Its Sunday, October 16, 1994. A new band - or so it seems - takes the stage at Seattles Crocodile Cafe. The audience waits expectantly, curious about what kind of music these newcomers (so new they dont even have a name yet) will provide. But, a closer look at the musicians on stage reveals that these guys arent newcomers at all. The band features members from some of the biggest groups in rock today: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, the Screaming Trees. But the music doesnt sound like any of those groups; the guys on-stage have a clear and distinctive musical identity, one drawn equally from the realms of rock and the back-rooms of the blues.
Meet Mad Season. A sound that began as jam session among friends a half-year ago has evolved into a startling new album, ABOVE. The group began when Pearl Jam's guitarist Mike McCready set up some informal jam sessions for himself and two friends: Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, and Baker, a bassist McCready had met in Minneapolis, who has played with such blues talents as Little Pat Rushing, Hubert Sumlin, Sammy Fender, and the Lamont Cranston Band. Two of the songs on the record ('Wake Up' and 'River of Deceit') were written instantly when we first sat down and played," says Baker. We knew that a really good spark was happening. It was obvious that we had something good going. McCready then gave Layne Staley, Alice In Chains' lead singer, a call and asked him to join in the fun. Staley arrived, with guitar in hand and a head-full of lyric ideas, and the new band's musical mix got even hotter.
The next logical step was to play in front of an audience. McCready again took the lead, arranging for an unannounced show at the Crocodile Cafe. The fact that the band didnt have even one complete song prepared (...only jams and beginnings of songs, Martin admits) did not prove to be a hindrance; in fact, one number, Artificial Red, which the band would later record, actually came together during the show itself, evolving out of a jam. Two more gigs followed at the Crocodile, with the band billing themselves as the Gacy Bunch (paying simultaneous homage to John Wayne Gacy, the "Killer Clown" of Chicago, and a beloved sitcom from the 1970's).
By this time, the guys realized their new group was destined to be more than an occasional gathering of friends at a local club. We could tell that we had some pretty god songs, says Martin. Recording just seemed logical, really. The band also decided that a name change was in order, and so, the Gacy Bunch became Mad Season, an English term for the time of the year when psilocybin mushrooms are in full bloom. A quick ten day recording session at Seattles Bad Animals studio (co-owned by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart) resulted in the eleven songs on ABOVE, co-produced by the band and Pearl Jam sound engineer Brett Eliason.
Mad Seasons music is a powerful blend of blues and heavy rock, a potent combination of Staleys lyrics and the bands musical creations. Although theyre Laynes words they speak for all of us, says Baker. The lyrics are very autobiographical. Theyre about changes in the attitude about whats important and whats not. Wake Up kicks off the album on a dreamy note, ushering the listener into a sad, sometimes desolate, world, balanced by songs like River of Deceit," a slow, thoughtful number that offers the hope of salvation. (River was chosen as ABOVEs first single because, as Martin says, the essence of the band is there.") Blues influences are apparent on numbers like Artificial Red; the spontaneity of the sessions is captured in November Hotels," an instrumental, based on one of the band's jams, that begins as a deceptively low key piece, before building to a whirling storm. Screaming Trees lead singer, Mark Lanegan, makes a guest appearance on two tracks, Im Above and Long Gone Day (co-writing lyrics on the latter number). Layne and I had been saying that those two particular songs would lend themselves very nicely to Marks voice, explains Martin. Mark came in and they went into the studio and we left them alone. They did some amazing things together. ABOVE stretches all of the musicians in new directions very different from their usual styles. As Layne Staley puts it, "This is a nice band. It's loose, but there's a lot of thought put into it, too. And room to put in pure feeling and emotion."
After giving their Seattle audience a preview of their sound, Mad Season let the rest of the world listen in, via an appearance on Pearl Jams Self-Pollution Radio worldwide broadcast on January 8, 1995, performing Lifeless Dead and I Dont Know Anything." The band follows up that musical hors d'oueuvre with the release of ABOVE on March 14. (A limited edition vinyl version of the record released a week earlier featured two-disks packaged in a gatefold sleeve, with music on three sides of the album, and an etching on the fourth side.) A short tour is also planned in support of the album.
And what else lies in Mad Seasons future? Another album, the band members hope, and more good times, either on stage or in more casual settings. As corny as it sounds, we are friends and we like playing together, says Martin. Its fun getting together in the basement and just noodling around.