“I'm just grateful you guys still care about little old Everclear!”
It's a Tuesday morning in Australia, making it Monday afternoon when Art Alexakis takes Mixdown's call, and the man sounds as sincere as he ever has. Indeed, Australia has been one of the most solely consistent fanbases for Everclear – the band in which Alexakis is the lead vocalist, guitarist, chief songwriter and sole remaining original member. The last time Alexakis and co. were performing here it was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their beloved Sparkle and Fade album. Two years removed, we've arrived at yet another double-decade milestone – this time for their platinum-selling LP, So Much for the Afterglow. The line of questioning begins by prompting Alexakis to explain what these birthday parties of sorts are like insofar as personal reflection is concerned.
“It brings up a lot of things for me,” he replies. “I'm absolutely humbled and very proud of this music. It's remarkable to see records like Sparkle and Fade and Afterglow still mean so much to people. I've gotten to play these songs all around the world, and the feeling is just the same 20 years on from doing it the first time. Without wanting to sound like a Hallmark gift-card or anything like that, I'm grateful for the connection we've made with people. The same folks that came to see us play and bought our records... I mean, a lot of them are still here with us. They still pay to see us, they still buy our records when we put new ones out. I can't tell you how fortunate it is to still have that at my age.”
So Much for the Afterglow was released in October of 1997. The third studio album from the band, it would go on to outsell Sparkle and Fade; standing to this day as the most commercially successful LP Everclear ever produced. Its double-platinum status was boosted by the chart success of three of the band's signature songs – ‘I Will Buy You a New Life’, ‘Everything to Everyone’ and, of course, ‘Father of Mine’. Any thoughts that the band would live in the shadow of Sparkle and Fade quickly subsided – although the path to Afterglow's creation wasn't entirely without setback. “When we went in to make this record, I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do,” says Alexakis.
“I had this grand vision for a record that was going to be both the loudest and quietest Everclear record ever – all these acoustic songs and all these punk songs together. When I actually tried making that record – I recorded about 14 or 15 songs in the fall of '96 – it just wasn't right. My A&R told me it was a good record, but not a great one. I was only interested in making great records. 'I know you,' he said. 'I know you can do better than this.'”
Alexakis took a fortnight to re-evaluate his work, staying at a hotel in New York and taking notes on what needed to be changed. This time period also saw him write four new songs, all of which would end up on the album – including the title track itself. “I wrote a punk-rock song, but I wanted it to have these Beach Boys-style harmonies,” he says. “It had to be perfect – we spent an entire day in the studio, and we must have layered up something like 28 tracks of vocals.”
Upon his return, Alexakis had found an entirely new perspective. “I was on the phone with everyone – my band, my management, my producer. I had all these ideas – 'I want this to happen, I want this to happen, I want Andy Wallace to remix the record in this studio.' It all came really fast. I was changing songs, scrapping songs, bringing in new instruments... I went from all of this doubt to just making it happen. I drove everybody really hard to make this record everything it could be. The whole thing ended up so different to how I imagined it to begin with, but the whole thing was just so much better.”
A progress report on the Afterglow retrospective sees Alexakis himself audibly beaming. “It's just been so great,” he enthuses. “I'm absolutely not exaggerating when I say the response has been phenomenal. I always make a point of making myself available after the show to talk to everyone, sign records, take photos... some of the lines for this tour have had me there at the merch desk for two hours after we're done. No matter where I go, everyone I speak to seem to has an Afterglow story. I've had grown men come up to me and tell me how much this record makes them cry. I'm honestly just glad to be a part of these people's lives. I have no ego in this. I get no bravado from the impact this record has had. All I get out of it is a true sense of pride.”
Everclear are touring Australia in September and October. Black Is the New Black is out now through The End Records.