Hit singles? Platinum CDs? A decade-spanning retrospective? Art Alexakis couldn't have imagined any of it when he put together Everclear back in the early '90s.
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"For us to perpetuate success for 10 years, I never saw it coming," he says. "I just wanted to play guitar in a rock band to where I could make a living. It was, 'wow, I've got a family at home, I've got to support these people’, and I did…big time. You know what they say. Be careful what you wish for -- you might get it and more."
"More" is what you get from TEN YEARS GONE: THE BEST OF EVERCLEAR 1994-2004: 21 songs from the Portland, OR band that Entertainment Weekly calls "one of rock's most deserving success stories." From "Sparkle and Fade" and "Everything to Everyone" to "Wonderful" and "A.M. Radio," TEN YEARS GONE is both a tapestry of hits and high points and a document of growth, drawing on all six of the band's albums -- from the indie grit of "World of Noise" to the magnificent pop outrage of last year's "Slow Motion Daydream."
Also included are a pair of movie soundtrack contributions ("Local God" from Romeo and Juliet and a cover of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" from Detroit Rock City) and two previously unreleased tracks: "Sex With A Movie Star (The Good Witch Gone Bad)" and "The New Disease." All in a deluxe package with "Exile on Main Street"-inspired artwork and "Decade"-inspired liner notes penned by Alexakis.
"It was time," Alexakis says of digging through the past. "It's been 10 years, we've sold millions of records, and now the band's evolving into a different sound. I hope the people who like the things about Everclear that I do will love the new direction.”
What's most noticeable about TEN YEARS GONE is the way Everclear evolved into a classic American band, with a bedrock sound that's both timeless and contemporary. Sure, Everclear is based in the Northwest, had a so-called grunge hit with "Santa Monica" and were Billboard's "Alternative Artist of the Year" in 1998. But taken as a whole, Alexakis' body of work evokes not just post-punk influences like X, the Replacements and the Pixies, but also songwriters like John Hiatt and Elvis Costello, and rock'n'roll stalwarts Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.
"That's all I ever said we were -- a singer-songwriter in a hard rock band," Alexakis says. "I was just trying to make great songs."
It was no small thing getting to the point where he could do that. As the poverty-stricken child of a single mother whose older brother died of a drug overdose, Alexakis spent much of his teens and twenties simply trying to survive, battling addictions and himself. His ability to get past those hardships, and to make stirring, provocative, and even hopeful music out of them, is why Rolling Stone says he's "one of the only rock stars around with anything to say about real life." That includes his current life - as a sober, healthy, loving father and a three-time divorcee.
"I've had a pretty interesting fucking life," Alexakis acknowledges. "There's a lot of people like me -- we're all trying to figure it out and get through it the best way we can. It gives people hope just to know that other people do go through it.
"It's funny," he continues. "Kids come up to me and say, "man, I wish you could write another Sparkle and Fade," and I go, 'I'm sure there's some other kid out there that will.' I love the excitement and the anger of the earlier records - I was a really unhappy person, and it comes through - but now I'm 42 years old. My anger and my passion are funnelled differently. They're still there though. Probably be there for the rest of my life."
Among the songs from 1995's platinum-selling Sparkle and Fade is "Heroin Girl," which Alexakis says was "kind of a combination of my girlfriend back in the day, my brother, and also the drug itself, from a sexual point of view." Then of course there's "Santa Monica," which was re-recorded at the insistence of A&R man Perry Watts-Russell, who said he thought it would be a hit if it were longer. "I don't know if it would have been as big a hit if it were shorter, but who really cares now," Alexakis says with a laugh. "It's a good rock song!”
1997's So Much for the Afterglow went double-platinum, with three Top 5 Modern Rock Radio tracks in "Everything to Everyone," "I Will Buy You a New Life," and "Father of Mine." It's the latter song that resonated most with fans. "I'd always wondered a little bit why my older sisters were so vehemently against my Dad," Alexakis says. "Then when I had a kid of my own… I understood. 'How could a man abandon his child? How could he just move away?'"
Being a father is also what prompted Alexakis to become more politically active. He has testifed before Congress regarding child support laws, campaigned for several presidential tickets including Kerry/Edwards, and was an elected delegate from Oregon's 3rd Congressional District at this past year's Democratic National Convention. He recently recorded a version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" (available at www.rockthevote.org).
"Most people, it seems like when they start making some dough, they become more conservative. They want to protect what they have," Alexakis says. "Me on the other hand, after having a child, I just couldn't imagine... it just seems viciously wrong to me, in this country of so much wealth, to abandon someone else's children just because they weren't mine. And I think it makes it a better country to educate our kids, and to raise them up to be as openminded as possible - liberal, if you will. I'm not afraid of that word."
It's a good word to describe 2000's double-barreled effort, Songs from an American Movie, Vol 1: Learning How to Smile and Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 2: Good Time for a Bad Attitude. On Vol. 1 especially, the band's sound opened up.
"Songs from An American Movie Vol. 1" was originally gonna be a solo record " Alexakis says. " I wanted it to be more fun musically. I was getting kind of bored of the big guitar three-piece rock song thing. It was a little bit more folky, a little bit more rhythm and blues, a little bit more pop." That approach makes "Wonderful," a divorce song written from the child's point of view, all the more bittersweet. "AM Radio," on the other hand, is pure candied nostalgia. "I just thought that was a cool song, a cool idea, and I love the lyrics. It's self-effacing, it's slice of life and like I say in the liner notes, no one dies or gets abandoned."
TEN YEARS GONE is a bit lighter on Slow Motion Daydream since the record is so recent, but "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom" is a classic example of the Alexakis gift for satire, which he's fond of turning on himself (see also: "Rock Star"), while "New York Times," is a powerfully pretty, socially aware anthem.
"The New Disease" and "Sex With a Movie Star (The Good Witch Gone Bad) come from the same sessions; the latter song makes reference to Songs from an American Movie Vol. 2's "Good Witch of the North," which was about Alexakis' then-fiancee (and now ex-wife). "'Sex With a Movie Star' is not actually about her, but the reference seemed to work," he says. "It's about people I've met in LA who just don't seem to have much spirituality or soul. There's so many beautiful people there without much substance.
Six albums, ten years, lots of moments in a life. "The interesting thing about looking back at these different songs is they all sound like Everclear, but I was all in different places when I wrote these songs," says Alexakis. "Figuratively and literally."
And now he finds himself in yet another place. Asked about the future, Alexakis hints at something grand, but won't give it away. "I have a band - a band called Everclear," he says. "And it's phenomenal. It's not as bombastic -- more grown-up, a bit more pop in the classic sense, a little weirder. At the same time, it still sounds like Everclear to me, at at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.
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