Alice in Chains were already a big band when they released 1994's Jar of Flies (their appearance in Cameron Crowe's generation-defining 1992 film Singles took care of that), but the EP elevated them to another level both creatively and commercially. Moving more than 140,000 units in the United States in its first week, Jar of Flies was the first EP to debut at the top of the Billboard 200.
More importantly, it pushed the boundaries of what Alice in Chains — and any so-called "grunge" band — could sound like, and it brought the world a timeless haunting classic in its second track "Nutshell," which AIC bassist Mike Inez told Revolver in 2013 is the song that most makes him think of the group's late, great singer Layne Staley. "Layne was very honest with his songwriting," he said. "And in 'Nutshell,' he really put everything in a nutshell for everybody. That song still gets me choked up whenever I play it. I get a little teary-eyed." Below, are five surprising facts and stories about the milestone EP.
1. Alice in Chains had no songs written when they entered the studio for the sessions that would result in Jar of Flies
Grunge legend has it that while Alice were away on tour, the band members were evicted from their apartment and returned home to Seattle with nowhere to stay, compelling them to book 10 days at London Bridge Studio — where they had tracked Dirt, Facelift and Sap — so they had a place to crash while they sorted their shit out. That would explain why, when producer Toby Wright showed up to work with the band, he was met by a group that didn't seem at all prepared to make a new record. "I said, 'OK, let's hear those songs," Wright remembered saying to AIC's guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter Jerry Cantrell, in an interview with the AV Club. "Jerry smiled and said, 'Funny thing about those songs … we don't have any.' I laughed and said, 'So what do you guys wanna do for the next 10 days?' Cantrell said, 'Mind if we just jam?'"
2. ... And jam they did: The band wrote and recorded the entire EP over a week in the studio
Alice in Chains wrote Jar of Flies' seven songs at breakneck speed and with no particular expectations or direction, other than a loose sense that they wanted to make an acoustic record in line with Sap. The only music they had going in was the jangly guitar part that would end up in the chorus to "No Excuses." The rest they jammed out. According to Wright, "They'd go out on the floor and jam, and I'd just hit record. They'd get a little form together, go out and jam it, and send it upstairs to Layne who was anxiously awaiting. He'd write lyrics and melody and come down with a little demo on, I think, a four-track recorder. We'd all listen and go, 'Hell yeah!' Then he'd run back upstairs and keep going. It was a very positive attitude from everybody."
3. When they were writing and recording Jar of Flies, Alice in Chains weren't even sure if they would ever release the songs
"We had just gotten off the road where we had traveled something like 50,000 miles, and played ear-blasting music every night," Layne Staley told Hit Parader in 1994. "We just wanted to go into the studio for a few days with our acoustic guitars and see what happened. We never really planned on the music we made at the time to be released." Fortunately, their record label heard the songs and recognized that shit this good had to be heard.
4. Jar of Flies marked the first time Alice in Chains wrote with new bassist Mike Inez
After splitting with original bass player Mike Starr, who was dealing with a debilitating drug addiction that would ultimately take his life, Alice in Chains brought on former Ozzy Osbourne player Mike Inez, who had not only backed up the Prince of Fucking Darkness onstage but also written the iconic bass riff to "No More Tears." AIC recorded two songs with him, "What the Hell Have I" and "A Little Bitter," in 1993 for the soundtrack to that summer's Hollywood blockbuster Last Action Hero, but the spontaneous Jar of Flies session were the first time they would really write new material collaboratively with Inez. "The whole Jar of Flies EP proved to both us and the fans what a talented and valid part of the band Mike was," Cantrell commented in the liner notes of AIC's Music Bank box set. "He plays the nastiest, darkest shit, but he's got the sweetest heart in the world."
5. The EP's title comes from a science experiment Jerry Cantrell did in third grade
Staley revealed the improbable origins of Jars of Flies' title to Hit Parader — though even he didn't seem particularly sure of the phrase's greater meaning. "They gave him two jars full of flies," the singer said of Cantrell's third-grade teachers. "One of the jars they overfed, the other jar they underfed. The one they overfed flourished for a while, then all the flies died from overpopulation. The one they underfed had most of the flies survive all year. I guess there's a message in there somewhere," Staley concluded. "Evidently, that experiment had a big impact on Jerry."