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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 de Melodica."

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 Reindeer."

"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 the millennium.

"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 dancing.

"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."