Almost every avid rock fan, at one point or another, gets that undying urge to just jam the fuck out to some 90s rock classics every once in a while. Whether you're popping on your favorite Spotify or Pandora radio station based off of Nirvana's Nevermind or you're getting bombed in a shitty dive bar listening to a dated soundtrack, you're almost bound to hear Everclear's earworm “Father Of Mine” or Bush's infamous track “Glycerine.”
But does anyone truly give a shit about a new album from a 90s band? Would there be a line around the corner of FYE if a new Sugar Ray or Smash Mouth album were coming out? Will the next Buckcherry or Uncle Kracker concert sell out during the presale? We think not. I mean, even Harvey Danger has to be sick of that “Flagpole Sitta” song by now. Regardless, 90s rock seems to be all about those solid, unforgettable classics that helped to shape a generation of music. We're just glad that these guys are still making music.
Everclear is currently readying a new "heavy rock" album called Black Is The New Black for a spring 2015 release and Bush just released their comeback album Man On The Run, so we decided to chat with each of their respective influential frontmen, Art Alexakis (Everclear) and Gavin Rossdale (Bush) separately to dish about what it's like, or not like, to make 90s music in 2014.
Noisey: Since you were pretty big during the 90s, would you personally label your band as a “90s rock” band?
Alexakis: I would call it a 90s rock band before I would call it grunge or alternative, because even at the time when those terms were being dandied about, I was like, really, what is grunge anyway? I didn’t know what grunge is. My band started in the Pacific Northwest so I should probably know and I don’t know. As far as alternative goes, there was nothing alternative about the band getting played on alternative radio. Some bands, like Cake, were pretty alternative to me. Most of the rock bands at the time just made awesome, guitar rock. We all grew up in the 70s when there were great hard rock bands like Aerosmith, Zeppelin, Cheap Trick, and all that stuff getting played on the radio. Then we lived through punk rock and new wave and all the early alternative bands like the Pixies and Jane’s Addiction, and don’t forget about hip-hop. I think that’s where the music came from, but putting the label of “90s rock” on it, I guess that’s cool, it is what it is. It didn’t define me in my own mind, maybe in other people’s minds, but, you know… not my problem.
Rossdale: No, I hope not, that’s just when I began. I would just consider us a rock band. I’m sure U2 doesn’t want to be considered an 80s band, you know what I mean? It’s kind of a blessing and a curse, you just want to be a rock band, you know. I mean Tool is an amazing band, but I don’t think of them as a late 80s band, I think of them as Tool. I’m just happy to be making records, man. I see life as a dance competition and I just don’t want to get tapped on the shoulder just yet, so I’m just happy to be getting away with it still and still making records.
What made the 90s the time for some of the most catchy, timeless, sing-along rock songs of all time to be created?
Alexakis: I take it that you think it was a pretty good time for music, that’s good. My personal take? I was just happy to hear guitars on the radio. After the late 80s, there was all this lame dark pop, haircut music that was getting played on the radio, kind of like all the stuff that’s getting played today, it’s kind of the same thing. I just think people were excited about something fresh, stripped down, and new. It was just prime for Nirvana’s Nevermind, which just exploded, and all the other bands that followed in its wake. Luckily, we were one of those bands. Like a lot of things, it’s just being in the right place at the right time.
Rossdale: That’s a good question, I wonder about it because at the time, when I was making rock music, it seemed like rock belonged more to the hair metal bands, and that’s what rock music was. And then with the advent of The Pixies and 4AD and Matador and all those kind of more indie labels and some of the bands coming through there, it was like you could still do rock music and be interesting and cool and not really part of that hair metal scene. There was something liberating about it. It was like a post-punk scene taking from a lot of the American bands and bands like the Pixies, Fugazi, Jesus Lizard and being inspired by those bands but also having an indispensability. And when you heard all of the melodies of some of the great bands coming through like Soundgarden, the Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, and Hole, it was an opportunity to be really melodic but yet still be strong at the same time. It was an antidote for that sorta Sunset Strip style of music. Obviously we’re more poppy according to public image, but I’ve always loved that aesthetic of dark, weird, off-kilter, super dubby bass. Bush is built on dub bass all the way through my whole career, even today. So becoming a band in London back in the 90s, that was a big part of it. There was Nottinghill Gate, Ladbroke Grove, all of those big dub parties, sound systems all over the place was great. For me, it was trying to put all of that stuff together, and it just came together.
This is the jam right here.
Which bands were the ones that truly influenced the formation of the 90s rock scene?
Alexakis: First band that comes to my mind is the Pixies. I think almost all of the bands that came out of the 90s alternative sounded somewhat like the Pixies, some more than others. Weezer sounds a lot like the Pixies, Nirvana had a very Pixies thing, we have a very Pixies thing which I think mixes with a lot of the Americana stuff I grew up with. I think it just blends in. But yeah, I think the Pixies, I think Jane’s Addiction were important. I think Hüsker Dü, they were from the 80s, was very important. There’s another band, also. They were part of the 90s scene too, but their first record, The Breeders’ Pod, which was produced by Steve Albini and Tonya Donelly, who was at the time in Throwing Muses and later started her own band Belly, she was the guitar player with Kim from the Pixies.Seriously, if you like 90s rock, get Breeders’ Pod. I just bought it again actually. That Breeders album is so, so good.
Rossdale: Weirdly enough I’d say the 4AD bands that I had discovered like The Pixies, Throwing Muses, and the Cocteau Twins. What I had especially liked was the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa—it almost seemed to be out of nowhere, and the most beautiful artwork I had ever seen on a record. When I saw that artwork, I just couldn’t believe it. It seemed to go hand-in-hand with the sort of counter culture and literature that I liked. Bowie was kind of reference of all the cut up technique that we borrowed. Some Ginsburg, the way Ginsburg could write, each thought process, each bubble, each paragraph, each different idea was kind of this crazy world of fireworks, where everything was cascading and flying in different directions. I loved that because that’s the nature of life, it’s the natural amount of ADD that everyone has. We’re sort of all over the place, trying to create things, with a beautiful inconsistency. One thought process can get boring after awhile.
Do you still feel like you’re writing the same kind of music in 2014 or has your band progressed or changed in any particular way?
Alexakis: Yes and no. I think in some ways I’m still me, I’m still writing songs that are me. But yeah, I’m 52 now and not 30. I think there’s a lot more self-defacing humor, there’s still darkness and light. I still like to write from a first person point of view, so everybody thinks what I do is all autobiographical, and it’s not. Some songs are, and some songs are not, and I think the ones that are seem to overlap on the others, but that’s cool. My favorite writers have always done that, I like storytellers. But, musically, our new album Black Is The New Black is just a fucking heavy record, it’s just a huge guitar record. If I had to compare it to any of our previous records, I’d have to say our first record World of Noise which we recorded for 400 bucks or Sparkle and Fade which was our first major label record. It has a contemporary sound, production wise, but compared to a lot of the bands that are getting played on rock radio now, it’s so underproduced compared to them. I guess that’s the punk rock in me, it’s the alternative rock in me.
Rossdale: We try to evolve from the 90s into 2014 but that’s a good place to start. There’s one argument that a songwriter only writes one song his whole life and every other song is an appropriation of that. That, I could be guilty of. But ultimately, I’m always trying to push things forward with the band. I didn’t go to school to learn music, but every record or every song I’ve ever written has been a different journey into something to do with music. Take this record we’ve done now, Man on The Run which was really inspired by my fascination with EDM and this sort of “hold” that it has over our culture right now. You should also think about the role of the DJ nowadays. We’ve had superstar DJ’s forever, I had so many growing up. What DJs can do is amazing crowd control. When I began writing this record, I began purely from rhythm. All the drums and programming was done first on the record, so it’s not like I put on bells and whistles after the record was done to try and keep up with the kids, I just did what inspired me. All the breaks and drops on the album were purely inspired by how a DJ can control a massive crowd through the night. Rock bands used to do that, but it sort of seems now that rock bands are not as aware of the crowd, and it’s now DJs that can get a crowd going. They can gauge when they gotta drop the track and when they gotta go fucking crazy and roll the snowball down the mountain or set rockets off. So when we made this record, I knew I couldn't compete with acts like Calvin Harris or Underworld, who I used to see all the time, but I wanted to take from them in a big way. I really think you can hear that in this record. I could have mixed the record like total fucking Kraftwerk, but the label kept me in check.
Take me back to the day…
Do you think your new album will give you the in to festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza for which you’ve yet to be on the bill?
Alexakis: I don’t think those people who book those tours like us. You know, I don’t think they like a lot of 90s bands, but I just don’t think they like us for some reason, that’s a question for them. Do I think the new album will get us on the bill? Nah, I don’t think so. I think the 90s thing is coming around again, and I think a lot of people have started requesting bands like Everclear for Lollapalooza, so maybe they’ll break down and have us one of these years, that would be cool. I do my own summer tour every year, so I’m not really worried about it. I don’t wait around for other people to invite me to their birthday party, I just have my own party.
Rossdale: I hope so. You know, obviously those are two fantastic festivals and it’s just never worked out. I mean, I’d love to play Coachella and Lollapalooza. We’ve never turned them down. [Laughs] I think with this new record, we have more of a chance than ever to play them. I’m still in a fistfight, I don’t feel like I’m on an exalted magic carpet. Some people get reverential treatment and they have a place in the culture that allows it. I kind of just accept the fistfight, I still get to play music and still have an amazing life. But I look forward to playing them if we get a chance, I hope we do. I went to Coachella last year and it was amazing. I’ve done much more of those festivals in Europe, they were like my bread and butter for a long time.
Does anyone really give a shit about a new album by a 90s rock band? I mean, will 90s rock just continue to be something that people play at the bar to reminisce or will your new tracks stand the test of time as well?
Alexakis: That’s a valid question. If you think the new album is going to sound like what we did in the 90s, you’re totally off base. It sounds like rock and roll. Now, if you listen to it and say well, it sounds like Everclear, then it’s probably just because of my voice. My voice is Everclear, and if you like that, great, but you’re not gonna get Sparkle and Fade 2, that’s not gonna happen. But does anyone give a shit? I think fans do. As long as I make music, I feel like I have something to contribute, as long as people want me to. There might come a point where I have to go back to the van again and tour, and that’s when I’ll say nah, I better go to plumbing school and be a plumber, it makes more money. But all joking aside, like with the Summerland Tour, I want bands out on the stage every night, not just because they’re trying to be cool or make a lot of money, but because that’s all they know how to do, that’s what they’re good at. I teach a songwriting class and that’s what I try to impart on the kids. I’m actually just finishing putting together my first midterm, I’m giving my first midterm today, so that’s gonna be fun. Bottom line, if it doesn’t feel good to do, don’t do it. If it does, do it and try and make a living with it. If not, just do it for fun. But right now, Everclear is probably the strongest it’s been in years. We’re on PledgeMusic and our campaign just kicked off, it’s been pretty successful with a lot of people pre-ordering the record, pre-ordering vinyl. It just shows me that there’s a lot of people still interested in rock and roll. If you come to one of my solo shows coming up, you’ll get a card with a download of our first new single.
Rossdale: [Laughs] If you span a long career, inevitably, you have to have a start point. I think it’s just how good you make music. Ultimately, you can say nobody gives a shit about anything, I mean, who cares? It’s such a fragmented world that you can just be like, fuck it, who cares? Another dance track, oh great. Nobody cares about anything. I think to say that people care would be a mistake. I think it’s a challenge to do good work and the most beautiful thing to me about music these days are that there are healthy rewards, in a way, compared to how it used to be when you could sell records. It has sort of made it more honorable in a way, because the people who make records for us, have no choice but to make records for us. Like, Aphex Twin, for example, Mr. James hasn’t made a record for like nine years. He’s an amazing guy, I love his music so, so much, but you can also ask do people really care? Also, you could say like, Neil Young who came up in the 60s, what would he be, a 60s band? I mean we’re all guilty of coming from somewhere and I do hope that people care, but I also accept that people don’t.
What do you think of Bush?
Alexakis: [Laughs] I think Bush is OK, you know. Gavin has a great voice, good-looking guy, he’s married, smart. My favorite song by them is probably one of their less popular songs, which came out after that major record they had that sold a ton of copies. It was on a record produced by Steve Albini and it was the first single off of it was called “Swallowed,” which was total Pixies, total Breeders. There’s aspects of that song that I like a lot.
What do you think of Everclear?
Rossdale: Um, I don’t really know them. Obviously I know the singles and the hits. I know they were just touring last year, but I don’t know too much about them. It’s great that everyone is still making music.
Michael Haskoor has got a machinehead and is on Twitter - @Tweetskoor