All Everclear ahead
Power-grunge Everclear avoids 'One Hit Wonder' trap
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By Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- The area behind the massive stage at Atlanta's Music Midtown festival is deserted. But Everclear frontman Art Alexakis is surrounded by a throng of reporters and cameras. His band and Hole are the two major festival headliners, and everyone seems to want a piece of the singer/songwriter now being hailed as the John Mellencamp of the MTV generation.
It's not an analogy the blond, scruffy Alexakis appreciates.
"I've heard the Bruce Springsteen comparison. I'll take that over John any day. I'm a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, even though I don't know if I can live up to that, so it may be easier to live up to the Coug."
As Everclear's chief songwriter, Alexakis has penned two platinum albums, generating power-grunge hits that have become radio mainstays and beating the bleak survival odds for grunge bands.
Everclear's songs are completely recognizable without sounding redundant. And the band has transcended the plethora of anonymous pseudo-grunge bands that filled the post-Nirvana vacuum. These two facts have helped place Everclear beyond the flash-in-the-pan status of so many groups that hit it big on radio, only to vanish months later.
"Our album is bucking the trend, because you have so many bands that come out doing really well and then disappear," says Alexakis. "But we've been a rock band and done it the old-fashioned way. We've been around and had four hit singles off one record. We keep doing this slow incline."
Inclined to succeed
Since their first album "Sparkle and Fade" was released in May 1995, Everclear has churned out one fresh, infectious grunge hit after another -- from the smash "Santa Monica" to "Everything to Everyone" and "Father of Mine," from the 1997 multi-platinum release "So Much for the Afterglow." And Everclear recently was given the Modern Rock Artist of the Year prize at the Billboard Music Awards.
Now, the trio -- Alexakis, vocals and guitar; Craig Montoya, bass; Greg Eklund, percussion -- is basking in the afterglow of "Afterglow," playing a few shows across the country.
Alexakis is soon to have some surgery to remove polyps and cysts from his vocal chords. That means he'll have about 10 days of quiet recuperation before he finishes working on his solo album.
In good company
Despite the acclaim that's come his way, Alexakis says he had a taste of humility at the 1999 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He honored the late Del Shannon, who was being inducted into the Hall almost a decade after his 1990 suicide. Alexakis found himself sharing a room with some of music's finest.
"I was in awe," he says. "I felt like a little, little insignificant person compared to all the people there. Everybody was there -- Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen," says Alexakis. "I did my part and sat at the table with some legends."
Not that Alexakis has much to worry about in the musical self-esteem division these days. It's virtually impossible to turn on a modern rock radio station without hearing a hit from his band.
Radio loves Everclear. It's hard not to. While not revolutionary or groundbreaking, the music is undeniably catchy. The lyrics are clever and somewhat ironic, but always accessible. And the albums are jammed with potential hits.
"One of the things that we have going for us is that 'I'm kind of an old-fashioned singer-songwriter in a really hard rock band.' There haven't been too many combinations of that that really worked. We make good albums with good singles that appeal to a mass audience," says Alexakis.
Before the music
Alexakis grew up in a lower-middle-class family in Santa Monica, California. He worked as a roadie for various punk bands. And, he says, he indulged in large quantities of drugs until kicking his cocaine habit after his brother overdosed. In the mid-'80s, he formed country-punk band Colorfinger in San Francisco.
Once that group had broken up, Alexakis moved to Portland and hooked up with bassist Montoya and drummer Scott Cuthbert in 1991 to form Everclear. Cuthbert would be replaced by Eklund in 1994. Early on, the trio was compared to grunge gods Nirvana, a similarity not mitigated by Alexakis' blond hair and Nirvana lead Kurt Cobain's approval of the band.
After making two independent albums, Everclear signed with Capitol and "Sparkle and Fade," which yielded the hits "Santa Monica" and "Heroin Girl." Two years later, "So Much For the Afterglow" did its predecessor proud, the album staying true to Everclear's lucrative brand of power-grunge while moving into new sonic territory with avid experimentation -- banjos, toy pianos, even a horn section.
As if to prove the band's seemingly limitless marketability, songs from "Afterglow" are still in heavy rotation on modern-rock radio, especially the candid confessional "Father of Mine," inspired by Alexakis' troubled relationship with his dad.
Another of Everclear's recent hits, in fact, deals with the perils of becoming a "One Hit Wonder": "He will not stop until everybody everywhere wants to know his name," Alexakis sings amid screaming guitars.
The song title names a pitfall the band has avoided by making smart music, says Art Alexakis.
"I hate stupid music. I think our music is Paul Simon meets Led Zeppelin," he says.
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