Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Sound Familiar?

“Santa Monica,” “I Will Buy You a New Life,” “Father of Mine”

Who Are They?

One of the most radio-friendly alternative bands of the ‘90s.

Singer and guitarist Art Alexakis started Everclear as an escape from his troubled upbringing. Art’s family faced significant financial hardships and was eventually forced to relocate to the slums of Los Angeles. During this time, Art found solace in heavy drug use, which escalated to a near-fatal cocaine overdose.

After that wake up call, Art turned to music. He played in a short-lived band called Shakin’ Brave in the late ‘80s, but eventually got sick of the Los Angeles music scene and moved to San Francisco.

The big thing in San Francisco at that time was this phenomenon called cowpunk. It’s basically a fine mixture of punk rock and county/blues. If you’re a little confused as to how a genre like this could exist, I’ve got two words for you: Social Distortion.

So what did Art do when he discovered cowpunk? Why, he started a cowpunk band, of course.

Not only did Art start a band called Colorfinger, but he also founded his own record label, Shindig Records. Go big or go home, right?

Unfortunately, Shindig Records failed after only one month. On top of that, Colorfinger broke up and Art found out his girlfriend was pregnant. So he and his girlfriend moved to Portland and Art did what most lone musicians do in a new city – he placed an ad in a local newspaper.

The ad earned him two responses: bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Scott Cuthbert. After settling on the name Everclear (after the infamous grain alcohol), Art and the gang recorded their first independently-released album World of Noise in 1993.

The record didn’t sell. Shocking, isn’t it? Art realized his mistake and began searching for a major label deal. Before scoring the big deal, Scott Cuthbert ditched the band and was replaced with Greg Eklund. Gary Gersch signed Everclear to Capitol Records in 1994 and the band released their major label debut, Sparkle and Fade, the following year.

(Does the name Gary Gersch sound familiar to you? It should. He’s the man responsible for signing Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Counting Crows to DGC Records. He’s kind of a big deal.)

Sparkle and Fade initially didn’t find an audience. Though the first single, “Heroin Girl,” received modest airplay on MTV, it was overlooked by the mainstream.

And then “Santa Monica” happened.

Mainstream audiences went gaga over “Santa Monica,” thanks to the budding alternative radio format. Sparkle and Fade achieved platinum status, but the last two singles (“Heartspark Dollarsign” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore”) failed to find the same success.

By 1996, Everclear was struggling to come up with a follow-up. They also had to endure the inevitable comparisons to Nirvana, as most alternative ‘90s bands did.

So Much for the Afterglow was released in late 1997 to an initially lukewarm response. The first two singles (“Everything to Everyone” and “I Will Buy You a New Life”) performed modestly, but that was the least of the band’s troubles.

Everclear’s 1998 Australian tour was an utter disaster. Shoes and explosives were thrown onstage (knocking Art’s teeth loose and burning a stagehand) and Craig Montoya’s acoustic bass was stolen. The band has yet to return to Australia, though Art maintains that he has no bad memories of the country. (I wouldn’t want to return to a country whose fans throw lit explosives onstage. Maybe that’s just me.)

Following a US tour with fellow ‘90s favorites Marcy Playground and Fastball, Everclear released So Much for the Afterglow’s most successful single “Father of Mine.”

Where Are They Now?

Still touring and releasing music with a brand new lineup (minus Art).

After the success of So Much for the Afterglow, Art decided to work on some solo material, which eventually turned into another Everclear project. Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How to Smile (released in 2000) was a heavily pop-influenced record with the monstrous hit single “Wonderful.” (Fun fact: “Wonderful” was used as the graduation song for the Columbine High School class of 1999, just months after the Columbine Massacre.)

The band decided to forgo a tour in favor of releasing a second album that same year. Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 2: Good Time for a Bad Attitude ended up being released just four months after Vol. 1, which resulted in some intense confusion. Not only did Vol. 2 come out way too early, but it also had a completely different sound compared to Vol. 1.

The somewhat awkward decision to tour with Matchbox 20 made the situation even worse. When you’re trying to promote a hard rock album, touring with a predominately pop-rock band isn’t the best idea.

Following the release of Slow Motion Daydream in 2003, Craig and Greg had enough of Everclear and left the band, leaving Art as the only original member. Everclear left Capitol Records one year later.

Craig and Greg both formed other bands after parting ways with Everclear. Craig founded Tri-Polar and Greg founded The Oohlas.

Art concentrated on a solo career before handpicking a brand new Everclear lineup consisting of bassist Sam Hudson, guitarist Dave French and drummer Eric Bretl in 2004. After signing to Eleven Seven Music, the “new” Everclear released Welcome to the Drama Club in 2006.

The band has since cycled through several different drummers and traveled to Iraq in support of the troops.

But Why Everclear?

Their first album in six years, Invisible Stars, in set to drop next month! And if that wasn’t enough, Art and company will embark on a huge tour this summer with Sugar Ray, Lit, Marcy Playground and the Gin Blossoms. Is that ‘90s enough for you?

What Does Sam Think?

I will admit that Everclear kind of sounds like most of the other post-Nirvana bands of the ‘90s (they even toured with most of the mainstreamers of the decade). And post-‘90s Everclear is a little too poppy for my liking.

But in its heyday, this band was everywhere, and for good reason.

Listen to anything from Sparkle and Fade or So Much for the Afterglow. The songs may be radio-friendly, but the subject matter is almost as dark as an Alice In Chains record.

As I noted above, Art Alexakis had a pretty rough childhood. While that’s not uncommon for a musician in any genre, it gave Art the ammo to attract a wider audience. He details his struggles with drugs, money and his absent father under the guise of catchy pop tunes. And it’s not like he made the references cryptic. Listen to “Father of Mine.” The lyrics say it all:

Father of mine
Tell me, how do you sleep
With the children you abandoned
And the wife I saw you beat?

The blow may be softened by the upbeat guitar melodies, but the message is clear. I think that’s what made Everclear so popular. They took these deeply personal experiences and put them in an accessible package.

Are they the greatest band of the ‘90s? Not even close. But do they have some great songs? Yes, they do.

The alternative scene in the ‘90s was massive and its influence has spilled over into the new millennium. Yeah, the sound has morphed a bit and become exponentially more mainstream, but maybe we’ll get back to those “low end of the dial” roots someday. Until then, we’ll have to endure another few Maroon 5 records.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

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