For nearly a quarter of a century, Art Alexakis has dedicated himself to Everclear. It hasn’t always been easy. It’s a name that went from being one of the most revered in alternative rock to a early 2000s punchline, but Alexakis has stayed true.
In many ways, it’s paid off. The band is still a drawcard across world tours and festivals, and their legacy contains at least a handful of quintessential songs of the genre’s evolution through the ’90s and into the 21st century. While many figureheads of the ’90s faded away entirely, Alexakis and Everclear kept the fire ablaze. Love them or hate them, you’ve just got to admire that level of persistence.
2015 is a big year in the Everclear camp. Not only are the band about to release their ninth studio album, Black is the New Black, they will also spend time on tour celebrating the 20-year annviersary of what may well be their most beloved album, Sparkle and Fade. Speaking from his Californian home, Alexakis talked through Everclear’s past and present and how he’s learned to reconcile with them both.
Watch: Everclear – Heroin Girl
Music Feeds: Let’s go back to the origins of the Sparkle and Fade record. Can you remember the first material that you wrote for the album?
Art Alexakis: By the time we’d been signed to Capitol Records, which is EMI, back in ’94, I’d already written a couple of songs for the record. There was Heroin Girl, and I think My Sexual Life was kicking around as well. Before we went in to record, we spent about a month just writing.
I’d gotten a new house to live in, and I’d be writing songs at night after my eldest daughter went to bed. The guys would come over the next day, and we’d work out what to do with the songs I’d been writing. One of those songs ended up being Queen of the Air, and another one turned out to be Santa Monica.
MF: That would have been an obvious turning point in the writing process.
AA: I wrote that song at night, in the summer of ’94, right before we went into the studio. We were just trying to make the best record that we could. I was kind of on fire as a songwriter at that point, y’know – I was writing a lot of songs. I had what you call a fire in the belly. I didn’t have a similar passion for making music with that level of productivity for a long time after that whole period. I definitely think it came back when I was writing Black is the New Black, though.
MF: There are a lot of recurring elements in the songs on Sparkle and Fade. It’s a record of transition; a record of change. It really knows where it’s come from and where it’s going. There’s a lot of thematic structure involving starting anew while acknowledging how you got there. Did that fall into place naturally; or did you pick up on it after a couple of songs and begin writing with that theme in mind?
AA: Obviously, in hindsight, it was just what I wanted to get off my chest. When I write an album, it rarely keeps the working title that I give it. I wait until it’s a bit more fully-formed. This might sound a bit Hallmark card, but I think some of my records get to the point where they more or less name themselves.
Sparkle and Fade just seemed to be the apropos name. The only other name that came close was Summerland, which ended up being a song on the record. It really just felt like the perfect name to sum up what the record was all about. As for the themes of the record… y’know, I think it’s kind of pretentious to try and push a whole album in a certain direction. With anything artistic like that, you can’t force it. It decides when it’s done. You don’t.
Watch: Everclear – Father Of Mine
MF: A lot of bands that are touring the anniversary of a particular album rarely have anything else going on at the same time. It’s pretty interesting, then, that the new album is coming out more or less in tandem with Sparkle and Fade’s anniversary. It must prove a challenge to try and steer people toward checking out the new record while simultaneously revisiting the album that more or less served as the band’s global introduction.
AA: Definitely. I think that’s what being in a band for twenty, thirty years is all about. You have to be in touch with your past. You can’t ignore it or act like it didn’t happen. You’ve got to learn not to make the same mistakes twice. In this instance, the two records complement one another – I think Black is the New Black is the hardest-rocking record that we’ve made since Sparkle and Fade.
I think that the people coming back around because of the Sparkle and Fade anniversary are really going to like this new record. We’re incorporating a few of them into the second set on our tour at the moment, after we’ve played Sparkle and Fade. They’re settling in really well.
MF: You mentioned being in touch with your past. Do you feel that’s something you’ve been able to achieve through the Summerland tours? Has that allowed you to develop a healthy relationship with that period of Everclear?
AA: I don’t know. Kind of, in a way. For those that don’t know, the Summerland tour is something I put together every year here in the States. It’s a big tour that brings together bands that were platinum and even multi-platinum bands in the ’90s that are still working, touring bands to this day. They aren’t just people waiting around for their next royalty cheque. They’re still out there, every night, chasing their dreams. All the bands on these tours are always playing new songs as well as their big hits.
I guess the nostalgia is a selling point for a lot of people, but it doesn’t even feel all that nostalgic to me. We’re all still playing because we’ve all got that fire inside. For me, this is what I’ve wanted to do since I was four years old. I’ve never imagined doing anything else.
Listen: Everclear – American Monster
MF: That, of course, brings us to present day and the release of Black is the New Black. You mentioned each record’s creation being a little different – how did this one come about?
AA: I wanted a dark, heavy record and it came out the exact way that I wanted it to. I wanted it to have a classic feel, but at the same time keep a contemporary edge. I wrote most of this record on electric guitar, which is a bit different to how I normally do things. I think that really helped in the focus on rock for this album.
It’s a lot less poppy. It took about a year to make – I mean, we started recording last March and finished in October. The songs were mostly written in the summer of 2013. For me, that’s a pretty quick turn around. [laughs]
MF: You’ll be back in Australia in May for the Sparkle and Fade tour. What kind of demographic assembles at Everclear shows these days? Obviously, there’d be a lot of people that were in their teens and their twenties when Sparkle and Fade came out; but there’s also a younger demographic that might have come in around the release of Wonderful or even Volvo-Driving Soccer Mom.
AA: You know what’s funny… it’s a little bit older, for the most part, but there’s this huge amount of kids that were too young to have been there when these songs came out. Some of them weren’t even born when Sparkle and Fade came out. They grew up listening to it through their mums and dads or their older siblings.
Some of them even sought us out on their own after hearing about us. We see them whenever we’re playing an all-ages show, and it’s crazy. It’s like “How do you know these lyrics?” They know every word to every song! They know these lyrics better than I do! [laughs]
Watch: Everclear – Volvo Driving Soccer Mum
MF: It really goes to show that people are still connecting with this album so many years after the fact. Even if they were too young or weren’t alive when it came out, there’s still something about these songs that has struck a chord and allowed them to exist in the ether.
AA: My eldest daughter is 22, almost 23. She’s in a band, and they’re all really into Cheap Trick and Aerosmith and bands like that. I thought it was strange at first, considering they weren’t around when that was all huge – but I realised that it’s all classic music. The fact that people feel the same way about our music and these songs is such a compliment. It’s a testament to the work this band has put in. It’s not tied to a particular generation or a particular time – it’s just stuck with people that love rock & roll.
MF: Do you think it’s things like this that motivated you to continue Everclear? There was a point in 2003 where the other members – the “classic” lineup – left the band…
AA: [interrupting] They didn’t leave the band. I kicked them out.
MF: Right. It still would have lead you to a crossroads of sorts, though, as to whether to keep the name. There must have been something that lead you to believe that pressing on as Everclear made sense.
AA: It’s always been my band. What a lot of people don’t know is that, when those guys were in the band, Greg [Eklund] and Craig [Montoya]… that was the third version of Everclear. Everclear went on before them and it went on after them. I know it’s hard for a lot of people to understand, considering they were there in the band at the right time when we were having our most success, but that’s the way it was. I have guys that are in the band now that have been in the band just as long as those guys were. It won’t be long before they will have been in the band for even longer. They’ve played on as many records, if not more.
MF: It’s basically perceived as the ‘original’ Everclear and then Everclear 2.0, in a way.
AA: I suppose I did come a crossroads, in that regard. When I put the band together, I wasn’t sure if they were going to be a backing band for me playing solo. There was the potential for it to turn into a different band entirely, with a new name and a new sound. We were definitely going to play Everclear songs, that much was obvious. They were my songs. I wrote them. It was up in the air for awhile, though.
As luck would have it, though, we started playing some new songs together that I’d been writing after the other guys left. It sounded like Everclear. It felt just as much like Everclear as it did before. Looking back, I feel like I did the right thing.
Everclear return to Australia, kicking off the ‘Sparkle and Fade Tour’ this week, grab the deets below.
Gallery: Everclear – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane 11/10/2012 / Photos: Barry Schipplock
Everclear Sparkle And Fade Anniversary Tour Australian Dates
Tickets on sale now
Thursday, 7th May 2015
Friday, 8th May 2015 – SOLD OUT
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tickets: Corner Hotel
Saturday, 9th May 2015
Eatons Hill FMX Festival, Brisbane
Sunday, 10th May 2015
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Tuesday, 12th May 2015
Small Ballroom, Newcastle
Wednesday, 13th May 2015 – NEW SHOW
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tickets: 170 Russell
Thursday, 14th May 2015