“That was when I knew we had really accomplished something”: Alice In Chains on the transformative success of their Jar Of Flies EP as it turns 30

Alice In Chains in 1990
(Image credit: Krasner/Trebitz /Redferns)

This week marks the 30th anniversary of Jar Of Flies, a milestone release in the Alice In Chains catalogue. It was by no means a breakthrough for the grunge pioneers – their 1992 second record Dirt had already been a huge success – but it was the predominantly-acoustic Jar Of Flies that showed Layne Staley, Jerry Cantrell & co. they could expand their sonic horizons without doing it at the expense of commercial success. “We couldn’t believe that it did so well,” Cantrell told Guitar World. “That was when I knew we had really accomplished something… The success of Jar Of Flies showed us that we could do what we liked and other people would like it too.”

Jar Of Flies was not the first time that Alice In Chains had dabbled with a more stripped-down sound, but its creation did involve a number of other firsts. For starters, the sessions were initially booked to help bed in new bassist Mike Inez. Secondly, despite Cantrell beckoning producer Toby Wright down to Seattle’s London Bridge studios to helm the sessions, the band had zero material prepared. “We went into the studio with no songs written to check out the chemistry,” recalled drummer Sean Kinney. “It all fell into place.”

To listen to Jar Of Flies is to hear a band in the midst of an imperial phase. On the back of Dirt and the heavy touring that followed, Alice In Chains were at the top of their game, magicking up some of their most captivating and poignant songs on the spot – the solemn, minor-chord strums of Nutshell, for one, is an AiC all-timer.

But where an EP might be code for ‘stop-gap, it’s actually not that good’ for other groups, for Alice In Chains it represented a whole leap forward. Released this week in 1994, it entered the Billboard 200 at Number One, making it both the first ever EP to top the charts and the first Alice In Chains release to do so. Its success no doubt proved to the head honchos at MTV that Alice In Chains would be the perfect guests for an Unplugged session, sparking the idea for their classic set two years later. Unfortunately, it was momentum they wouldn’t be able to build on, Staley’s drug-use derailing them over the next few years, but Jar Of Flies is integral to Alice In Chains’ legacy as one of the most mesmeric groups to emerge from grunge. They could rock harder than most but this was them at their fragile, monumental best.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.