Someone recently told Everclear frontman Art Alexakis that he was doing for the West Coast what Bruce Springsteen once did for the East Coast. Not that the characters in his songs get to bask in the California sun. On Everclear’s latest album, So Much for the Afterglow, they’re working-class strugglers stuck in the same shadowy corners as the inhabitants of the band’s last collection, Sparkle and Fade. This time, however, the down and out tales play over a more diverse soundtrack – punk rock, groove-heavy drum loops, a country tune, even a few Beach Boys harmonies – all courtesy of bassist Craig Montoya and drummer Greg Eklund. “We’re a good rock band – nothing more, nothing less,” says Alexakis, “and it wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for those two guys.” Very true. But the stories still belong to Alexakis. He might live happily with his wife and daughter in Portland, Oregon, but his songs haven’t outrun his past on the darker side of Los Angeles.
Does it ever bother you that there are strangers who know very intimate details about your life?
It’s not all as autobiographical as people think. People have come up to me and said, “Esther, the girl from ‘Heroin Girl,’ I know her family, and they’re not happy about the song.” Brother, she doesn’t exist. I made her up.
What about when it is real and it’s other people’s lives? In “Why I Don’t Believe in God,” you talk about your mother having a nervous breakdown.
That song makes mom a little uncomfortable, definitely. But the thing is, and I told her, I’m writing about my life, from my perspective. I’ll let her write her own songs.
Is it safe to assume that there are much scarier stories we’ll never hear about?
Oh, fuck yeah. Totally. I don’t talk about my past; people ask me about it. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of, but one thing I can honestly say is that things I’ve done that I regret, I’ve never done twice. I work really hard at that.
Do you think about turning forty?
Yeah. I’m gonna be thirty-six in April. I don’t want to be doing this into my forties very far. I’ve got two or three more records in me, but after that, I want to do something else.
I’m starting a record label this year, and I love developing music. Maybe I’ll work for a label someday, write some fiction, nonfiction. Someday I’d like to go back to school and get my teaching degree. I want to be a grampa. I want to have more kids.
What’s the last thing your daughter taught you?
She taught me how to sing the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in Spanish. When we were in kindergarten, it was three hours a day, a little finger painting, ABCs, cookies, nap, go home. This kid goes to school at 8:45 every morning, and the first half of the day is Spanish-immersion class. She’s in kindergarten, and they talk Spanish to her all day. Poor kid.
Have you thought about what you’ll feel like when a musician pulls up to take her on a date?
It’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen. [Laughs] I think she’s gonna be a bookworm. And hopefully not have sex until she’s, like, thirty or forty.
You’re Everclear’s songwriter, spokesman, producer, co-manager . . .
Any artist manages his own business along with his manager. Every band should. We just decided not to let Pepsi use a piece of one of our songs for a large chunk of money. That was a hard decision. I’m trying to save money for my daughter, plus I’m remodeling the house. I’m not rich. I’m middle class for the first time in my life, thank you very much.
Is there anyone you grew up thinking was a sellout whom you now have a different perspective on?
The ones I thought made mistakes are like the Del Fuegos. Anyone who did anything with an alcohol company. It’s not just because I’m sober. We’ve turned down big money to do those shows where they fly twenty bands to some island. But I never got into thinking in terms of sellout. I’m a poor kid. It’s usually trust-fund kids who come up with that whole issue.
This is a more varied album. “Why I Don’t Believe in God” is almost a country tune.
It still sounds like Everclear. I’d actually like to make a country album one day. One of my idols is Neil Young, because he’s kept himself from being bored. Every four or five years he goes back to his shitty old band and makes a really great, nasty rock record.
Everclear can be your shitty old band.
Everclear’s a really good band. Those guys are way better players than the guys in Crazy Horse.
This story is from the March 5, 1998 issue of Rolling Stone.