Music History

Layne Staley Kept a Dead Puppy at His Side While Recording the Alice In Chains Masterpiece ‘Dirt’

A recent Alice in Chains biography reveals macabre details about the iconic singer's studio environment

alice in chains making of dirt

Layne Staley live, 1992. Photo by Rex Aran Emrick

Alice in Chains were easily the most morbid band of the grunge era. Lyrical themes of death and drug abuse permeate the band’s 1992 classic, Dirt. According to a recent biography of the band, virtuoso vocalist Layne Staley achieved the brooding tone of the album partially by creating a disturbingly macabre environment in the studio.

The story comes via David de Sola’s book Alice in Chains: The Untold Story. While recording Dirt, Staley built a “shrine” of inspirational items in his vocal booth, and asked production staff to build a wall around his area so that he could have complete privacy. According to Dirt engineer Bryan Carlstrom, this shrine included “candles and a picture of the Last Supper, and then a dead puppy in a jar.” Assistant engineer Annette Cisneros said, “It was scary back there. I tried not to go back there.” By keeping a dead animal at his side, the singer had literally surrounded himself with death.

The details reveal the darkness of Staley’s creative headspace as he recorded some of the best vocal tracks in rock history on classic songs like ‘Would?’ and ‘Rooster.’ The dark tone is consistent on the Alice in Chains masterpiece, as Staley wails lyrics like, “It’s gonna rain when I die.” Staley lost his battle with drug addiction in 2002.

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