Legendary Alice In Chains and Mad Season frontman Layne Staley died 15 years ago today from a drug overdose in his Seattle home. Over the years, Alternative Nation has interviewed many of Staley’s bandmates, musical peers, friends, fans, and family members. In this article we will share exclusive quotes from these past interviews to pay tribute, including memories from Layne Staley’s mother Nancy Layne McCallum, Pearl Jam/Mad Season guitarist Mike McCready, Ex-Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan, Alice In Chains singer/guitarist William DuVall, Seether frontman Shaun Morgan, and Alice In Chains “Man In The Box” music video director Paul Rachman.
MIKE MCCREADY: With Layne and [Mad Season’s] “River of Deceit,” to get back into that time period, it was an interesting time. There was a lot of darkness going on, but there was also some light, and there was some music happening. Mad Season had started with Barrett [Martin], [John] Baker [Saunders], Layne and myself. It was kind of an open template in terms of music. When I talked to Layne about this project initially, it was just kind of like: ‘Layne do whatever you want to do. Do you have any vocals, or any songs you want to bring in? We’ll do whatever.’ I kind of wanted it to be that type of band, where all four guys were making decisions on it, in terms of songwriting or whatever. I remember having that conversation with him, he seemed into that. He had been reading a book called The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran at the time, and he explained that to me, and I thought wow, that is super deep.
MARK LANEGAN: Well, it took us about 20 minutes to write [Mad Season’s “Long Gone Day”], and it took us another 20 minutes to record it, which we did all by ourselves in the studio. I ran the tape machine when he was singing, and he ran it when I was singing. I wrote a line, handed him the paper, he wrote a line, handed it back to me. It was probably the easiest song I’ve ever written, and also one of my fondest memories, because of course Layne was my best friend, so I have a great fond memory of that, but also sadness when I think of him, because I miss him.
PAUL RACHMAN: I was hanging out with Layne one night and I could tell that the rock star life style was going to affect him. He was a bit tired and rawn out but still very friendly. He was a very sweet, talented, sensitive and inwardly emotional. He was very comfortable and confident with his ideas and his art and music. He never really second guessed himself, he was always forward moving with his thoughts. I don’t remember him as ever hesitant or asking too many questions. He just did it. On that set they were very cooperative and friendly. I mean look at the video. I asked the front man to sit in a corner of a real dirty barn tied up and sing. To most frontmen that would seem demeaning and negative, Layne just did it and you can see he is in that moment. There is almost a vulnerable sadness in his eyes and face in that that scene.
SHAUN MORGAN: I’m a huge fan of Layne Staley’s voice. I think that the story of his life is pretty brutal, and I think how he died was pretty sad. The saddest part about that is that nobody cared enough to find him for two weeks, that’s brutal. I see a lot of comparisons between myself and whatever he was going through at the time.
WILLIAM DUVALL: The first time I met [Scott Weiland] was probably 2002, I seem to recall [Jerry] Cantrell and I playing a gig in North Carolina, this is going back a ways, but if I remember we played some shows with Stone Temple Pilots, I know that. One of them was in I want to say Charlotte, and I remember it was very soon after the news of Layne Staley’s death broke, and it was also that night that I found out that my grandfather, who was ailing was in the hospital, was probably not going to make it, and I was extremely close to him. Cantrell and I went on stage that night with a lot of heavy stuff we were carrying, it was a very emotional show. I seem to remember meeting Scott Weiland after that; we did the typical pop over to the dressing room thing. He was very warm; everyone was feeling very pleasant that night. I remember he kind of opened his arms and was like, ‘William! It’s so nice to meet you!”
NANCY LAYNE MCCALLUM: I didn’t know I was saving him when we were checking on him. And the phone call that I got said, “Now, don’t be overly concerned because it’s not unusual for Layne to take out a sum of money and then just use cash”. And when I got there, I had been there a couple of days before; because, Demri’s brother had died in February and I hadn’t known about it and I didn’t know if Layne knew about it, so I had been there a couple of days before to talk to him about it. There was no answer. I think that would’ve been a Wednesday, yeah. Then when I got the phone call to check on him on Friday, I wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t an answer. He had a little bit of mail by the door, but the kitty meowed, and she had never done that before and somehow that just alerted me. And when he didn’t answer after a while, I thought, well, I better have somebody come and check on him. So that’s when I made the 911 call.
The police first went in and then they said – I said, well, I need to go in and be with him. And they said, “Oh I wouldn’t do that.” And I said, “I can do this.” I’ve always promised myself that if anything happened to my children I would be there for them. And I went in, and he was tiny and I thought at first that he had made like a life-sized mannequin of himself because he had lots and lots of art projects always. And I thought, you know, somebody could have thrown that little guy over their shoulder and walked down the street and nobody would have even know that it was a real person.
So, and I sat with him for a few minutes. And I told him that I was really sorry how things had turned out. Because, of course we tried to not pressure him. We always felt like pressure would just push him to the wrong place, and he knew what he had to do. He had to go in treatment, stay in treatment, communicate with his sponsor, stay with healthy people – but the music industry doesn’t afford you the time to do that. And those aren’t healthy people – a lot of them are not. It was pretty tough to get cleaned up. By then he had pretty much secluded, been secluded. So it was shocking to see my child like that.
It should have turned out better. And it’s been amazing how many people have expressed their love and support. And they say, “Gee, I hope Layne knew how loved he was.” And I think, Wow, how could he not have known?” I’m sure he did. And then there was the crying and the storytelling and the making the plans. You know I think people who are sweet-hearted deserve to know the truth, and you know, “Warning, warning. Don’t kid yourself. The best of the best succumb to drug addiction. Stay away.”
William DuVall (2016), Mike McCready (2015), Mark Lanegan (2014), and Shaun Morgan (2014) interviews conducted by Brett Buchanan. Paul Rachman (2011) interview conducted by David Bronstein. Nancy Layne McCallum (2015) interview conducted by Tim Branom.
Rest in Peace Layne Thomas Staley