back to each city, the better the response got. By our third or fourth U.S. tour we felt like we were doing okay on stage.
M: You did four US tours…
L: We did Extreme, Iggy Pop, Van Halen, Clash of the Titans - that’s the one that really pushed us over the top. We survived a Slayer crowd every night for about fifty days and thought we could do about anything after that. Slayer’s was not an easy crowd to please.
M: I imagine you must have started to get sick of some of that material. How many times do you think you’ve played “Man in the Box?”
L: Hundreds. I think we played it at almost every show.
M: A lot of people finger your songs on the Singles soundtrack as kind of a turning point for you guys. How did that movie affect your career?
L: It helped a lot to get our music out to so many people who were all focusing on the Seattle scene thing at the time.
M: How is success treating you? What does it feel like to have enough money to fly anywhere in the world right now?
L: [Laughter] I’m not set for life, but I guess I can go anywhere I want. If only I knew where to go.
M: What did you go out and buy after you got your first advance?
L: I paid a lot to the IRS. No fancy cars, but I bought some good recording equipment, guitars, furniture, and I bought a computer. I haven’t bought much since.
M: If you were writing your autobiography, what would you put in it? What would you want people to know about you?
L: I’ve always looked for the perfect life to step into. I’ve done all the work, taken all the paths to get where I wanted. But no matter how far I go, I still come home to me. At home I’m just Layne, a guy who has interests that extend far beyond music. Music is the career I’m lucky enough to get paid for, but I have other desires and passions. Music is the doorway that has led me to drawing, photography, and writing.
M: So where do you see yourself in five years?
L: Working a lot less, maybe taking some time for my hobbies.
M: What makes you happy right now?
L: [long pause] Hmmm… [very long pause] rearranging my apartment, and taking photographs.
M: Talk to me about drugs. How have they affected your life? Do they still affect your life?
L: Drugs will have a huge effect on my work for the rest of my life, whether I’m using or not. There are lasting consequences for using drugs. It doesn’t matter whether I am taking drugs or not, I’ll still be paying for my prior use.
M: How have drugs affected your songwriting?
L: When I’m writing music, I find myself in my head. Whatever dramas or chaotic happenings are going on in my life, I can always find that place inside my head where I see myself as the cleanest, tallest, strongest, wisest person that I can be at that moment.
M: Do you consider yourself a role model?
L: No. I hope not. I do have a lot to say about preventing people from making stupid decisions. I made a stupid decision and now I’m paying for it. My bed isn’t made, I’m tired, I haven’t slept well for two weeks. I haven’t been laid in a month. I don’t have a girlfriend. And I have a warrant for my arrest. Being me is no different than being most anyone else, I guess.
M: Do you support the idea of legalizing drugs to get treatment closer to users?
L: I don’t think any drug that can cause brain damage, failing kidneys, hardening arteries, pain, and suffering should be made available. Drugs are not the way to the light. They won’t lead to a fairy-tale life, they lead to suffering.
M: Was Kurt Cobain a friend of yours? How did his death affect you?
L: [Long pause, visible discomfort] Kurt and I weren’t the closest of friends, but we ran in to each other at shows and hung out. I knew him well enough to be devastated by his death. I just don’t understand at all. The last time I saw him, he gave me a ride from QFC on Broadway to a friend’s house, the whole way there, which was about a fifteen minute drive, he talked about his daughter. For such a quiet person, he was so excited about having a child, he really loved that little girl. About a month later I saw on the news… [long pause] that he was dead.
M: How has the Seattle music scene changed since Alice’s heyday?
L: Musicians worked together more then. We collaborated with other bands more often. There wasn’t as much business pressure on bands. It was all about music, about getting your friends to come and see you play. I don’t see that same intimacy happening very much today.
M: Do you think that Seattle is still a hot-bed of talent?
L: I guess so. I’ve heard some really good industrial music from the Northwest lately.
M: What’s in your CD player at home right now?
L: Ministry, the soundtrack to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the new Hole LP, and the Flaming Lips EP.
M: What’s next for you? Is Mad Season going to tour?
L: Mad Season will do a couple of shows in LA, a couple in New York, and maybe a late night television show. With Alice I’m recording a record, doing some videos, and I guess touring… we don’t really know yet. If so, I hope it’s a two week tour this time, instead of two painful years.