Where Would Alice In Chains Be Today If Layne Staley Had Lived?

Photo credit: Rolling Stone

You can absolutely say that I am a fan of classic grunge music, and certainly, Alice in Chains. You may even recognize my name from a book I wrote a few years ago, Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music. Yes, that was me!

And in 2015, author David de Sola has written a new Alice in Chains book, Alice in Chains: The Untold Story (published by Thomas Dunne Books), and was kind enough to answer some questions for Alternative Nation, including his thoughts on where Alice In Chains would be today if Layne Staley had lived. Where do you think AIC would be today with Layne? Leave your thoughts in the comment section. Read on/rock on!

How did the idea come up to write a book about Alice in Chains?
In 2011 while I was simultaneously in summer school at Georgetown University and working at 60 Minutes, I put on the Dirt album for the first time in a long time. After it was finished, I went online looking for a Layne Staley or Alice in Chains biography, thinking somebody had must have already written something. When I didn’t find anything along the lines of what I was looking for, I decided to do it myself. I started working on it in August as soon as my school and work responsibilities were done.

What was your biggest challenge in writing the book?
Not having cooperation or access to the band meant that some people weren’t willing to talk. Others were skeptical because they were protective of the band and/or Layne or Mike Starr. I would try to convince them that they should talk to me, because I was capable of telling the band’s story in a credible and responsible manner. Sometimes I was successful, sometimes I wasn’t. Beyond that, there was the occasionally tricky question of how I would tackle the drug issue, in a way that was credible without sensationalizing or minimizing it.

Who were some of the top interviews you conducted for the book?
Several people agreed to speak on the record for the first time, which was a very gratifying and humbling experience for me. Jamie, Jim and Ken Elmer (Layne’s sister, step-father and step-brother) are definitely up there, as are Matt Muasau, Bobby Nesbitt and Scott Nutter – Jerry Cantrell’s band mates in the original Diamond Lie when he lived in the Tacoma area. Kathleen Austin (Demri’s mother) was an invaluable source. David Ballenger (Layne and Jerry’s former boss at the Music Bank) had some great stories, as well as documents from his time running the place. I’m also grateful that I was able to get Dirt engineer Bryan Carlstrom on the record a little more than a year before he passed away. I am profoundly grateful to all of my sources, because they are the ones who made this book what it is.

Did the band have any input in the book?
None. I made several unsuccessful attempts to contact them while I was working on it, and ultimately wrote the book without the authorization or cooperation of the band, their record label, or their management.

What is the most misunderstood thing about Layne Staley?
Layne’s substance abuse issues, as well as his death, have overshadowed a lot of other things about his life. Yes, he was a drug addict, but he was also a wickedly funny guy with an amazing voice. He was also very generous, even before he was rich and famous. Drugs shouldn’t define him. They are part of his story, but not the entire story.

Do you enjoy Alice in Chains’ music with William DuVall on vocals?
Yes. I think he was an inspired choice, not a derivative one. From everything I have seen, read, and heard about him, he doesn’t try to be Layne, even though that’s the standard he’s held to. He has his own musical background and upbringing different from his Alice in Chains bandmates – past and present. He’s confident being himself.

I always wondered what would have happened with the Layne era of the band if drugs didn’t play such a big part behind the scenes. What are your thoughts on this?
I think the subject material in a lot of Layne’s lyrics might have been different. Beyond that, the band probably would have been much more active touring. The last really intensive tour they did with Layne was in 1993 in support of the Dirt album – after that they became a studio band for the most part until they regrouped with William in 2006. There might have been a second Mad Season album in 1996-97. Jerry presumably wouldn’t have felt the need to do two solo albums – Boggy Depot and Degradation Trip might well have become Alice in Chains albums. Assuming that Layne was still alive and had managed to kick his drug addiction, I think it’s safe to say the band would have continued to make records and tour. Remember that of Seattle’s “big four”, the only band that has kept going continuously for the past 25 years is Pearl Jam.

I take it as a compliment that bits from my earlier book, Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, are quoted in your book. Just wanted to say thanks!
One of the reasons I was able to do this book is because of books about the grunge scene like yours and several others that have been written over the years. They gave me background information, as well as names of people to look up and leads to try and verify or elaborate on in greater depth. Your book and others – Mark Yarm’s Everybody Loves Our Town, Pearl Jam’s Pearl Jam Twenty, Charles R. Cross’s Heavier Than Heaven, Jacob McMurray’s Taking Punk to the Masses – were a great road map for me, especially when I was starting out.

alice in chains book

  • David

    Does David De La Sola have a facebook or twitter?

    • Emma Bauer

      He has a Twitter. Not sure about Facebook.

  • Emma Bauer

    The what if’s are always a part of life. I wonder if some would have turned on a sober Layne like they did with Trent Reznor. Layne made his mark in his short time and hopefully some learn from the more darker aspects in his songs.

  • dakotablue

    I don’t think Layne would be with AIC today if he had lived, except perhaps for the odd reunion show or two. He wanted to quit and I think he did, sometime after the Tripod album fulfilled the band’s record contract. As he showed with Mad Season, Layne was branching out and exploring different musical directions, and I think he would have done more of that. He was a restless soul interested in new things, and he would have pursued other artistic avenues, not only in music but poetry and perhaps art. Of course the drugs took away a lot of his ambition, but if he had lived chances are he would have kicked the drugs.
    Greg, I really enjoyed reading your book!

    • Ben

      I agree. And I think in the unlikely scenario that he had continued with AIC, then I’m sure the music would have evolved into something different from both the old AIC & the current AIC material. However I can’t really imagine this as I’m not sure the rest of the band would have shared the same view…

      ….as you said, I think it would be more likely that Layne would have found other avenues to explore his music and creativity.

      As strange as it sounds, I would love to have heard a few more upbeat AIC songs.

    • Go Hiomlán Mandelbrotmenge Imi

      I think he would be as Mark Lanegan is today. Doing all kinds of music with different people and being just an artist and not the ex-singer of AIC.

  • Joe Costigan

    Great intwrview Greg – huge fan of your book. I also appreciate the insight provided by De Sola. His interest in the band is genuine and from this interview he was coming from the right place when he decided to write the book.

    I also understand why the band decided not to cooperate – they have been a tight knit group and have avoided getting into the details of the band for several years. If the duff book does come out I think their is a trust their between the band and himself to present their story the way they want it to be conveyed.

    I think Layne would have still recorded with the band if he was healthy and still around. I’m sure he would of done other things to but the main obstacle in the band from what I could tell was the substance abuse and unhealthy environment they were living in at the time. I think Jerry wanted to ref

    • stayl

      I’m curious who will present Layne’s side of the story in Duff’s book, if Duff does write it. Who will present an honest view of the friction within the band? Even with the de Sola book, is Layne’s mother trustworthy? Wasn’t there a long period of time when she wasn’t in contact with Layne? Whether it’s his mother, Susan Silver or the other members of AIC, no one is 100% knowable.
      That said, I think Grunge is Dead was really informative about the reclusive years.

      • halcyon

        That’s it, the picture will never be complete. Some bias and misrepresentation are probably inevitable.
        I don’t think Nancy had any part in the book, or did she?
        Yes, I think there was or at least she was not in Seattle for quite a long period of time during Layne’s reclusive years, if I’m not mistaken. I agree and even if they were, only their point of view will be presented, not Layne’s.
        I enjoyed Greg’s book as well. It’s brilliant.

      • halcyon

        One more thing regarding Nancy possibly not having been in contact with Layne. Look at the page source for the deleted (or not published?) comment in the comment section under the interview with her (user “alice”). Actually, Nick Pollock said in Grunge is Dead: “Layne’s mom kicked him out of the house. Let’s just say that he and his mother did not see eye to eye. I was trying to get Layne to come live at my house, but my folks wouldn’t do it, so he ended up living down at the
        Music Bank.”
        But I guess I understand why she chooses not to mention it.

  • Chris Edwards

    One of the saddest takeaways from this book is that very briefly before Layne dies, there is a glimmer of hope. Sure, he was still using drugs and what-not, but the fact that he was about to record again (even if it was with a shitty third-rate ripoff band) and some descriptions from his family members lead one to believe that his health had improved somewhat. If he would’ve gotten medical help for the hepatitis (whether Layne knew of this diagnosis or if it was determined post-mortem is something that wasn’t clear from the text) and gotten off the drugs, and if Jerry would’ve had his shit together and open to it, there might’ve been a reunion. Of course, that’s one of those sad “what-ifs” confined to the existence of alternate realities. Given the kinda crap that was popular in the realm of heavy metal/hard rock at that time, it would’ve been game-changing for AiC to comeback with a new record, for sure.

  • Kell

    2 thinks irk me here.

    First, the band had NO input in this book? That isn’t a good sign. I feel like if the band doesn’t want to take part in a book that is supposed to be about THEM, how accurate can the book be? Only they know what happened to them fully. Sure friends and family may have some tidbits to share, but they were not on the road with these guys when they were alone.

    Second, I read a lot of the book in Barnes & Noble, and the vast majority of what I read was about Layne abusing drugs. Like every other page was about Layne’s drug problem. So the author is saying the biggest problem about the media’s portrayal of Layne is that they only focus on drugs, then he writes a book about Layne doing drugs…kind of a contradiction. There were some other topics sure but make no mistakes about at, the majority of the book is about Layne’s drug problem.

    • dakotablue

      Well, you have to mention the drugs but his bad habits aren’t Layne’s title.

  • automer

    He’d still be rocking, with two possible outcomes. He’d be getting shit on like Billy Corgan today for keeping the dream alive. Or, he’d be releasing boring ass music and everyone would be trying to convince themselves that he’s still got it.

  • Marky Spoofy

    It really depends on how creative they remained. Jerry was the driving force behind that. But Layne’s voice added to that creativity by adding an extra dimension to their songs. So, to answer, probably ding better than they are now.

    Later dudes, time to go to this shit bag job that I fucking LOATHE. Three years to put up with it, then onto better things…already in the works!

    • dakotablue

      Hey Marky, check it out–Layne wrote the lyrics to most of their songs, and also the music for some of them. Not taking anything away from Jerry and his talent, but Layne also came up with the haunting vocal harmonies that set the Chains apart from other bands, They would have still been good but not extra-special without Layne.

  • Marky Spoofy

    well, if these people plan to publish an autobiography or biography, someone had better do it soon before any more time ticks by and all interest is lost. There’s a time for everything…and the window is beginning to close

  • Sean Sellars

    Would have gone nowhere…..they were already done….they always flaked out of tours because of Staley….ALICE IN CHAINS was dead years before Staley ever died