Basking in the Afterglow
How Everclear Quietly Beat the Rock Jinx
Rolling Stone, February 18, 1999
By Greg Kot
It's 10 a.m. in Portland, Oregon, and Everclear's Art Alexakis has already
dropped his six-year-old daughter off at school, had a conference with
her teacher, put in a brisk workout at the gym ("gotta get rid of
my gut"), and is now settling in at the mixing board in his home studio.
"I'm just glad the holidays are over so I can get back to work,"
the thirty-six-year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter-producer says. "I
like to work."
If rock has a lunch-pail band, it's Everclear. The blue-collar attitude
of Alexakis, drummer Greg Eklund and bassist Craig Montoya has turned the
trio into one of rock's quietest and most unlikely success stories. At
a time when more-celebrated guitar bands like Hole, the Smashing Pumpkins,
Garbage and Marilyn Manson are sliding down the charts, Everclear have
hung tough. Their third album, So Much for the Afterglow, got off
to a modest start and has never cracked the Top Thirty since being released
in October 1997, yet it continues to sell steadily after spinning off three
straight Top Five modern-rock hits, including the cross-format smash "Father
of Mine." During Christmas week, the album sold more than 96,000 copies
- posting its best week at retail more than a year after it was released
- and it recently topped 2 million overall.
Those impressive numbers defy trend spotters who say rock is sucking
wind in the race for consumers' attention, especially in comparison with
R&B and hip-hop. "'Rock is dead' - how many times have you heard
that?" Alexakis scoffs. "I thought the electronica revolution
was supposed to happen three years ago. But American people, the mainstream
person, likes rock & roll songs, and that's not going away."
Alexakis was determined not to disappear after the platinum-plus success
of 1995's Sparkle and Fade. So he and the band began work on So Much for
the Afterglow in November 1996 and finished it three months later. But
Alexakis wasn't satisfied. He asked his record label, Capitol, for more
money to go back in the studio and cut more tracks. "I wasn't happy
with it, but I knew how to make it a great record," he says, and he
made good on his promise by adding the current single, "One Hit Wonder,"
the title track and the Grammy-nominated instrumental "El Distorto
The album presents a sweeter, more-textured variation on the high-octane
grunge pop of Sparkle and Fade, with keyboards, harmony vocals and layered
guitars riding atop the dark undercurrents in songs like "Father of
Mine," in which a new dad comes to terms with his own father's failures.
Then the band took its music to the world the old-fashioned way, beginning
with two weeks of in-store appearances, followed by nine months of steady
touring and now a six-week stint as Sno-Core festival headliners with Soul
Coughing, Redman and DJ Spooky.
"They started playing clubs, even though they could have played
larger venues," says Andy Cirzan of Jam Productions, which has promoted
Everclear shows in the Midwest. "Now they're swinging through cities
for the third time, selling out four- to five-thousand seaters. The foundation
for that is great pop songs - they've got a rainbow coalition of radio
stations vying to sponsor their shows. People don't seem to be getting
tired of this album or this band, because they've been steady - rather
than a big, explosive one-hit wonder."
Another factor in the band's success is Alexakis' business savvy. The
singer micromanages Everclear's every move, from picking singles to weighing
offers for product endorsements. Last year, he says, he turned down a
"mid-six-figure" deal from Pepsi to use an Everclear song in a television ad
because "it didn't feel right." But he accepted an offer from the Gap that was
"less than we get paid for a normal gig" for a holiday commercial
in which the band performed a breakneck version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed
"I did it because I've been shopping there since I was about twelve,"
Alexakis says. "And it sounded like fun. We hoped it would raise exposure,
by relating our faces to the sound, but there's nothing that said the name
of the band or 'Buy our record.' There are a few stalwart punk rockers
who want to call us a sellout, but I think you're a sellout as soon as
you walk out of the garage and try to sell a tape to someone."
If there's a downside to Everclear's success, it's that the extended
life cycle of So Much for the Afterglow will delay release of Alexakis'
other projects. He's finishing up a solo record, to be released under the
name Arthur, which will be "less bombastic than Everclear" and
will incorporate strings and horns. "It's influenced by R&B -
the old-fashioned kind, not the R. Kelly kind," Alexakis says. He's
shooting for a fall release, with an Everclear album to follow in the year
2000 - though he's not worried about keeping up with musical trends for
"If I make music that I think is wonderful, I feel that other people
are going to think that, too," he says. "I think there is a niche
for what we do, but then I've always felt that. My mom likes to tell the
story of when I was a little kid and we were driving up the Pacific Coast
Highway in California with the radio on. The song 'Wipe Out' comes on,
and I started jumping up and down. My dad turned the radio off to get me
to settle down. Instead, I started hitting him and being a brat, until
he finally had to pull over and put the song back on so I could finish
"It's sort of taken off from there," Alexakis adds with a
laugh. "If I want to do something, don't try and stop me."