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POP FACES

ALICE IN CHAINS : Band From Seattle Celebrates the Gloomy

September 01, 1991|STEVE HOCHMAN

You can hardly tell from the oppressive darkness, gloom and anguish of the songs on Seattle band Alice in Chains' debut album, "Facelift," but the quartet is composed of positive-thinkers.

The band members are positive that no matter how successful they become, they'll still have plenty of dark, gloomy and anguishing things to write about.

"If we're hugely successful, we'll have a million more problems than now," guitarist/primary songwriter Jerry Cantrell, 25, said recently, sitting in a West Hollywood hotel on the eve of the band's starting a tour opening for Van Halen. (The tour comes to the Pacific Amphitheatre on Sept. 10.)

Singer Layne Staley, 23, sat nearby, his knees pulled up toward his chest, his hands anxiously working under his T-shirt, and nodded in agreement.

"The easier things get, the harder they get," he said.

For now, the two are content--if you can say they're content about anything--to mine a rich field of anguish that has long provided fuel for rock 'n' roll, not to mention other forms of literature: the inner turmoil of youth.

"A couple days ago I woke up and felt like I wanted to kill everyone around me--for no particular reason," said Staley. "I felt like that for two days, uncontrollable emotions: hate, pain. . . . "

"Anybody can get feelings like that," said Cantrell. "No matter how vile the feelings may be, everyone gets them. . . . Our music is a release for us--get those feelings out so they don't fester."

It's also been a release for others, both good and bad. Staley has gotten mail from "crazy girls who say they're either gonna be with me or kill me or kill themselves."

But the band has also heard from a number of fans who say that the songs--such leaden, bottom-of-the-soul material as "We Die Young" and "Man in a Box"--have put them in touch with their feelings enough that they've been able to conquer drugs and other personal demons.

That bond with fans--along with constant touring and some clever marketing campaigns (including giving away a live video free with the album)--has helped push the sales of "Facelift" to more than 400,000 a year after its release. It's also upped the ante for Cantrell.

"It's scary when someone puts that kind of responsibility on you," Cantwell said. "It's not something we set out to do. We're not a message band, out to save the world--though it needs saving. But when you meet someone who says it means something, that's positive."

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