Hearing a calm and somewhat tired Art Alexakis talking to a business manager on the other line before our interview, you get a sense that his days of fronting the highly successful alternative rock group Everclear may be numbered. You hear his voice straining with distrust as he shares numbers with a qualifier for the other person not to share the information with his bandmates.
It's an impression that, perhaps, is reinforced by the disappointing chart showing of the band's latest album Slow Motion Daydream and by Alexakis' own forthright career comments.
"We haven't really talked about it, but I can see us taking a break," the 40-year-old Alexakis says. "And I think that's realistic. We've been pretty tight for 11 years. We've done six albums. That's a long time in this business. I see us going in different directions after this album and after touring. I think it would be an amicable thing. I wanna do solo stuff and I think they wanna do stuff, too.
"I can see Craig [Montoya] going on and doing a much more heavier rock band 'cause that's what he likes, and Greg [Eklund] is into weird atmospheric stuff and even some weird house and techno. He's an amazing songwriter, actually. He's into indie pop. I'm so all over the place with what I'm listening to now." His recent fancies include powder-keg polemicists the Coup, Australian singer-songwriter Casey Chambers, and Zwan, even in spite of Billy Corgan's voice.
Alexakis' own phrasing is one of the most unique of the post-grunge growl and snarl derby. Its redolence to Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott wasn't apparent until the group covered "The Boys Are Back in Town" for the Detroit Rock City soundtrack a few years back. It also has a comical drawl to it, when Alexakis stretches syllables and reacts to a devastating lyric like Tommy Chong on some bad dope. People nationally got a taste of Alexakis' sound and troubled drug-addled past on the 1995 gem Sparkle and Fade, the band's major-label debut on Capitol, and its corresponding singles "Santa Monica" and "Heroin Girl."
"There are always a couple of fans who want me to make Sparkle and Fade over and over again, and that just doesn't interest me," he contends. So Much for the Afterglow came close, though, refining the group's core trio sound with subtle embellishments, like the a cappella Beach Boy harmonies at the start of the title cut that get wiped out by a rushing wave of power chords. As the band's popularity grew, however, Alexakis says he started itching for other things.
"Songs From an American Movie, Vol. 1 started as a solo record," he says. "I wanted to do something fun and R&B-ish. The original versions of those songs were a lot more fun and less rockin'. I purposely didn't use distorted guitar. It wasn't very Everclear-sounding. But it sat for a year because I was touring with Everclear, and So Much for the Afterglow kept selling and selling, so it made sense to go on tour again."
The delay and subsequent touring plans wound up birthing that most dubious of marketing ploys -- the overlapping release of two records as freestanding entities, not as a double album. The band released Songs From an American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How to Smile in July of 2000, enjoying an extensive media coverage and ubiquitous airing for the single "Wonderful."
Yet the second installment, Songs From an American Movie, Vol. 2: Good Day for a Bad Attitude, wasn't so blessed. Released four months after Vol. 1, it barely troubled the Top 50. Vol. 2 seemed like a concession to bassist Craig Montoya, who has been vocal about his displeasure with the band's softer, poppier underbelly, captured in full girth on Vol. 1. The resulting album seems almost defensively heavy, its humor blunted by dense production, which makes the calmer numbers on the album almost a relief. While the radio-friendly "Rock Star" seems a forced anthem MTV could get behind, it was immediately followed by the more sympathetic "Short Blond Hair" where Alexakis admits to losing follicles. Metaphorically, it seems like such moves potentially could have sealed their fate to roam with the backward baseball cap, future male pattern baldness set.
"That album didn't really sound like Everclear to me," Alexakis admits now. "I wanted to do one record with 16 or 17 tracks on it that was like Rust Never Sleeps. Acoustic song, heavy song. Acoustic song, heavy song, for the whole thing. I'd never seen anyone do it, and it would be like two separate records that were interlocked. I never wanted to do two records -- that was Capitol's thing. The people that were at Capitol when that happened aren't there anymore and they aren't even the people we signed with. We've been through three regimes at Capitol. The one that's there now hasn't sold anything except Lisa Marie Presley's first week. That's the biggest thing they've had, so I don't know how long they're gonna be there. I'm hoping we're not gonna be there much longer, but it's up to them. We haven't got a lot of airplay on this record because of our label and because alternative radio thinks we're passé and old, we don't belong in the format. And we're too edgy for modern AC or pop radio. We don't really fit in anywhere."