The one and only Mad Season album with Layne Staley "Above" is one of my favorite albums to come out of Seattle in the 90s. I know its a tall order. But the damn thing is a masterpiece. It's lightning in a bottle, if you will. Combined with the self titled third album by Alice In Chains (both released in 1995) this was Layne Staley's swan song. It is a legendary and dark final statement, from a super talented man.
Originally named "The Gacy Bunch" the band was the brain child of Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. They would obviously change the name to "Mad Season", referencing the time of year in which psilocybin mushrooms are in bloom. How cool is that? From a couple of guys fresh out of rehab, this is an interesting way to start off a clean slate of sobriety. It added an element of mystique to the group in this way, and definitely had people talking. The elusive and demon riddled Layne Staley as vocalist for the band would only further add to the folklore. In any regard, its a dangerous name. Its a rock n roll name. And thats why I think its so rad and simply legendary.
During a short stint in rehab for alcohol addiction in 1995, McCready met Bassist John Baker Saunders and they quickly became friends. After rehab, they decided to start this band. What is interesting to me about this part of the story, is that reportedly Saunders had no idea who Pearl Jam or Alice In Chains were. He had never heard of the bands! And at this point in the mid 1990's, this is hard to imagine. Both bands were mega huge at the time. When interviewed by MusicRadar.com, McCready elaborated on the relationship: "It started with John Baker Saunders. He doesn't get talked about a lot in the history of Mad Season. It was pretty awesome when he moved to Seattle. He fit right into the scene here; he had a cynicism and dark side that worked with all of the Seattle guys". He would quickly be thrown into the pop culture whirlwind of the Seattle music scene. I doubt that he had any idea that he would play sold out shows and perform on a gold selling album. Not to mention that Saunders was a pretty damn good bass player! It really is a wonder that McCready just happened to be lucky enough to bump into such a talented performer.
The music on the Above was recorded in seven days at Bad Animal Studios in Seattle. It was released on March 14th 1995. The album would go on to reach #24 on the Billboard Charts and would sell 500,000 copies by June of that year. The band would only play a few shows in Seattle to support the album. Thankfully, two of the shows were filmed and included on the 2013 deluxe reissue. Even though the band was realistically only around for a span of six months originally, most of it was documented. It would have been pretty sad if it wasn't. I was thrilled to see a vinyl re-release of this album. My copy is the 2013 reissue on 180 gram, and it sounds fantastic. This music was meant to be listened to in this format. It sounds even better now, than when it was originally released. Time has been kind to the Mad Season record. Under my roof it is classic, and is what I call "lifelong music", never to be parted from.