Fits and Starts - Greg Eklund
Overnight Sensation with Everclear
Drum! Magazine, December 1997
By David Weiss
Intimidation was messing with Greg Eklund's mind. "I was one
of those people," explains the drummer for platinum Portland trio
Everclear, "when I was in high school, the idea of being in a band and
playing a show in a club was outrageous to me. And to be recorded
and put out a single, you had to be a Neil Peart protege! I mean,
you would've had to have been playing drums since the age of three
to possibly have the talent to play drums on a record at some point."
That was the early '90s, and Eklund's awe had paralyzed him to the
point where he hadn't picked up a pair of sticks in two years. "I
figured I'd better do something with my life," he recalls. "So I went
to the University of Oregon, and actually met the girl that I'm now
married to. She asked me, 'What do you want to do with your life?
If you had no limitations?' I said, 'I want to drum in a rock band
and tour and see the world.' And she said, 'But you don't even play
Girlfriend / future wife Ellina had some more sense to smack into
him. "She'd come from Berkeley and Oakland, and there was this huge
punk scene going, with a lot of bands that eventually turned into
Rancid and Green Day," says Eklund, a disarmingly honest person whose
voice carries a playful undercurrent. "Everybody was doing it, even
if they were absolutely terrible. Ellina's like, 'It takes no talent
to be on a record. You just need a couple hundred bucks.' And I said,
'You've got to be kidding me!'"
To hear Eklund pound out his steady pummel for Everclear - or better
yet, to witness it live - it's hard to believe that he was a man with
a confidence problem. His band's debut album for Capitol, Sparkle
and Fade, was a multiplatinum success, riding off irrepressible
buzz anthems like "Santa Monica" and "Heartspark Dollarsign". Three
years of near-nonstop touring to support the album boosted the group
into the rock scene stratosphere.
From there, it was straight into the studio to record the followup,
So Much for the Afterglow. The ten-month project received
considerably more care and attention than the two-week churn-out of
Sparkle, sporting a higher level of polish and production
values. For Afterglow, Eklund adjusted from a straight push
to a more groove-inclined modus operandi, taking into account the
band's renewed interest in loops, soul, and even string sections. His
bouncing, attacking rhythms, together with the hue and cry of Everclear's
guitarist / frontman Art Alexakis and the tug of Craig Montoya's bass,
create often celebrational songs that revel in the moment.
Before he became a part of Everclear's musical outburst, however,
Eklund had done a lot of waiting. Especially when it came to drums.
"When I was 10 or 11, I saw Adam Ant on TV, and ever since then I was
like, 'Mom, Dad, I want to play drums!'" Eklund says. But the skins
didn't come easy. Staring down the barrel of having a "Kid Learning
to Play Drums" in their very household, the elder Eklunds mandated two
years of piano lessons first. With lil' Greg, however, it was just a
case of postponing the inevitable. After two years of tickling
the ivories with "a smelly old English lady", Eklund cashed in his
sentence for a new Sears snare drum.
A full drum set was even further in the future. "My parents had
bought this house in Washington, D.C., but in the military you didn't
get paid all that much," Eklund says. "I was told time and time again
that they couldn't afford it. The fact that they didn't have any
furniture in the house kind of drove that home." A new kit finally
did come - a mere three years after the drumming bug first bit Eklund -
and the slamming commenced forthwith. Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, and
Foreigner provided the earliest inspiration. "A butt-rock beginning,"
But before his hair could grow too large, a pubescent romance took
Eklund's development on a serious turn. "I was able to hook up with
one of the best percussion educators in the country, Dr. Garwood Whaley,
partly because I happened to date his daughter in eighth grade,"
Eklund says. "He takes one student a year, and because I was dating
his daughter, he took me."
"That, and I had inside information. He's a total symphonic guy,
and his daughter's like, 'If he asks you if you want to learn drum
set from him, say no.'" Eklund disavowed any knowledge of
rock and roll, and was accepted. For all four years of high school,
he was immersed in classical percussion, learning everything from
symphonic snare, marimba, and timpani to crash cymbals and triangle
But as Whaley groomed his disciple for further education at Julliard,
Eklund was burning out. When he was 18, his father retired from the
military and moved to Oregon. Feeling like he had nothing better to
do, Eklund came along and found every excuse in the book to begin his
two-year hiatus from drumming.
"I was sort of the new guy in the city," Eklund says. "I was 18
years old, so I was too young to go to the bars to meet other musicians.
My folks lived out in the country, so it wasn't an easy commute to town,
and Portland was a small town anyway. All the musicians there had
gone to school together and it was really sort of cliquey."
Elkund didn't mention that there was a hurricane, a flood, he had
a flat tire, and his dog ate his homework, but you get the idea.
Fortunately, he got himself into the University of Oregon, and the
aforementioned Ellina was able to get him in gear. "She just really
inspired me to start playing drums again," says Eklund. "She laid into
my head that it really is possible. You don't have to be this amazing
Eklund threw himself back onto the drum throne - this time for good.
His love of rock grooves that is so apparent on Afterglow first
surfaced in a band called Jollymon, which had its own share of success
during its three-year run in Portland. The group drew 1,000 people per
show, but to Eklund it was far from enough.
"I had this idea that you had to tour in order to be successful,"
Eklund says. "The rest of the band was saying, 'If we become the
biggest band in Portland, then someone will notice.' And I'm like,
'I don't think that's going to happen.'" Frustrated, Eklund finally
left the group in 1994, and quickly realized he needed some fresh
income in order to keep his $75-a-month room.
Keeping his ear to the ground, he soon discovered that another
Portland band that he liked was going to be looking for a new drummer.
"Everclear was pretty big, but they weren't huge - Jollymon was
actually drawing more at the time," Eklund notes. "Art's thing was,
they may not be the biggest thing in Portland, but they were touring
the country. They were national, laying the kindling for the
fire that was going to come later."
After some digging, Eklund got ahold of Alexakis' phone number and
broke his shy mold, earnestly informing the guitarist that he need
look no further for a new drummer. To Eklund's surprise, Alexakis
already knew his name from doing some research of his own. "Art said,
'Do you want to tour? Do you mind sleeping on floors and eating
Taco Bell?' And that was already a feast for me anyway - you could go
to Taco Bell and get 30 things for $1.75," enthuses Eklund. "I was
like, 'Wow! Taco Bell? Sure!' It was like a dream come true for me.
The next day at the audition, Eklund's energy contibuted to a good
ol' trashing of the space, after which Alexakis didn't hesitate to
invite Eklund to join the band. Right after the drummer accepted,
Alexakis threw in a nifty surprise. "We were hanging out outside,
and that was when he said, 'Oh yeah, by the way, we're in the middle
of an eight-label bidding war!" Eklund recalls with a laugh.
From that moment forward, Eklund's life catapulted into a near
nonstop hyper-paced whirlwind from which there has been only the
briefest of breaks. It was June of 1994, the band signed with Capitol,
and the fun began. "We started this tour on the East Coast, literally
two weeks after I joined the band," Eklund says. "Then we came back
to Portland and drove straight to the studio, where we recorded
Sparkle and Fade for two weeks. Then we were on tour again,
all the way through November of '96."
With nothing but road behind them, the band was surprisingly eager
to hit the studio again for the recording of Afterglow. With
its proven track record, Everclear had the luxury of taking their time
with the album's 13 songs. "There was no pressure, and that's because
we didn't allow it to get to us," Eklund reports. "We told the label
to lay off, you're going to get the record when we think it's
While the majority of the drum parts on Sparkle were written
by Everclear's previous drummer, the rhythms on Afterglow are
all Eklund. "I was able to contribute more from my background on this
record, so a lot of the songs are more groove oriented," he says. "It
was a lot more collaborative. I didn't necessarily feel I was left out
of the last record at the time, but after three years of playing and
600 shows, I think we played better as a band. More important was the
fact that over those three years on the road, we bought a lot of CD's.
We were constantly listening to and turning each other on to different
stuff." From this digging on roots like Ray Charles, Los Lobos, Otis
Redding, and Little Richard, elements of funk joined the punk energy,
while still being channeled into a pop format.
With Alexakis producing, Eklund attacked the recording sessions
with flexibility in mind. "The key word to this record was 'textures' -
different textures with guitars, drums, vocals, everything," he says.
"We laid the basic tracks at A&M Studios in L.A., which is a massive
room where they did 'We Are the World'.
"When we went in there we had two drum kits set up. One was a jazz
combo kit with the 18" kick, 12" tom, and 14" tom. The other was the
kit that Dave Grohl used on [Nirvana's] Nevermind, because
we really liked that drum sound, too."
On faster songs, like "Normal Like You" and "Amphetamine", the bigger
kit was employed, and wouldn't you know it - you can hear that same
deep bass drum and manhole snare from "In Bloom", supplying nothing
but foundation. On groovier tunes like "Everything to Everyone", the
smaller kit with a tight 12" Premier snare drum was engaged, enabling
Eklund to apply a snappy hip-hop feel.
But the musicians had other texture tricks up their sleeves. "On
a couple of songs, we overlapped the two kits," Eklund explains.
"'Father of Mine' is the small kit on the verse, and then the big
kit and small kit played together on the chorus. The two were mixed
just a little bit out of phase - just a millisecond off from each other -
so it ends up sounding really massive."
Another rhythmic twist for the band was drum loops, adding shake
in "Father of Mine" and the royal "California King". Rather than
being an added-on afterthought in "One Hit Wonder", however, the
percussion loop Eklund recorded with a set of wooden spoons, bass,
and snare turned out to be the song's primary ingredient. "We decided
we were going to use that loop for the drum beat," Eklund says. "To
get the natural feel, we had all the band members in the room. We
brought in this P.A. system, and piped the drum loop in, then played
along to it.
"Another thing we did was that a lot of drum fills and snare rolls
were doubled, like on 'Everything to Everyone'. I'll start a roll on
the 12" snare later than the big drum roll starts. I felt pretty silly
sometimes standing in a big studio with nothing but big cymbals around
me and just hitting one, or doing a snare roll over and over again."
The method for miking the drums was another source of inconvenience
for Eklund. "The drums were miked in a way that I actually believe in,
but we ended up having a problem with it later," says Eklund. "We
miked the drum kit as one instrument, not just isolating each drum
and every little thing. We had cymbal mikes way in the back of the room,
which provided a massive sound. But what we didn't do was mike the
high-hat." As a result, the hats were often swallowed up almost
completely, forcing Eklund to go back and rerecord them for parts of
Anyone who's ever seen the explosive spontaneous energy of an Everclear
show might be surprised by the intensive detail-oriented approach the
band took to recording Afterglow. According to Eklund, however,
there is a time and a place for everything. "The whole purpose of
recording is to document something that's going to be listened to
over and over again, so you want to get it as perfect for the idea
of the song as it can be.
"Live, however, is complete abandonment. You just go for it. It's
about energy, sweat, screaming at the top of your lungs, and spitting
on yourself. I'm not sitting there trying to think of tempos or
anything like that. If we speed up, we speed up. And if we slow down,
we slow down. I'm not going to sit there and play the tempo right,
just because I'm right and everyone else is wrong. Whatever we do,
we do it as a band."
In an era of control freak band situations, the fun-oriented live
philosophy of Everclear may be a crucial factor in the band's ability
to stay on the road for such long stetches. "I think on the road
you go through cycles where even though you're physically tired,
you can still go out and play an amazing show," Eklund theorizes.
"There's been many nights where I've been backstage going, 'I can't
physically do this.' An then I go out, and the minute I hit the stage,
the endorphins and adrenaline kick in and everything's great. Then I
come off and I'm like, 'I can't do that tomorrow night.'
Tomorrow night comes around, and I'm ready to do it again."
On the rare occasions when Eklund is off tour, he's been making a
serious run at guitar and ukelele (acquired on his recent honeymoon),
with a return to marimba square in his sights. When all the dust
from Everclear settles, the man who was determined to see the world
from a drum riser might make a solid career counselor. For now,
however, he's reluctant to serve as a role model.
"I have a problem with kids coming up to me today and asking,
'What do I have to do in order to to do what you do?'" Eklund admits.
"I don't really feel right telling them, 'Well, you've got to starve,
you've got to quit your job, you've got to make sure you don't have
a girlfriend so that when a band calls, you can just leave on tour
immediately.' Because that's not going to happen for most people. At
times, I feel like saying, 'Go to school, get a backup,' something like
that - which is really good advice.
"But you know what? All the people I know were the people starving
on the floors, who didn't have a job, who were just scrounging to make
it happen. I really think that's what you have to do.
"Although I wouldn't recommend it to anyone."