Malice in Chains?

Tension and mudslinging mar AIC's return to the studio

Grunge may be lying dormant, awaiting its nostalgia-driven revival sometime after the millennium clock ticks over, but genre table-setters Alice In Chains aren't about to let the lapse in interest stop their riffing. The group was in the studio recently, laying down tracks for possible inclusion in a box set. The session broke the group's three-year studio hiatus, but band members aren't exactly shooting crazy string over the version of events producer Dave Jerden alleges occurred during the group's one-day collaboration two weeks ago.

According to Jerden, around 1 a.m. on Aug. 23, after the band had laid down guitars and drums for two new AIC songs in a Los Angeles studio, the band's camp informed the producer that frontman Layne Staley would be unable to sing the following day because he had to attend his sister's wedding in his Seattle hometown. (Both AIC manager Susan Silver and guitarist Jerry Cantrell say Jerden had been aware of Staley's prior commitment since the previous afternoon.) According to Jerden and Silver, the band wanted to continue recording into the wee hours of the morning; Jerden, however, nixed that idea, fearing that fatigue could hamper his and Dirt-engineer Bryan Carlstrom's work.

"I voiced my deep concern the week before the session about Dave and his engineer having the stamina for this project," Silver says, "since they were squeezing it in on a weekend toward the end of a full-album project." (Jerden is currently finishing up work on the Offspring's forthcoming Americana album.)

Jerden said that in addition to being told about Staley's previous engagement at the eleventh hour, the tension between Cantrell and Staley also prompted his decision to pull the plug on the session. "It's one o'clock in the morning and Jerry and Layne were having problems on one song because Jerry was mad because Layne was changing the melody and lyrics," he says. "So, in the middle of this mess I'm supposed to go, 'let's stay here all fucking night?'"

According to Jerden, Staley told Cantrell, "'I've never fucking used your lyrics and I'm not about to.'" Cantrell scoffs at Jerden's recollection: "If you look at any of our discs, I mean, Layne sang a lot of my lyrics [such as "Would?," "Rooster" and "Grind"] and I sang a lot of his. It's not like one guy's writing all this s---."

Reports suggesting that Staley laid down vocals have been inaccurate; no singing was in fact recorded, but not, according to Cantrell, due to a rift between himself and Staley. "Layne wanted to sing some stuff, but at that point Dave made the call to stop the session and continue at another time," says Cantrell. "[The music] was fucking great as far as what we got at that point. There was nothing finished, of course."

Once the session was postponed, Jerden and Alice agreed to resume recording on Sept. 2 in Portland, Ore. But that was not to be. On August 31, Jerden learned from Silver that Staley no longer wished to work with him anymore. Jerden says Silver informed him that Staley still harbored animosity toward him dating back to the recording of 1992's Dirt. The producer says that he had repeatedly asked Staley to get clean and sober at the time, which may have been the source of the tension. "Apparently he got all mad at me [during the Dirt sessions]," Jerden says. "And what's my job as a producer? To produce a record. I'm not getting paid to be Layne's friend."

Of their most recent meeting, Jerden said Staley "weighed eighty pounds ... and was white as a ghost." Cantrell refused to comment on the singer's appearance, and Silver says she hasn't seen the singer since last year.

"I'm sickened by the fact that [Dave] would ... try and lay blame on everyone around him for something that was he was so clearly responsible for," Silver says regarding the current studio confusion. "All this from a 'professional' who has received many benefits from his previous association with Alice in Chains. He should be ashamed -- his lack of respect is disgraceful."

According to Cantrell, it had been his and drummer Sean Kinney's idea to work on this project with Jerden, who also produced 1990's Facelift. Staley, on the other hand, had wanted to continue working with Toby Wright, who worked on the 1994's Jar of Flies, 1995's Alice in Chains and 1996's Unplugged albums.

So, with bridges between the group and Jerden in flames, the AIC camp is in negotiations with Wright to resume the recording process later this month, possibly in Seattle.

What the recording sessions are actually being used for is in question. An Alice in Chains box set has been a topic of debate and negotiation for some time now. "[A set] is a great thing to do at some point in a band's career," Cantrell says, "but at this point we haven't agreed with Sony to do that. It would be pretty tough to do for this year. I don't see it happening."

Indeed, it seems odd that a band with only three full-length studio albums would consider a box set. However, Cantrell says the AIC catalog is more vast than fans may expect. "There's a couple of tunes that have never been released and a lot of demo material which is pretty interesting," he says. Unreleased music, he says, also includes alternate takes, live material, "little jam sessions ... little riffs and knick-knacks."

Cantrell and Kinney, meanwhile, will continue to tour behind Cantrell's solo debut, Boggy Depot, with plans to return to the studio this winter to begin recording his second album with none other than Dave Jerden, who gets the nod over none other than Toby Wright, who produced Boggy Depot. "I'm having a really good time and I don't see any reason to stop that right now," Cantrell says.

As far as resuscitating Alice in Chains for more than a few songs, Cantrell says there was no discussion of it during the brief L.A. sessions. "We got together to have a little fun and test the waters a little bit." But, he says, "who knows what the f---'s gonna happen? Generally in life things don't go according to plan so you just ride with it."