The Industry Courtship of Everclear: Love at First Bite
The Rocket, September 26, 1994
By William Abernathy
Capitol Records signed Everclear. That's right, Capitol Records - the
guys in the building that looks like a big stack of records. The company
that signed the Beach Boys. Though how much they signed for is an
interesting question. Contract guesstimation, like so much in the music
business, is akin to the moribund art of Kremlinology. Evasive answers,
coy hints, and references to "how many figures" constitute the sum total
of what passes for solid data. What the tea leaves and the bird entrails
indicate is that Capitol Records have signed Everclear for a pretty fair
chunk of change, at least by Portland standards. Rumors run from 500K to
900K, but we'll probably never know. Obviously, Capitol plans to make a
lot of money out of the Portland power trio.
What is also evident is that Capitol, led by its President Gary Gersh
(the fellow who signed Peter Gabriel, Sonic Youth, and an unknown Seattle
act called Nirvana during his years at David Geffen Corp.), has a lot of
confidence in the band. Gersh gave them a degree of artistic freedom and
a rack of concessions unheard of by most "baby artists". Whenever they
can get away with it, record companies try to sign bands to one firm
record, followed by a number of options. An option in an agreement by the
band to sell an album to a label in the future at the label's discretion.
It's usually by a preordinated date. Hot outfits will be able to pull two
guarantees out of a label, guaranteeing that the label won't walk out after
running up a first album as a trial balloon. They can also wrangle down
the number of options they'll be committed to in later years. So sold was
Capitol on Everclear that it offered them two guarantees plus the
guaranteed re-release of Everclear's Tim/Kerr Records album, World of
Noise, with only three options left to fulfill after the three firm
records are released.
"Two albums firm is not that unusual," says Perry Watts-Russell, the
A&R Vice President who brought Everclear into Capitol. "But to have two
albums plus a third one - that is pretty unusual. You don't get very many
three album firm deals."
The bidding war Everclear inspired rapidly shook down to three labels -
Capitol, Priority, and Elektra. Despite the large wads of cash
brandished by other labels (one label offered a half a million dollars just
for the recording fund on a first album), guitarist and lead vocalist Art
Alexakis, the de facto leader of the band, stayed with what he felt were
artist's labels. "The labels that offered me all that money gave me the
fuckin' creeps, man," Alexakis says. "They were total control freaks,
telling me, 'There's my way of doin' it, and that's it'". An avowed
control freak himself, Alexakis doesn't need the competition.
Because of Alexakis' adamancy, Everclear got an unheard of degree of
artistic freedom. "We turned down more money from several labels to go
with Capitol because Gary Gersh [is] known in the industry as an artist's
guy," Art says. "And he really is. We were only supposed to meet with him
for five minutes, because he's the president of the label. Everyone else
shut up, and he and I ended up talking for almost an hour and a half, until
his wife called."
Once Everclear decided on Capitol, contractual wranglings went quickly
and amicably. They lasted 12 days from start to finish. In the normal
course of events, contract negotiations between labels and bands are
something like Klingon foreplay - though both parties eventually wind up
in the same bed, it doesn't happen until a lot of hair gets pulled and a
lot of heavy objects get thrown about the room. Pre-nuptials betwixt
Capitol and Everclear went so smoothly that all parties actually seem to
like each other now. To listen to Watts-Russell's prognostications,
Capitol hopes to steward a lengthy career with Everclear rather than
yank a quick buck out of the band. Having gotten his start in the music
business managing Berlin in the early eighties, Watts-Russell is no
stranger to overnight success stories (Berlin's Pleasure Victim,
made for a paltry $2,900, sold over a million records). Nonetheless, he
hopes to sell 200,000 units of the first full-Capitol Everclear album and
350-400,000 pieces of the next album.
"R.E.M. has been the prototype to me of how, if I was in a band, I would
want my career to go," Watts-Russell says. "It had nothing to do with hit
singles in the early days. It had to do with a steadily-building fan base.
That's the ideal for a band like Everclear."
Capitol plants to build Everclear's fan base with a marketing strategy
akin to an invasion plan. Seattle director Russell Bates' video of
"Fire Maple Song" will hit MTV concurrent with Capitol's re-issue of World
of Noise. After a winter release of the "Fire Maple Song" CD-5, Everclear
will tour the US in support of the first full Capitol album next spring.
"By this time next year," Watts-Russell says, "I would hope that 'Fire Maple
Song' has opened the door for the band beyond college radio, so that
commercial alternative has begun to pay some attention to them. Then [I hope]
that we would have at least one or two songs from the next record that
will have broadened that fan base in the commercial alternative world,
permitting them to tour ... clubs or small theaters headlining their own
dates. That's what would be my ideal."
Despite their national successes, Everclear remain out in the cold
among Portland's band circles. Alexakis and bassist Craig Montoya are
relative newcomers to the somewhat xenophobic scene, while drummer Greg
Eklund is a relative newcomer to Everclear. Alexakis put the band together
shortly after moving to Portland from San Francisco. Bassist Craig Montoya
moved from Spokane with his band, Soul Hammer, at about the same time.
"We moved down here hoping to do something a little bigger, a little
different, just to kinda see what happened." Montoya says. "I met Art the
day after that band broke up. I saw an ad in The Rocket that he put in
For the bands first two years, the Everclear drum throne bolstered
the behind of Scott Cuthbert, who was replaced by Greg Eklund right as
offers began to roll in. Eklund, who cut his teeth in JollyMon, was
backing away from a brief courtship with Nero's Rome when he heard
Everclear was interested in him. "I told him about the band." Alexakis
recounts. "I didn't tell him about the deals, and he was into doing the
band because he likes the band anyway. I told him about the deals the next
day. I wanted to make sure he was going to do it for the music."
Everclear's ambitious tour schedule, which might have a major stumbling
block for a new band member, was a chance Eklund jumped at. "In Nero's
Rome, JollyMon, and all the other bands I'd been at," Eklund says, "I was
always the guy that was trying to be gung ho, trying to get out on tour."
That Everclear - treated as lepers among certain contingents of
Portland's hipoisie - are the first Portland act since bluesman Robert
Cray to land a full-boat major label ride seems deliciously ironic.
"There's a lot of bands that I don't get along with, a lot of bands that
have attitudes, very cliquish attitudes that I don't dig," Alexakis says.
"That's their thing. That stuff always come back to you in the end ...
We've never gotten gigs from any of the big bands, and that's cool. I'm
glad for the bands that do. We just haven't had that. Everything we've
done, we've done on our own, without money or connections. So I feel good
about that. We feel like we've earned it. "
In addition to hard work, the band's success can also be attributed in
large part to Alexakis' business acumen. In the music business since he
was 16, Alexakis knows all the angles, having worked in bands and clubs
and at labels and studios. When he felt World of Noise was being
inadequately promoted by Tim/Kerr Records, he took the initiative and
hired an independent marketing agent to flog the record on the east coast.
In addition to his music experiences, a rough upbringing in LA's Culver
City projects left him a graduate of the Ice-T school of business. He was
stabbed in a turf war by the age of 12.
Notwithstanding the usual interview mouthings about cozy collective
band efforts, Alexakis is undeniably the dominant creative and managerial
presence of the band. He is equally undeniably a motivated, ambitious
hustler with no time left for apologies. At the age of 32, with a
three-year-old daughter to take care of, he is well aware that Everclear
may be his last best shot. "It's hard on my relationship with my daughter
so it's really hard on me, but it's what I do. I have to do this. That's
been a problem with several relationships I've been in. This is what I'm
good at. I'm really not good at much else. I'm good at the business end
of this. I'm good at playing. I'm a fuckup in just about anything else.
I'm 32, y'know? I feel like a kid though. This band is the best band I've
ever been in, by far. Both personality wise and talent-wise, it's by far
the most creative I've ever felt."
With their new contract, Everclear can do what they do best and nothing
else. Eklund no longer hauls casting forms in a foundry. Montoya no longer
rigs motor boats for idiot yuppies and Alexakis can keep himself warm by
the glow of burning neckties. "I wanna make the music that excites me,
that makes me happy, that makes my band happy. I don't care if it's a
schmaltzy pop song with strings. If that's something that we want do to,
we'll do it." Naysayers are courteously advised to get the hell out of