The annual ceremony for the Founders Award at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) — founded in 2000 by the late Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and formerly called the Experience Music Project — is normally an exclusive, expensive charity event with unique tribute performances. But this year, due to the pandemic, the celebration will be streamed on December 1 on Amazon Music’s Twitch channel for the first time for the entire world to see (RSVP here) — and the honorees will be legendary grunge-era Seattle hometown heroes Alice in Chains.
A stellar roster of artists will be covering the band’s songs: Metallica, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic, Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, Mastodon, Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Fishbone, Korn and the debut musical performance of Lily Cornell Silver (daughter of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden/ Alice in Chains manager Susan Silver), among others. Obviously, the performances will be virtual.
The event will also feature appearances by Les Claypool, Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder, Sammy Hagar, Rage Against the Machine/ Audioslave’s Tom Morello, Robert Downey, Jr. and more.
“As our principal fundraiser, Founders Award is always a special event for MoPOP and we’re thrilled this year to honor Alice In Chains and provide free access to this magical evening fans around the world,” said MoPOP Executive Director Alexis Lee. “We’re proud to call Alice In Chains hometown heroes but we know we share them with the world. It’s a testament to their lasting impact that this talented group of musicians has come together to pay tribute to the band’s contributions to music and pop culture. While this entire night of exclusive performances is free to view for all, our hope is to raise $1 million to support the museum in this difficult and unprecedented year.”
Alice in Chains’ drummer and founding member Sean Kinney and vocalist William Duvall spoke with Variety about the honor.
“It’s really humbling that so many cool people took the time to get together during Covid to record our songs and film them,” Kinney says. “That’s a huge to-do, and I hope that by it having a potentially much wider audience than the usual private event, it can affect more change or at least be a cool, special thing and take you away for an hour and a half from this crazy time that we’re living in.”
Duvall said, “It’s such an honor and so touching that so many great artists are paying tribute to the band in this way — the event is always great, but obviously this year is really special for us.” (Duvall released a solo album, “One Alone,” last fall and toured North America to promote it, and has continued to perform virtually during lockdown.)
But the honor is also but an appropriate and long-overdue one for Alice in Chains, who have always been one of the most popular and influential groups of the grunge era but have not really received the honors that some of their contemporaries have (the group has been nominated for nine Grammys without a win to date). This is largely because the group, whose original lead singer, Layne Staley, died in 2002 after years of substance abuse, has not actively pursued that kind of recognition. However, a 30th anniversary edition of their 1990 debut “Facelift” was released last week and a deluxe boxed set is due in January, and the group is opening up to the process a bit more.
“We just do our thing,” Kinney says. “We have shied away intentionally from most press and declined to do most of the things that are pretty standard in the industry — this is the first reissue we’ve done, and it took 30 fucking years! It’s not like we couldn’t have done 20-year or 25-year anniversary [reissues] like everyone else, and it’s not like people didn’t come to us about them. I don’t even know why we haven’t — being famous has just never really been the focus for us.
“Musically, it speaks for itself,” he continues. “We’re one of the most played rock bands of the last 30 years, but I think that’s the difference between celebrity and music — none of us are really trying to put ourselves out there. I think we’re in the running to be the most-nominated non-winning Grammy band of all time — which to me is a win in itself!,” he laughs. “I personally didn’t get into this to get trinkets and shiny things, but it’s extremely humbling when people do acknowledge what you’ve done and care enough to give the nod.”
Duvall weighs in, “It means a lot that so many of these people and so many friends showed up for us in such a hard time — and when we tour, people show up all over the world: Columbus, Ohio; Warsaw Poland; Tel Aviv.”
“That’s the validation as we see it,” Kinney continues, gaining steam. “We’re not designed for the masses, man. We’re a rock and roll band: We’re not supposed to fit in. As young guys, we set out to make a dent and fuck up some shit and live our truth, and we still try to do that — although we’re done breaking things, it costs a lot of money and you get older and it takes too much energy,” he laughs.
“But at the end of the day, we left a dent in the fender of the car of rock and roll, and when you see it, it’s like, ‘Wow, obviously Alice in Chains made that dent,’ and we’re still adding to it. There’s a legacy: we’ve had the highest highs and lowest lows, loss and victory and redemption, and we still go forward. We’re still making music for the same reasons we always did, and we’re really fortunate there are still people all over the planet who will come and hang out with us and let us play those songs. You can’t sustain superstardom — it’s not designed to be sustained. But we have our lane and our niche and our fans, and you can’t ask for more than that – and that’s even more than I can comprehend most of the time.
“And I wanna hear these people play our songs,” he concludes. “I’m really looking forward to it!”
December 1, 2020 at 6:00pm PT / 9:00pm ET
and on MoPOP’s Facebook page and Amazon Music Twitch channel
Free! Donations suggested.
Make a donation here >> www.mopop.org/foundersdonation