The dream of the '90s is alive at Snowden Grove Amphitheater. Or at least it will be this Saturday as alternative acts Everclear, Soul Asylum, Spacehog, and Eve 6 stop to rock out there on their Summerland Tour.
In the 1990s glory days of alternative rock, the best concerts were those arranged by local alt-radio stations all over the country. Here in Memphis, 96X Fest attracted an audience of young fans in oversized JNCOs, tiny backpacks, pigtails, and Airwalks to see bands like Marcy Playground, Blur, Candlebox, 7 Mary 3, and Fuel.
It was shows like those that inspired Everclear's founder/lead singer/guitarist Art Alexakis to create the Summerland Tour three years ago. Past acts have included Sugar Ray, Lit, Live, the Gin Blossoms, Filter, and Sponge.
Alexakis took a few minutes to talk about the tour, the evolution of Everclear, and his band's soon-to-be-released new album.
Flyer: The Summerland Tour is in that same '90s alternative radio station concert vein, right?
Art Alexakis: That was the idea behind the tour — have a bunch of cool bands from the '90s who had big hits then that are still real bands now. And they're still playing and recording and touring. They're not just coming out of mothballs doing the nostalgia thing.
How did you choose the bands for this year's line-up?
They had to be still making music, and all these bands [Soul Asylum, Eve 6, and Spacehog] meet that criteria. And I really love those bands. Soul Asylum was a big band before people called it alternative, back in the '80s. I used to see them tour in Minneapolis with the Replacements, and they were a little more punk than the other bands. I really dug that. I'm super excited about having them on the tour. We've played quite a few shows with them, but we've never toured with them.
Eve 6 — I've known those kids since they were in high school. They've made great records. And Spacehog toured with us in 1996, and they're phenomenal. This is their first tour in 11 or 12 years.
Let's talk about Everclear's glory days. What was it like back in 1994 when Sparkle and Fade hit the big-time and your band was thrust into the spotlight?
I had been playing in bands for a long time, doing very similar music, a lot of hard rock with a singer-songwriter bent with a lot of punk influences. Nirvana opened the door for bands like us. Before, people were wondering why we didn't wear spandex and have long hair, why we weren't more like what was selling at the time.
We were just doing what we were doing, and then a door opened up for us. It was great to be a part of it. One of the things I loved about it was the diversity of all the bands. If you went to any of the radio shows that alternative radio stations had, there would be 10 bands that were all different and were playing short sets. We cut our teeth doing shows like that.
Everclear never stopped recording, but you're the only original member, right?
This is still me doing a band. Yea, the characters have changed a little in my band, but it was always me. If Everclear wasn't about me, it really wouldn't be Everclear. That's not me being egotistical. That's just what it is.
In 2003, original members Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund left the band. At what point did you decide to keep going?
Right before I fired them. It's hard to tell people who grew up with the band thinking [Craig and Greg] were really important members that they weren't. I'm sure they thought they were, and I give them a piece of the publishing [rights]. But if you listen to what I've done since then and what they've done since then, you get an idea of what Everclear was about then and what it is about now. It's my project, just like Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor's project. No one's ever asked Trent Reznor these questions. Or [Smashing Pumpkins'] Billy Corgan.
[Craig and Greg] added something to it because of the way they sounded and how they played, but so do the guys who are in my band now. Two of the guys in my band now have been there almost 11 years, one guy six years, and one guy almost five. It's not like I'm using studio guys. These guys have been with me for a long time.
Did those newer band members influence any change in your music?
They definitely influence it with their personalities and their playing. I think this is the best band Everclear has ever had. We're a lot tighter. People can play their instruments a lot better. It's a lot more fun.
For awhile there, I can say that I didn't have the fire in my belly. But I just walked out of the studio Sunday morning after finishing up our latest record that will come out later this year or early next year. It's one of those records that just sounds like an Everclear record. It's got guitars. Everybody plays on it. But it was primarily me and two other guys in the studio like we did back in the day. It was the first time I'd recorded as a three-piece in two or three records, but it was fun to do.
How long have y'all been working on this new album?
Pre-production would go back to last October or November. But we started actual production on the record on March 1st. All in all, we've been in the studio for about 30 days.
Invisible Stars, your last album, really retains that same Everclear sound from the '90s. How does that compare with the album you're working on now?
To be honest, if you go from a production point of view, [Invisible Stars] sounds very different than the old records. But the thing that glues it together, I've been told, is my voice. My voice really hasn't changed that much. It's a little deeper and gruffer. I've lived some life in the last 20 years, but for the most part, it still sounds like me, so my songs still sound like me.
Invisible Stars was a return to a big guitar sound, and it's more poppy. This new album that we're finishing now is a lot heavier. It's more like our first two albums. It sounds more like Sparkle and Fade. It's more mature, and there's more humor there than there used to be.
If you go back over our records from the last 10 to 15 years, there are a lot of changes. We did stuff with keyboards and a lot of acoustic stuff for awhile. We did change. I followed my muse for awhile, but I think I've come back to the rock thing.