Loud and Clear

In the middle of a serious discussion about the fickleness of the music-buying public, Everclear's Art Alexakis cracks wise.

"No one talks about bands who have two successful records back to back," he says. "Do you know why they don't? It doesn't happen."

Alexakis has a point. These days, consumers have a thing about repeat performances. Across genres, groups with hit CDs have seen much-anticipated follow-ups bomb. In the rock arena, recent post-hype releases from Veruca Salt, Blues Traveler and the Offspring -- to name just a few -- all fizzled. Everclear's latest CD, So Much for the Afterglow, while recently going gold, isn't flying off the shelves at the same swift rate as its predecessor, Sparkle and Fade, was a year ago.

In this climate of erratic trends, Lilith Fair fallout and Puff Daddy chart dominance, the Portland, Oregon-based Everclear's earnest, heavy guitars and pop-punk sensibilities are in serious danger of falling out of fashion. Back in 1995, the trio cracked the mainstream in a time-honored way: They put out a great CD in Sparkle and Fade. They toured nonstop for two years. They won fans and radio airplay, and they eventually scored an MTV smash with the grinding, hook-ravaged single "Santa Monica," which vaulted their release to platinum. But the public has a short memory, and the thirtysomething Alexakis, older and more business-savvy than either bassist Craig Montoya or drummer Greg Eklund, is well aware of such.

"The issues that people talk about in the press are so ludicrous to me," Alexakis snaps. "The sophomore jinx, the one-hit wonder, all this bullshit that has nothing to do with our band. We don't sell five million records per [release]; we have a very strong core following. We're making new fans all the time and we're changing from record to record. But we're retaining what we sound like as a rock band and better defining that from record to record. I think we'll continue to do that."

On So Much for the Afterglow, Everclear accomplishes exactly that. Instead of going for the easy hit and putting out Sparkle and Fade 2, the group pushed itself, sampling different instruments (banjo, strings, mandolin, keyboards) and vocal styles (the disc opens with tight, Beach Boys-style harmonizing). The result is not as focused as Sparkle, but the songs remain crisp and the group's energy level actually feels higher.

In the wake of grunge's anticorporate stance, many artists are still playing the role of the integrity-minded prima donna unconcerned about making money. Not Alexakis. Everclear's leader likes to see himself as part of rock's old school. Sure, he has integrity, but he wants as many people as possible to hear his band. Measured against pompous quasi-martyrs such as Pearl Jam, Alexakis's ambition is refreshing because it's real. His cockiness comes with believing in himself and his band.

Case in point: Early in their career, before they had a hit or any name recognition, Everclear performed live as part of a televised Tom Petty tribute concert. They were sharing the stage with several other acts, and the person in charge wanted all of the bands to share a single set of equipment, which is not customary. Immediately, Alexakis took charge.

"It was TV-show people dictating to bands what they were going to do," he recalls. "That's not really fair to people who brought their gear all the way out from wherever they came so they can play and [have] their own sound."

Alexakis reenacts his short speech: "I said to the guy, 'Hey, fine. If that's the deal, then everyone uses our gear or we're not going to play.' I was just like, 'Hey, fuck it. I could go back to my room. My hotel is right across the street and you're paying for it anyway. Do you want a show or not?' Finally they let everybody use their own gear."

That stern conviction also extends to the direction in which the band seems to be headed. When Alexakis talks about the future of Everclear, it's as if he has the rest of their career mapped out, right up to the point where they no longer exist.

"We're just going to make the music that we like, and do it as long as we like. We got a couple more records in us," he says. "I'm going to do a solo record, just to do some acoustic stuff -- some bloodletting. Then we'll do another record in a year or so, and maybe another after that, maybe not. That will probably be it, because, by then, I'll be firmly entrenched in my forties."

Alexakis's straight-up, no-bullshit attitude also has something to do with his troubled childhood and adolescent battle with drugs. Those hard years are both a touchstone and a motivator for Alexakis, whose first-person, confessional songs seem autobiographical even when they're not.

Of that painfully personal slant, Alexakis says, "You have to get emotional. I couldn't make music if I wasn't feeling emotional on-stage. [But] I'm not reliving it every night, I'm not reliving my dad abandoning me. It's not brain surgery here; it's just rock-and-roll songs. People who think about it too much start sounding like Yes, and who the hell needs that?"

Certainly not Everclear.

Everclear performs on Saturday, February 28, at the Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. Feeder and Jimmie's Chicken Shack open. For info, call 629-3700.

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David Simutis