Alice in Chains matches drug-war desperation with Facelift’s angry riffs

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 10, 1991

By Steve Newton

It’s been pretty hard to skip through any Seattle TV news broadcasts lately without hearing all about the devastation that Washington’s largest city and its outlying areas are feeling from drug wars. Reports on crack houses and citizens under gang-related fire are nightly occurrences as the home of the Space Needle gradually edges towards a reputation as L.A. North.

Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell felt the terror of his town’s drug-induced burden, and wrote a tune about it. It became “We Die Young”, the first video/single from his band’s debut album, Facelift: “Down, down, down you’re rollin’/Watch the blood float in the muddy sewer/Take another hit, and bury your brother/And we die young.”

“There was a lot of activity involving drugs and gangs in the period that I wrote that song,” says Cantrell, “and it was escalating a lot. I was living in an area where you see that a lot more, so it was something I was really aware of. And that song’s frustrated, angry riff kind of matched that desperate type of feeling.”

There’s a goodly amount of tough, angry riffs on Facelift’s 12 tunes, half of which were penned by Cantrell himself. Most of them will be in evidence at the Town Pump on Friday (January 11) when Alice in Chains makes its first pilgrimage to this fair city. The band has come a long way since its days of scraping by while living in a 50-room rehearsal hall in Ballard.

“We worked there for our rent too,” says Cantrell, 24. “Looking back on it, there were some pretty harsh times, but, then again, there always are, I guess.”

Alice in Chains is just one of many bands from Seattle’s burgeoning music scene to recently gain attention outside its city’s perimeters. On Facelift’s liner notes, the band thanks a number of Seattle groups—“friends of ours that we dig a lot”—such as Soundgarden, Son of Man, Sanctuary, My Sister’s Machine, and Mother Love Bone. (The latter band, currently performing under the name Mookie Blalock, will be opening Friday’s Town Pump show.)

Cantrell says that his band feels an affinity to the mass of Northwest bands struggling for record deals, and claims that, venue-wise, Seattle isn’t a great place for original acts these days.

“There’s a lot of good bands and musicians, but there’s not a whole lot of places to play, so it’s difficult to get out and do that. The venues are few and far between. I think Vancouver’s a little better in that respect, actually.”

But Alice in Chains was one of the fortunate Seattle-based bands to score a major label deal quite fast, signing a contract after just two years together.

“Things went fairly naturally for us,” says Cantrell. “We went through some times when we didn’t know what was goin’ down, but we’ve been fairly lucky. We had label interest from a fairly early stage in the band’s history, and not just from one label, from a few. So that was definitely a cool thing that kept us goin’ at it.”

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