Pearl Jam's Mike McCready on "Powerful" Mad Season Reissue: "I Started Crying"

FUSE TV - Pearl Jam's Mike McCready on "Powerful" Mad Season Reissue: "I Started Crying"

In the fall of 1994, just months after Kurt Cobain's downward-spiral drug addiction ended in suicide, members of Seattle's white-hot grunge bands—Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Screaming Trees—found themselves back home pursuing a common goal: staying sober. It was this struggle, however (un)successful, that resulted in one of the best alt-rock albums of the '90s: Mad Season's Above.

Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, fresh out of rehab in Minnesota, returned to the Emerald City with John Baker Saunders, a jazz-blues bassist he met in treatment. To encourage their sobriety, he threw together an ad hoc band with Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. McCready then invited in the wild card, Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley, in an attempt to help his close friend overcome heroin addiction.

Open-ended jams quickly led to local shows at Seattle's infamous Crocodile Cafe, and soon to a recording studio. Above, released in March 1995, was notable for its varied styles; this wasn't just more sludge rock moping from Seattle; it was alt-jazz fusion. 

Saunders brought a moody, jazz-flecked groove to tracks like "Wake Up," "All Alone" and "Long Gone Day," which blends samba bass, xylophone, saxophone and backing vocals from another confidant, Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan. The LP also features some of the career-best lyrics from Staley, now free to experiment outside the confines of Alice in Chains. The centerpiece track is "River of Deceit," a shimmering guitar swell with Staley's skyward croon about his losing fight with addiction, but through the lens of Khalil Gibran's classic book of poetry, The Prophet: "My pain is self chosen / Or so the prophet said..."

Twenty years later and the band's goal is only half realized: Saunders relapsed and died of a heroin overdose in early 1999. Staley died of a cocaine and heroin overdose in April 2002. McCready and Martin lived. Above would be Mad Season's first and final album, only adding to its mythical status.

This week, a deluxe version of Above has been reissued, complete with covers, b-sides and even unearthed demos from a short-lived attempt at a second album, tentatively titled Disinformation, in 1996 (Staley, then severely addicted and rarely leaving home, never showed up to the sessions). 

McCready, who went on to record acclaimed albums with Pearl Jam, talks to Fuse about forming the band, recording Above, the reissue, Mad Season's legacy and more.

How has this album changed for you over the past 20 years?

When the band happened, it was an integral part of my life. I just got sober and I wanted to help out Layne. But I had a naive take on things back then. Everything was brand new with getting sober. I was uncomfortable writing songs in Pearl Jam because I felt like I was in a band with a lot of really good songwriters, and I didn’t assert myself as much as everyone else. Mad Season opened up that door to writing and having the confidence to write songs. I will always be totally grateful for that experience. I was like, "Oh I can do this too! I can write songs and I can communicate right with Layne and Barrett and Baker." It was an open pallet for Layne—it was like, "Write whatever kind of songs you want!"

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