Alice In Chains
In many ways, Alice in Chains was the definitive heavy metal band of the early '90s. Drawing equally from the heavy riffing of post-Van Halen metal and the gloomy strains of post-punk, the band developed a bleak, nihilistic sound that balanced grinding hard rock with subtly textured acoustic numbers. They were hard enough for metal fans, yet their dark subject matter and punky attack placed them among the front ranks of the Seattle-based grunge bands. While this dichotomy helped the group soar to multi-platinum status with their second album, 1992's Dirt, it also divided them. Guitarist Jerry Cantrell always leaned toward the mainstream, while vocalist Layne Staley was fascinated with the seamy underground. Such tension drove the band toward stardom in their early years, but following Dirt, Alice in Chains suffered from near-crippling internal tensions that kept the band off the road for the remainder of the '90s and, consequently, the group never quite fulfilled their potential.
Staley formed the initial incarnation of the band while in high school in the mid-'80s, naming the group Alice N Chains. Staley met Cantrell in 1987 at the Seattle rehearsal warehouse the Music Bank and the two began working together, changing the group's name to Alice in Chains. Cantrell's friends Mike Starr (bass) and Sean Kinney (drums) rounded out the lineup,and the band began playing local Seattle clubs. Columbia Records signed the group in 1989 and the label quickly made the band a priority, targeting heavy metal audiences. Early in 1990, the label released the We Die Young EP as a promotional device and the song became a hit on metal radio, setting the stage for the summer release of the group's debut, Facelift. Alice in Chains supported the album by opening for Van Halen, Poison, and Iggy Pop, and it became a hit, going gold by the end of the year. As the band prepared their second album, they released the largely acoustic EP Sap in 1991 to strong reviews.
Prior to the release of Alice in Chains' second album, Seattle became a media sensation thanks to the surprise success of Nirvana. As a result, Alice was now marketed as an alternative band, not as a metal outfit, and the group landed a song, the menacing "Would?," on the Singles soundtrack during the summer of 1992. "Would?" helped build anticipation for Dirt, the group's relentlessly bleak second album that was released in the fall of 1992 to very good reviews. Following its release, Starr left and was replaced by Mike Inez. Dirt went platinum by the end of 1992, but its gloomy lyrics launched many rumors that Staley was addicted to heroin. Alice in Chains soldiered on in the face of such criticism, performing successfully on the third Lollapalooza tour in 1993, which helped Dirt reach sales of three million.
The band released the low-key EP Jar of Flies in early 1994. It debuted at number one upon its release, becoming the first EP to top the album charts. Despite the band's continued success, they stayed off the road, which fueled speculation that Staley was mired in heroin addiction. Later that year, Staley did give a few concerts as part of the Gacy Bunch, a Seattle supergroup also featuring Pearl Jam's Mike McCready, the Screaming Trees' Barrett Martin, and John Saunders. The group subsequently renamed itself Mad Season and released Above in early 1995. Later that year, Alice in Chains re-emerged with an eponymous third album, which debuted at number one on the American charts. Again, the band chose not to tour, which launched yet another round of speculation that band was suffering from various addictions and were on the verge of disbanding. The group did give one concert -- their first in three years -- in 1996, performing for an episode of MTV Unplugged, which was released as an album that summer. Despite its success, the album did nothing to dispel doubts about the group's future and neither did Cantrell's solo album, Boggy Depot, in 1998.
Cantrell basically released Boggy Depot because he couldn't get Staley to work, but its very existence -- and the presence of Inez and Kinney on the record, not to mention Alice producer Toby Wright -- seemed to confirm that the group was on moratorium at best, defunct at worst. Staley, for his part, stayed quiet, conceding his spot on Mad Season's second album to Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan. In 1999, Sony put together a three-disc Alice in Chains box set, Music Bank, divided between the group's best work and assorted rarities. At the turn of the new millennium, Columbia Records issued Live, which plucked material from bootlegs, demos, and festival shows covering the years 1990, 1993, and 1996.
As if the group hadn't been repackaged as many times as possible with its limited repertoire, a ten-track best-of set, Greatest Hits, appeared in July 2001. With no sign of the group reclaiming their spot atop the alt-metal heap (and such copycat acts as Godsmack, Days of the New, Puddle of Mudd, and Creed taking the Alice in Chains formula to the top of the charts), Cantrell completed his sophomore solo effort, Degradation Trip, in 2002. But just two months before the album's release, in April 2002, the news that every Alice in Chains fan had been fearing for years had finally come to pass: Layne Staley was found dead due to a lethal overdose of cocaine and heroin. Although understandably grief-stricken, Cantrell launched his solo album's supporting tour according to schedule, opting to open shows in the summer for another Alice in Chains-influenced band, Nickelback. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Greg Prato, All Music Guide
One of the most unique cult bands of the '90s, Soul Coughing anchored a new crop of quirky, unclassifiable bands that emerged in the post-grunge era, including Morphine, the Eels, and Cake. Driven by frontman M. Doughty's stream-of-consciousness poetry, Soul Coughing's sound was a willfully idiosyncratic mix of improvisational jazz grooves, oddball samples, hip-hop, electronics, and noisy experimentalism (described by Doughty as "deep slacker jazz"). Even at the height of the alternative rock era, it was too avant-garde to cross over into the mainstream, keeping one foot planted in the downtown New York scene from whence the band sprang. Yet their ironic sense of humor and stylized bohemian-hipster image made them accessible enough to earn a widespread, enthusiastic following on college campuses. Moreover, they built a reputation as an excellent live act, thanks to a jazz aesthetic that kept their concert performances fresh and spontaneous (not to mention a liberal policy on fans trading tapes). After three generally acclaimed albums, the group split up, and Doughty mounted a solo career.
Soul Coughing was formed in New York City in 1992 by lead vocalist Mike Doughty (who usually preferred the stage name M. Doughty). A military brat born at Fort Knox, Doughty had previously worked as a music critic, and wrote abstract, Beat-influenced poetry of the sort that went over well at live poetry slams. He also held a job as the doorman for the famed cutting-edge venue the Knitting Factory, which afforded him the opportunity to meet an eclectic array of musicians on the downtown avant-garde scene. He eventually recruited keyboardist/sampler Mark de Gli Antoni, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and Israeli-born drummer Yuval Gabay (bassist Wilbo Wright and cellist Catherine Bent were very briefly in the group before the quartet solidified). Taking their name from the title of a poem Doughty had written about Neil Young vomiting, Soul Coughing made their live debut in June 1992 at the Knitting Factory (naturally enough). They built enough local buzz to land a deal with Warner Brothers subsidiary Slash in 1993. Soul Coughing's debut album Ruby Vroom -- named after producer Mitchell Froom's daughter -- was released in 1994 to mostly complimentary reviews. The late-night barroom atmospherics of "Screenwriter's Blues" helped the band start to catch on at college radio, as did the accompanying singles "Down to This" and "Sugar Free Jazz." Their second album, 1996's Irresistible Bliss, only amplified the buzz around the band, thanks to the alternative-radio hits "Soundtrack to Mary" and "Super Bon Bon." They went on to contribute material to several soundtrack albums, including Songs in the Key of X: Music From and Inspired By the X-Files ("Unmarked Helicopters"), Batman & Robin ("The Bug"), and the X-Files movie ("16 Horses"). Soul Coughing issued their third album, El Oso ("the bear") in 1998, and received their greatest mainstream exposure with the leadoff single "Circles," a good-sized hit on alternative radio. However, it proved to be the band's last effort, as they announced their breakup in March 2000. de Gli Antoni had already released a solo album, Horse Tricks, that returned him to his roots in experimental electronic composition; it featured contributions from the other members of Soul Coughing and was released on John Zorn's Tzadik label. de Gli Antoni moved on to a career scoring short and independent films, including 2002's quirky romantic comedy Cherish. Steinberg and Gabay, meanwhile, continued to work together as UV Ray. Doughty, meanwhile, cleaned up from an addiction to heroin, and appeared as a guest vocalist on trance producer BT's club hit "Never Gonna Come Back Down" that summer. He also played a series of shows behind his solo acoustic album, Skittish, which had been completed in 1995 but never officially released until Doughty decided to circumvent Napster and sell the album from his own website. His official solo debut was reportedly in the works, but wound up postponed; however, he did issue another solo acoustic album, Smofe + Smang: Live in Minneapolis, in 2002, and continued his periodic work as a columnist for the New York Press. Meanwhile, the performance-oriented Kufala label attempted to arrange the release of several archival Soul Coughing live albums, although intra-band disputes put off the project indefinitely. ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide