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Good Chemistry

Everclear and Matchbox Twenty cruise into town



Everclear's unique mix on tour touting two new albums

If Art Alexakis ever had any lingering doubts about the importance of having Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund as his partners in Everclear, those thoughts were erased once and for all with the recording of Songs from an American Movie, Vol. One: Learning How To Smile. Originally, Alexakis intended it to be a solo album, but part way through the project, he realized something was missing.

"I worked with some really good cats," Alexakis said. "But there just wasn't the fire there to inspire me." So he turned to Montoya (bass) and Eklund (drums) to test record a couple of tracks. Learning How To Smile became an Everclear project that demonstrates how cohesive this group has become.

"I'm definitely the driving force of the band," Alexakis said, as he addressed the importance of Montoya and Eklund. "But we are a band, and it's like The Beatles. If you took away Lennon and McCartney from George and Ringo, could you find a better guitar player or drummer? Absolutely. But it wouldn't have been The Beatles. It wouldn't have had that chemical makeup. We are a band that has a real chemical thing that works like that."

Over the past year, Everclear has had plenty of opportunity to further explore and solidify its chemistry, releasing two CDs in the space of four months. On Learning How To Smile, Alexakis sought to evoke the classic pop sounds of groups like The Beatles while also summoning the vintage soul music of the late 1960s and 1970s, anchoring the music in samples of his own childhood during that period ("AM Radio") and enhancing it with references to everyone from John Prine to Otis Redding.

"I wanted the vocals to be more prevalent," Alexakis explained. "You listen to Beatles records and Beach Boys records and even R & B records from the '70s, the vocals are way out front and the music's in the back. I wanted to rely less on guitars for textural layering -- effects and stuff. I wanted to use different instruments and make it intense and heavy, but not in such an obvious way."

By contrast, Good Time for a Bad Attitude, released in November 2000, turns the volume back up in what Alexakis calls their heaviest record yet. "I've become a better singer-songwriter and a better producer, and I think the new songs are more melodic," he says of Vol. Two. "I think we're a better band. We know how to do more in a limited space. We know more dance steps now."

One consistent Everclear trademark is Alexakis' willingness to put traumas and struggles of his life into his lyrics. Past subjects have included his father, who abandoned his family when Alexakis was a kid ("Father of Mine"), and the drug problems Alexakis, 38, had in his teens and 20s ("Heroin Girl"). Last year he even testified in a Congressional sub-committee on the need for federally enforced child-support laws.

On his newer material Alexakis draws from his divorce and his fears over how the split might affect the couple's young daughter, Annabella. "Now That It's Over," "Annabella's Song" and "Out of My Depth" are inspired by the emotional debris left by the divorce, and the hit "Wonderful" bridges the span between his own childhood and his daughter's.

Life has brightened considerably over the past year for both Alexakis and his former wife. Both have remarried, landing on their feet. "The breakup before had been pretty long and drawn out," Alexakis said. "We were very slow and very methodical about how we opened that up for our daughter, so she had a chance to really ease into it. I think we did it right. Instead of having a broken family, a broken home, she has two homes that get along and communicate, and she feels loved. And that's what every kid needs."

Smooth sailing for Matchbox Twenty

Matchbox Twenty may have sold more than 10 million copies of their 1996 debut CD, Yourself or Someone Like You. The band may have reeled off a string of hits that included "3 a.m.," "Push" and "Real World." But along the way, the Florida-based quintet endured their share of critical sniping, as writers branded the band's style of guitar pop music as bland, and the group was often called faceless.

That all changed when Carlos Santana's mega-hit CD, Supernatural, hit stores and its lead single, "Smooth," started soaring up the charts. The song, with its tasty blend of blues, Latin rhythms and pop, was sung and co-written by Matchbox Twenty singer and chief songwriter Rob Thomas. One of the best songs on a critically acclaimed hit album, "Smooth" not only brought Santana back into the music limelight, Thomas feels it changed perceptions about Matchbox Twenty.

"With the 'Smooth' thing, I feel like we've kind of been left to our own devices," Thomas said. "I don't feel like a whipping boy, that's for sure. ... I think my low point emotionally was when I was reading an Everclear review. It went through this whole review about the last Everclear record and then it said, 'But hell, they beat Matchbox Twenty any day.'"

With last year's release of their long-awaited second CD, Mad Season, Thomas, together with guitarists Kyle Cook and Adam Gaynor, bassist Brian Yale and drummer Paul Doucette, have seen their critical reputation get another boost. Thomas has been lifted out of anonymity and has emerged as the face on Matchbox Twenty. In the process Thomas has begun to feel more like a celebrity.

"It's different," he said. "When we sold 12 million records, we kind of thought, 'Wow, we're a big band.' It's funny what the power of someone like Carlos Santana can do. It was a whole other level. It's nice to have something that singles out a personality, something people can grab onto. With Mad Season, it is the start of it -- OK, Matchbox Twenty is the band and Rob Thomas is the lead singer of that band. Hopefully it will expand from there."

Although it's been reported in Spin magazine that Thomas has been writing songs with an eye toward placing them on other artists' CDs -- Tim McGraw, Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige are mentioned as artists who may be recording his songs -- Thomas said he has no ambitions for a solo career or to have outside songwriting overshadow Matchbox Twenty.

"I don't see it superseding anything," Thomas said. "As far as I'm concerned, if I write something I like, it's a Matchbox song. I met up with Willie Nelson, and we've talked about when he gets off the road and I have some time, we'd go over to his place and write. That kind of thing I would always love to do, because Willie Nelson is one of my biggest idols. What I could learn from writing with someone like him, what the two of us could come up with, could be something great. But I don't want to be the guy who would just sit and write songs for people. When I write songs and they just come from me, they're Matchbox songs. They're my songs. So I'm never against writing with someone, but I don't think I want to get into writing for someone. Because then you start writing like a machine."

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