Seattle musical innovators Alice In Chains were honored by the Museum of Pop Culture with their Founders Award for contributions to the local community and beyond on December 1st. The event is usually held at the museum, which has a full performance space, but this year went virtual and welcomed a host of musical greats wishing the band well and performing some of their most influential songs in tribute to their legacy.
Alice in Chains has lost two of its original members over the years, Layne Staley and Mike Starr, but their presence was very much felt during the virtual event through shared memories, tributes, footage, and discussion of the roots of the band. Jerry Cantrell, William DuVall, Mike Inez, and Sean Kinney took part in live performance from the museum, as well as in museum exploration and chats shared with the audience.
The purpose of the Founders Award event not only honors major contributions in pop culture, but also sets out to raise awareness of the museum’s exhibits, programs, and needs. Right now, like many museums, MoPOP is struggling due to loss of funding from having to close their doors and the event for Alice in Chains was also a time for many bands, particularly those with ties to Seattle, to express their support for MoPOP and encourage patrons to make donations to help keep the institution alive during these difficult times. You can find out more about supporting MoPOP and its exhibits right here.
The Founders Award is particularly timely this year for Alice in Chains because 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of their groundbreaking 1990 album, Face Lift, a genre-defying work that proceeded to influence musicians in the rising Grunge scene in the Pacific Northwest, as well as in Heavy Metal music, Hard Rock, Alternative Rock and beyond. While Alice and Chains would eventually go on to tour with many Heavy Metal bands like Anthrax, Metallica, and Mastodon, they also continued to define their own space by creating chart-topping acoustic albums and mainstream successes.
The band faced significant setbacks that led to multiple periods of hiatus due to struggles with addiction, particularly in the case of frontman Layne Staley, but other bandmembers have been clear that the issues were not limited to Staley, with Jerry Cantrell, particularly, attesting that the band had to stop touring because tragic outcomes were looming for him if he didn’t take time off, too. When Staley passed away from a drug overdose in 2002, the band could easily have ceased to exist as an active entity, but in one of the most significant comeback stories in Rock history, band members decided to reform and carry on after a Tsunami Relief concert in 2005 showed them the potential of doing new work together.
Doing reunion shows prompted much-needed reissues and collections of Alice in Chains songs and albums, and they eventually began releasing new albums with their current lineup, which had added William DuVall as lead singer. This whole process of encountering tragedy (added to by the death of Mike Starr in 2011 due to an accidental overdose of medications) and working to integrate that experience into something meaningful for fans was a big discussion point throughout the Founders Award event. Current band members were repeatedly praised for their inspirational return to touring and releasing, up to and including their 2018 sixth studio album, Rainier Fog.
The MoPOP event was set up as a series of performances and vignettes gathered from musicians and bands all over the world paying tribute to Alice in Chains and congratulating them, and ran for nearly two and a half hours on the MoPOP Facebook page and Twitch channel.
Things kicked off with video footage of the members of Alice in Chains riding the monorail to the Museum of Popular culture, talking about Jimi Hendrix and their younger experiences of visiting his grave. There they’d find roaches and guitar picks there which they’d “dry out” and use, they recalled. They all continue to feel like the museum is built around his legacy including the “Sky Church”.
There were over twenty performances of key Alice in Chains songs during the event, with particular attention given to the album Face Lift, but also to Dirt and later albums. On the whole, musicians took a creative approach, adapting and emphasizing the sound directions they preferred in order to interpret these songs, pointing out the idiosyncratic features that make them recognizable across genres. Metal bands tended to emphasize the Metal aspects of AIC songs while Pop and multi-genre artists leaned toward acoustic and vocally-driven styles. The end result was a pretty dynamic statement about this body of songwriting from a band that has always focused on authenticity but has been equally driven by experimentation.
Performances during the award tribute included: Alice In Chains performing “Your Decision”; Ann Wilson performing AIC’s “Rooster”; Dave Navarro, Taylor Hawkins, Corey Taylor, and Chris Chaney performing AIC’s “Man in the Box”; Duff McKagan and Shooter Jennings performing AIC’s “Down in a Hole”; Korn performing AIC’s “Would?”; Nancy Wilson, Mark Lanegan, Curtis Mayfield, and Liv Warfield performing AIC’s “Brother”; Fishbone performing AIC’s “Them Bones”; Dallas Green performing AIC’s “Rain When I Die”. Liv Warfield and others performing AIC’s “Put You Down”; Kim Thayil, with Shaina Shepherd and others, performing AIC’s “It Ain’t Like That”.
Mastodon performing AIC’s “Against”; Krist Novoselic and Kim Thayil, with others, performing AIC’s “Drone”; Lily Cornell Silver making a performance debut with AIC’s “Black Gives Way To Blue”; Mark Lanegan and Maggie Bjorklund performing AIC’s “Nutshell” in memory of Layne Staley and Mark Starr; Ayron Jones with Jeff Fielder and others performing AIC’s “Heaven Beside You”; Members of Soundgarden performing AIC’s “Angry Chair”; Billy Corgan performing AIC’s “Check by Brain”; Metallica performing AIC’s “Would?”; Alice in Chains performing “No Excuses”; Eric & Encarnation performing an instrumental flamenco version of AIC’s “Black Gives Way To Blue”.
A major part of the event itself were the interspersed video vignettes, many tracking the band as they took in aspects of the museum itself, but also a packed roster of video tributes from major musicians and celebrities.
During the band segments, the Alice in Chains members walked through the Jimi Hendrix displays at MoPOP, picking out quotes and memorable items. “Do what you know, practice what you preach” noted William DuVall. Cantrell said that being in Seattle and knowing that others had been there before, like Jimi Hendrix, Heart, and Queensryche was a “signpost of what was possible” in their hometown.
AiC also walked through the “Sound Lab” at the museum, a place that DuVall brought his son to “jam” previously when the band were recording Rainier Fog in Seattle. In the interactive exhibit, DuVall taught his son to play Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg and he praised the museum’s “interactive” aspect and its access for kids.
The band quipped their way through the horror film exhibit and their delight in the displays was quite evident, Joking that Freddy Krueger’s sweater was Kurt Cobain’s and should be upstairs in the music exhibits. They also took a particularly emotive tour of the “Guitar Gallery” exhibits, including Jerry Cantrell’s 1985 guitar on display, one which he explained had been “on everything I’ve ever recorded”. He commented on his intentional design of the guitar’s appearance, showing local rock station stickers. Because Cantrell liked Eddie Van Halen’s stripes and Randy Rhoads’ polka dots, he created a circle and square pattern and put “Rock” stickers on there from the station. There was also a “This is your life” note taped to the guitar as a reminder to him to work hard and learn. He advised the museum not to “clean it up”, since “The blood stays on the blade”.
The video segments also included footage of Layne Stayley and Mike Starr’s Founders Awards being delivered to their families as their close relatives shared stories about each of their musical origins and their involvement in Alice in Chains.
Video snippets with congratulations and praise for Alice in Chains came in from the following and more: Pearl Jam, Sammy Hagar, Corey Taylor, Dave Navarro, Taylor Hawkins, Mark Arm, Krist Novoselic, Eddie Vedder, Robert Downey Jr., Stone Temple Pilots, Tom Morello, Cameron Crowe, Josh Klinghoffer, The Cornell Family, Jeff Ament, and Vernon Reid.