Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s S & F

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Lee Harvey Oswald
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Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s S & F

Post by Lee Harvey Oswald » Mon Nov 17, 2014 8:57 pm

Saw this on the Everclear facebook

https://www.facebook.com/everclear

http://www.riceandbreadmagazine.com/art ... -and-fade/

Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s Sparkle and Fade

Interview by Jason Schreurs

Everclear’s Sparkle and Fade used to be one of those guilty-pleasure ’90s albums that I shied away from talking about, not only publicly in my music journalism work, but even amongst close friends (I even made a somewhat clandestine trip down to Vancouver to see them play this tour in 1995). Surely, a steadfast punk/hardcore/metal dude couldn’t shamelessly enjoy a second-wave “alt-grunge” album from a band who were selling millions of records off what would later be widely considered a one-hit wonder called “Santa Monica”?

But there was only one problem, and I couldn’t hide it (later, when I grew up and grew a pair, I stopped even trying to hide it): Sparkle and Fade was an amazing album, top to bottom. In fact, I’m proud to say it remains one of my all-time favourite albums, right alongside the other albums I’ve declared as Classic Platters on Rice and Bread.

A cautionary tale of drug abuse and trying to find your place in the world and in your community, Sparkle and Fade has enveloped me for the past nearly 20 years. I own three physical copies: one for the house, one for the garage, and one for the car. That’s kind of insane, isn’t it? But that’s how good this album is.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Everclear founder, guitarist and vocalist Art Alexakis about how Sparkle and Fade came to be. Talking frankly to Alexakis about an album that I’ve listened to more times than I could ever possibly count ranks up there among the best interviews I’ve ever done, so please read on…

Do you remember how the idea for Sparkle and Fade first came about? You were looking to follow up World of Noise, so do you remember the first kernel of the album and how it started to take shape?
Well, I started Everclear in 1992 after I’d just moved to Portland. I was writing songs all the time and I had a baby on the way, who was born in June of ’92. And I started Everclear in, like, April of ’92, and just kept writing songs. Later that summer, after my daughter Anna was born, it just didn’t seem like the band was clicking. We had accumulated a bunch of songs, but we were having a hard time getting gigs. Then one day I met this guy on the other side of a fence where I was digging someone’s yard out for extra money. [Laughs] I saw these musician types going into this guy’s basement, so I just talked to him over the fence and went, “Hey dude, what’s going on?” He told me he had a studio, so I asked if I could see it. I came over and looked at it, and he told me it was 10 bucks an hour, so I asked I could trade some gear for studio time. So he gave me $400 in trade, which was 40 hours of studio time, and that was enough time to record all 12 songs that we had. So that’s how World of Noise came to be. But the difference between the two years that I made that album and Sparkle and Fade was I was writing constantly and getting better at it. We were honing our sound and getting better as a band, and playing a lot of shows.

And then you got signed by Capitol?
Yeah, it was funny, I had some songs left over from World of Noise that didn’t make the record that I wrote before we got signed, and then I wrote a bunch of songs after we got signed. And at the time bands that were getting signed to major labels were usually getting signed for a hit song that they already had, and that’s why the label signed them. But we didn’t have “Santa Monica” yet. I wrote “Santa Monica” after we were signed, in my house. The band would come over and we’d work out the songs, and our A&R guy came up before we went in to record Sparkle and Fade at Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, with me producing. But that first time he heard it, our A&R guy was like, “That song right there! That song about ‘watch the world die.’ What’s that called? ‘Watch the World Die?’” And I’m like, “No, it’s called ‘Santa Monica’” and he’s like, “You don’t say ‘Santa Monica’” and I go, “So? It’s called ‘Santa Monica.’” But he was adamant that the song was going to be the hit, but it wasn’t recorded yet, so I told him just to wait until it was done. I had a deal with Capitol that I had total creative control, so I wasn’t going to let some asshole at the company tell me what to do, right, because I knew everything [laughs]. So, we recorded it and played it for him and he was convinced it was a hit, and I was convinced it wasn’t done yet, and I go, “Wait until we mix it.” So we mixed it and he was even more convinced it was a hit, and I was even more convinced it wasn’t done yet, so we got in an argument and called each other the “F” word a couple of times on the phone. So I said, “You know what? I’m going to write another song on the record, just for you, and it’s called ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Whore,’ so how about that?” You know, I was just being an asshole. [Laughs]

So you had the benefit of Sparkle and Fade being written from that same genuine place as your first album?
Yeah, everybody says you spend your whole life making that first record, and then your second record has to come out of the air, but that wasn’t really the truth with me. I had already been in a couple of bands, so I was writing all of the time. So, anyways, I finished that song “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore,” we went in and recorded the album, including some new songs, and then I made “Santa Monica” a little bit longer; I just added a chorus, which was hard to do back in 1994 before Pro Tools. But we did, added some stuff, took the chorus up, put some droning guitars in there, and remixed it. Everybody thought it was a hit. I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been a hit without that stuff, but who cares? Let’s just say the A&R guy was right.

Lyrically, Sparkle and Fade was such an exorcism of demons, and dealing with drug abuse issues. Was it a hard album to write, lyrically? It must have been difficult trying to put that all down on paper?
Well, if you listen to our other records you’ll see that I do that on every record, and every record we do is like that. I do what I like other people to do, and I like singer/songwriters that aren’t afraid to expose a nerve and tell stories, whether they’re autobiographical or not. In my case, very few songs are autobiographical. Everybody thinks they are, because they’re first person, but they’re not. But they come from somewhere. Like “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore,” I’ve been in situations like that, where someone makes you feel diminished, and I took my feelings from that, and what I’ve seen other people do and how they react, and I created a character. The same thing with “Santa Monica.” But there are songs on that album that are autobiographical: “Pale Green Stars” is definitely autobiographical. It’s funny, the song “Queen of the Air,” my drummer at the time [Greg Eklund] was like, “Dude, I didn’t know man… I didn’t know that about your mom. I’m sorry,” and I’m like, “Man, that’s not my mom [laughs]. My mom’s in an old-folk’s home and she lives in Beaverton; it’s like 20 minutes away.” And then he said in interviews after that, “That’s when I stopped asking Art about the lyrics.” [Laughs]

One of my all-time favourite songs is “Heroin Girl,” and that’s a story that actually did happen to you, right?
No, it did not happen to me. It’s not autobiographical. I’ve said this 1,000 times in the press!

And I’ve read 1,000 times in the press that it did happen, so… [Laughs]
Well, my brother died of an overdose, right? That line where the police go, “Just another overdose,” that’s what they said around my mom when she was identifying his body. So I take things from real life and I write stories. I’m a writer, just like you’re a writer. And sometimes I take artistic license and sometimes I don’t. But, yeah, I had a girlfriend overdose as well, and I just write stories. I don’t think it makes it less visceral. I know plenty of people who OD-ed, so I have a lot of experience with it; I OD-ed a couple of times myself, but I didn’t die. “Heroin Girl” is also a song about living in Oregon and how I missed places with Mexican food, because that was my life down in Los Angeles. It’s really funny, because the culture I grew up in was very tattooed and very violent and aggressive, way before what became alternative grunge culture. I had already lived that for years. The Hispanics in LA were already rocking that punk, tattooed, Suicidal Tendencies lifestyle by the time I was in junior high school, and that’s where I grew up. But the song, for me, is just about touching bases and connecting the dots to where I was, and where I had been, and where I wanted to be, and I just told the story. In a lot of ways, “Heroin Girl” is about my brother, but it’s also about girlfriends I had that died, and friends I had that died, so I put them all together into that character of Esther. It’s really funny, because I once had someone come up to me, really pissed off, and go, “I know Esther’s family and they’re so upset with you! They’re going to sue you!” and I said, “Please, have them sue me, because I don’t know anybody named Esther. [Laughs] I knew a Chicano girl in sixth grade named Esther and that’s where I got the name from, and it’s Biblical, knucklehead.” [Laughs]

It’s like in the song “Pale Green Stars,” which is about your daughter, Anna, but you use the name “Amanda” instead…
Well, my wife at the time really didn’t want me to use her real name in there. The original version of it that I recorded said “Anna,” and I don’t know if there are any versions of that mix out there, but I changed it to “Amanda” after the fact.

It’s cool how that song comes near the end of the album, and the album definitely deals with some heavy subject matter around drug culture and addiction, but it’s almost like with that song you’re leaving that old world behind and focusing on your daughter.
Yeah, but like a lot of my songs, it’s telling the story of a character. I mean, I grew up in the ‘70s where if records weren’t what were called “concept records,” they were at least thematic. And our new record, Black Is the New Black, which will be out in the Spring next year, is the same thing. It’s really dark in a lot of ways, and it’s very thematic and you get to hear a story of a character. And like my other albums before this new one, there are a lot of songs where it’s things from my life, or I create characters out of nothing, and there are songs where it’s very, very personal and autobiographical. But, hopefully they all tie together and create a theme for a record. Obviously, it worked out on Sparkle and Fade, because you thought some of those songs were autobiographical, as a lot of people did, which just goes to show that at one time I was a pretty good writer! [Laughs]

At one time? Come on, now! [Laughs] One of the weird things about Everclear is that everyone in the ‘90s was compared to Nirvana when they first came out…
Yeah, a three-piece from the Northwest with a blonde guy who screams a lot!

And I was into Nirvana like everyone else, but I never thought of Everclear, or this album, as sounding like Nirvana at all. To me, it was more like another Portland band, like Crackerbash or Pond, and it had that Portland sound from that time. So did you guys take some inspiration from Nirvana, or was it just a time and place thing?
I don’t think we took inspiration from them. You know what’s really funny, a friend of mine from San Francisco, who had heard my early songs before Everclear, the first time he heard Nirvana he was like, “Fucking A! Is that Art?!” He thought it was me, because I was doing music very similar to that for years, but he was like, “It just doesn’t sound country enough to be Art,” because I always had that country, bluesy sound to my voice. But he and his friends thought it was me, and I was like, “No, I fucking wish!” [Laughs] But I remember hearing Nevermind and what it did, and what Bleach also did, was it just inspired me to do things my own way; to strip it down, do it as a three-piece and say, “Fuck it, I’m not a great guitar player, but I’m going to play the guitar.” So that’s how Nirvana and Kurt inspired me: just to do my own thing. We were about the same age and we were coming from a lot of the same influences, so it would be weird if there weren’t similarities between us, and Smashing Pumpkins, and a lot of the guys who grew up in the ‘70s.

How do you feel about Sparkle and Fade now? Do you still listen to it? What feelings come back when you do?
I think it’s pretty cool. I think it’s kind of raw and rough; it sounds really raw to me, which I think is really cool. I remember at the time, someone who wrote for Alternative Press was a huge World of Noise fan, and they hated Sparkle and Fade, saying, “This is a super overproduced, corporate album!” and I’m like, “Overproduced? Man, I made this thing in two weeks. What are you talking about?” But it’s all about perspective at the time. I probably spent 65 or 75 grand on that album, which is a lot of money, but comparatively at the time, I think Smashing Pumpkins spent $250,000 on their first major label record, or something like that. But compared to World of Noise, which cost me $400 in trade, you know, I guess it was overproduced. I don’t know.

Do you still keep in touch with [former guitarist] Craig [Montoya] and [former drummer] Greg [Eklund] at all?
No. I mean, they deserved it… they were there at the right time, man. They did what they were supposed to do. They didn’t write those songs, but they played on those songs and they did a great job. And they were very fortunate to be there at the right time.

What comes back to you when you hear the opening riff on “Electra Made Me Blind”? It’s such a good riff.
“Electra” is really funny, because we put out an EP in ’92 or ’93 called Nervous & Weird, and we needed another song for it. We had to get it mastered on Saturday, and it was Wednesday. So I wrote the song that night, recorded it the next day with the band and sent it to the guy to master it. But it got buried on the EP, and it’s a really slow version, but it’s cool. And it’s recorded on an 8-track, as opposed to a 24-track. I always thought it would be a great album opener, but it definitely needed to be bigger and just heavier. I remember when we were mastering Sparkle and Fade and spending the day with [engineer] Bob Ludwig, who’s this legendary guy, and just making the album sound good. And then I remember being in my hotel room listening to the mastered album on my CD walkman, and just freaking out because of the way “Electra” kicked in with the band, and the little hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I started freaking out and calling my wife, and the guys in the band, going, “Dudes, this is awesome!” and they’re like, “We’re sleeping.”

You were pretty proud of yourself, eh?
No, I wasn’t proud of myself. I was just proud of the music. It wasn’t an ego thing. Why would you say that?

I just meant that it must have felt pretty good to hear it all come together like that?
Yeah, but it wasn’t about me. It was about the music. I was super excited, but it wasn’t an ego thing. Trust me, I’ve got plenty of ego, but that wasn’t one of those times.

You do a yearly tour called Summerland, and I believe that “Summerland” from Sparkle and Fade is the best song that you ever wrote. How do you feel about that song compared to other songs that you’ve written?
I think it’s a great song; I think it’s up there. It takes the feeling in your heart, and that’s another song where I built characters out of experiences and ideas. I know there’s a place up in British Columbia called Summerland, but it’s about this little place between LA and Santa Barbara on the 101, where this little sign by a yellow house says “Summerland,” and I would look at that as I drove by and I’d go, “Fuck, who wouldn’t want to live in Summerland? Where it’s Summer all the time. Who wouldn’t want to live there?” But I never got off the highway, because I didn’t want to kill the image and the myth of what Summerland is. I’ve heard people say you can get great breakfast there, and this and that, but I don’t care. I’m not getting off. The fantasy is still palpable and real, of a place where you can just escape and get away from it, and that’s what the song is about: finding that comfort. I think the whole album is about that, actually. I think I was in a weird place coming from LA and living in a place like Portland, which I really loved; I loved being with my family, but it was pretty different from where I grew up at.

You’re coming up on 20 years with this album; I guess that will be next year. Have you got anything special planned that you can tell us about?
Um, nope! [Laughs] No, wait a minute, let me think, I’m thinking, um… nope! No, I thought it would be cool to go out on the road as three-piece, just me and [new members] Freddy [Herrera] and Sean [Winchester], maybe do some club gigs and play the album from start to finish. We’ll probably do that somewhere; I know a lot of bands do that, and a lot of people like it. It would be fun to revisit some of those songs that I haven’t played in years. Some of those songs I’ve never played; I don’t think I’ve ever played “Queen of the Air” live. Or “Chemical Smile”… maybe I’ve played “Chemical Smile.” So, yeah, that would be cool.

Everclear’s Black Is the New Black is set for release in the Spring of 2015

Frasbul
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Re: Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s S & F

Post by Frasbul » Mon Nov 17, 2014 10:40 pm

Lee Harvey Oswald wrote: You’re coming up on 20 years with this album; I guess that will be next year. Have you got anything special planned that you can tell us about?
Um, nope! [Laughs] No, wait a minute, let me think, I’m thinking, um… nope! No, I thought it would be cool to go out on the road as three-piece, just me and [new members] Freddy [Herrera] and Sean [Winchester], maybe do some club gigs and play the album from start to finish. We’ll probably do that somewhere; I know a lot of bands do that, and a lot of people like it. It would be fun to revisit some of those songs that I haven’t played in years. Some of those songs I’ve never played; I don’t think I’ve ever played “Queen of the Air” live. Or “Chemical Smile”… maybe I’ve played “Chemical Smile.” So, yeah, that would be cool.
I'm pretty sure there is a recording of it floating somewhere.
You suffer from depression, it don't mean that you're sad.

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Lee Harvey Oswald
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Re: Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s S & F

Post by Lee Harvey Oswald » Tue Nov 18, 2014 12:26 am

Frasbul wrote:
I'm pretty sure there is a recording of it floating somewhere.
I'm digging thru my shit, as soon as I find it I'll post it. If I can't find it I know Eric has a copy of this show too

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Chris B
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Re: Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s S & F

Post by Chris B » Tue Nov 18, 2014 1:31 am

It's in the old H&H MP3 Archive:
http://www.hungryandhollow.com/old/MP3/ ... ive%29.mp3
ekeown wrote:Queen of the Air (live)

I randomly picked up a CD to try and find a song for this week's MP3 and I really lucked out. As I listened to the CD, I came across a real jewel. On this CD there was a recording of the only known live performance of the Sparkle & Fade song Queen of the Air. This live version of Queen of the Air was recorded on August 14, 1996 in Hollywood, CA at Billboard Live. I hope everyone enjoys.

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Re: Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s S & F

Post by clifornia_king » Tue Nov 18, 2014 8:19 pm

Awesome interview. Very cool to hear Art talk about the deep cuts, things you don't read about in every interview. Also, it's extremely interesting to hear his perspective, nearly 20 years later.

I really hope we see some S&F tributes in some way next year - whether it is a tour, set of shows, re-release or just some tribute during Summerland.
"My girlfriend is like magic in my hands, when I lose my sparkle she's the only one that understands"

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Copper
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Re: Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s S & F

Post by Copper » Tue Nov 18, 2014 10:06 pm

Lee Harvey Oswald wrote:Do you still keep in touch with [former guitarist] Craig [Montoya] and [former drummer] Greg [Eklund] at all?
No. I mean, they deserved it… they were there at the right time, man. They did what they were supposed to do. They didn’t write those songs, but they played on those songs and they did a great job. And they were very fortunate to be there at the right time.
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Re: Art Alexakis himself reminisces on Everclear’s S & F

Post by ndfan1993 » Wed Nov 19, 2014 5:29 pm

Copper wrote:
Lee Harvey Oswald wrote:Do you still keep in touch with [former guitarist] Craig [Montoya] and [former drummer] Greg [Eklund] at all?
No. I mean, they deserved it… they were there at the right time, man. They did what they were supposed to do. They didn’t write those songs, but they played on those songs and they did a great job. And they were very fortunate to be there at the right time.
Image
I thought that was really unnecessary....hell Art was very fortunate to be there at the right time.

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