We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at Layne Staley’s classic isolated vocal for the Alice In Chains song ‘Would?’.
When looking back at the grunge scene that arose in the ’90s in a seemingly special corner of America, four great rock vocalists took their place at Mount Rockmore. While the other three may boast a more fervent fandom, Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley’s vocal is undoubtedly the most complex.
Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain used his vocal to connect with his audience, using a DIY ethos and a relatively attainable register to highlight the connective tissue that made up the songs. For Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, he became a mythic figure, somewhere close to a modern-day Robert Plant. Of course, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell could wail beautifully like nobody knew possible—but Staley’s was perfection.
Staley was, unlike his contemporaries, able to convey both an intense vulnerability and encompassing power all at once. Across Alice In Chains’ back catalogue, Staley is a maestro at conjuring emotion and allowing his expression to feel raw, honest and authentic.
In the isolated track below you can hear all of that complexity and texture in every single note. Hearing Staley’s vocal alone on Alice In Chains’ hit single, ‘Would?’ is enough to give you chills down your spine.
While we can now take some cathartic pleasure from the music Staley left behind, it’s hard to ignore that much of his talent for exude emotion was that he was such a stretched personality. The singer struggled with drug addiction and it would be the very thing to eventually take his life in 2002 as he never overcame the abuse.
On ‘Would?’ you can hear this battle in Staley’s vocal. The track, which featured on their 1992 album Dirt, as it deals with the loss of Andrew Wood, a prominent figure in the underground scene, who died of a heroin overdose in 1990.
Guitarist and writer of the song Jerry Cantrell said of the song: “I was thinking a lot about Andrew Wood at the time. We always had a great time when we did hang out, much like Chris Cornell and I do. There was never really a serious moment or conversation, it was all fun. Andy was a hilarious guy, full of life and it was really sad to lose him. But I always hate people who judge the decisions others make. So it was also directed towards people who pass judgments.”
Looking back a few years ago Cantrell reiterated that the song was: “A really significant thing for all of us—was kind of a heavier foreshadowing of some things that would directly affect us and our friends—was the death of Andy Wood. That song was me thinking about him like we all did, and trying to put that down and just kind of write a little ode for him.”
“Because he wasn’t there, and everything was taking off… It was a nice thing to be able to use that song, it was very poignant I thought, because we kind of carried him with us.” Now, listening back, we carry Layne.
Below listen to Layne Staley’s isolated vocal on Alice In Chains track ‘Would?’.