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McCready onstage with Pearl Jam. Photo by Karen Loria
In 1994, Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready exited an alcohol rehabilitation center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition to successfully kicking his addictions there, McCready also met a kindred spirit in the form of Seattle-area bassist John Baker Saunders and the two bonded over their shared love in music. After they left Minnesota, McCready and Baker got together in Seattle and with Pearl Jam on a temporary hiatus, decided to form a musical side project. To fill out the group they enlisted the help of drummer Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees and Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley. Thus Mad Season was born.
Now, nearly 20 years later, McCready and Martin are reissuing Mad Season’s one and only album, Above. The album, currently available for pre-order, releases on April 2 and comes in a deluxe two-CD/one-DVD set. In addition to the original material, extras include previously unreleased tracks from the band's unfinished sophomore album with new lyrics and vocals by Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan. Also included is Mad Season’s first official DVD release of the group’s last show ever performed, Live At The Moore, and an unreleased full concert video of the band's New Year's Eve performance at now-defunct Seattle club RKCNDY.
We catch up with McCready to get the scoop on the Mad Season reissue as well as the gear he’s been favoring lately and what to expect from Pearl Jam in 2013.
How did the Mad Season project first come together?
When we got together in 1994 the initial idea of it from my point of view…I was in rehab for booze and I met this guy Baker [John Baker Saunders] in there who played bass and I liked a lot. He was just this funny, crusty old blues player who had some pretty cool stories and was cranking Bob Dylan in his room; I just immediately liked him. So I said, ‘Do you wanna play some blues sometime or come back to Seattle and jam?’ My thought process back then was to help people who were suffering from addictions or alcohol to maybe do a project. That was where my heart was at the time, however naïve it was. That’s kind of where the initial idea for Mad Season came from.
How did Layne Staley get involved?
I knew Layne was kind of on that journey so I called him and said, ‘Hey dude, you wanna come make a record?’ and he was into it. I told him that I wanted to play with Barrett Martin because I loved the Screaming Trees and he was a fantastic drummer and I had this guy Baker that he would probably like and then we all got together.
What was Layne’s contribution to Above?
I talked to Layne about it and said, ‘Hey man, you bring in whatever you want. You sing, you write the lyrics; you’re the man. If you have any song ideas bring them in.’ It was a free form thing that we all kind of did and it was an expressive thing out of that initial inclination to get us all kind of clean and sober. It didn’t end up working, but you have to live and learn. You have to do those things.
What was Layne’s state of mind like during this time?
His state of mind, from what I recall, was very receptive to doing these songs. I felt like he was singing honestly from his heart about his struggle and I felt that he was really into it. He would show up for everything we did and made decisions and had artwork. He was there 100 percent in my mind. He may have been struggling at that time with things, but my recollection was that he was there. If you listen to the lyrics I think that can kind of tell you where his mind was at that time.
Was it difficult to get so many guys from other bands all together at one time?
We were all luckily not doing anything at that time. Pearl Jam wasn’t in the studio, Alice in Chains wasn’t out on the road and the Screaming Trees were back so we had a little time. It ended up being like a window of six to eight months where we ended up playing six shows, filmed them, and did the record. We did a lot in a small period of time.
What were the sessions themselves like?
They were fun and kind of quick and easy. They sounded really raw to me. We had Brett Eliason, who was doing our Pearl Jam sound at the time, and I wanted him to do the record because I liked how he got sounds and we communicated in the same way. So we rehearsed a bit at a studio in West Seattle and just came up with rough ideas. They were all kind of songs that happened because of the four guys that were in the band. I guess that’s what happens in all situations, but they were songs that were different than what I would have brought to Pearl Jam at that time.
I’ve read that you used a Gibson EDS 1275 double-neck guitar on Above.
Yeah, the double-neck, yes I did. My kind of influence and brain at that time was way into Jimmy Page. I still have it and I think I used it on “Lifeless Dead” and a couple others. The one that sticks out the most and still kind of does in a haunting sort of way is the last song, “All Alone.” If you can hear that, you know what it is. I was playing the 6-string neck with the pickups off so you’re getting the relative harmonics off that with what is happening on the 12-string neck up top with the pickups on. That actually happened out of an accident, I was just messing around trying to get the 6-string neck to work but I didn’t have my switches on in the right order but I heard this chiming kind of thing coming out of the guitar. I was like ‘We gotta do something with this, let’s just jam on it.’