An interview with exciting young four-piece band hailing from Italy
Who are Waterdrop and why should you know about them? Well simply put, they’re an exciting young alternative rock band with all the ingredients to have very successful careers in music. Hailing from Brescia in Italy, the band has come on leaps and bounds since their formation in 2015.
Claudio Trinca – Vocals
Alessandro Bussi – Guitars
Nicolas Pelleri – Bass
Francesco Bassi – Drums
These four have grown out of a less than nurturing local music scene and withstood line-up changes to forge a promising path in alternative music. This shows a determined attitude where others may have faltered. With a well-received EP under their belts, as well as an awesome 360-shot music video to boot, Waterdrop are definitely a band to watch out for as in 2018 they look to build on their achievements thus far. Altwire had the opportunity to sit down and reflect with them on their formation and background:
Altwire: How did you guys form Waterdrop?
Francesco: It all started back in Summer of 2015, we all knew each other by name, in the context of the bands we were in at the time. Alessandro and I know each other since childhood and we always tried to bring a project to life, but we could never find the right musicians. Fate has a funny way to bring people together, and from the ashes of another local band, the perfect for singer arrived, Nicola. And let’s not forget we got the best bass player in the old republic! And from then the four of us constantly worked on our sound, always improving and always being sure that we were up to our strict live standards. We are really hard on ourselves when we are talking about our performance. The first phase culminated in our debut EP “Waterdrop” that we just released in September 2017.
Unfortunately due to different artistic visions, Nicola decided to leave the group. But that did not stop us and we already knew the perfect fit for the job. Claudio joined us shortly after and has brought us a tremendous amount of new influences to play with. And this is what we are doing right now, creating the sound that we feel to play next.
Altwire: What inspired the band name?
Alessandro: That’s a tough question that we’ve always tried to avoid because there is no real answer. Between all the dozens of possible names, it is the only one that stuck, the only one that felt neutral enough to not give any preconceived impression about the sound of the group. We are not huge fans of the name, but we will leave the music to define it. Fun fact: we really wanted to call ourselves Karmacoma, from the Massive Attack song. But oh well, democracy!
Altwire: What would you say your musical influences are?
Nicolas: We all come from different backgrounds, metal and punk is what influenced us all to take up instruments. Alessandro is the fire-starter when it comes to song writing. He always brings to the table the influences of groups that evolve… that mature over time and always set their sight on something beyond what they are known for. And this is what we are always looking for. That Massive Attack atmosphere or the way Chino Moreno [Deftones] plays around with his voice. Mike Shinoda [Linkin Park] and Trent Reznor [NIN] as producers are other great sources of inspiration for us. There are a lot of different pieces in the puzzle, we like to play with a lot of tools. Recently we got in love with Clipping and Circa Waves. The latest Queen of the Stone Age record is amazing too, and the new single by Justin Timberlake “Filthy” has a crazy beat. But we always keep a scrupulous ear on heavier stuff. We really like While She Sleeps, Architects and Norma Jean’s latest works.
Altwire: Your EP is well regarded by us here at Altwire, tell us about the process of writing the tracks.
Alessandro: It usually starts with me demoing track over tracks and when I feel like something has worth I ask the others for feedback. It is all about the mood for us. We want our song to take you through a little journey and as the structure evolves, as the part are defined and as the lyrics are set, all those changes have to take you inside our minds, our little shared universe, in which we want to communicate that specific story or emotion. We are not scared to get out of our comfort zone, so we don’t have a specific writing process, it can start from a beat, a melody, a lyric, but it has to turn everybody’s heads and make us say “okay, that’s interesting”.
Altwire: What are your long-term goals for Waterdrop and when might we see a full-length release?
Francesco: Right now we are focused on our live shows around Northern Italy and mastering our performance with every show. The goal right now is to build a fan base and to share our music and videos and get people to discover us. As far as the number of tracks we’ve made, we have enough material for a double release at this point. We’ve accumulated lots of good ideas over the years and Claudio is giving them a fresh new take. But we feel like we need the right support to produce, promote and distribute a full-length release, so while we are making our way into the underground local scene we are looking for a way expand our possibilities, soon hopefully.
Altwire: Tell us about the music scene in Brescia.
Francesco: The music scene in Brescia is really odd, you can feel a lot of repressed creativity among the young generations. Live shows with original bands are not promoted and cover bands are the ones that make the most money. It’s full of great musicians with fresh ideas, but it doesn’t have the right infrastructure to support it.
Altwire: If you could meet one artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Alessandro: I would meet the first genius who put color on a wall, in a cave, you know, the first act! But if we are talking music, I would have a really interesting conversation with Dave Grohl, another artist who always wanted to pushed his limits, and that, in my opinion, did with the latest Foo Fighter records, which I think is their finest work, I would certainly ask him to play something together, to jam along.
Altwire: What do you guys do outside of Waterdrop? What are your hobbies and interests?
Claudio: We all work various jobs to sustain our passion; two of us are undertaking studies in Engineering at University. Francesco is pursuing a degree in music (specifically drumming) and Alessandro is making his way into the independent movie scene and digital arts. Other than that we are all great movie lovers, we watch movie after movie. I think between the four of us we have seen every movie out in the cinema at the moment. Cinema and series are great influences on the way we absorb music, and on the contexts it can serve. We are a little outdated with video games, but we all grew up with Prince of Persia, Halo, Metal Gear Solid and all those great games. Again, it was the music that drew us in, the scores, the atmosphere, we still play those old star menu tunes after tuning the instruments.
Dolores O’Riordan, singer and songwriter of Irish rock band The Cranberries, has passed away. She was 46 years old. Whilst an official cause of death has yet to be released, the surviving band members released a brief statement on their official Facebook Page confirming this tragic news:
“We are devastated on the passing of our friend Dolores. She was an extraordinary talent and we feel very privileged to have been part of her life from 1989 when we started the Cranberries. The world has lost a true artist today.
Noel, Mike and Fergal”
Her work with The Cranberries helped the band reach recognition from around the globe with the band going on to sell over 40 million records with hits such as ‘Linger’ and ‘Zombie’ achieving critical acclaim. Noted for her strong Limerick accent, unique yodeling-style vocals and willingness to address controversial issues such as ‘The Troubles’ in her music, Dolores O’Riordan was also a successful solo artist releasing two albums under her own name.
The Cranberries had been scheduled to embark on the second stint of a European tour back in May 2017 but however cancelled due to Dolores O’Riordan sustaining what was described as a ‘back injury’. It would now appear that this tour will no longer be rescheduled as planned.
Our thoughts go out to her family and friends during this time.
An interview with Jimmy Hayward: One of the creative forces behind Legend of the Seagullmen – band featuring members of Tool, Mastodon, Dethklok and more.
What happens when an accomplished animator and film director steps into music and links up with members of Tool, Mastodon and Dethklok (just to name a few)? You get Legend of the Seagullmen: a seven-piece band bursting with creativity and talent. And quite frankly, their self-titled debut album, to be released on February 9th, 2018, should be one of the most highly anticipated releases this year. Yet it’s quite likely that you may never have heard of them as they have quietly (oh the irony…) been making waves for the past four years. This is despite their monster and borderline surreal line-up:
Jimmy Hayward (Animator of such films as Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and Director of Horton Hears a Who!, Jonah Hex and Free Birds) – Director and Guitar Brent Hinds (Mastodon, Giraffe Tonge Orchestra) – Guitar Danny Carey (Tool) – Drums Pete Griffin (Zappa Plays Zappa, Dethklok) – Bass Tim Dawson – Guitar Chris DiGiovanni – Synth David ‘The Doctor’ Dreyer – Vocals
When you consider the collection of such talent, this entire endeavor oozes imagination. This is a group that is not afraid to be bold, something much needed in the heavy rock scene with the constant air of seriousness rife. There’s a feel that this band offers a fun creative outlet for each member, and that they’re not taking themselves too seriously.
AltWire had the chance to pick the brain of Jimmy Hayward, one of the creative directors of this very unique outfit (and a successful film director in his own right) to get a sense of the who, what, why, when and how of Legend of the Seagullmen.
Luke Morrison/AltWire: How exactly did this band come about?
Jimmy Hayward: Our singer Doctor came up with the original concept and then together he and I set about developing it to where it is. It started with a different tone and a lot of other details and together we honed it and created new elements and brought it to its current place. Along the way the different band members influenced it in their respective ways but it’s mostly Doctor and I shaping the concept.
AltWire: With everyone on very different schedules, how did you all find time to form a new band?
Jimmy Hayward: When we aren’t doing our other stuff this is what we are doing. Danny and I spend a lot of time together in the studio and Pete, Tim, Maddog, and the Doctor are frequently around too. Whenever Brent is in LA he is usually working with us. The truth is we make time for it because we love it. Maddog and I are very busy doing movie stuff we just make it happen.
AltWire: Where has the very unique name of the band come from?
Jimmy Hayward: The Doctor created the name.
AltWire: There’s an overarching nautical theme running through your image. Where has that come from?
Jimmy Hayward: The nautical theme has been coursing through this from the beginning. The Doctor is from Cocoa Beach on the East Coast and I’ve lived right on the ocean on the west coast my whole life. I’ve had the nickname “The Admiral” since I was a teenager. This isn’t new stuff. We are nautical dudes. Danny grew up in Kansas but he’s so naturally nautical he moved his lady Rynne (she’s even an accomplished scuba photographer) and their son Zola to Malibu!
AltWire: An album from you guys has been mooted since 2015, what was the delay in releasing material?
Jimmy Hayward: The information was from a Rolling Stone magazine leak and story they ran. We didn’t intend for that to happen and we were taking our time. The album has been done for a while – we just recorded and snuck another song on.
AltWire: You describe yourselves as “genre destroying”, so what can we expect on your debut album?
Jimmy Hayward: I don’t know if we really describe ourselves as anything. I think when our press releases say stuff like “genre destroying super group,” we are kind of making fun of the whole need to categorize us as anything and determine we are a super group, etc. Now that Gary Holt is in Slayer, are they a super group? No, they’re Slayer. Just like they were before. We’re just having a laugh and not taking that stuff too seriously. We make stuff we love and hope the people out there love it too. We’ll leave the labelling to someone else. In the meantime, if we just own it with a sense of humor, it loses its power and I don’t think anybody reading about us actually thinks we consider ourselves a super group. And if they do, then that’s funny too.
AltWire: With so many different styles represented from each band member, was it challenging at all to agree on a sound you were all comfortable with?
Jimmy Hayward: Not at all. I write most of the music in demos then bring them to the guys. Then Doctor and I will do lyrics and then we properly record the songs and all the others augment and reshape their parts and away we go. It simultaneously becomes “us” along the way. It’s a fantastic process and we are stoked on it. We already have most of a second album written and a lot of it in demos. Hopefully this time we can keep them for ourselves until the proper album comes out.
AltWire: Any plans for a full tour?
Jimmy Hayward: We are working on it. We are definitely planning some short runs and festival stuff right now. We just played our live debut on New Year’s Eve with Primus at the Fox Theatre in Oakland and it was awesome for us. We loved it.
AltWire: Do you see this band as a one album/one time deal or is it something you see as more of a long-term project?
Jimmy Hayward: Long term absolutely.
So there you have it. Much like a mad scientist screaming “it’s alive,” the Legend of the Seagullmen will release their debut album on February 9th, 2018. You can pre-order the album here. Go check it out. You’re not going to want to miss this!
AltWire Contributor Luke Morrison Discusses His Top Ten Albums of 2017
10. Paramore – After Laughter
Haley Williams and co reinvent themselves on this album presenting a more pop-based incarnation of themselves with 80s New Wave influences present.
9. Roger Waters – Is This the Life We Really Want?
Former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters takes up arms against the current political climate across the world with this typically thought provoking solo effort.
8. Kasabian – For Crying Out Loud
It’s nothing particularly ground breaking from the Leicester-based experimental rockers, but what it is is a very enjoyable album adding to their already impressive repertoire.
7. Linkin Park – One More Light
An album which polarized fans across the world with the band moving in to full on pop territory. The album takes on whole new significance following the tragic passing of iconic front man Chester Bennington.
6. Ho99o9 – United States of Horror
New Jersey-based hardcore Hip-Hop duo Ho99o9 finally unleash their debut album after years of building up a cult following. A highly impressive effort to accompany an extremely energetic live show.
5. Horseneck – Heavy Trip
It is what it says it is, a heavy trip showcasing brutality, sweetness and groove. Full of catchy anthems and good time heavy rock, this is a band to look out for in the coming years for sure.
4. Liam Gallagher – As You Were
Taking a back seat to brother Noel must have been agonizing at times, but Liam has bided his time well and released what is surely some of the strongest material either Gallagher brother has produced since the Oasis days.
3. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced Mark Ronson was producing the latest Queens effort. However this more dance-oriented effort is still full of grooves and overdriven guitars showing that there is no letting up from Josh Homme and co.
2. Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold
Easily their darkest and heaviest album in ten years, this latest album by the Foos is definitely one which has breathed new life in to the band. Showcasing the bands expansive index of influences, this is an excellent addition to their back catalogue.
1. Trivium – The Sin and the Sentence
A near-perfect amalgamation of all their previous work, the Sin and The Sentence captures the crème de la crème of all of the elements which draw superlatives to each of Trivium’s eight albums. This eclectic mix of styles has made for one of the best metal albums released in years and will certainly be referred to as one of their very best efforts.
It’s safe to say that it’s been a turbulent few years for the Asking Alexandria boys. When long-time lead vocalist Danny Worsnop departed in 2015 it seemed like his days singing for the Yorkshire five-piece were over for good. A very public falling out lead to Denis Stoff of Make Me Famous taking over lead vocals, while Worsnop trod along down a new avenue of more straightforward hard rock in the form of We Are Harlot and later went solo with his solo folk project.
While this inspired some pretty good music from both camps, it was clear from the beginning that these guys belong together making music. Stoff only lasted one album and while Worsnop’s ventures outside of Asking Alexandria showed his diversity as an artist, the demand for a reunion by a dedicated fan base was overwhelming. When it became public knowledge that the two parties were once again on amicable terms, it seemed a formality that the band as we all knew them before would once again exist. It’s a good thing too because their self-titled album, due out December 15th 2017 is some of their most accomplished work.
Straight off the bat you can tell the band have realigned their focus and paid attention to the modern rock scene they find themselves in as this album borrows extensively from some of the leaders of the current crop such as Bring Me The Horizon and PVRIS. Alone in a room is exemplary of this, with atmospheric synths complimenting heavy chugging guitars. Lead single Into The Fire, co-produced by Korn’s Jonathan Davis, presents a reintroduction of sorts to a band looking to reinvent itself and not be seen as a one-trick pony. The results are surprisingly good.
Hopelessly Hopeful solidifies the drastic change the band have undertaken, at times reminiscent of Don Broco. It’s safe to say anyone expecting a return to the Reckless and Relentless era sound is going to be in for a shock. Rise Up throws a bone, but really the band have sought to make a statement that those days are behind them with Where Did It Go? resuming the new sound Asking Alexandria are carving out for themselves.
When the Lights Come On features the recording of an actual live crowd and will certainly be one for crowds to howl along to as it is catchy as it bold. Its glitch-like samples further showcase some stellar production work and complement the musicianship. Under Denver and the acoustic-driven Vultures showcase Danny Worsnop’s range as a vocalist, often hitting complex high notes and bringing a taste of his solo work in to the band, giving the music a very refreshed feel. And in what is really the only trip down memory lane, and the only song which would have fit on one of their previous albums, Eve, he shows he can still scream his lungs out too.
I Am One is the latest anthem containing a chorus with punk rock drive and thumping drums accompanied with orchestral synths. Definitely one that will go down great live. Then in an album full of surprises, undoubtedly the biggest one appears on the penultimate track Empire which features Seattle-based Hip-Hop artist Bingx in a very Linkin Park-inspired track. By this point the listener is wondering who these guys are and if the real Asking Alexandria are locked in a dungeon somewhere. Room 138 closes the album in suitable fashion, clashing all the styles they’ve experimented with during the duration of the record and serving up a nice epilogue to leave us keen for more.
Really this sounds like an album written by a band who are thrilled to be back making music together. That said, this is not the same band we have become accustomed to. The harsh Metalcore style scream-driven sound of old has taken a backseat to a more refined, mature brand of wonderfully produced heavy rock. It’s an album of anthem after anthem. Each one more epic than the last. I have to say I was astonished by this album and by just how daring the band have been. They say that fortune favors the bold and I firmly believe Asking Alexandria’s latest album is the epitome of such sentiment. They are completely redefining themselves and taking their careers in a whole new direction and while old school fans may disagree, I firmly believe they are on to a winner here.
Good old Brixton Academy, a stalwart in the London music scene. A venue that has withstood the test of time when so many others have fallen to demolition or repurpose. Some of the greatest musicians of all time will tell you that Brixton is their favourite place to play. Typing in ‘Live at Brixton Academy’ will bring up dozens of live albums cut by some of the best. It’s a theatre beloved by Londoners, concert goers and artists alike. Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach even named his son after it! It’s also where I saw my very first concert and was totally bedazzled by Green Day and New Found Glory at aged 14. It’s really like a second home and I know there’s plenty of people who would agree.
As I join the back of the queue, which with only ten minutes until doors open is now well round the side of the building and into the next street, I begin to reminisce about my first time seeing Stone Sour live. It was at the old Astoria theatre, a place in equal measure gross and charming, but a venue for some of the greatest gigs London has ever hosted. I’m reminded that two of the members of the band have departed since then, creating a shift in the direction of the music along the way. I’m interested to hear how the band sound these days. Have they retained their intensity? Can Christian Martucci and Johnny Chow impress me like Jim Root and Shawn Economaki did all those years ago? Is this version of Stone Sour a hit or a miss? I ponder these things as I enter through the hustle and bustle of people being screened for security. There’s a lot of shouting going on but really I’m just happy to be out of the December cold.
I had almost forgotten that The Pretty Reckless were the opening act. I’m pretty stoked to see them as well as I have been a fan of theirs since Light Me Up hit shelves over seven years ago. When they hit the stage it’s obvious which song they’re opening with as that sample provided by adult actress Jenna Haze is played through the PA leading in to Follow Me Down. As it’s Christmas time I’m reminded of the fact that the badass rock n roll jezebel image that Taylor Momsen graces as she takes to the stage is the same adorable little Cindy Lou Who from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. This disturbs me somewhat. In any case I brush it off and get on with enjoying what I believe is a very under rated band.
They’re loud as hell and their sound is crisp with an epic light show to boot (which on occasion temporarily blinded myself and my friends). They pile drive through Since You’re Gone before introducing three songs of their most recent effort, 2016’s Who You Selling For. It’s clear to see and hear that Guitarist Ben Phillips has gone from strength to strength as his shredding leads the path of this monolith performance, perfectly complimenting Momsen’s rasping wail-like vocals. Really the band have brought their A-game tonight. They smash past breakout single Make Me Wanna Die before playing fan favourites Heaven Knows and Going to Hell. They finish their ten-song set with Take Me Down leaving a lasting impression and setting the bar pretty damn high for the headline act to follow.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years Corey Taylor will always make it his business to bring the party. The man isn’t known as the great big mouth for nothing. Stone Sour take to the stage amongst sparklers as they roar in to Taipei Person/Allah Tea off their critically acclaimed most recent album Hydrograd. Knieval Has Landed follows before the band sends me back in time to my first Stone Sour concert at the height of the Come What(Ever) May tour back in 2006 with Made of Scars and Reborn.
I note how there’s a ferocity to the band’s sound these days. An intensity representative of both chaos and control. It’s clear the band are having a lot of fun as a unit as the exchanges on stage are all smiles and Taylor every so often mid song firing confetti in to the crowd. It looks like a band thrilled to be spending their time with one and other which is only improving their sound. Perhaps a change of line-up was needed to refresh them and get them to this point? Jim Root is a fine guitar player no doubt and certainly more technically-inclined than Christian Martucci, however there’s a playful energy that the latter brings to the table which perfectly complements Taylor and co and allows them to shine through as a more straight-forward hard rock band.
A few songs in and I’m surprised to hear Say You’ll Haunt Me and Hesitate off of Audio Secrecy, widely regarded as the band’s black sheep album. While I actually love that album, I can understand that it’s certainly not as aggressive as their other efforts, which is perhaps why during these songs the crowd dampens slightly and why they chose to throw in the all-action 30/30-150 between these tracks. I’m enjoying the variety in the set list as satisfying portions of each of their six albums are delivered. The surprise of the night comes in the form of Cold Reader, a song from their self-titled first album which I certainly was not expecting. The biggest surprise was yet to come as after Taylor delivered a speech on his love for the British Isles, the band would solidify that praise by breaking in to a pulsating cover of Children of the Grave by Black Sabbath. After a brief intermission, the band take the stage to finish with Gone Sovereign and the audience-backed Absolute Zero before ending with Fabuless with some assistance from some help from some wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men!
Overall this incarnation of Stone Sour is different but no less great live. They seem refreshed by the changes they’ve had to make over the years. Corey Taylor is as entertaining and enthralling as ever and the band sound tight as a unit. I was very pleased to see and hear that after all these years and all the adversity the band has faced both inside and outside the collective that they are still trucking onwards and churning out some great tunes and performances along the way. I’m equally happy to see The Pretty Reckless absolutely killing it and their performance as the opening act left me eager to hear more from them. I’m anxious to see what awaits in the future of both bands.
Extended plays that cover the work of more than one album are generally put together as a cost-efficient way of getting multiple band’s music heard. This is a practice which over the years has seen some mixed results as often there is a clash of styles. Chapter 7: The Second Coming of Heavy pits two bands together from one umbrella genre, Stoner Rock, despite their backgrounds and influences being obviously quite different.
The thing that hit me about both bands was how sonically prolific they both are with each band being just three members strong yet able to compose some beguilingly loud music. Switchblade Jesus are definitely the more progressive of the two and certainly more technical with their chugging doom-esque riffs opening up to some very nice solo work. Fuzz Evil on the other have that desert rock groove and are equally as heavy hitting, but in a sweeter way, making it no surprise that they were handpicked to open for Eagles of Death Metal on a recent touring stint.
The first half of the EP is dominated by the Black Sabbath-inspired Switchblade Jesus, whose music sounds like the soundtrack to a cyclone or some other natural disaster – trust me that’s a good thing. The first track Heavy is the Mountain shows us the band are not going to shy away from beating the listener’s eardrums senseless. Clocking in at 7:26, it’s a hell of an introduction. before some sweet soloing and a riff reminiscent of High on Fire introduces us to the second track Snakes and Lions which continues this trend for a further five minutes of impressive catchy grooves. We’re then treated to some Gospel…yes that’s right, Gospel. Because why the hell wouldn’t you sample The Louvin Brothers on a metal song? It’s weird, it’s innovative and, funnily enough, as the song happens to be ‘Satan is Real’ it’s not all that out of place for a band who sounds like the personification of the devil horns. I like it. I also like the sample of Anthony Perkins’ famous quote from Psycho “We all go a little mad sometimes…” which occurs later in the track.
The second half of the EP is a bit more up tempo as Fuzz Evil kicks off their section with Better Off Alone, a track highly reminiscent of Rated R era Queens of the Stone Age. Graves and Cupids follows, the highlight of this track being a stellar solo incorporating the use of a talk box to great effect. If You Know showcases the band’s ability to create a memorable chorus with a nice hook and Flighty Women ends the EP with some excellent musicianship. With four of the seven tracks on the EP belonging to Fuzz Evil, they’ve held their weight with the juggernauts that preceded them. They definitely draw a lot of influence from The Stooges and fit right in with the desert rock sound. Even if there’s not much difference between themselves and other bands within their niche appeal, they’ve definitely got a good time sound and enough cojones to compete in their field.
Overall there’s no clear standout from this EP. What we have here is a nice little taster of each band which leaves the listener eager to hear more. Despite the contrasting tempos and the obvious difference in influences and credence, Switchblade Jesus and Fuzz Evil not entirely out of place together. They’re both heavy in their own right, just in different ways. The same goes for their openness to experiment with their music and not take themselves too seriously. Really both bands are ones to look out for and with a December 8th release date, Chapter 7 The Second Coming of Heavy should piqué the interest of anyone looking for some good stoner rock.
On August 21st 1990 Facelift was released and the world was introduced to Alice in Chains, a four piece metal band out of Seattle, Washington. The release coincided with a movement in the pacific Northwest, sometimes known as ‘the Seattle sound’ but perhaps more commonly referred to as Grunge (although the band would distance themselves from being pigeonholed by such a label). Bands such as Mother Love Bone, Nirvana and Soundgarden had already made ripples across the country with their brand of anti-establishment rock music taking elements of punk, metal and blues and fusing them in to a swirling, expanding compound that broke apart the hair metal scene preceding it.
There was a sense that the good-time, party-hit, pop-rock bands that had dominated the 80s charts were not sonically representative of Ronald Reagan’s America. Punk had been relegated back to the underground after rearing its head in the previous decade, and bands spouting themes of excessive substance abuse and promiscuity seemed to almost distract from the rampant crises of the war on drugs and AIDS, not to mention the continuing troubles of the Cold War.
It could be said that the 80s was the era of the gimmick in music, and its superficial nature would ultimately be its own downfall. There was a lot of anger harbored amongst the youth across the country who felt continuously ignored or downtrodden as pockets of the communities they were growing up in were being savaged by crime, poverty and other social issues.
This is all a huge part of what made Seattle the centerpiece of an entire musical movement. A community of musicians ready to write about authentic, no-BS topics had emerged; a community who all knew each other and seemingly jammed together and frequently traded band members. A community who would forever be associated with the Seattle sound and who would go on to tour together, enjoy massive commercial success together, and unfortunately all too commonly grieve with each other over comrades lost along the way to all-too-familiar scenarios.
Alice in Chains were one of the bands to break the mold in the Northwest. We Die Young had been a hit on local metal radio stations before Facelift was released. Once the album dropped, the world got a sense of the best thing about the band, which was their diversity and willingness to not conform to a single way of song writing. There are portions of the album which are dark, but it then transcends into groovy up-tempo numbers. A typical example of this is the opening track We Die Young, a dark, brooding number about teenage drug use being followed by the talk box driven Man in the Box, a song to this day able to get a crowd jumping. There are songs with no recognizable choruses. Others change tempo mid-track. It’s a total mixed bag.
While Jerry Cantrell’s skillful song writing was the key ingredient to making this album as huge as it was, it arguably would not have achieved such success without the vocal style Layne Staley brought to the mix. His unique vocal style spawned a technique known as ‘Yarling’, a style which would be used by many vocalists for years to come. Layne offered a unique quality that no one else in the scene had captured. His powerful screech-like vocal style projected pitch-perfect high and low notes, all belted at the top of his lungs. He had the ability to convey a haunting quality with his vocals, sometimes eerie but also vulnerable, as though verbalizing some sort of demon within – something which would only grow stronger later in his career. His style quickly made him one of the most recognizable vocalists in rock, and along with the excellent harmonies complimented by Jerry Cantrell the band would go on to have a worldwide impact. Unfortunately, as what seems to be the case all too often, this would lead Layne down a dark road and into a dark chasm from which he would never climb out.
Their next EP Sap was a nice stop-gap between full length releases. It showcased a more intimate side to the band and was largely acoustic. The band worked with Heart’s Ann Wilson as well as fellow grunge vocalists Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Mark Arm from Mudhoney (billing their collaboration on the track ‘Right Turn’ as Alice Mudhoney of course). The EP would eventually hit gold and cement Alice In Chains as more than just a hard rock band capable of pulling surprises from an arsenal of talent; it would prove to be a teaser for what was to come.
Dirt is when the band shifted towards a depth of darkness seldom heard from other hard rock bands. Released on September 24th 1992, we can immediately identify the themes of depression, isolation, pain, anxiety and loss throughout. It is a lesson in how to perfectly capture psychological ailments and express them in the form of song. It was around this time when Layne really showed the world just how he wore his heart on his sleeve. In tracks such as Down in a Hole he vocalizes a torture within and a sense of hopelessness, despite the success he has found. One of the most interesting tracks is Junkhead, where Layne documents his own drug habit. It is truly the sound of a man in denial at the height of his drug use. There is an air of arrogance and carelessness, and an obvious sadness present in this track – you can definitely see the true point at which Layne Staley was lost to the world. Even though he would live another ten years, drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine would go on to dictate his life.
You can’t understand a user’s mind
But try, with your books and degrees
If you let yourself go and opened your mind
I’ll bet you’d be doing like me
And it ain’t so bad
What’s my drug of choice?
Well what have you got?
I don’t go broke
And I do it a lot
Regardless, Dirt is a masterpiece. Layne’s vocal technique was improved further by using different layering techniques. With the help of Jerry’s solid harmonies, Dirt was truly the album that gave Layne recognition as one of the best vocalists in rock. The album would go on to be the band’s most successful, going platinum four times in the US alone. It would prove to be the benchmark for a new wave of artists ready to emulate the style the band had created. However, none would ever really come close.
It was around then that the drug abuse surrounding the band had been amped up. While for the moment the band largely held it together, it would cost them their bassist Mike Starr, allegedly be kicked out due to excessive heroin use. (Incidentally, Mike Starr would go on to detail on a 2009 edition of Celebrity Rehab that he was the last person to see Layne Staley alive. Starr died of a drug overdose himself in 2011.)
After the immense success of Dirt, the released their second acoustic-based EP Jar of Flies featuring with new bass player Mike Inez. Once again, the band showed their depth with harrowing tracks such as Nutshell and Rotten Apple, the lyrical content bearing soul, woe and disdain. I Stay Away and No Excuses set a lighter tone for the first time since Facelift. Jarof Flies was the first ever EP to top the Billboard 200 chart and was the band’s first release to reach such a peak. This is something that was only repeated once later by Linkin Park and Jay-Z’s collaborative Mashup EP Collision Course.
Since its release on January 25th 1994, the EP has gone on to be certified 3x Platinum in the US, making it their second most successful release. Overall, the EP feels like a journey through the dark and light sides of the band, Layne’s vocals being a prominent guide through a complex range of emotion, expressed in a uniquely beautiful way that compliments the music (just like every release he has featured on). It was around this time that Layne entered rehab for his drug addiction but he would relapse in the run up to a summer tour supporting Metallica. He would continue using drugs until the day he died. It was shortly after the release of the album that Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was found dead after apparently committing suicide with a shotgun. By eerie coincidence, the two vocalists share the same death date of April 5th, albeit 8 years apart.
Alice in Chains did not release another full length album until towards the end of 1995. In the meantime, Layne had joined supergroup Mad Season along with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees and John Baker Saunders of The Walkabouts. The band’s only album Above was more a more straightforward blues/rock effort and largely lower in tempo than any of the members’ respective bands had dabbled in previously. It was composed in around ten days – the music for the album was finalised before Layne had joined the band. The album was well-received and accredited gold. The supergroup was short-lived though, and went on hiatus before the summer of 1995 to allow each member to focus on their primary bands. Layne Staley’s substance abuse has been cited as one of the reasons the group did not extensively tour and John Baker Saunders would die of an overdose in 1999. Efforts to rekindle the band without Staley and Saunders were made in 2013 when Above was re-released including additional tracks recorded with Mark Lannegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age) as bonus material. Reunion shows with Chris Cornell (Soundgarden) on vocals and Duff McKagan (Guns n Roses, Velvet Revolver) took place in 2015, with new music from this incarnation of the band proposed for future release.
On November 7th 1995 Alice in Chains released their self-titled album, the last album to feature Layne Staley on vocals. During the writing and recording of the sessions it is said that Layne’s addiction to heroin had become a major issue, as he would regularly go missing for days and fall asleep during band meetings. The sense of discomfort within the band is evident on the album itself, as while the band attempted to pursue a more mature sound (diverting away from the sludge-style of Dirt), there is a definite feeling that the natural cohesion that they once displayed was now replaced with a forceful effort to simply try and produce a palatable album. While the self-titled album is decent in its own right, one wonders what could have been produced if all members were firing on all cylinders rather than fighting over issues that would ultimately tear the foundation of the band apart. They did not tour in support of the self-titled album due to Layne’s addictions, and any efforts he made to get clean were now nothing more than an exercise in futility.
The band agreed to do a live performance of MTV’s Unplugged in April 1996, a show which had become popular due to the unique acoustic versions of songs bands would play. This was Alice in Chains’ first performance in over two years. If the world was not savvy to Layne’s addictions by this point, it would be heartbreakingly showcased during this performance – on numerous occasions he forgets the words despite having a lyric sheet in front of him. He wears black sunglasses to cover red and glazed eyes and looks physically weak. While he manages to sing exquisitely for much of the performance, it is essentially like watching a man fading away before your eyes.
The band did agree to open for the recently reunited Kiss later in the year, though the stint only lasted four shows. On July 3rd 1996, the band played their last ever show with Layne Staley in Kansas City, Missouri. After the show, he was found unresponsive having overdosed on heroin, and while he recovered from this particular incident it proved to be the final straw. Alice in Chains would not perform live again for nearly 10 years.
Despite recording a few tracks in 1998, Layne kept out of the public eye almost completely in between the time of his last show and his death. It was said anyone close to him could see he had physically deteriorated, at times looking pale and skinny. His addiction to drugs had completely consumed him – by this point he was essentially the walking dead. He had relinquished all traits of the person he used to be. Tragically, his body was found on April 19th 2002, two weeks after he had died. Various drug paraphernalia surrounded the body. At the time of death he was estimated to have weighed as little as 80 pounds.
It is a always great shame to lose such a powerful vocalist in such a way. Layne Staley had an incredible ability to cast shadows through his voice. His haunting, brooding vocals made him one of the very best singers to grace rock music. The music he made with Alice in Chains (and briefly Mad Season) is timeless and can quite often be attributed to a unique cultural impact that, along with other Seattle-based bands, helped influence a new generation of musicians. His vocal style has been emulated time and time again but exact replication is simply impossible.
While Alice in Chains have since reformed with vocalist William DuVall (a fantastic singer in his own right), the band no longer have the same visceral aggression. The lyrical content is also much different – the new direction of the band offers a fresh outlook. The impact Layne had surely makes him a candidate for a future rock n roll hall of fame induction, along with the rest of the band. It is a shame that two members of such an important band could be taken by the same addiction, but it is important to remember them for the art they created and not just the painfully sad way their lives ended.
Their deaths illuminate a significant issue that many musicians and other artists face. A tortured artist will often be plagued by demons until they succumb way to escape reality. Often mainstream success itself can affect someone’s mental health, creating a black cloud that follows them around. This is why it is of vital importance that we look back on the music that artists such as Layne Staley created and understand the message they are trying to convey. While art is a form of entertainment, it is often the only outlet someone may have to express their pain.
I recommend that anyone take time to look at Layne-Staley.com, which has a dedicated section for donations towards the Layne Staley memorial fund. The charity provides treatment, education and help with recovery from substance addiction.
RIP Layne Staley August 22nd 1967 – April 5th 2002
Black Star Riders were formed towards the end of 2012 when members of the touring line-up of Thin Lizzy expressed interest in recording new music. Out of respect for deceased front man Phil Lynott, it was decided that any new music would not be released under the Thin Lizzy name and thus Black Star Riders were born. After two albums and playing hundreds of shows around the world, the band is preparing to release their latest effort Heavy Fire this week on February 3rd 2017.
To give you further back round on who Black Star Riders are, it is worth noting that aside from the band emanating from the touring line up of Thin Lizzy, members of this band have previously also turned out for the likes of Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Suicidal Tendencies and Ratt. With pedigree like this you can safely say that the musicianship is going to be good…right? Well yes and no.
The album kicks off with the hard rocking album title track Heavy Fire. The first impression is good as this up-tempo song blasts through with some impressive work by guitarists Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson. The following tracks When the Night Comes In and Dancing with the Wrong Girl sound like a modern twist on the traditional Thin Lizzy sound invoking thoughts of what might have been if previous incarnations of the band still existed today.
It’s soon after that you begin to notice exactly what lets this album down. It must be said that Ricky Warwick is a very capable vocalist and during his time as the touring singer for Thin Lizzy he has been able to emulate Phil Lynott’s vocals incredibly well and stepping in to those shoes is no easy feat (no pun intended!). The issue is that it’s not long before the vocals on this album become monotonous. This is partly down to some incredibly lazy and repetitive lyrics, but mainly because of what I believe is a vocal style which does not suit the band. Black Star Riders are a hard rock band and therefore would benefit from vocals with a bit more bite and power and a lyricist who won’t adopt such a mundane approach to writing.
The album does have its highlights though. The tempo shifts in some of the songs are inventive and show off the bands ability to at least try and mix it up. The soloing throughout is impressive but perhaps most so on the fourth track Who Rides the Tiger. The bass-driven Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed borrows from the glam rock stylings of bands such as Motley Crue and definitely goes down as a decent hard rocking track.
The problem is that in between these song you are subjected to the pedestrian Cold War Love and the numbingly repetitive Testify or Say Goodbye. Both are overly formulaic and frankly completely forgettable. Soulful female backing vocals are brought in for Ticket to Rise but ultimately they fail to compliment anything the band is trying to do here. By this point the album has become something of an earache, predictable and cheesy.
In general this album feels directionless throughout. The same formula spouted over and over can work for bands who have something special but unfortunately this album feels trapped under the weight of the reputation of those who created it. It is a shame to say as there certainly is some great instrumental work on display here. There are times however when the band feel caught up trying to capture the sound synonymous with Thin Lizzy and other bands of the same era, but ultimately fall short. While it could prove to be an accessible insight to the band member’s previous work and open doors to a younger audience to the bands of yesteryear, it’s not up to the task of holding its own with those bands.