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Mad Season was an American rock supergroup formed in 1994 as a side project of members of other bands in the Seattle grunge scene. The band's principal members included guitarist Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, lead singer Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, drummer Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees and bassist John Baker Saunders. Mad Season released only one album, Above, in March 1995. Its first single, "River of Deceit", was a radio success, and Above was certified a gold record by the RIAA in June.
The band went on a semi-permanent hiatus in 1996 due to the band members' conflicting schedules and Staley's problems with substance abuse. Attempts were made in the late 1990s to revive the group without Staley, and material for a follow-up release to Above had been worked on; however, the band dissolved following the death of bassist John Baker Saunders in 1999 from a drug overdose. Staley also died of a drug overdose three years later. Martin and McCready have since made two short partial reunions, one in 2012 and one from 2014 to 2015. A special edition box set containing a remastered edition of Above and various unreleased material was released in March 2013.
During the production of 1994's Vitalogy, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready went into drug and alcohol rehab at the Hazelden Clinic in Minnesota, where he met bassist John Baker Saunders. In 1994, when the two returned to Seattle, Washington, they formed a side band with drummer Barrett Martin. McCready played in such bands as Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog, Martin with Skin Yard and the Screaming Trees and Saunders with blues talents such as Little Pat Rushing, Hubert Sumlin, Sammy Fender, and The Lamont Cranston Band. Immediately the trio set up rehearsal time together and wrote the music for two songs that would later become Mad Season's "Wake Up" and "River of Deceit", both of which would later appear on the band's album Above. McCready then brought in friend and Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley to round out the line-up. McCready had hoped that being around sober musicians would push Staley to get himself sober.
Despite not having a single song completely prepared (only beginnings of songs, according to Martin) and not even having a name for the band, McCready scheduled an unannounced show at the Crocodile Cafe on October 12, 1994, which turned out to be a big success. The song "Artificial Red", which was also to appear on the album, actually came together during the show itself. Two more gigs were scheduled (November 6 & 20, 1994) at the same venue, with the band calling itself The Gacy Bunch, after both the notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy of Chicago and the 1970s sitcom The Brady Bunch. On January 8, 1995, the band made an appearance on Pearl Jam's Self-Pollution satellite radio broadcast, a four-and-a-half-hour-long pirate broadcast out of Seattle which was available to any radio stations that wanted to carry it, performing "Lifeless Dead" and "I Don't Know Anything".
After gaining more popularity, the band recorded its only album and changed its name to Mad Season, which is an English term for the time of the year when psilocybin mushrooms are in full bloom, and a term which McCready related to "the seasons of drinking and drug abuse." The album, Above, which was recorded in Seattle, Washington at Bad Animals Studio (co-owned by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart) and co-produced by the band and Pearl Jam sound engineer Brett Eliason, featured ten songs. It also included guest vocals and additional lyrics by Screaming Trees frontman and solo artist Mark Lanegan. McCready said, "We did all the Mad Season music in about seven days. It took Layne just a few more days to finish his vocals, which was intense since we only rehearsed twice and did four shows." The album was released on March 14, 1995 through Columbia Records to critical and commercial success. Over the course of 1995, Above scaled the Billboard 200, eventually peaking at No. 24 and spawning two singles: "River of Deceit" (#2 Mainstream Rock Tracks, No. 9 Modern Rock Tracks) and "I Don't Know Anything" (#20 Mainstream Rock Tracks). Above was certified gold on June 14, 1995.
McCready described the songs on the album as "some jazzy stuff, some blues, some arena rock." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic said that the album "sounds like a cross between Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, taking the ponderous seriousness of Alice and PJ's '90s update of winding '70s guitar rock." Staley's lyrics dealt with his personal troubles, with Martin saying, "Layne Staley felt as though he was on a spiritual mission through his music." During the lyric writing process, Staley was reading the book The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, which was a strong influence on the lyrics and the overall tone of the album. "I Don't Know Anything" is a heavier, blues-influenced track, while "Long Gone Day" takes considerable jazz influence, combining the use of samba-style bass, xylophone, and saxophone.
Staley is credited for writing all the lyrics on the original release within the liner notes of the 2013 deluxe issue. As was the case with much of his work with Alice in Chains, Staley's lyrics dealt with his struggle against addiction as well as other personal troubles. Lyrically, much of "River of Deceit" was inspired by Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. Vocalist Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees contributes guest vocals on "I'm Above" and "Long Gone Day"; he is also credited for co-writing the music to those tracks along with McCready and Martin. Lanegan also wrote the lyrics for the three bonus tracks on Disc 1 of the deluxe issue - "Locomotive", "Black Book of Fear", and "Slip Away". R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck is credited for co-writing the music to "Black Book of Fear" along with McCready, Martin, Saunders, and Lanegan. Read more on Last.fm
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