In 2011, Everclear frontman Art Alexakis finally gave the people of Portland what they wanted: He moved back to California.
Before Fred Armisen, Alexakis served as the talisman for local cool-keepers and vexated artists to focus their insecurity and frustration. For 20 years, Alexakis has been seen as a boor who came to pillage this paradise, scavenging the metaphorical copper wire from the old bungalows and poaching the old growth pines. In a Willamette Week cover story from May 1996, published as Everclear played Letterman and had a single near the top of the Billboard charts, former music editor Richard Martin dubbed Alexakis "the most unpopular musician in Portland." It was a durable title: Fifteen years later, the Portland Mercury called him "The Most Hated Musician in Portland."
Why was Alexakis unable to make peace with Portland, a proudly blue-collar town that might've embraced a kid who grew in a housing project, saw his older brother killed by heroin and lived to record a heart-wrenching album rife with death, addiction and abuse?
To understand, you have to go back to the run-up to the recording of the band's landmark album, 1995's Sparkle and Fade. It is the best album ever recorded by a Portland band—vivid stories told through a singular sound that imbues the thump of post-grunge pop-punk with a serrated metallic edge and little bits of soft, greasy twang. And yet, the record never really got a fair shake here, its success overshadowed by indie ethics, xenophobia and a feud of born of two charismatic frontmen wooing the same beguiling young record store clerk.
This week, Alexakis breezes through the city which birthed his career and daughter to play his masterpiece in full. While Alexakis and former Everclear bassist Craig Montoya declined to be interviewed for this piece (though Montoya did send a screenshot of the cover of Megadeth's Rust In Peace with a brief statement: "And you can quote me on that"), we were able to conduct lengthy interviews with two former Everclear drummers, one drummer-to-be, and the record's co-producer. Here is the story of Sparkle and Fade, told as they remember it, and through previously published stories.
I. "This is worse than venereal disease"
As Alexakis tells it, the native Angeleno kicked a drug habit and moved to San Francisco in his late 20s. There, he spent a few years playing in a rootsy cowpunk band called the Easy Hoes and the Everclear precursor Colorfinger. Both failed. At age 30, he was nearing his expiration date as a rock star. He was also expecting a child with his younger girlfriend, Jenny Dodson, a Portland native.
Alexakis (via The Oregonian): I sure as hell didn't want to raise kids in San Francisco. Their public schools aren't very good. When we found out she was pregnant, we moved to Portland because they had the Oregon health plan and cost of living was low. Buying a house was something that young people could do, without having an inheritance.
Alexakis placed a classified ad in a local music newspaper The Rocket: "Looking for bass player and drummer to form a band. Influences Pixies, Sonic Youth, X, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin." The only two people to respond were bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Scott Cuthbert. Montoya had moved from Spokane with his band, Soul Hammer, which subsequently split. Cuthbert was classically trained and had been a member of the world famous Santa Clara Vanguard and Blue Devil Drum Corps. The fledgling band held its first rehearsal when Alexakis' daughter, Annabella, was just four days old.
Cuthbert: Our first gig was with Napalm Beach at Satyricon on a Wednesday night. I thought that was big, that was cool. Just watching Art's wizardry, getting cool local artists to do our posters and us running around town putting up posters like a real band. Going and doing all these gigs—I remember we got to be onstage at Satyricon on New Year's Eve. That was just awesome in my mind. It was amazing to watch it just continue to grow and grow. It's a testament to what Art was driven to do. He did not give up. He was going to go.
That attitude was at odds with Portland's ambition-allergic indie-rock establishment, most of whom were a little younger than Alexakis and without the responsibilities of supporting a family.
Cuthbert: Coming in, this guy from San Francisco, he knew how to work the media and he knew how to play songs, and he was personality plus on stage. People kinda hated that. That wasn't what was cool at the time.
“Everclear remain out in the cold among Portland’s band circles. Alexakis and bassist Craig Montoya are relative newcomers to the somewhat xenophobic scene, while drummer Greg Eklund is a relative newcomer to Everclear.” — The Rocket, September 26, 1994.
Alexakis, via the webzine Addicted to Noise, 1995: If I wasn't such a hard-ass, I don't think we'd have gotten as far as we have. We basically got every door shut in our face here in Portland. 'Cause we weren't from Portland. If you're not part of the clique, it doesn't happen. And we did happen without any help from those people and they resent the hell out of us.
There were also tensions of a personal nature. Dodson, Alexakis's girlfriend and baby's mother, had made quite an impression on the local scenesters before she moved to San Francisco. Her biggest fan was a guy named Pete Krebs, frontman of Sub Pop signees Hazel, then king of Portland's indie-rock scene.
Cuthbert: Hazel was by far the most popular band in town. They were the cool band. [Drummer-singer] Jody [Bleyle] was kicking it and could sing her ass off it and had great harmonies. And Pete was OK. He had this sing-song-y thing going on and wrote a lot of the tunes. They had this really cool, weird hippie dude [Fred Nemo] that would climb on their amps and do interpretive dance. I can't explain that—you had to see it…Art hated Hazel because that was his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend and he wouldn't give up on her. Pete is an artist, and he feels it. He was in love with Jenny and he wouldn't give it up.
The tension between Krebs and Alexakis was laid bare in a August 1996 Spin magazine piece, written by future Pulitzer-winning critic Jonathan Gold. According to the story, hostilities in the scene exploded after Alexakis hit Dodson on the arm, earning a night in jail and 24 weeks of anger management counseling.
“If the Portland rock swells had been disdainful of Alexakis before the incident, they were positively contemptuous after news of it leaked out. Krebs took to lecturing people about domestic violence, using Alexakis as example number one. ‘Five out of six perpetrators of domestic assault continue to batter their wives,’ he says, a tad self-righteously. ‘Art could be the exception, the one in six, but the odds aren’t good. I’m concerned for Jenny’s safety; I’m worried she’s in over her head. And I’m going to speak out.’
‘I can’t believe I fucked that guy,’ moans Dodson. ‘This is worse than a venereal disease.’”—Spin, August 1996.
Krebs, who recently battled cancer and continues to record with a local country band, declined to be interviewed for this story but did say that he felt that he was misrepresented by the media at the time, and that while he doesn't regret his actions, he wishes Alexakis the best.
Cuthbert: There's an obscure Everclear song called "For Pete's Sake." That was one of the songs that made me want to retch when I was playing on it because it's just him talking to Pete.
“I’m not responsible for your life falling apart/I’m not responsible/You and me could have been the best friends that we never had/You did everything you could to damage me/Damage me/It’s happened to me/In love with the same girl/It’s nobody’s fault/Yeah, nobody’s fault/Hey, maybe for the first time, act like a grown man, keep it in/Yeah, keep it in.”— lyrics to “For Pete’s Sake.”
Cuthbert: It pissed Art off that I had a Hazel bumper sticker on my Fiat. I'm kind of an asshole. I knew it pissed him off and I didn't really care. Like, "What's your problem, man? I like Hazel!"
II: "That was kind of embarrassing—for him"
The bumper sticker wasn't the only issue between Cuthbert and Alexakis. The drummer liked to improvise, which frustrated his bandmates.
Cuthbert: I follow the Led Zeppelin school. If you watch those guys, they're playing a different show every night. John Bonham wasn't held to play the same taka-taka-taka-taka-baaaaaaaaa every night. So I would make things up as I go, because I'm a musician. And this would freak Art out. We'd get done with gigs and I was fine, he'd be all pissed off and screaming at me that I hadn't played this or that right. If I didn't play a lick the exact same way I did on the album it actually messed him up. That was kind of embarrassing—for him.
Things boiled over at a show in New York, where record industry types had come to watch the band. Cuthbert doesn't remember the show as being especially bad beyond the small crowd, but it entered band lore as the disaster that led to his exit.
Greg Eklund, drummer on Sparkle and Fade: I think it was one it was one of these disaster nights where Art broke two strings and didn't have a backup. Craig broke a bass string. Shit that never happens happened. And, at the time—Scott was, as I understand it, and I've never met him—was more sort of a groovy, sort of hippie sort of guy, and during that New York show he fell apart for some reason and was, like, playing the wrong songs. Like, the band was playing one song, he was playing another and not realizing it or something. It was a disaster, basically. A lot of the labels left halfway through the show. I remember Craig saying the rest of the drive across the country was very uncomfortable because it was obvious that they had to get a new drummer.
Cuthbert: By the time we got to New York—Jesus. Those six week tours are a mother, you know? If you're the drummer, in Denver your hands are messed up with blisters. By the time you get to Fargo it's starting to heal, by the time you get out of the Midwest you're good. By the time we got to New York I had a little water on the knee. I remember Art being really aggro about there being some guy from some label watching us. I'm not going to put on airs for somebody. I put all my energy into the show every show, it's not just because someone is watching. To make a big deal because there's a label guy? To me, I'm making a big deal every single night.
The tour wound back across the country to Oregon. The last show was in Eugene, at a club called John Henry's. Cuthbert was the last person to know it, but it was to be his final gig with Everclear. Alexakis had put word out that he was looking for a new drummer, luring candidates to the Eugene show. Future Everclear drummer Greg Eklund had recently quit his band JollyMon. He was there to check out a band called band Kpants, which was opening for Everclear.
Eklund: I happened to know the sound guy that was on tour with them and he took me aside and was like, "Hey, listen, Everclear is about to get signed, I think, but one of the conditions is they have to drop their drummer." And I was like, '"Hey, I'm here to try to get into this other band, Kpants." Little did I know that I was at that show I was there to try to get the Kpants gig, Everclear was there with Scott Cuthbert playing drums and unbeknownst to me until later, there was another drummer there that Everclear had secretly asked to come down and watch the show. This is a guy from Seattle that they liked who they were trying to get to join their band. So there were three potential Everclear drummers in the room that night. The next day they went down and jammed with the dude who they'd invited secretly, but he hadn't learned the songs.
That dude was Rob Cunningham, who wanted to quit his Seattle band, the Lemons, and join a new project. His band's manager shared an office with Everclear's manager. He was the leading candidate for the Everclear gig.
Cunningham: [My band's manager] was like, "Yeah, these guys are looking to replace their drummer but it's kind of on the down-low because their drummer doesn't know yet and they still have some gigs. They don't want to sack him until they somebody because labels are starting to show serious interest in the band, they could get signed pretty soon here. Would your guy be willing to learn some songs and maybe come down at the end of the week?" This was on a, like, Sunday or something. So I had about three days to listen to some demos. I did the best I could to learn some of that stuff but it wasn't a whole lot of time. I went down that Thursday night and stayed at Art's house, crashed on his couch. We hung out, me and Craig. We had a good time, went out to a couple clubs, some titty bars. It was just pretty obvious that we hung out together pretty well….We jammed on Sunday before I left, on just the drum kit they had. It seemed pretty cool. I didn't have any of the material down pat but it seemed like it would probably work out. It was like, well, I'll go back to Seattle and woodshed for a week and then come back down and have a full, bonafide audition.
Eklund: In a week's time I'd managed to track down Art's telephone number….So I called him. Basically it's the only time in my life I've ever had any sort of bravado, but I was like, "I heard you're looking for a drummer, I'm the guy," and he was like, "OK, smartypants, you think you're so good," and it's like, "No, I'm just the guy who's perfect for your band."
Call it fate, kismet or coincidence—Eklund had called at exactly the right time.
Eklund: What had happened is literally 10 minutes before I called him, the dude who was supposed to show up for the audition from Seattle, when he was loading his drums in Seattle, he fell down two flights of stairs and cracked his ribs, fractured his wrist. He didn't show up for the rehearsal and Art was like, "What's the deal? This guy didn't show up." Ten minutes later I call and I'm like, "I'm your guy." They were leaving on another tour in like a week and Art was like, "Oh, shit, that was our guy. What are we gonna do?" And then I called.
Cunningham: I went down to where my gear was, our rehearsal place down in Kent, Washington. It was on the second story—worst rehearsal space ever in that regard. You had to load your shit up two flights of stairs to get to the loft space, which was the practice space. It'd been sprinkling a bit, which it does occasionally in Washington. I took a load of stuff down, loaded my car up, and went back for another load. I just got overambitious. I was in a hurry to get out of there, and I took a spill from almost the top of the staircase with some drum cases. When I got to the bottom my left wrist was pretty tweaked. I just left the stuff laying where it was and drove to the emergency room.
Eklund: There was a punk rock record store at like 17th and Hawthorne and they knew the guy so they just said, "Come down and audition in the back room." I played one song, "Nervous and Weird," and they both stopped and looked at each other and were like, "Do we need to talk about this anymore? You're in the band if you want." And I was like "OK, rad."
Within a week Eklund, Montoya and Alexakis would fly down to Capital to sign a record deal. Cunningham was with them, too.
Eklund: The dude that was supposed to audition for Everclear and fell down the stairs and broke his wrist? Art made him the tour manager because he felt bad for him.
Cunningham: They were like, "He's learned the material down pat, he's got it, we're going to go with him." This was like a week after I broke my arm. "But we are going to do this tour that was already booked and we do need someone to be our road manager. Small tour. Would you be interested?" I couldn't do my day gig in Seattle, working in a clothing factory, with my arm the way it was. I had to take a month off that anyway, so why not?
Eklund: He toured with us from the time we got signed until the record was recorded. I was convinced that he was sticking around to see if I was going to work out.
Cunningham: It was never expressly said, but the implication was, that if something happens with Greg—things don't work out, personalities don't mesh—you'd be there in the wings, a safety net if you will….It made it incredibly awkward, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for Greg….The guy's a pro. He constantly had headphones on, constantly listening to the material, learning it, practicing. I knew he had the chops to do it. When I saw their first show with him, it was great. It was pretty obvious that unless he turned out to be a complete prick or had some mental disorder things were going to work out. But at the time I had nothing to lose. I didn't have a job. So I was like, what the hell.
For Alexakis there was only one piece of unfinished business. Scott Cuthbert was fired from Everclear in a Southeast Portland pizza parlor on Friday, June 17, 1994. We know the exact date because as he was being fired, the three original members of the band watched a swarm of LAPD cop cars slowly chase OJ Simpson's white bronco on television.
Cuthbert: We didn't finish there, we went to his house. And I cried my eyes out, because I'd never been let go before from anything in my life. On the other hand, I really never bought into that band.
Alexakis told reporters that Cuthbert was fired for using marijuana, which violated the band's "no drug" policy he'd instituted as part of the strict straight-edge lifestyle he'd adopted after nearly dying of an overdose in 1984. Those interviews caused problems for Cuthbert, who was then trying to get himself established as a school teacher. Today, he's the band director at Astoria High School and writes the school's marching band shows.
Cuthbert: There was some MTV thing about before you knew them that showed a clip of me walking away and it didn't paint a very pretty picture, like, I was pissed off all the time. I wasn't pissed off all the time but I didn't like playing with the band because I was playing this simple, simple, simple crap over and over. I know it's what makes money but I couldn't do it….Some of those recordings that we made, [Alexakis] had the gate set on the recording so hot that you can't hear the double beats on my bass drum. I tried to tell him this and he'd just scream at me like I had no idea what I was talking about. I tried to tell him what the drums were supposed to sound like and he just didn't want to listen. For that reason, you know, I didn't really feel like I gave a shit about the band. I wasn't the guy to go to the show with Art really. I never was. I did my thing but I kind of looked at it from the outside like, "This is bullshit."
But Cuthbert did get a small cut of publishing on the songs he'd worked on. Alexakis was generous about cutting bandmates in on publishing even though he wrote all the songs.
Cuthbert: I was able to get an Aerostar minivan, Eddie Bauer model. It rocked, man….I felt sorry for Greg because he literally played my parts—the actual drum beats I played. It was just kind of weird. I'd like to have my own take on things. But when I heard Greg play "Heroin Girl" he was aping my parts exactly, as best he could figure out.
III: "Marie Osmond saw my penis!"
After signing with Capitol Records, Everclear did a few more small tours and oversaw the re-release of their first record, World Of Noise, which had been recorded for $400 and released on Portland indie label Tim/Kerr. Then, it was time to record Sparkle and Fade. Alexakis had the material ready to go.
Eklund: I remember feeling really lucky that I was involved with someone like this because all the bands I'd been in, we'd never had a songwriter per se. It was more about jamming out something cool.
Cuthbert: Art always had a backlog of songs. What I thought was cool about Art is he'd come to rehearsal and say "OK, man, play something." It would turn into a song in a day or two. That's what I appreciated as a musician. He was professional enough to actually put something together, it wasn't just a never-ending jam session—which happens a lot.
Eklund: I still say there are one or two songs on each record he's written that will cut you to the bone. They're just usually surrounded with more pop fluff because we were trying to maintain radio play. All the way through, this one, there isn't any fluff on it. They're all really good.
Alexakis ultimately controlled the Sparkle and Fade sessions, but since he had almost no studio experience, he tapped Michael Wade Douglass to co-produce.
Douglass: I was a house engineer at A&M studios. Not to be hyperbolic, but at the time it was arguably the best studio in the world. I had done a record for Epitaph for a band called Down By Law, Punkrockacademyfightsong. That was the first record I ever produced, recorded and mixed. Art was a fan of the record and we had the same lawyer. At the time, I was working on Metallica's Black record. I got a call out of the blue one day asking if I could meet him and discuss doing a project. We met at the Roosevelt [Hotel] in Hollywood and had coffee. It was a pretty short conversation. He was like, "Look, I'm a big fan of this record. This is the sound I'm looking for. You need a major-label production credit." I'd only done independent, thus far, for labels like Epitaph. I said, "OK, I'll consider it, do you have a tape?" He gave me a tape of some demos and "Santa Monica" was on there. I called him and said, "OK, I'll do it."
Though Douglass tried to convince Alexakis to record at A&M, he booked time at Butch Vig's Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, where Nirvana recorded Nevermind.
Douglass: [Alexakis] had a vision and his vision was damned-near complete. And, in retrospect, he was right. He knew what he was doing. He could be rigid and not necessarily open to suggestion, but he did know what he was doing.
But that rigidity could be frustrating.
Douglass: One of the nice things [at Smart Studios] is they have a tremendous inventory of vintage amplifiers and guitars and stuff which you could avail yourself of. On a rhythm guitar double, typically on a record like that you do a rhythm guitar track and then you double it, so you can pan hard left and right and get a bigger sound. It was really hard to get [Alexakis] to try different combinations of amplifiers and guitars. He just wanted to stick with his guitar and his amp. As a producer, you're looking for different colors, different textures, different flavors. It was like pulling teeth to get him to use a different guitar or a different amp. Finally, one day a lightbulb went off over his head when I plugged in a Fender Bassman to a 4×12 cabinet. You could see he got it, and then he would listen to my suggestions about stuff like that. But it was really difficult to get him to go there.
Other times, though, his rigidity worked out for the best—like the naming of "Santa Monica."
Eklund: I remember the first time he played it for me and he was like, "It's called Santa Monica." And I'm like, "You don't say 'Santa Monica' in the whole song. Usually, the chorus has the title of the song."
Everclear was under the tutelage of legendary A&R man Perry Watts-Russell. Alexakis expressed respect for his business acumen, but was chafed by some of his suggestions.
Eklund: The A&R guy at Capitol said, "Yeah, we think 'Santa Monica' is the single but it needs a second chorus, it's not long enough." We went into a different studio in Los Angeles and tried to re-record it with a double chorus at the end but we couldn't get the sound the same—it was a different studio and we liked the way the first one sounded. They cut the actual tape and made a copy of it, put it back in, looped it. The whole thing is ridiculous because now, in Pro Tools, it would take exactly two-and-a-half minutes to do, but at the time it was a big deal because they were cutting the master tape. If you listen to it, after the last chorus there's a slight hesitation in the middle of a snare roll where you can hear it. Because I'm doing a snare roll they had to slice into the snare roll. And there's a slight little zzmmmmm. That's where the edit was done."
That tension did lead to more creativity. Specifically, another song on the album.
Eklund: "You Make Me Feel Like a Whore" was written in response to that because Art was like, "No, I like ['Santa Monica'] the way it was," and the A&R guy was like, "You should double the chorus." Art wrote that basically as a fuck you. If you listen the lyrics it's basically just him talking to the A&R guy.
“I take your word like it was gospel, I’m so eager to please/Yeah I like it when you talk to me/It feels so good inside your shadow, it’s the place I need to be/Yeah you know I need to climb you like a tree.” — lyrics to “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore.”
"You Make Me Feel Like a Whore" is a rarity among Everclear songs in that it's clear what's real and what's not. Alexakis' stories of relapses, overdoses, domestic strife and death mingle truth and fiction in a way that's hard for anyone to parse, even the people playing on the records. In the Portland music scene, there are those who challenge his entire narrative, claiming Alexakis embellished his own battles with addiction, which are based more on what he witnessed his late brother George go through. According to Alexakis, songs like "Santa Monica" are about his real-life attempted suicide while "Queen of the Air" is fictional story of a mother's suicide and "Heroin Girl" is somewhere in between.
Eklund: Just being around Art in a million interviews, if you suggest they're personal he'll deny that and say, "No, I write from a songwriting standpoint." And if you say, "Wow, you're writing from a songwriting standpoint, these are all made up," he'll deny it and say, "No, they're all personal." I know he reacts against interviewers in a lot of ways, so he always wants to counter what's being said.
Douglass: With Art, it's hard to get him to talk about that sort of stuff in depth. He doesn't reveal much, he doesn't divulge much. At the time, I was assuming that most of it was autobiographical, only to find out later that maybe not as much of it was autobiographical as I thought. But it made for a fairly intense process sometimes. Your impression was, "Wow, this guy has been through some shit."
Eklund: An example of that is "Queen of the Air." I remember when I heard it I was like, "Wow, man, I'm really sorry about your aunt, that's a terrible story." And he was like, "Oh, no, I made that up, none of that is true." It'd taken so long for me to work up the nerve to approach him and just be like, "I'm really sorry," I remember being completely crushed that none of it was true, because I'd read it as a literal suicide off a bridge by someone that was his mom and no one ever told him. That was completely made up.
Sparkle and Fade wasn't just the band's creative high point, it was also the most fun the classic lineup had in the band. Thanks went partly to Rob Cunningham, the almost-drummer turned road manager, helped offset the tension while he set made travel arrangements for band's next tour.
Douglass: It was a fun record to make. Rob contributed a lot in terms of vibe—he was just fun. Like, we got word one day that Marie Osmond was coming to do some overdubs in the studio upstairs. We were pretty excited. We were young at the time and Marie Osmond was like Julie Newmar to us, she was adolescent sexual fantasy material. We made a point of hanging out in the lounge upstairs as long as we could to try to catch a glimpse of her. Rob had this habit that we all teased him about of not closing the bathroom door when he went in to take a piss. So he was actually in the bathroom taking a piss when Marie Osmond walks in. She had just gotten off her tour bus and had to use the bathroom and the door was open so she just walked right in there. It was hysterically funny because she was really taken aback and she came sort of hurrying out of there and there was a glass wall to the control room she actually bounced off before she was able to make it into the control room. The next thing you know, Rob comes walking out with his fist in the air like, "Marie Osmond saw my penis!"
While Sparkle and Fade was being recorded downstairs at Smart Studios, Butch Vig was recording another mega-selling album upstairs. It was a very different process.
Eklund: At the time he and his producer friend were all recording the first Garbage record upstairs. Sparkle & Fade, we recorded in two weeks. I think they took two weeks just getting a snare sound. They were in no particular hurry because studio time was theirs.
Cunningham: We were like, "Oh, Butch and some of his buddies have a little project. It's called Garbage. How cute is that?" We thought nothing of it. We heard some of the rough tracks but there was nothing particularly mind-blowing about it, at all. We just heard bits. They might do a guitar solo or a backward saxophone thing to mesh in with a guitar solo. We only heard a few bars at a time, and it was without the vocals. It seemed like he had a little fuck-around band, this little project he was doing. We thought nothing of it—even the band name, Garbage, seemed like a fuck-around name. But I'll tell you, when that record came out, it was like "Holy shit!" I had no idea that was going on.
The night after they finished recording Sparkle & Fade, the five men who helped make it went their separate ways. Douglass wanted to work up rough mixes before the reels left his control, so he arranged for everyone to go out for a big steak dinner. The photo that accompanies this story was taken afterward, in the parking lot of the restaurant. That meal happened because Douglass wanted to keep the masters out of the hands of Brian Malouf, a producer who'd worked with everyone from Michael Jackson and Madonna to Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band.
Douglass: One of the things that rankled me is that I never had a shot at mixing it. Just like everything else, Art already had a plan. He already had Brian Malouf picked to mix it. Brian Malouf clearly had more experience than I did and I understand the decision. But Brian Malouf is not really a rock'n'roll mixer. I wanted a shot at it. So I had a plan. I was like, "Let's go have a nice dinner, we're finished, it's in the can," because I knew that I was going to spend all night doing rough mixes….So I stayed up until well after sunrise and gave them the best possible rough mixes that I could. Art said to me, "OK, if you want I'll give you a shot at this….Pick a song and mix it. I'll get you the tapes, mix it at your own studio, send it to me and if it's good I'll consider it." I picked "Santa Monica"—everybody knew that was the one—and I delivered a really good mix of it. It's a mix that I think is quite a bit better than what's on the record.
Meanwhile, Cunningham, the almost-drummer turned road manager, decided he needed to part from Everclear and get back to performing. Today, he lives in Los Angeles and does sound in Hollywood. He's currently working on William H. Macy's Shameless.
Cunningham: I was at a crossroads. Here was this opportunity, working with a major label band that was signed and rising with a bullet. By the time we finished that record—they finished that record—at least in my mind it was pretty obvious that Capitol had shown enough confidence in the band that the groundwork was being set that if the record turned out well it was going to do well. And the record was obviously turning out very well. The dailies that they were bringing back to the on cassettes and playing on boomboxes in the hotel room were impressive. They were getting some really good shit….My choice was basically whether to hang up my sticks and go on the ride for the long term or to say, "Hey, this has been a fun ride but I need to get off at the next stop and do what I was doing before."…Art was disappointed. He didn't want to have to replace me, and he felt like he was offering me an opportunity that I had to be a crazy man to walk away from. But I had to walk away. When I'd put as many years into it as I had I couldn't just let fate—a broken arm throwing me into a situation—change my path, my destiny, my calling or what have you.
IV: "He has never been cool in Portland."
Meanwhile, Everclear returned to Portland after recording and touring and found that lots of other local indie bands had gotten signed, too. That didn't necessarily didn't make Everclear any more popular with scenesters.
Eklund: I remember leaving and it was like "wrahwrahrahwrah." We were gone for three months. Coming back, we'd run into guys in some of these bands that wanted to talk business on their deal, like, "Do you think we got enough points? Is our upfront cost money—blah, blah, blah. What did you get?" We left for three months and everyone had gotten signed. We weren't the only band, we were just the first, and everyone was comparing deals when we got back.
Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, speaking in a 1996 Willamette Week cover story about Everclear's success: I go out for coffee and someone across the room will glare |at me] and maybe say something really, really bad about my band to whoever they're sitting with. It's their personal moment of being a powerful little person standing up for what they believe. That happens once a month.
Alexakis, via the Mercury, November 2009: I don't really care what people think. I mean, do I want people to get what I'm doing? Of course. Do I want to be liked for what I'm doing? Of course. But if you don't and you've got a perspective on me, there's usually an agenda. If you don't like me for some reason, OK, there's nothing I can do about it. I just move on. It doesn't really hurt me and I think that's what's pissed a lot of people off.
Cuthbert: He has never been cool in Portland. Not from the get-go, man. It was some resentment. People were jealous of his talent. And I hate him, too—but he's got something that people love, so what are you gonna say? He's never been on the inside, he's always had to bust his way through a bunch of "cool" people.
It took seven months for Sparkle and Fade to crack the Billboard 200, but by January 1996 it was atop the Heatseekers chart.
Eklund: On that tour we played a place in Kansas City, called Memorial Hall. I remember looking down into the field next to Memorial Hall and there were dudes with orange vests and parking wands waving people into spots. I was like, "Holy shit. We've made it. There's dudes who's only jobs down there is a parking spot." For some reason that struck me."
Things would continue to trend upward with the band's next record, So Much For The Afterglow. Everclear's classic lineup stayed together for a full decade. In 2003, Montoya and Eklund left—no one wants to discuss the specifics. Alexakis has since been dismissive of the two men at his side for every meaningful moment in his career.
Alexakis, via the blog Diffuser, June 2015: Everclear has always been my project—just like Trent Reznor is Nine Inch Nails and Billy Corgan is Smashing Pumpkins. I am Everclear. It's the same thing. People are like, "Well, this isn't the original band," and I'm like, "Well, the 'original' band wasn't the original band, either. They were the third version of the band." They were just in the right place at the right time, so they were the ones in the videos.
The classic lineup, which Alexakis refers to dismissively as "the third version of the band," remains estranged. Montoya is a manager at Portland-based CD Baby. Eklund lives in Omaha but flies around the country to play drums for Storm Large. Eklund will be in town at the end of the month for Large's shows at the Aladdin—coincidentally, the same venue where he last saw Alexakis, at the Oregon Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Alexakis, via The Oregonian: I saw 'em a couple years ago when we were inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and that was nice. That was the third version of the band….It's always been my band from the beginning, as a vehicle for my songwriting, for my singing.
Eklund: I found out about it online—someone was like, "Buy tickets to the Everclear induction to the Oregon Music Hall of Fame!" I was like, "No one's contacted me, what the fuck?" And it turns out no one was going to contact me because it was only Art that was accepting the award. And I was like, "Fuck that, there's no way I'm going to let him accept the award without me or Craig there." So I made a big stink and they ended up inviting us.
Terry Currier, president of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame: [T]here was always full intention to invite them. As you know, those two and Art had not talked since those two exited the band. I personally talked to Art to make sure he was fine with them on stage with him to get the award and he was fine with that. I did not talk to Art 'til a while after the announcement which prompted some Facebook rants by some friends of Craig (possibly Greg also) about the guys not getting invited.
Eklund: Afterward, it was a really surreal moment. I ended up walking off the stage and Everclear were headlining. So I watched Everclear from the side of the stage. Everything at that point left. It was a total release.
SEE IT: Everclear plays Sparkle and Fade at Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St., with Hydra Melody, on Wednesday, Nov. 18. 7:30 pm. Sold out. 21+.
For part two, see here.