Jump to content

Jar of Flies

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jar of Flies
EP by
ReleasedJanuary 25, 1994 (1994-01-25)
RecordedSeptember 7–14, 1993[1]
StudioLondon Bridge (Seattle)[1]
ProducerAlice in Chains
Alice in Chains chronology
Jar of Flies
Alice in Chains
Singles from Jar of Flies
  1. "No Excuses"
    Released: 1994
  2. "I Stay Away"
    Released: March 1994
  3. "Don't Follow"
    Released: October 1994

Jar of Flies is the third studio EP by American rock band Alice in Chains. It was released on January 25, 1994, by Columbia Records. The band's second acoustic EP, after 1992's Sap, it was the first EP in music history to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, with the first week sales exceeding 141,000 copies in the United States. The self-produced record was written and recorded over the course of just one week at the London Bridge Studio in Seattle. The tracks "No Excuses", "I Stay Away" and "Don't Follow" were released as singles to promote the EP. Jar of Flies was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 1995: Best Recording Package and Best Hard Rock Performance for "I Stay Away".

The EP was well received by critics and has been certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), making Jar of Flies one of the band's most successful releases. In Canada, Jar of Flies was certified double platinum for sales of 200,000 copies. In the United Kingdom, the album was certified silver after selling 60,000 copies there.

Background and recording[edit]

Following Alice in Chains' extensive 1993 world tour for Dirt, bassist Mike Starr getting fired during the tour for his drug use,[6] and Ozzy Osbourne bassist Mike Inez joining the band,[7] the members returned home to Seattle after the end of their Lollapalooza tour and found themselves evicted from their residence after failing to pay the rent. Homeless, the band then moved into the London Bridge Studio in Seattle.[8]

During Alice in Chains' June–August 1993 appearance at Lollapalooza,[9] guitarist Jerry Cantrell called producer Toby Wright with a proposal to collaborate on new material. Wright reacted positively and booked ten days at the London Bridge Studio. Despite Cantrell's assurances, the band did not have any planned tracks before the session began.[1] Drummer Sean Kinney had said, "After playing loud music for a year, we'd come home and the last thing we wanted to do was crank up the amps right away. That stuff was written on buses and whenever we had downtime. We did Jar of Flies to see how it was to record with [bassist] Mike Inez. We just went into the studio with no songs written, to check out the chemistry. It all fell into place. The sounds and the tones were really good. We thought it would be a waste not to put that material out."[10]

The first session took place on September 7, 1993.[1] Vocalist Layne Staley said the band "just wanted to go into the studio for a few days with our acoustic guitars and see what happened. We never really planned on the music we made at that time to be released. But the record label heard it and they really liked it. For us, it was just the experience of four guys getting together in the studio and making some music."[11] The album's sessions lasted 14–18 hours a day,[1] and recording was complete within seven days.[12] Assistant engineer Jonathan Plum described the sessions as "exhaustive".[1] The album was recorded on tape on a Neve 80-68 mixing console because Wright wanted the album's acoustic sound to be as natural as possible. Staley instructed that Pro Tools not be used within the studio; as Wright explained, "Layne absolutely had a working knowledge of his sonic preferences in the studio - and felt analog sounded better for the band's sound."[13] The album's tracks were mostly recorded within one or two takes.[14]

The album's acoustic guitar sound was particularly focused on. Wright recalled that "at some points we overdubbed some acoustics with micing those acoustics, but when they were recording live off the floor, I'd use whatever pick-ups [Cantrell] had in his guitars at the time, trying to keep that sound as close to acoustic-sounding as possible. So that it sounded like it was an acoustic guitar instead of an electrified acoustic guitar." Cantrell played using Ovation guitars during the album's sessions. To reflect the recording's acoustic climate, Kinney sometimes used brushes to obtain a softer feel. AKG 414 microphones were used for overhead registration, while D-12s were used for the floor and rack toms, and Sennheiser MD 421s were placed on the kick drum. 451s and 57s were mounted on the top side of the snare drum, while a 441 was fitted on the bottom side.[13]

The characteristic syncopated drum opening in "No Excuses" was a result of Kinney's improvised experimentation with side-stick drumming. Wright was not an advocate of the technique and said that they "eventually wound up with some bongos and some smaller drums set up over the hi-hat that we incorporated into that groove."[14] Staley wrote much of the album's lyrics within the studio and arranged the album's vocal harmonies. Wright recalled the pace of Staley's work as quick, and that the vocal tracks were recorded within one or two takes via a Neumann M-49 microphone.[13] Cantrell performed the lead vocals in the track "Don't Follow".[15] Wright described Cantrell as an "awesome" singer, and stressed that "you couldn't have done all those harmonies without him."[13] The album's sessions concluded on September 14. Wright mixed the album at Scream Studios in Los Angeles, California from September 17–22.[1]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Due to the dominance of acoustic instruments in Jar of Flies, the album is often considered a continuation of the sound adopted by the band on the 1992 EP Sap.[10][16] The album demonstrates the band's wide range by offering a variety of tracks with an acoustic texture,[17] featuring elements of blues rock[18] and jangle pop.[19] Steve Huey of AllMusic stressed that "the mood is still hopelessly bleak, but the poignant, introspective tone produces a sense of acceptance that's actually soothing, in a funereal sort of way. Jerry Cantrell's arrangements keep growing more detailed and layered; while there are a few noisy moments, most of Jar of Flies is bathed in a clean, shimmering ambience whose source is difficult to pin down".[20] Paul Evans of Rolling Stone stated that Staley's vocals on the tracks "Swing on This" and "Rotten Apple" "ow[e] as much to Styx and Kansas as Jerry Cantrell’s guitars do to Black Sabbath", and that the vocals "evoke pathos as well as anger."[21] Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly noted that "No Excuses" has a '70s-influenced style and described "Swing on This" as "postmodern boogie-woogie".[22] The album's lyrics are dark and gloomy, with Huey writing that "Jar of Flies is about living with the consequences, full of deeply felt reflections on loneliness, self-imposed isolation, and lost human connections."[20] Jon Pareles of The New York Times observed that "Alice in Chains prizes solitude on Jar of Flies, a set of songs about rugged individualism turned into exile."[23]

Title and packaging[edit]

The album's title originates from a science experiment that Cantrell conducted in third grade. The experiment consisted of maintaining two jars full of flies. The flies in one jar would be overfed, while the flies in the other jar would be underfed. The flies that were overfed reproduced rapidly, but then died from overcrowding. The flies that were underfed managed to survive throughout the year. Concerning the anecdote, Staley said "I guess there's a message in there somewhere. Evidently that experiment had a big impact on Jerry."[11]

Rocky Schenck photographed the album cover in his dining room on September 8, 1993. As he recalled, "The band had come up with the idea for the title and wanted the cover to be a young boy looking into a jar filled with flies. I remember they asked me to use 'crazy colors' in the shot, so I utilized lots of different gels over the lights to achieve the final look." Schenck's assistant took several trips to a nearby horse stable where he caught hundreds of flies using a butterfly net.[15] On January 27, 2019, two days following the album's 25th anniversary, Schenck published rare outtakes from the album cover shoot on his Instagram account and said that he has forgotten the name of the kid on the cover.[24]

The first pressing of the compact disc for Jar of Flies included plastic flies visible on the front view of the clear spine.[25] It earned a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package.[26] The record received a multi-format reissue for its 30th anniversary in 2024. One of them was a vinyl record with the carcasses of real flies pressed into it and limited to 100 copies.[27]

Release and reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Chicago Tribune[28]
Entertainment WeeklyB−[22]
Los Angeles Times[29]
The Philadelphia Inquirer[31]
Rolling Stone[21]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[33]
Spin Alternative Record Guide8/10[34]

Jar of Flies was released on January 25, 1994, by Columbia Records. The album was promoted by two singles, "No Excuses" and "I Stay Away", both of which received music videos. "No Excuses" reached #1 on the Album Rock Tracks chart, becoming the first single by the band to do so.[35][36] Cantrell admitted that "we couldn't believe that it did so well," and that "the success of Jar of Flies showed us that we could do what we liked and that other people would like it too."[10] A limited edition Enhanced CD was produced. This version of the album includes a lyric sheet, a biography and discography of the band, the music videos for "No Excuses" and "I Stay Away" and fragments of interviews with the musicians.[13] In addition, 2,500 copies were made of a double EP including Jar of Flies and Sap.[18][37]

The album entered the Billboard 200 chart at number one;[38] with first week sales of over 141,000 copies, becoming the first ever EP and first Alice in Chains release to top the charts.[39] It was the only EP ever to gain this distinction until 2004, when the Collision Course mashup EP by Jay-Z and Linkin Park also achieved the number one spot ten years later,[40] and Bad Meets Evil's EP Hell: The Sequel in 2011.[41] Jar of Flies sold 2,037,853 copies during its first year[42] and was later certified triple platinum in 1995 and quadruple platinum in 2022.[43]

Paul Evans of Rolling Stone called the EP "darkly gorgeous",[21] and Steve Huey stated "Jar of Flies is a low-key stunner, achingly gorgeous and harrowingly sorrowful all at once."[20]

Awards and accolades[edit]

The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package in 1995,[44] but lost to Buddy Jackson for "Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys" performed by Asleep at the Wheel.[45] The single "I Stay Away" was nominated for the Best Hard Rock Performance.[46]

In November 2011, Jar of Flies was ranked No. 4 on Guitar World magazine's top ten list of guitar albums of 1994.[47]

It was featured on Guitar World magazine's "Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994" list in 2014.[48]

In April 2014, Jar of Flies was ranked No. 12 on Rolling Stone's "40 Best Records From Mainstream Alternative's Greatest Year" list.[49] In May 2014, the EP was placed at No. 5 on Loudwire's "10 Best Hard Rock Albums of 1994" list.[5]

In April 2019, the EP was ranked No. 42 on Rolling Stone's "50 Greatest Grunge Albums" list.[4]


Jar of Flies served as inspiration for Strung Out's 2018 acoustic EP, Black Out the Sky.[50]

Cane Hill's lead vocalist Elijah Witt said that Jar of Flies was a major influence on the band's 2019 acoustic EP, Kill the Sun.[51]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Layne Staley, except where noted. All music written or co-written by Jerry Cantrell, co-writers are listed below.

1."Rotten Apple" Mike Inez6:58
2."Nutshell" Inez, Sean Kinney4:19
3."I Stay Away" Inez4:14
4."No Excuses"Cantrell 4:15
5."Whale & Wasp"instrumental 2:37
6."Don't Follow"Cantrell 4:22
7."Swing on This" Inez, Kinney4:04
Total length:30:49


Alice in Chains

Additional performers

  • April Acevez – viola
  • Rebecca Clemons-Smith – violin
  • Matthew Weiss – violin
  • Justine Foy – violoncello
  • David Atkinson – harmonica
  • Randy Biro – additional vocals
  • Darrel Peters – additional vocals


  • Produced by Alice in Chains
  • Engineered and mixed by Toby Wright
  • Assisted by Liz Sroka and Jon Plum
  • Art direction by Mary Maurer
  • Photography by Rocky Schenck
  • Band photography by Pete Cronin
  • Electron Microscope photography by Alicia K. Thompson
  • Management by Susan Silver



Certifications for Jar of Flies
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[72] 2× Platinum 200,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[73] Platinum 15,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[74] Silver 60,000^
United States (RIAA)[43] 4× Platinum 4,000,000

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g de Sola 2015, p. 207.
  2. ^ Anderson 2007, p. 219.
  3. ^ Yarm 2012, p. 484.
  4. ^ a b "50 Greatest Grunge Albums". Rolling Stone. April 1, 2019. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  5. ^ a b Carroll, Rob (May 20, 2014). "10 Best Hard Rock Albums of 1994". Loudwire. Archived from the original on June 25, 2014. Retrieved May 21, 2014.
  6. ^ de Sola 2015, pp. 191–194.
  7. ^ "Jerry Cantrell & Mike Inez of Alice in Chains Join The RE Show in Studio - 8/14/17". The Rich Eisen Show. August 14, 2017. Retrieved May 2, 2018 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ "Alice In Chains". Archived from the original on March 1, 2000. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  9. ^ Yarm 2012, p. 423.
  10. ^ a b c Gill, Chris (September 1999). "Alice in Chains – Dirt". Guitar World. pp. 53–60. ISSN 1045-6295. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Andrews, Rob (June 1994). "Alice in Chains: A Step Beyond Layne's World". Hit Parader. Archived from the original on September 8, 2006. Retrieved January 24, 2019.
  12. ^ Prato 2009, p. 405.
  13. ^ a b c d e Brown 2010.
  14. ^ a b de Sola 2015, p. 208.
  15. ^ a b de Sola 2015, p. 209.
  16. ^ Anderson 2007, p. 96, 219.
  17. ^ Anderson 2007, p. 96.
  18. ^ a b Gillian G. Gaar (August 5, 1994). "A Band Called Alice". Goldmine. pp. 54–56, 58. ISSN 1055-2685.
  19. ^ Weiss, Dan (October 6, 2016). "The 10 Best Alice In Chains Songs". Stereogum. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  20. ^ a b c d Huey, Steve. "Jar of Flies – Alice in Chains". AllMusic. Retrieved January 1, 2008.
  21. ^ a b c Evans, Paul (March 24, 1994). "Jar of Flies". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on March 12, 2022. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  22. ^ a b Sinclair, Tom (January 28, 1994). "Jar of Flies". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
  23. ^ Pareles, Jon (March 6, 1994). "RECORDINGS VIEW; Lightening Up On the Gloom In Grunge". The New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2019.
  24. ^ "Alice In Chains' 'Jar of Flies': See Rare Outtakes From EP Cover Shoot". Revolver. January 28, 2019. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  25. ^ "Alice in Chains".
  26. ^ https://www.grammy.com/awards/37th-annual-grammy-awards
  27. ^ "Alice in Chains reissue 'Jar of Flies' on vinyl – filled with real dead flies". NME. January 29, 2024.
  28. ^ Kot, Greg (February 10, 1994). "STYLISTIC DARING". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  29. ^ Turman, Katherine (January 23, 1994). "ALICE IN CHAINS "Jar of Flies" Columbia..." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  30. ^ "Alice in Chains: Jar of Flies". NME. January 15, 1994. p. 29.
  31. ^ Moon, Tom (February 20, 1994). "Alice in Chains: Jar of Flies (Columbia)". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  32. ^ "Alice in Chains: Jar of Flies". Q. No. 89. February 1994. p. 93.
  33. ^ Kot, Greg (2004). "Alice in Chains". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 13. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  34. ^ Arnold, Gina (1995). "Alice in Chains". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  35. ^ Henderson, Justin (2016). Grunge: Seattle. Roaring Forties Press. pp. 84, 95. ISBN 978-1938901546.
  36. ^ "Alice in Chains Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  37. ^ Summers, Jodi (May 1994). "Jarring the World". Hit Parader. p. 51. ISSN 0162-0266.
  38. ^ a b "Alice in Chains Chart History (Billboard 200)". Billboard. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  39. ^ Enos, Morgan (April 19, 2018). "Kanye West Announces 7-Song Album: Here Are 17 Other Classic Albums With Only 7 Tracks". Billboard. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  40. ^ Dangelo, Joe (December 8, 2004). "Jay-Z's Retirement Gets Even Richer As Collision Course Debuts At #1". MTV. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  41. ^ Caulfield, Keith (June 22, 2011). "Eminem & Royce da 5'9" Debut at No. 1 on Billboard 200 with Bad Meets Evil EP". Billboard. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  42. ^ A. Martin, Richard (October 6, 2006). "21 Bestselling records by Seattle artists". Seattle Weekly. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  43. ^ a b "American EP certifications – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  44. ^ "THE 37TH GRAMMY NOMINATIONS". Los Angeles Times. January 6, 1995. Archived from the original on October 25, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  45. ^ "The 1995 Grammy Winners". The New York Times. March 3, 1995. Archived from the original on June 12, 2013. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  46. ^ "37th Annual Grammy Awards - 1995". Rock On The Net. Archived from the original on May 26, 2012. Retrieved December 8, 2007.
  47. ^ Grassi, Tony (November 8, 2011). "Readers' Poll Results: Top 10 Guitar Albums of 1994". Guitar World. Archived from the original on November 17, 2011. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  48. ^ Maxwell, Jackson (July 16, 2014). "Superunknown: 50 Iconic Albums That Defined 1994". Guitar World. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  49. ^ "1994: The 40 Best Records From Mainstream Alternative's Greatest Year". Rolling Stone. April 17, 2014. Retrieved April 2, 2019.
  50. ^ "DS Exclusive: Jason Cruz on "Black Out The Sky," Strung Out's upcoming dynamite acoustic EP". Dying Scene. May 10, 2018. Retrieved January 10, 2024.
  51. ^ Bryan, Daniel (December 5, 2018). "Interview: Cane Hill vocalist Elijah Witt discusses "Kill the Sun", Pantera, and Alice In Chains". New Fury Media. Archived from the original on January 9, 2019. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  52. ^ "Australiancharts.com – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies %2B Sap". Hung Medien. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  53. ^ "Austriancharts.at – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies" (in German). Hung Medien. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  54. ^ "Top RPM Albums: Issue 2388". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  55. ^ "Top 10 Sales in Europe" (PDF). Music & Media. Vol. 11, no. 14. April 2, 1994. p. 20. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  56. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  57. ^ Pennanen, Timo (2021). "Alice in Chains". Sisältää hitin - 2. laitos Levyt ja esittäjät Suomen musiikkilistoilla 1.1.1960–30.6.2021 (PDF). Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Otava. p. 14. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  58. ^ "Longplay-Chartverfolgung at Musicline" (in German). Musicline.de. Phononet GmbH. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  59. ^ "Charts.nz – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". Hung Medien. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  60. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". Hung Medien. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  61. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". Hung Medien. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  62. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies %2B Sap". Hung Medien. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  63. ^ "Swisscharts.com – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". Hung Medien. Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  64. ^ "Alice in Chains | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  65. ^ "Ultratop.be – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies" (in Dutch). Hung Medien. Retrieved March 31, 2024.
  66. ^ "Ultratop.be – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies" (in French). Hung Medien. Retrieved March 31, 2024.
  67. ^ "Lista prodaje 24. tjedan 2024" (in Croatian). HDU. June 3, 2024. Archived from the original on June 18, 2024. Retrieved June 19, 2024.
  68. ^ "Album Top 40 slágerlista (fizikai hanghordozók) – 2024. 13. hét". MAHASZ. Retrieved April 4, 2024.
  69. ^ "Tónlistinn – Plötur – Vika 13 – 2024" [The Music – Albums – Week 13 – 2024] (in Icelandic). Plötutíðindi. Archived from the original on April 1, 2024. Retrieved April 1, 2024.
  70. ^ "Portuguesecharts.com – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". Hung Medien. Retrieved April 7, 2024.
  71. ^ "Top Billboard 200 Albums – Year-End 1994". Billboard. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  72. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". Music Canada. Retrieved February 26, 2017.
  73. ^ "New Zealand album certifications – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved March 10, 2021.
  74. ^ "British album certifications – Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved August 14, 2016.


External links[edit]