“I remember that we laughed a lot,” says Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, of writing Above, the lone (and beloved) 1995 release from Seattle supergroup Mad Season. “We laughed about being sober for the first time, and the newsness of that. We laughed at ourselves and a lot of the stupid things we’d done as young men.”
It’s a memory that stands in moving contrast to the soon-to-be-reissued full-length’s relatively somber origin story: Having just left a rehab facility in Minnesota after the completion of 1994’s Vitalogy, Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready approached Martin and Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley about the prospect of writing together, in hopes of helping the latter gain some distance from a battle with addiction that would haunt him until his death in 2002. Joining them on bass was late Chicago native John “Baker” Saunders, a friend and fellow rehab alum. “It was kind of a failed attempt at trying to get everybody to not be drinking or doing drugs,” says McCready. “Not that you can really control that. You have to figure that out for yourself. It’s been really hard to go back and listen. I miss Baker. I miss Layne. I wonder how Layne would be met these days, what kind of music he’d be making or if he’d be a father. And his lyrics [on Above] in particular still sound fresh to me. They still make me feel, and that’s good.”
Above, Martin adds, is the only album comprised entirely of Staley-penned lyrics, many of which were inspired by a spiritually minded, Kahlil Gibran-enriched stack of books the late vocalist carried with him from place to place in a backpack. Coupled with compositions that remain outliers for their time, the result was a delicate, blues-driven set whose recording the foursome financed themselves, just weeks after they performed for the first time at a sold-out performance at Seattle’s legendary Crocodile Cafe. “It has a certain mood and a certain quality to it that no other records of that time really have,” says Martin. “There’s a real atmosphere to it. And when I listen to it, it just makes me happy. I’m sad about my friends being gone, but I also feel proud that we all left behind a beautiful piece of music. You can’t always say that.”
On April 2, the album will get a deluxe re-release in expanded form, including three songs originally meant to appear on Disinformation, a second Mad Season full-length that never came to be. And because Staley never recorded vocal takes, Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan stepped in to complete them with fresh vocals and lyrics of his own. Hear the genesis of both the reissue (which also includes a disc dedicated to the group’s show at Seattle’s Moore Theater on April 29, 1995) and that collaboration in the exclusive mini-doc above. You can pre-order it now on iTunes, Amazon and Pearl Jam’s Ten Club store. Additionally, there will be double 12″ LP of the re-issue made available for Record Store Day on April 20.