Layne Staley Remembered: Outtakes From Revolver’s Mike Inez Interview
Today marks the ninth anniversary of Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley’s death. In remembrance of him, his bandmate, bassist Mike Inez (pictured left), gave a personal account of him in Revolver’s January/February “Fallen Heroes” issue (available here). He had so many great stories about Staley, we couldn’t fit them in the magazine. So, in reverence, enjoy some of Inez’s entertaining memories of Staley below.
REVOLVER What are your fondest memories of Layne?
MIKE INEZ Layne was just such a real human being, and such a good human too. He never had an ulterior motives. He’d never do any racist jokes, I never heard him talk shit about anybody. He was always very supportive of other bands, like on Lollapalooza, we had Tool, Rage Against the Machine, Fishbone, Dinosaur Jr., Primus, and Arrested Development. And by the end of that six-week tour in the states, we were all jamming with each other. Dudes would come down with us, and we’d go jam with them. But there was this crazy industrial Belgian band called Front 242 that was on that. And they didn’t speak good English, and they were kind of like doing their own thing. Turns out, they were great guys. It was just hard to relate to them because they were so foreign and everything was just a traveling circus. For some reason, Layne just loved that band. He would go up and jam with them; it was really cool. Out of the all the rocks stars—you know, Rage Against the Machine and Tool and all the rock star bands—he wanted to jam with the opener and play some crazy industrial music.
How did Layne handle fame?
I remember we got nominated for a Grammy—we’re still getting nominated for Grammys every year. Not like our Revolver Golden God award, you know. We’re very proud of that, by the way. Yeah, so we were going to a Grammy thing. It was just so funny, because he was not the guy to try to be the center of attention. He was really kind of like a low-key guy. And he was never that guy who would put it out there, but he just had an amazing vibe. We’d go to these Grammy parties, like Robert De Niro, Michael Bolan, and Nicolette Sheridan were there. All these crazy celebrities, and then you’ve got these wacky grunge guys walk in. And no matter who was in the room, I noticed this, everybody would always look at Layne. People wouldn’t even know who he was, and they’d go, “Wow, who is that guy?” You know? He just had this energy about him, and this very compelling thing about him. He just thought those things were really silly. Just the award ceremonies, and the whole ego stroking that goes on at those kinds of things in New York and Los Angeles. It was just really funny. So we’d always gravitate towards each other and the four of us, and kind of just laugh our way through. I think we’ve lost eight Grammys at this point. So it’s almost going to be a letdown when we win. I think we have a record for the most losses. Which we wear that badge very proudly.
What was Layne like to work with on songs?
He was great. One of the first songs that I cowrote with him were “A Little Bitter,” off the Last Action Hero soundtrack. And then with Jar of Flies, the two songs I brought in with him were “I Stay Away” and “Rotten Apple.” And on all three of those songs, you know, Layne wrote the melodies for. Looking back, it was just really a special, kind of magical chemistry we had. I know a lot of bands kind of say that, but it was really nice to watch Layne approach a vocal line. He was so different. He would kind of do it almost backwards. He would do all the harmonies first—that kind of stuff. And a lot of the harmonies sounded out of key or something. It kind of doesn’t work or it’s rubbing a note here or there. And he’d go, No, just hold, just hold on. So we’d let him and let him go. And he would bring in the main vocal, and it would tie all these radical harmonies together. He just had a really good sense of the song as a whole, but just how to construct.
I always thought he was experimental, too, while he was doing it. He always kind of didn’t know exactly what he was going for, but then he just went in there and he would just dig and dig out. I would say that one of the strengths of Alice In Chains is the way we write, we all write a ton of stuff all the time. But we kind of know what’s bad at the end of the day. So I think that’s one of our strengths, to say, OK, that’s cool enough, that’s not cool enough. Or that doesn’t sound original enough, or this does, you know? Layne was really good like that. We learned to trust Layne. I’m sure even before I got there, the other guys really trusted him to take those vocals. And of course [guitarist-vocalist Jerry] Cantrell is a great writer, too.
Our sparkplugs were burning at a really high rate back then. We wrote, recorded, and mixed Jar of Flies in 10 days in between two tours. Then, when it debuted at No. 1, we were laughing to ourselves like, Maybe we should’ve spent 12 days on it, or two weeks, or a month. But that was the cool thing about that scene at the time. I always thought that us being, like, almost being sequestered in the Pacific Northwest, there was time for bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and Nirvana to marinate as a band and kind of discover their sound before they were put on a world stage. I think that was cool, just being isolated away from Los Angeles and New York was really good for all those bands. And every one of those singers, too, sounds different from the other guy. Truth be told, out of all of them, Layne was my favorite. He was just such an original, just an original American voice.