The Making Of Alice In Chains ‘Tripod’ Album: An Oral History

I’ve read Alice In Chains’ 90’s press extensively over the years, and recently while looking back at several 1995/1996 interviews, I was inspired to put together an oral history of the making of Alice In Chains’ 1995 self-titled album, also known commonly among fans as Tripod. This oral history was put together through several hours of researching Alice In Chains interviews, with pieces by RIP Magazine, Guitar Player, MTV, National Guitar Museum, and Addicted to Noise all being cited.  First off is a track by track look back at the album, followed by stories about Layne Staley’s recording process and the album cover.

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1. GRIND

Jerry Cantrell: I think it pretty much sets the tone right off the bat. We just recorded everything on the record, and when you’re done recording, generally then, that’s when you’re thinking about how it all fits together… That one just seemed, after the time off we’ve had, I think the first couple lines and stuff in that song, and the intensity of it, I think that’s what needed to be said. It’s just like, “Don’t count me out! Don’t fuckin’ count me out.” [laughs]” (RIP Magazine 1996, Jennifer Clay)

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2. BRUSH AWAY

Jerry Cantrell: Yeah [there’s a backwards guitar solo], a third take. The first time I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, the second time I kinda got it, and the third time I still had that feedback where I roll the volume up when I started. I didn’t even know what I did. [laughs] I couldn’t have thought it out. I don’t think technically at all–I just play, you know? I’m not a rube–I can sit down and check it out, but I’ve got no interest for that. I know how to play well enough–that’s all I need. (Guitar Player 1996, Matt Resnicof)

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3. SLUDGE FACTORY

Jerry Cantrell: Another riff that came out of the demo sessions I had done earlier in the year. Its actually an old riff, maybe seven years old, from the first year we were a band. Its from the same period as ‘Love, Hate, Love.’ But the rest of the song, not that main riff, always rubbed Layne in the wrong way. So it took me about seven years to get it right. It probably sounds so brutal because it had been waiting seven years to get out of its cage and onto a record. {laughs} (National Guitar Museum 1996, HP Newquist)

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4. HEAVEN BESIDE YOU

Jerry Cantrell: A lot of the stuff that we right ends up having kind multiple meanings, (laughs) whether we mean it to or not.  But that one is pretty specifically about my relationship with my girlfriend, which I’ve pretty much wrecked for the last time I think.  It’s basically about having pretty much the most beautiful thing in front of you, right within your grasp, yet your still welled inside your own little ball of hell.  All you’ve really got to do is slap yourself awake, and reach out and grab it, but that’s a hard thing to do. (MTV 120 Minutes 1995, Matt Pinfield)

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5. HEAD CREEPS

Jerry Cantrell: Layne came up with that, and its a good fucking riff that turned out more brutal than I expected. I added that real stupid metal guitar to it to make it heavier. Layne’s been playing more and more guitar lately, which will help me out when we play live again. (National Guitar Museum 1996, HP Newquist)

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6. AGAIN

Jerry Cantrell: I had the riff for that one and an idea for the vocal, and then Layne came up with something so much better that I decided to throw mine right into the fucking trash. (National Guitar Museum 1996, HP Newquist)

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7. SHAME IN YOU

Jerry Cantrell: Mike, Sean and I came up with that riff in out early playing around between January and March. Sean will probably kill me for saying this, but he though it was too ballady. Its in that open tuning, and has that big mondo ending and some cool chord changes, but the lyrics hold it together and make it tough. (National Guitar Museum 1996, HP Newquist)

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8. GOD AM

Jerry Cantrell: The best part of this song is how disjointed it is, but it still flows. I think it’s a great song. I used a Sustainiac on the backing chorus, so that whole part was done with the left hand. (National Guitar Museum 1996, HP Newquist)

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9. SO CLOSE

Jerry Cantrell: The last track we cut. It was something we hadn’t gotten to, and we got to the end and we were burned out, finished. But we listened to it for about a week and said we should add it. It was a song waiting for lyrics. I cut it with that vintage Strat that I bought. (National Guitar Museum 1996, HP Newquist)

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10. NOTHIN’ SONG

Jerry Cantrell: One of the open-tuning songs that has a real Pagey riff. One of the great things about this record for me is that a shitload of my influences came out on this record, more so than on any record we put out in the past. You can pick stuff and say this sounds like Iommi, or this sounds like Gilmour. For me it is cool to listen to my influences coming out unconsciously and clearly: Brian May, Toby and Darrel and Tom were listening to me cut the solo, and its had this certain tone. When I finished they all yelled “Brian May” [laughs]. (National Guitar Museum 1996, HP Newquist)

Layne Staley Alice in Chains

11. FROGS

Layne Staley: It was written about those little green, slimy, animals. They’re related to the newt. You know what, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t even tell you what the lyrics to that song is right now. (Rockline 1999)

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12. OVER NOW

Mike Inez: That’s Sean, Sean had that idea [for the title]. I think it was Sean or Jerry that came up with that. I told them that people are gonna read a lot of shit into it. Maybe that’s our joke on all you guys? So, I don’t know. “Yeah, it’s over now/But I can breathe somehow.” There’s some cool lyrics in there. I never asked [Jerry] this question, but how do you know he’s talking about the band? Maybe he’s talking about a relationship, or he’s talking about something else,. Who knows what it means? (RIP Magazine 1996, Jennifer Clay)

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LAYNE STALEY’S RECORDING PROCESS

Sean Kinney: Layne would come in, give an opinion, find more things he wanted to work with and go from there. (MTV OnLine 1996, Tom Phalen)

Layne Staley: If I go to the studio when the music is done, and I just have the producer set up a microphone in the engineering room, and set up an open track, and show me what buttons to push to record, I go in the engineering room myself alone, and just toy around with the song for a few minutes and figure out a melody line.  Once I figure that out, I just pick the first thing that pops into my head, and I write a verse and a chorus, and I’ll record those and have the band come in and listen.  If they like the direction I’m going in, I do the rest of it. (Alice In Chains 1996 Promo CD)

Jerry Cantrell: Sit down behind the board, give him a mike and come back in an hour or two later and he’s got the song down, pretty much. (Addicted to Noise 1996)

Layne Staley: I would be singing, and I would hear my voice doing something that I thought I could accomplish with some of the stuff I had at home.  Like my pig nosed guitar amp, a crate guitar amp, a Jimi Hendrix fuzz face effects box, a flanger, and a phase shifter.  I used a wah wah during some of it.  I just tried a lot of different guitar effects. (Alice In Chains 1996 Promo CD)

Jerry Cantrell: I don’t need to know what he’s doin, man. He’s fuckin’ great. I know he’s going to do something great every time. I’ve got that faith in him when we work together. So it’s like, what’s he going to come up with next ? Then you hear it and it’s like, “Fuck, that’s cool, like always.” He can sing like a lark, eat like a horse. (Addicted to Noise 1996)

Layne Staley: The producer found this microphone for 15 dollars at a pawn shop.  It was this plastic, AA battery operated square mic like the Elvis type mic.  It was totally distorted, it sounded like an AM radio thing.  You couldn’t sing too loud in it, because it just sounded like it was going to blow.  Stand way back from that and hook that it into the fuzz face, and take all of the low end out, and crank the mid range and tone treble all the way up, do some doubling effects with that.  I just wanted to just make it more interesting.  I’ve kind of denied myself doing that just because other people were doing it.  I just figured I’d wait til they weren’t (laughs), and I could do it. (Alice In Chains Promo CD 1996)

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THE THREE LEGGED DOG

Jerry Cantrell: The front [album] cover is Sunshine and we found her down in L.A. And Sean our drummer did most of the art work for the record and did a really fine job. But he’s got this recurring psychosis, and I guess that keeps hitting him about this 3 legged dog that used to chase him around as a kid named Tripod, I guess, the evil 3 legged dog of the neighborhood. When he was on his paper route, he used to terrorize him something fierce, I guess. I don’t know. Anyway, that’s where the idea came from so. (MTV Week In Rock 1995)

Sean Kinney: It’s kind of funny. But then it summed up what we were going through. It’s funny in a sick way, a fucked up way. (Addicted to Noise 1996)

  • coffee dan

    Are you even Alice in Chains fans? “8. GOD DAM” ….you mean
    8.”God Am”

  • CraigPW1984

    I was 11 when this album came out and it is what got me into them. It still remains my favorite album. It’s a shame that “Grind” doesn’t get the same amount of rotation as say “Rooster” or “Would?” does today. It’s hard to pick a favorite on this album.

  • Raj

    They need to play more of these songs live and now! They hardly bring out Grind, I want them to start playing Heaven Beside You, Over Now and Shame in You.

  • Jeanne Rose

    Have they ever played Shame in You Live? I love that song, the end guitar riffs are just…amazing. Would have loved to hear that live, but I don’t recall it? Sludge and Frogs are great songs, my faves besides Nutshell from Unplugged.

    Layne was just so amazing…his talent….someday I hope people really see the genuis that he was. Brillant in so many ways. 🙂 Loved how he always kept us guessing at the meaning of the songs. haha.

    • Tommy Meyer

      There’s a few songs on this album they’ve never played live. So Close, Head Creeps, Brush Away, Nothin’ Song and Shame in You are the ones they’ve never played live. Which sucks because they’re all great songs.

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