Layne Staley - Vocals
Mike McCready - Guitar
Martin Barrett - Drums
"Baker" - Bass
Its Sunday, October 16, 1994. A new
band - or so it seems - takes the stage at Seattle's Crocodile Cafe. The
audience waits expectantly, curious about what kind of music these newcomers
(so new they don't even have a name yet) will provide. But, a closer look
at the musicians on stage reveals that these guys aren't newcomers at all.
The band features members from some of the biggest groups in rock today:
Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, the Screaming Trees. But the music doesn't sound
like any of those groups; the guys on-stage have a clear and distinctive
musical identity, one drawn equally from the realms of rock and the back-rooms
of the blues.
Meet Mad Season. A sound that began as
jam session among friends a half-year ago has evolved into a startling
new album, ABOVE.
The group began when Pearl Jam's guitarist Mike McCready set up some informal
jam sessions for himself and two friends: Screaming Trees drummer Barrett
Martin, and Baker, a bassist McCready had met in Minneapolis, who
has played with such blues talents as Little Pat Rushing, Hubert Sumlin,
Sammy Fender, and the Lamont Cranston Band. Two of the songs on the record
('Wake Up' and 'River of Deceit') were written instantly when we first
sat down and played," says Baker. We knew that a really good spark
was happening. It was obvious that we had something good going. McCready
then gave Layne Staley, Alice In Chains' lead singer, a call and asked
him to join in the fun. Staley arrived, with guitar in hand and a head-full
of lyric ideas, and the new band's musical mix got even hotter.
The next logical step was to play in front
of an audience. McCready again took the lead, arranging for an unannounced
show at the Crocodile Cafe. The fact that the band didn't have even one
complete song prepared (...only jams and beginnings of songs, Martin admits)
did not prove to be a hindrance; in fact, one number, Artificial Red, which
the band would later record, actually came together during the show itself,
evolving out of a jam. Two more gigs followed at the Crocodile, with the
band billing themselves as the Gacy Bunch (paying simultaneous homage to
John Wayne Gacy, the "Killer Clown" of Chicago, and a beloved sitcom from
By this time, the guys realized their new
group was destined to be more than an occasional gathering of friends at
a local club. We could tell that we had some pretty god songs, says
Martin. Recording just seemed logical, really. The band also decided that
a name change was in order, and so, the Gacy Bunch became Mad Season, an
English term for the time of the year when psilocybin mushrooms are in
full bloom. A quick ten day recording session at Seattle's Bad Animals studio
(co-owned by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart) resulted in the eleven songs
co-produced by the band and Pearl Jam sound engineer Brett Eliason.
Mad Seasons music is a powerful blend of
blues and heavy rock, a potent combination of Staley's lyrics and the bands
musical creations. Although they're Laynes words they speak for all of us,
says Baker. The lyrics are very autobiographical. They're about
changes in the attitude about whats important and what's not. Wake Up kicks
off the album on a dreamy note, ushering the listener into a sad, sometimes
desolate, world, balanced by songs like River of Deceit," a slow, thoughtful
number that offers the hope of salvation. (River was chosen as ABOVEs first
single because, as Martin says, the essence of the band is there.")
Blues influences are apparent on numbers
like Artificial Red; the spontaneity of the sessions is captured in November
Hotels," an instrumental, based on one of the band's jams, that begins
as a deceptively low key piece, before building to a whirling storm.
Screaming Trees lead singer, Mark Lanegan, makes a guest appearance on
two tracks, I'm Above and Long Gone Day co-writing lyrics on the latter
number). Layne and I had been saying that those two particular songs would
lend themselves very nicely to Marks voice, explains Martin. Mark came
in and they went into the studio and we left them alone.
They did some amazing things together.
ABOVE stretches all of the musicians in new directions very different from
their usual styles. As Layne Staley puts it, "This is a nice band. It's
loose, but there's a lot of thought put into it, too. And room to put in
pure feeling and emotion."
After giving their Seattle audience a preview
of their sound, Mad Season let the rest of the world listen in, via an
appearance on Pearl Jams Self-Pollution Radio worldwide broadcast on January
8, 1995, performing Lifeless Dead and I Don't Know Anything." The band follows
up that musical hors d'oueuvre with the release of ABOVE on March 14. (A limited edition vinyl version of the record released
a week earlier featured two-disks packaged in a gatefold sleeve, with music
on three sides of the album, and an etching on the fourth side.) A short
tour is also planned in support of the album.
And what else lies in Mad Seasons future?
Another album, the band members hope, and more good times, either on stage
or in more casual settings. As corny as it sounds, we are friends and we
like playing together, says Martin. Its fun getting together in the basement
and just noodling around.