an Interview with David De Sola, author of Alice In Chains the untold story

an Interview with David De Sola, author of Alice In Chains the untold story
Hello David welcome to Music Congratulation for your book its an awesome work.
Thank you for having me!

Name your 10 favorite bands and singers.
AC/DC, The Beatles, The Clash, Jimi Hendrix, Joy Division, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols, Sparta, U2.

Who were your favorite 90's artists?
Chemical Brothers, Guns n Roses, Jeff Buckley, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Oasis, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Tool.

What was the first time you have ever listened to Alice in Chains and which were your first thoughts on their music?

I was living in the Netherlands from 1989-1994 when the grunge/alternative rock explosion happened. I discovered most of the bands from that era by watching MTV (usually shows like 120 Minutes, Beavis and Butthead, or Headbangers Ball) or talking to my friends at school. I definitely heard Alice in Chains during this period, probably “Man in the Box,” “Them Bones,” or “Rooster.” My initial impression – particularly of “Them Bones” – was that it was very heavy, but at the same time very different from the other big bands of the day: Guns n Roses, Nirvana, and Black Album-era Metallica. That impression was confirmed when I heard the rest of the Dirt album.

What was your favorite music era and the favorite album so far?
I suppose we are all nostalgic for the music we grew up with, regardless of which generation we belong to, and I’m no different. Musically, I have a lot of fond memories of the 90s, especially the early years of the decade. It seemed to me like every other week, somebody was releasing a great record, material which has stood the test of time. In retrospect, that was a pretty amazing period.
Favorite album is a tough one because there are so many that have impacted me in some way or another over the years. Today, I’d say it’s a toss-up between U2’s Achtung Baby, The Clash’s London Calling, and Guns n’ Roses Appetite for Destruction.

Why did you to write a book about Alice in Chains and not another band? What was the reason?
In the summer of 2011, I was working full time at the CBS News program 60 Minutes and taking summer classes at Georgetown University, where I was a graduate student. Between work and school, I had a lot of reading and homework to do. While working one night, I put on the Dirt album for the first time in a long time and played it all the way through. I was reminded of what a fantastic album it was. I searched for more information, thinking somebody must have written a biography of Layne or the band. but didn’t find anything along the lines of what I was looking for. It was at that point I got the idea of writing it myself.

What was the process and how long did it take?
The whole thing, from initial concept to final draft took about three years to get it ready for publication.
I took five or six trips to Seattle to do research and interviews for the books, trying to retrace the band’s steps and history as best as I could. I also took a trip to Dallas to meet with the former manager of the Music Bank, who had a lot of business records and documents from his time running the place while Alice in Chains were there and Layne was one of his employees. I also did a lot of interviews over the phone so that would free up time for me to do other things while in Seattle.
Beyond that, I researched as many interviews and articles about the band from their 20+ year career that I could get my hands on, and filed many requests for public records – enough to fill several binders on my bookshelf. All these different materials combined became the basis for the book.

Was it difficult to reach all these people and all these details, I have to say that its one of the most detailed books I’ve ever read.
One thing that worked in my favor is that Seattle was (and still is) a small, close-knit music community. A lot of people knew each other going back to the 1980s and have kept in touch or reconnected in recent years thanks to the Internet and social media. As I did interviews, I would often be referred to other sources people thought I should talk to.
I started working on this book in August of 2011 – about nine years after Layne’s death and almost six months after Mike Starr passed away. Speaking generally, I think enough time had passed that people felt comfortable talking about the person they knew and who he really was.

I really enjoyed reading the book as far as I did with Greg Prato's Grunge is Dead, I think the last chapters left me with a very sad feeling. Did it have the same impact on you trying to write about Layne's last years?
It was difficult asking sources about the drug issues in the story, for both Layne and his fiancée Demri Parrott, as well as Mad Season bassist John Baker Saunders, Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood and Kurt Cobain. It was sad to hear about and write, and I took no pleasure in doing so. However, my responsibility was to get the facts and follow the story regardless of where it took me.

Who were your childhood heroes?

I have two older cousins I looked up to a great deal when I was growing up, who I am still close to and whose opinion I value greatly. Beyond them, I think most kids have a professional sports phase at some point and I was no different. Like so many people who came of age in the 1990s, I was a huge fan of Michael Jordan, and still am. Seems like everybody wanted to be like Mike at one point! These days, my heroes are writers and journalists, some of which I’ve been fortunate to meet or work with in my career: Bob Woodward, Peter Bergen, Mark Bowden, and Steve Coll are a few that come to mind.

After all this research what kind of guy was Layne Staley, which were his basic characteristics as a human being?
He was a very caring and generous individual – to people he was close to and sometimes to complete strangers – even before he became successful. He also had a wickedly funny sense of humor that could keep everybody laughing. He had an incredible and unique voice, not just for singing but also to mimic other voices and do dead-on impressions. Though his formal education ended after high school, he was a very smart and witty character in terms of interviews or carrying a conversation, in addition to becoming an accomplished lyricist. These are the traits most people choose to remember about him rather than his drug issues.

Which interviews were the most intriguing, who is the best story teller from all the people you reached for The Untold Story?
Many of the people I interviewed were going on the record for the first time. That they would trust me enough to answer my questions and be involved with my book was an enormously rewarding and humbling experience for me. Layne’s relatives who spoke to me shed a lot of light on his formative years, as well as who he was as a person and a family member, before and after he was famous. David Ballenger – Layne’s old boss at the Music Bank – was a gold mine of information for stories about the building and the bands who were part of that scene. The producers and engineers who were there for the making of the various records were critical sources, because it’s the band’s music that people care about as much as the individuals. I was fortunate to interview Bryan Carlstrom, the engineer on Dirt, about a year before he passed away. I am profoundly grateful for all of my sources, because they made this book possible.

Any cool new bands you want to mention. What are you listen to lately?
I’ll plug two bands from Los Angeles, where I live now. Check out Haim and Nightmare Air. Beyond them, I got into Explosions in the Sky a few months ago and think they’re fantastic.

Do you like the new version of Alice in Chains?

Yes. I think the choice of William DuVall as new co-vocalist/guitarist was an inspired one, not a derivative one. He comes from a musical upbringing different from his AIC bandmates, so he had his own identity long before he joined the band. He doesn’t try to be Layne, even though that’s the unfairly high standard that he’s held to. He’s confident being himself and contributing his own part to the Alice in Chains sound.

Should we expect a new book from David de Sola?
I’m developing a few other projects at the moment, but none of them are music-related. I may do another music or band biography somewhere down the line, but in the meantime I’m going to try my hand at something very different.

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