Art Alexakis – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Davey French – Guitar, Vox
Freddy Herrera – Bass, Vox
Josh Crawley – Keyboards, Vox
Sean Winchester – Drums, Percussion, Vox
As familiar as the sound of a jet engine and as visceral as a ride on a speeding motorcycle, Everclear is heavier, darker and more balls-to-the-wall than ever before.
And frontman Art Alexakis has never been happier.
Bombastic, hard-driving, generation-spanning rock n’ roll with instantly memorable, sharp-as-hell hooks propel Everclear’s new studio album, Black Is The New Black. Muscular but melodic, this is the sound of a band driven and united by singular, intense purpose. At an average of three-minutes each, the songs rip forward with palpable swagger, supercharged by a mix of autobiographical exorcism and narrative storytelling, from the gut and throat of Everclear’s singer, guitarist, cofounder and songwriter.
“Hard rock, punk rock, big guitars that swallow me whole – I will never get over that,” says Alexakis, without apology or equivocation. “And this is a very honest recording.
No gimmicks. Not many bells and whistles. All the riffs on this record are things that really just resonated with me and the band, musically and lyrically – from the get-go.”
Black Is The New Black is a diverse and timeless sounding collection, without ballads and without nostalgia. This is a heavy guitar record. It’s a throwback to the potent passion and urgent delivery of Everclear’s heralded indie debut (recorded for just $400 back in the day!) and subsequent major label classics, delivered through a modern lens. Across the album, the insistent kick of drummer Sean Winchester, athletic groove of bassist Freddy Herrera, and ridiculously skilled guitar shred of Davey French join forces behind the storm of giant guitar riffs swinging mightily from song to song. A bit of tasteful keyboards from Josh Crawley add atmospheric punch to songs that could crush a tiny dive bar or destroy the cheap seats in the world’s biggest arena with equal force.
Everclear’s ninth studio album pummels from the get-go, with “Sugar Noise.” It’s an album opener with the same immediacy, and the same immersive feeling, of Rolling Stones “Rocks Off” or Pixies’ “Debaser.” Anchored by a single-note riff, akin to ZZ Top or Jimi Hendrix on meth, it’s a tale of a guy who gets lost in the wilderness of substances. “It’s about someone who ends up in the backseat of a dead guy’s car. It’s not something that’s happened to me,” the singer points out. “But I could see it happening, if I ever chose to walk back over that line.”
If a probe went to space, full of data on human history intended for a distant civilization, the Everclear section of the rock n’ roll music volume would surely kickoff with “The Man Who Broke His Own Heart,” a song that manages to encapsulate the spirited essence of everything that makes this band great. Confidence, self-deprecation, recrimination, and redemption all collide in the barnstorming rock radio anthem. The brutal kiss-off called “This Is Your Death Song” sugarcoats its confrontational vibe in soaring melodies, delivered with Alexakis’ steady and immediately identifiable voice.
“I like the way that trouble rises to the top,” he sings in “American Monster.” “It makes my bitter life a little more sweet.” This album swings. But it also bites.
“This is not an upbeat Everclear record. It’s pretty dark, lyrically and musically,” the band’s singer/guitarist explains. “When I would sit down with the guitar and start coming up with ideas, it was pushing toward a darker place. Which is kind of bizarre because right now things are really good! I feel safe enough to go to the dark places. And trust me, there’s plenty of dark places in me. I’ve never had a shortage of that.”
Alexakis has been candid about his past. His dad split when he was young. He and his mother lived in housing projects. He lost those closest to him to drugs and suicide and nearly lost himself in both, as well. This isn’t the stuff of VH1’s Behind The Music – this is the man’s life pre-music, a life he’s cracked open and explored in his art. It’s there in the “Heroin Girl,” from the band’s platinum commercial breakthrough, Sparkle and Fade. The double platinum So Much for the Afterglow produced enduring radio staples like “I Will Buy You A New Life” and “Father of Mine,” as ubiquitous on the radio now as then.
A combination of the same classic ‘70s rock that drives Foo Fighters or Queens Of The Stone Age and the melodic punk that inspired Nirvana, Everclear emerged on the pop culture landscape as part of the wave The Pixies and Husker Dü ushered in, a time when abrasive guitars aligned with naked emotional expression to beat back the scourge of vapidity. Everclear shifted the culture alongside bands like Smashing Pumpkins, The Toadies and Weezer; all diverse acts who shared a forceful authenticity.
“I’m learning to balance those dark places,” Alexakis says thoughtfully. “I am learning to respect them, but also, to keep them in their place.” Everclear’s frontman is 25 years clean-and-sober, with a wealth of darkness to stare into, but a perspective earned through experience, a healthy home life and a kickass band. Alexakis would write riffs and entire songs alone, then kick them around with fellow California residents Herrera and Crawley. The trio recorded with Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland (who coproduced with Alexakis, who has produced every other Everclear album before) in a studio owned by the band LIVE, with Alexakis tracking the vast majority of the guitars himself for the first time since 2003’s Slow Motion Daydream. French and Crawley came in from the Pacific Northwest to add their flavor to the album, too.
It’s hard to imagine a singer digging deeper or offering up more vulnerability than on “You,” another Black Is The New Black song that’s quintessential Everclear: a juxtaposition of extremely personal sensitivities with massive riffs and a rhythm that hammers away. Two decades into a storied career with zero signs of slowing down, Alexakis reckons he will always draw upon the same mojo that first inspired him to play.
“I will be 98 years old and pissing off my great grandkids,” he predicts, with a hearty laugh. “’Grandpa is playing that horrible, loud music again!’ I’ll probably be deaf as a doornail by then, too, so I’ll be playing it really loud. It’s a rock n’ roll thing.”
“I think you’re born with it,” he concludes. “And I think you die with it, too.”