As grunge favorites Alice in Chains recorded their second album Dirt, vocalist Layne Staley instituted the vocal production technique that would set Alice in Chains apart as a band and become a famous and often-imitated sound from countless artists that followed. He implemented this technique, known as stacked vocals, by “heavily layering his vocals in the studio by recording two or three vocal tracks in multiple intervals” (Buchanan 2012).
Another attribute that made Alice in Chains’ sound original was Staley’s actual performance of the vocals. Many have noted that Staley’s voice was almost like another instrument in the band, able to produce various sonic effects that baffled those who listened (Buchanan 2012). In an article on The Atlantic, David de Sola mused:
…Staley sounded like no one else. His ability to project power and vulnerability in his vocals, as well as the unique and complementary harmonies he created when singing with Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, made for a style that would get copied for years after Alice in Chains became a household name. (de Sola 2012)
While I wouldn’t say I was ever a die-hard Alice in Chain’s fan, this particular track frequently graced the speakers of my CD player in late middle school and early high school. The dynamic melody, raw emotion, and eerie thickness and echo-laden space occupied by the vocals always impacted me powerfully and spread into my writing and singing, along with the tremolo sound in his voice. Billy Corgan recalled, “Layne had an amazing voice that had such a beautiful, sad, haunting quality about it” (de Sola 2012). These are traits of music that I enjoy most and implement heavily in my singing style, influenced by bands such as Alice in Chains as well as Cold, Cool Hand Luke, and Mercy Fall.
The 90s boasted of many great artists and songs alongside Alice in Chains, including The Offspring. As opposed to Alice in Chain’s alt-metal/grunge sound, The Offspring donned a style that combined punk and alternative rock. Fitting for the punk genre, Dexter Holland’s vocal delivery comes through much more dry and rough than Staley’s. His singing can be equally emotional and raw, such as in the song “Gone Away”, but he differs greatly from Staley’s haunting and distant-feeling vocals with his raspy, quick and choppy, close-up ones. Additionally, The language in The Offspring’s lyrics is much more straightforward and sonically decipherable than Alice in Chains’ often poetically ambiguous lyrics that are usually drawn out and slurred together.
Both bands’ albums, despite their different sounds, were engineered by Dave Jerden, who described what brought a band to his attention in an interview with Music Radar. “My forte was bringing alternative bands into the mainstream. Groups that were relegated to smaller labels and got attention in fanzines were the kinds of things that I gravitated towards. I treaded on the bits that other people missed, and they missed some good stuff” (Bosso 2013). The spread of both of these bands’ influence has seriously impacted music today, and there would be quite a void without the innovative and distinctive vocal creativity employed by both Layne Staley and Dexter Holland.
Bosso, J. (2013, October 30). Production legend Dave Jerden on 13 career-defining records. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/production-legend-dave-jerden-on…
Buchanan, B. (2012, April 05). DIRT PRODUCTION TEAM DISCUSS MAKING THE ALICE IN CHAINS ALBUM WITH LAYNE STALEY. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://archive.alternativenation.net/dirt-production-team-discuss-making…
De Sola, D. (2012, April 05). How Alice in Chains Found the Most Memorable Voice in Grunge. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/04/how-alice-in…