Everclear's Hessian Obsession
The Rocket, October 8, 1997
By John Chandler
Memory Lane Motors, Portland, 9/20, 4:15pm
"Come on! Let's go! Are you guys on a date or something?" Art Alexakis is getting impatient and wants to hit the road. Bassist Craig Montoya and Everclear's touring guitarist Steve Birch are sitting next to each other in a metallic blue Chevy ragtop oohing and ahhing over the dashboard instrument panel. The place is littered with muscle cars and restored antiques. The band members look under hoods chattering away about carbs, cylinders and fuel injection. Great. I'm interviewing a gaggle of car guys. I don't have the heart to tell them I've never owned a car in my life. Whenever Birch gets inside a car, drummer Greg Eklund appears and observes, "Steve! That car is all about you!" Some kind of in-joke, I suppose.
The owner comes out to shake hands. "Art! Good to see you! Did you bring your checkbook?" Art bought a cherry-cola colored 1962 Impala here some time back. Today we're just looking, thank you.
The first time I'd ever heard the term "hesher" was in an old Camper Van Beethoven interview. Singer David Lowery described a hesher as one of those guys who hangs out in the 7-Eleven parking lot with his muscle car blasting Physical Graffiti from the tape deck. You know, like Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed & Confused. Car guys who like to rev their engines any time of the day or night to let you know they mean business.
La Luna, Portland, 9/20, 11:45pm
Where did all these damn heshers come from? Girls with long straight hair parted in the middle (good thing Ted Bundy ain't around) and guys with poodle haircuts and bad facial hair. This could have been an after-football-game dance circa 1977 except that the crowd is decidedly older and seedier.
The occasion is the final show for Portland's Sweaty Nipples, a hard-drinking crew of flashy rock-hoppers who make their appearance on stage--amidst swirls of fog and the blaring strains of Darth Vader's Theme--dressed like seven-foot-tall extraterrestrials. This was the second surprise of the evening, as the number two band, billed as "The Hessier Kings," turns out to be Everclear. Not that big a shock apparently; Portland radio station KNRK revealed their "secret" identity and it was common knowledge on the Internet. The heshers were here to meet their leader.
Philadelphia Steaks & Hoagies, Portland, 9/20, 3:10pm
"I wasn't hearing anything new that sounded good to me, so I went back to oldies," Art says, as we finish up our sandwiches. "Beatles, of course. Pub rock, I love that stuff. Brinsley Schwartz, Stiff Records stuff....Craig had been listening to a lot of different things, too, and Greg finally decided to give Led Zeppelin a chance. I think for a long time he associated Zeppelin with people who beat him up in high school. Guys like me and Craig."
"They didn't beat me up," Greg disagrees. "They just smelled bad and got in my way."
"I don't smell bad," Art asserts. "But I did have a denim jacket."
"So did I," Craig admits.
Heshers. I knew it.
It's been two years since Everclear went platinum with Sparkle and Fade. The new album is called So Much For The Afterglow, an inter-band commentary about getting back to work and not spending time lollygagging over success. "So Much For the Afterglow became our working manifesto," Art says. "So much for our last record, who gives a shit, this is our new record." Originally, the record was to be called Pure White Evil, but this concept was ditched.
"We started recording November of last year," Art recalls. "We had a bunch of songs I'd written. I like to go into the studio with skeletons of songs...so we can fuck around with 'em and help 'em grow up in the studio. We recorded about 19 songs and we mixed them in February.
"I liked those songs, but I didn't love them. I didn't think we'd really gone far enough away from the last album. We scrapped about half of them, wrote some new ones, including 'So Much for the Afterglow,' and did a whole lot of additional production work. Now it sounds like a record. Everything changed halfway through."
The group has just returned from touring Australia and doing a press junket through Japan where they had to explain what the differences are between their new record and their last one. About 400 times.
"I appreciate you not asking that question," Art tells me. "I don't think I have an answer left." I mentally scratch question number three and move on. Can Everclear come roaring back for seconds after a "hit" album?
"Music fans have less loyalty these days," Art continues. "It used to be, a band like Aerosmith had the time to develop over three or four albums. Now it's 'Give us a hit, or get the fuck out of the way!' It seems like we've got a hit with the new one, and that would be great, but I just want to be able to keep going and make more records. Just being able to pay the bills is an amazing thing!
"I'm not rich," he adds hastily. "I'm middle class."
Be that as it may, he's also not limiting his income potential solely to his band. In addition to guiding Everclear, Alexakis is planning on working with other groups on his own Black Jack label, among them retro-teenypoppers Marigold from Springfield, Oregon. He's also been in contact with book publishers about the possibility of writing semi-autobiographical stories.
La Luna, 9/20, 10:45pm
Everclear are on stage blasting through a set comprised of oldies ("Nervous and Weird"), newies ("I Will Buy You a New Life") and the obligatory radio fodder ("Heroin Girl," "Santa Monica"). Backstage, between trips to the keg to help Sweaty Nipples get rid of all their beer, I ask Art's wife, Jenny, if she worries about him on the road. Everclear tour relentlessly.
"Not really," she says easily. "I only worry when the band isn't playing well. I worry about them getting to their shows safely."
"But all that temptation for a guy who's still freshly clean and sober," I protest. "Think of all the potential depravity. It's the devil's music after all!" (Note: This exchange took place after the seventh lap around the keg.)
"He knows what he's doing," she answers confidently.
Everclear launch into their last song, AC/DC's "Sin City." The heshers wilt with delight. I acknowledge a twinge of synchronicity. The sound is an ungodly loud roar even with earplugs tucked in firmly. I keep thinking of Art revving the engine of his Impala. It's not pretty. It's not clever. It's not even very safe. But he wants us to know he means business.
Philadelphia Steaks & Hoagies, 9/20, 3:30pm
"We've been accused of being clever," Art says. "We're not clever at all."
Philadelphia Steaks & Hoagies, 9/20, 2:20pm
"I thought it was a very irresponsible thing for him to say." Art is referring to Dandy Warhol singer Courtney Taylor's "I like heroin" remark [Rocket #257].
"I think a large percentage of what Courtney says is just to catch you off guard or shock you," puts in Steve Birch.
"Well, if he wants to say stuff like that, then let him say he likes to suck dicks," Art returns. "In our society, that's going to elicit a rise out of people, like Marilyn Manson sucking somebody's dick on stage. The chances of some kid going, 'Wow, Courtney sucks dick; I want to go suck someone's dick, too'--unless that kid already feels like he's gay--are slim to none. The chances of some kid thinking, 'Wow, he's cool; I'm going to do heroin,' as pathetic as it sounds, it happens all the fucking time.
"It's like the unspoken rule," he continues. "There's plenty of guys out there now playing in big bands doing dope. They'll never talk about it and if people bring it up, they'll deny it. The guys I like are guys like Marilyn Manson who go, 'Fuck it. I do drugs all day. I think they're horrible; I think they're wrong and I don't think anyone should do them.' Does he really believe that? Probably not, but at least he says it."
La Luna, 9/20, 11:25pm
"Who did you come here to see tonight?" I pose the question to a sweaty kid who has just returned from the frontlines near the stage.
"Everclear," he answers.
"They fucking rock! They rule!"
"Do you like Bush?"
He thinks for a second. "No, not really."
Philadelphia Steaks & Hoagies, 9/20, 2:45pm
The subject is Bush. Bush and Everclear are not on good terms, to say the least. Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale has let it be known that he wants to punch Art in the forehead.
"You can tell this guy has been in a lot of fights if he wants to punch me in the forehead," Art says with some amusement.
"It'll be three rounds, two men enter, one man leaves," says Greg.
"We'll sell you the seat, but you'll only need the edge," adds Craig.
"We did some shows with Bush and they sort of treated us like shit," Art remembers.
"It all started with the banana incident," Greg says. "We saw this banana come flying out of their tent and one of them is yelling (exaggerated English accent), 'I cahn't deal with these fucking broken bananas!' He's upset because someone left half a banana on their food tray!"
"They won't even let the opening band into the club when they're soundchecking," Art interjects. "They won't let you in to your own backstage area because (more English accent) 'those Yanks will nick our stuff!'"
"We'd heard one story after another from bands on the road," Greg says. "They all said the same thing: 'Don't tour with Bush!'"
"Anyway, we were touring with No Doubt, and Gwen [Stefani, singer] and Tony [Kanal, guitarist] were considering doing some shows with Bush," Art says.
"We told them to watch their backs," Steve concludes. "We told them Bush treats their opening bands like shit."
"The next thing I know Gwen is fucking [Rossdale] and tells him everything we said. Now he wants to punch me in the forehead," Art resumes. "People always ask me what bands don't I like, and I tell them I don't like to bad-talk bands. But the one band I don't like personally is Bush. I also think they're derivative. A total Nirvana rip-off.
"Of course, a couple years back some people--not in the Northwest, but elsewhere--said that about us. 'They're from the Northwest, there's three of them, they're loud and the singer screams a lot. Then Dave Grohl came out in an article and said, 'I don't think Everclear sound anything like Nirvana.'"
I guess he'd know.
Enroute to my house, 9/20, 4:30pm
Turning onto 34th, I tell Art that this street is really narrow. His Impala takes up about three quarters of the road. He guns the engine and we fly down the street toward oncoming traffic.
"Hey Art, you can let me out," Greg calls from the back seat. "I'll take a bus to the show."
Art shakes his head. "You guys are such pussies."