While Alice in Chains – whose singer, Layne Staley, was found dead Friday – influenced an incalculable number of bands, perhaps no one echoes their legacy like Godsmack.
From Tony Rambola’s jarring bursts of guitar to Sully Erna’s angry, impassioned vocal delivery, Godsmack have sonically followed Alice in Chains’ lead while adding their own distinctive edge.
To Erna, Staley was more than just part of the grunge foundation on which bands like Godsmack, Creed, Tantric and Puddle of Mudd built their sound. The Alice in Chains singer’s raw urgency vaulted the former drummer front and center before one of today’s biggest rock bands.
“He was single-handedly the guy that got me to start singing,” Erna said. “To this day, I’ve never really heard a cooler singer. Alice in Chains was the coolest thing to come out since Aerosmith in the early ’70s. They just had this persona about them, a cool vibe, very mystical and dark. Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley were the coolest team to me since Joe Perry and Steven Tyler.
“Just the way they addressed their melodies and harmonies, and his vocal style in general was so different from anything that anyone was writing that it was so appealing and attractive that you couldn’t help but be influenced by it.”
Needless to say, Erna was upset when he heard the news on the radio Saturday. At the same time, he wasn’t that surprised.
“It’s sad to say, but it was almost expected for so long,” he said. “He disappeared. He hadn’t been part of the scene. Everybody knew he was hounding for drugs for so long. It wasn’t as shocking as it normally would’ve been, maybe if it had happened five or 10 years ago,… but it was pretty upsetting to me. It’s just finalizing it. It’s the actual reality of when you put on Alice in Chains, you go, ‘Wow, this dude is dead. He’s no longer with us.’ It’s pretty spooky.”
With Alice in Chains having had such an impact on Godsmack, Erna said it’s likely their take on the tragedy will surface on his band’s next LP.
“We just got to work on the new album and I haven’t even touched lyrics yet,… but I think once I start digging down and writing lyrics [I’ll probably address it.] The one thing that I’ve always done is stay sincere to my feelings and to real events that have happened to me. It may be a more generalized statement. To me, it was just a waste of talent, and I can’t believe that no one could’ve gotten through to this guy. And maybe that’s what I could base a song on: What’s the sense? Why?”
Erna wasn’t the only artist eager to share his thoughts on the passing of Staley. Former Screaming Trees/current Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Mark Lanegan, who frequently hung out with Staley while living in Seattle, said he spoke with Staley a few months ago at the singer’s home. He sounded distraught while speaking of his late friend.
“I couldn’t have been more sad,” he said of his initial reaction. “I hoped this day would never come. He was such a lovely guy, like a brother to me. He was just a very smart, very funny, very mischievous guy. So anytime hangin’ out with him, there was always a lot of laughter, regardless of what was going on. He was on a different plane, man. His concerns weren’t so much about this world. [He was] one of a kind.”
Lanegan is believed to be one of only a few people who talked with the reclusive Staley in the months leading up to his death, which may have resulted from a longtime struggle with heroin addiction. Investigators are still working to determine the cause.
“I tried to be a friend to him, which wasn’t tough because he was a good friend to me,” Lanegan said. “People are going to do what they’re going to do, and he lived the way that he wanted.”
Seattleite Barrett Martin, drummer for Screaming Trees and Tuatara, chose to remember Staley’s life rather than his death.
“If we look at his strengths and talents, his gift to us becomes clear: His life was expressed in his words and in his music,” Martin said in a statement. “Listen to them! He said a lot in a very short period of time.
“When he was at his peak of greatness, he was awesome to behold. His command of his voice and natural charisma was a very rare combination indeed, and those of us who toured with him and saw him onstage remember the power he held. His unique vocal style has been frequently imitated since the heyday of the Seattle music scene, but none will ever really come close to his mastery. He was most certainly ‘a natural,’ and one couldn’t have imagined a more perfect embodiment of a rock singer.”
Although Al Jourgensen wasn’t as close to Staley as some, and hadn’t been impacted by Alice in Chains’ music as much as others, he did have something in common with Staley – addiction. The Ministry frontman remembered that early on Layne seemed on the fast track to an unfortunate demise.
“I sat down and had a talk with him,” Jourgensen recalled. “I remember he was really interested in what was being glamorized as this great lifestyle – being a heroin addict. And I remember telling him, ‘Man, this is the furthest thing from the f-ing truth.’ Movies like ‘Pulp Fiction,’ where you have Travolta drinking whiskey while shooting up this imported dope – you’d be dead if you even tried that…. I tried to tell him then, but you could just see the wonderment, the experimentation in his eyes…. I’ve been there too. It’s not something pretty to watch. He was a talented kid.”