Never mind Destiny’s Child. Seattle’s Alice In Chains are the true survivors.
Over the last quarter century, the group has released five critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums, selling more than 20 million records worldwide while also garnering multiple Grammy Award nominations.
More importantly however, Alice In Chains along with Nirvana and Soundgarden became synonymous with the exploding Seattle music scene of the early 90’s. This was in spite of the fact that each of those bands were making music long before grunge music and plaid apparel became hot commodities all over the world.
Alice In Chains drummer Sean Kinney says the hype that engulfed Seattle in the early 90’s was difficult to ignore but in fact had little to no effect on groups that had long called the Pacific Northwest city home.
“We released our debut record, Facelift, in 1990 and at that time, there was no grunge thing happening,” Sean says. “We knew that the city had a great music scene and it seemed as though different people from around the world knew about it but it was a small, underground kind of thing.
“In the first few years of the 90’s when the spotlight was fixed on the city, there were people moving to Seattle hoping to make it big. It really didn’t have any kind of effect on that core group of bands from the city. None of us drank the Kool-Aid.”
Despite having found multi-platinum success early in their career, life was not always kind to Alice In Chains. Substance abuse issues kept the group off the road for the bulk of the 90’s, at a time when their records were selling in the millions.
Contrary to the belief that it was their former vocalist Layne Staley’s substance abuse issues that forced the group to abstain from extensive touring, Sean says that each member was in fact dealing with their own demons.
“The story that is most often told is that it was all Layne, but truth be told, every one in the band was leading a pretty toxic life. It wasn’t as though Layne was dealing with his issues and the rest of us were doing yoga. We made a record that very clearly talked about what we were going through – [1992’s] Dirt. We were writing about what we knew but because Layne was the most open about it, that caused the focus to shift to him.”
Layne was so open with his drug addiction and so convinced of his demise that in one of his last interviews, he reportedly said, “I know I’m near death. I did crack and heroin for years. I never wanted to end my life this way. I know I have no chance. It’s too late.”
He subsequently died from a drug overdose in April, 2002.
“If you have a gene in your body that is telling you to go all in, there is no off switch,” Sean says. “And the outcome is that it will kill you, whether it is seven minutes after you first try something, seven years or 17 years down the road. I buried and lost more friends by the time I was 30 than most people do in their entire lives. It is interesting to still be here and I think that is half the reason that the band is still doing what we do: To honour what we started and keep it moving forward.”
Although they had never formally disbanded, the surviving members of Alice In Chains reunited in 2005 when they performed at a benefit concert with the help of a rotating cast of guest vocalists.
The following year, the group was invited to perform at a VH1 Decades Of Rock show. It was at that show that guitarist-vocalist William Duvall sang with the group. He would become a permanent part of the Alice In Chains lineup soon after, recording two acclaimed studio albums, 2009’s Black Gives Way To Blue and 2013’s The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, with the band.
Although replacing any band member can be a tough transition, the lead vocalist role is perhaps the most volatile of them all. Asked if the group harboured any concerns continuing under the Alice In Chains name with a new vocalist, Sean says the thought honestly never crossed their minds.
“If we sound like us and play our songs, why would we call it something else,” he rhetorically asks. “It was a series of small steps that led us to where we are today. There never was a calculated to get the band back together. In fact, we are more amused by it than anyone else.
“I’m sure that the first thing anyone thinks is that it would have been easiest to get some guy that sounds like, acts like and looks like Layne. But we have never been a band that has an act to fall back on. We know what works and what feels genuine and right. We do what is right for us with the right people. Will [Duvall] is his own man and brings his own thing to the table.”
Given the four years that lapsed between Black Gives Way To Blue and The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, Sean says fans should not expect another Alice In Chains studio album anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean another Alice In Chains album will not happen at some point.
“We don’t think about it; I really have no idea. Every time we make a record, it could be the last one. We don’t typically work on timeframes but I can say there is a better chance than not that we will make new music at some point because we aren’t in the mode of living off our past. There is still plenty of new music to be made.”
What: Alice In Chains with special guests Monster Truck and The Pack A.D.
When: Tuesday Aug. 26, 8:00 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
Tickets are $76.03 (service charges and taxes included). Advance tickets are available at the Casino Gift Shop, by phone at 1-866-943-8849 and online at casinonb.ca