HELMET – MEANTIME (1992)

ALICE IN CHAINS – SAP (1992)

February 4th, 1992, Alice In Chains released their EP Sap through Columbia Records. It was the band’s first foray into predominantly acoustic material and the first time Jerry Cantrell took lead vocals on an Alice In Chains recording with the song “Brother.”

Promotion for the EP was minimal, with Cantrell saying Sap was released “without any fuss or fanfare so as the real Alice fans could find it.” And find it they did. On January 11th 1992, Nirvana’s Nevermind knocked Michael Jackson off the top of the Billboard Charts, leaving the public at fever pitch for all things “Seattle,” and lapping up anything “grunge” related. So, despite the minimal promotion, Sap soon went Gold.

Vocalist Layne Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s vocal harmonies are now the stuff of legend. But it was Layne encouraged Jerry to sing lead vocals for the first time on this EP. Cantrell obliged, stepping to the fore on “Brother” and splitting lead vocals with Staley on “Got Me Wrong.”

Following the tour for the album Facelift, Alice in Chains entered the studio to record a song for the Cameron Crowe movie Singles. Jerry Cantrell recalled: “So, in the session that was meant for recording just one song, ‘Would?’ We ended up demoing about ten songs, which included all the stuff that ended up on the Sap EP, ‘Rooster’ and a couple of others from Dirt.”

Recorded in “four or five days” in November 1991 by producer Rick Parashar at London Bridge Studio in Seattle. The title for the EP came from a dream drummer Sean Kinney had about “making an EP called Sap.” The band decided “not to mess with fate” and stuck with the name.

During the sessions, the band recorded a version of “Rooster” that nearly made the final tracklist of Sap. The band eventually reworked it for their next full-length album, Dirt. The version of Rooster recorded during the Sap sessions can be heard on the band’s 1999 boxset Music Bank.

The EP features guest vocals by Ann Wilson from Heart, who joined Layne and Jerry for “Brother” and “Am I Inside.” In retrospect, one of the more culturally historical moments on the EP is the song “Right Turn.” Mark Arm of Mudhoney and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden join the Alice In Chains fold for a spine-tingling tour de force.

Credited as “Alice Mudgarden”, “Right Turn” is a collaboration that could only have happened within the Seattle scene. A community almost as famous for their unwavering support of each other as they were for ending hair metal in one fell swoop. To hear Staley, Cornell, Cantrell and Arm trade verses and harmonise together all these years later is truly special.

One misconception around Seattle bands, particularly Alice In Chains, was that they were uber-serious, dark, and lacked humour, which was very wide of the mark. The hidden track, “Love Song”, described by Cantrell as “the most bizarre song we’ve ever recorded”, was Kinney’s idea. All four members switched instruments for the recording, with Kinney on lead vocals and piano, Starr on guitar, Cantrell on bass, and Staley on drums.

In a low-key way, Sap served notice that Alice In Chains possessed far more depth and songwriting acumen than Facelift might have had you believe. The band took this concept even further with the Jar Of Flies EP in 1994, but the seeds were sown in 1992 with Sap.

Alice In Chains made the dynamic shift from full-bore metallic grind to mournfully beautiful acoustic fare seem natural and necessary. These more introspective songs were delivered confidently, with an authenticity and passion to rival their “heavier” electric output.

Jerry Cantrell, Mike Starr, Sean Kinney and Layne Staley were hilarious, fun-loving young men making serious, dark, honest, bleak but always beautiful music. They always delivered, Whether with crushing volume or an acoustic hush.