Not Fade Away
Rolling Stone #718, October 5, 1995
By Jon Weiderhorn
Just over a decade ago, Everclear frontman Art Alexakis tied his arm, felt for a vein, and injected cocaine for the last time. Having exceeded his normal dose, the troubled musician collapsed from a seizure, and his heart stopped beating.
It might have been a tragically fitting end - the coup de grace for a confused 22-year-old who grew up in the projects, bounced from one California city to another robbing for drug money and who continued consuming narcotics for years after watching his brother and girlfriend die from overdoses.
But Alexakis had too much to live for. "I had to clean up because I was miserable and felt like a poser," he says, then takes a swig from a large water bottle. "Everyone thought I was a musician, but I wasn't making my living from music. I wasn't even close."
A lot can happen in 10 years. Today, Alexakis, who sports a tattoo of the Cat in the Hat on his right arm, is a clean, sober, married dad. His band, which has recently released its second album, Sparkle and Fade, is about to embark on an eight-week stint with Filter and is quickly building a reputation as one of the most exciting new acts in the Northwest.
During a recent show for a hometown crowd at Champoeg Memorial State Park, in Portland, Ore., Everclear performed a whirlwind set of distortion-fuzzed, country-tinged alterna-rock that turned a rainy day into a rabid celebration of mosh-pit sliding and shoe flinging.
Alexakis strummed valiantly and howled in a wounded drawl through such songs as "Santa Monica" and "Nervous and Weird," exchanging leaps with bassist Craig Montoya, who clawed at his instrument as though he were trying to disembowel a squirrel.
All the while, drummer Greg Eklund battered his kit with marksmanship precision, soaking his T-shirt with sweat long before the rain fell.
On record, Everclear aren't as chaotic but are just as turbulent, meticulously layering hum-along melodies over passionate bursts of volume. Everclear's music, like that of Nirvana and Sugar, conveys a palpable sense of fury and frustration, but rather than veil sentiment with cryptic lyrics, Alexakis takes a brutally blunt and largely autobiographical approach to songwriting.
"Heroin Girl" confronts his drug-addicted past, "Heartspark Dollarsign" the latent racism he discovered in his friends and family when he brought home a black girlfriend, and "You Make Me Feel Like a Whore" was written after an A&R man asked Alexakis to add an extra refrain to a song.
In person the singer talks openly about his past, including the death of his brother, which a policeman standing over the body referred to as "just another overdose" (a line in "Heroin Girl"); the time his girlfriend OD'd and was found face down in a sewage drainage ditch; and the occasion shortly after when 13-year-old Alexakis tried to kill himself.
"I got stoned and jumped off the Santa Monica pier," Alexakis says backstage, flicking an ant from the edge of an inflatable pool to its watery grave. "I had boots and my army coat on, and I had filled the pockets with sand. But I didn't drown. That's the only time I've really considered suicide."
Such obsessive candor is echoed in the album art for Sparkle and Fade, which features photos from the band's delinquent youth, including one in whcih Alexakis is so coked up his pupils seem to fill his entire head. "I just want to bring everything from my past out and examine it closely before I let it go and move on," he says.
"When I clean the slate, I don't want to give my daughter, through osmosis, a lot of the same baggage that I was given as a child."
In addition to having a mind full of fading scars, Alexakis possesses a number of wounds that will never heal. Ten years of shooting drugs have resulted in a chemical imbalance that frequently makes him depressed, and a desperate youth spent without any guidance or supervision has left him feeling unstable and unworthy.
"I've never been totally happy," Alexakis says after 45 minutes of signing autographs through a fence. "I have good days and bad days like anybody, but I've never felt content more than a day or two. I'm pissed off almost all the time, but I've learned to focus it and fight the fights that count - the ones I can win."
Alexakis' earliest musical moment dates to the days before his parents split up and his life went to pot... and pills and coke and smack. "I was 18 months old, and we were driving in my dad's old Dodge Dart," he says. "'Wipeout' came on the radio, and I started laughing and jumping up and down in the front seat so bad that my dad switched it off. That made me scream so much they had to pull over."
When Alexakis was 4, he wrote to Santa and asked for an electric guitar, an organ and a drum set. He started writing songs 17 years later and generated waves in the San Francisco community when his band Colorfinger released the single "Kill Jerry Garcia." "I don't buy into the peace, love and dope thing," he says, thumbing his goatee.
"Most Deadheads are just white-bread rich kids. They're too happy, hairy and gross."
In 1992, Colorfinger split up, and Alexakis moved to Portland. That spring he put an ad for musicians in a weekly paper and the next day received calls from Montoya and Everclear's first drummer, Scott Cuthbert. It was with this lineup that Everclear recorded their World of Noise demo for $400, a recording that turned into their 1993 debut album. By mid-1994, Cuthbert was booted from the band.
Soon after, Eklund was recruited. "Art asked me if I minded touring all the time, sleeping on floors and not making any money," Eklund says, "and I said, 'I just want to be in the band.' It turned out he was just testing me. The band already had offers from eight or nine labels."
As buckets of rain fall from the sky, Everclear storm into their set closer, "Chemical Smile," a fast-paced, riff-heavy number that ends with Eklund spitting water at Montoya and Montoya stomping on a tube of white goo, which splatters an orgasmic arc several feet across the stage. Over the resounding echo of cymbals and feedback, Everclear thank the crowd and make their exit.
Backstage, Alexakis is all smiles, but he knows his good mood won't last forever. "This is one of the good times," he says. "But when I least expect it, something's gonna come along that will knock me on my ass."