Learning How to Smile with Everclear’s Art Alexakis (Interview)

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Rock Cellar Magazine

Singer/songwriter Art Alexakis has fronted the alternative/rock band Everclear for more than twenty years, achieving huge mainstream success with singles such as Father of Mine, Wonderful, Santa Monica, Rock Star, and I Will Buy You a New Life.

Despite the band’s success, it hasn’t always been an easy path for Alexakis – feuds with record labels, frequent lineup changes and other obstacles have sprung up as potential detours.

Despite those bumps in the road, Alexakis remains committed – Everclear (and its new lineup) is preparing to release a new album and embark on another successful summer tour.

For the next couple of months, Alexakis and the band are back out on the road for the second annual Summerland Tour – pitting them alongside Soul Asylum, Eve 6 and Spacehog for a night of classic 1990s hits.

Enjoy a new interview with Alexakis below – he spent some time speaking with Rock Cellar about the tour, the current state of the music industry, his hobbies outside Everclear and much more.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Tell us about this year’s Summerland Tour. What are you looking forward to out on the road for the next couple of months?

Art Alexakis: Fans should expect a whole lot of rock & roll. I go in and out of different types of genres that I like, but it always comes back to guitar, bass & drums – rock & roll. And I think the alternative music of the 1990s was a bunch of kids like me that grew up listening to rock radio back in the ‘70s – Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, KISS, stuff like that.

And then it evolved through punk rock, New Wave, the ‘80s indie stuff like the Replacements, Husker Du, the Pixies, Jane’s Addiction…and I think that’s what helped create the sound of the ’90s. Because that’s basically what we are – singer/songwriters playing big, heavy guitar songs. But with melody and a little bit of noise for good measure.

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So with that in mind, what you’re going to hear is a bunch of ’90s bands, I mean – my criteria has always been to have bands from the ’90s that had huge, iconic hits but at the same time are still real bands. These bands are bands that still tour and put out records, there’s none of those bands coming out of retirement to play this tour and make enough money to pay their mortgage. That’s not what’s going on.

Rock Cellar Magazine: It’s great that you got Spacehog on the tour this time around, they’ve been doing their thing for a while and are still pretty much under-the-radar since the ‘90s.

Art Alexakis: They’ve been a band, they just didn’t tour for a while. They’re putting out records, they’re touring a little bit. This is their first national tour in I think 11 years.

Rock Cellar Magazine: On a larger scale, what is it about the music of that era that makes this tour successful? There are a few other versions of the same type of tour – some of them are the type of tours with bands obviously just reuniting to pay the bills, but then there are also tours with bands that have never stopped doing their thing since the ‘90s.

Art Alexakis: You know, it’s weird. We’re a band that never went away. We toured and put out records, we’ve been playing. There are people who just know us from radio, and they think “Oh, if I don’t hear ‘em on the radio then they must not be around anymore”. They’re fair-weather radio fans, and that’s cool. I’ve got no problem with that. Those are people that buy a lot of tickets to Summerland, because they’re fans not just of that band but of the era, of that music. There is a certain level of nostalgia that I don’t think is such a bad thing – I think it’s a healthy, good thing and part of the human condition.

But there’s a difference between nostalgia bands that go out year after year after year after year playing the same old songs and never put new songs into the set, never really treat it like a band, you know? That’s why I say: all these bands on Summerland are real bands, and I am super stoked to have Soul Asylum – who I grew up with in the ‘80s listening to them when they were like the stepchild of the Minneapolis scene, they were so punk-y and nasty. Dave Pirner wrote all those great songs, even back when they were super loud.

And Eve 6 has been – I’ve been a huge fan of their since they were in high school. We took Spacehog on tour back in ’96 and have always been friends and fans of those guys, too.

Getting all of these bands together for a three-hour show, short sets, everybody plays the hits and a couple of new songs, fan favorites, and boom you get out of the way. Even us, being the headliner, our set’s like 40-45 minutes. But that gives you three hours – with really quick ten or fifteen-minute changeovers – of hits, of songs that you know.

It’s like a three-hour singalong.

Rock Cellar Magazine: How’s the new Everclear album coming along?

Art Alexakis: Well, it’s done. I was just listening to it when you called, actually. It’s probably the biggest guitar record we’ve ever made, especially since Sparkle & Fade and World of Noise.

The difference between this one and (2012’s) Invisible Stars is that one was a return to a lot of, like, classic sounds for Everclear – as far as rock goes. But I still recorded that with all five members of the band. Whereas the new one was recorded mainly as a three-piece – me and Freddy my bass player and Sean my drummer.

We worked the songs out then went in the studio to record them. I did most of the guitar overdubs and then I brought my guitar player Davey to put some sparkle on just about every song since he’s such a killer guitar player. My keyboard player came in to do the same, and then everybody sang background vocals together, that sort of thing.

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This is pretty much how I did my old school records. I kind of just wanted to go back to what I knew, and make this an old punk rock record. Three guys in a room, recording. Very little overdubs, very little Pro-Tooling.

It sounds big, and contemporary, and heavy as hell.

It’s funny – Chad Taylor from Live, those guys own the studio we were recording at in New York. He was in Studio B with a producer friend of his, and I guess the door to Studio A had opened up. And he was like order ativan online in canada “Wow, man. Whoever’s in there right now sounds like Everclear. But like heavy, new Everclear.”

And Chad goes “Really? You know that song?”

The producer said “No, it just sounds like Everclear, like Art on guitar.” – which it was (laughs).

So that’s kind of my point, we have a sound that…whether it’s good or not – I’m obviously not the best guitar player, or the best singer in the world, but when I play and sing on my songs, it sounds like Everclear. It sounds like me.

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Rock Cellar Magazine: Having been around a long time and having achieved as much mainstream success in the 1990s/2000s as you have, have you always been able to ‘call the shots’ with your career or was Capitol more in charge back in the day? I guess what I’m asking is how has your experience in the industry changed from then to now?

Art Alexakis: I called the shots even then. I pissed more people off then (laughs).

Rock Cellar Magazine: Let’s talk about Slow Motion Daydream. I wanted to bring that album up specifically because I always thought that record didn’t have enough marketing or promotion – despite having some pretty solid songs on there.

Art Alexakis: Thank you. To be honest with you, what happened on that record – and I have no bones with saying it – was that the president of the label didn’t like Everclear, didn’t want to work the first single, we got into an argument about it, called each other names, and so on. There was no radio promotion on that record, no ads, just nothing to do on that record. He wanted us to fail.

Even six months later when we were still signed to the label for the next year and a half, he put out a CD of all the cool Capitol bands, a sampler. And we weren’t in it, even though we were still on the label.

With the old regimes, it was like “if we didn’t sign you, then we don’t really care.”

My reaction to all that was “eh, whatever.” I thought it was a pretty good record. I didn’t think it was a great record, but I think it had some really good songs on it. So thanks for saying that, I appreciate it.

Rock Cellar Magazine: We saw you at the NAMM Show back in January and you were working alongside the John Lennon Bus. What’s that all about?

Art Alexakis: The Lennon Bus was brought to me by the people I work with at the Los Angeles College of Music (LACM). I’m actually the chairperson of the Songwriting department, I’m going to teach classes there this fall, I’m writing curriculum right now as we speak.

So I was turned onto the Lennon Bus by them. It’s a nonprofit rolling studio – they’ve got two or three of them around the country and Europe. Basically, it’s a studio where people come on board and if you’re a real musician you can make a song. They work with disadvantaged kids, kids that are mentally or physically disadvantaged. And they create music with them. It’s a phenomenal thing.

They asked me to come on and work with four kids who are actually enrolled at LACM and co-wrote, produced, and mixed a song and shot a video. In one day!

What it does is it brings entitlement down to anybody, to show people that they have that creative ability to be able to express themselves. Whether they’re going to write Top 10 hits or not, they can express themselves through music.

And that’s what it’s all about.

When they told me about it I was like “Are you kidding me? Is this real? This is awesome. Where were you guys when I was in the projects thirty years ago?” (laughs)

It was a cool thing.

Rock Cellar Magazine: For most of your career you’ve written songs from a very personal perspective – songs like Heartspark Dollarsign, for example. Was there ever a time you were hesitant to get ‘too deep’ or ‘too personal’ with your lyrics?

Art Alexakis: No…nah, I never really worried about that. It’s not like every song is autobiographical. They sound autobiographical because I like to write from a first person perspective, but even then and even now there’s always been those intense and personal songs. Like Father of Mine.

A lot of people thought Father of Mine should be a single, but I thought it was going to fail as a single because it was so personal. And there’s a song on the new record called You that’s another very, very intense and personal song. I don’t think it sounds like a single, but it’s one of my favorite songs on the album – it rocks.

That’s just me. Some things are very intense about me, and some things are more universal as a writer.

I like KISS – I’m getting ready to go see KISS – and there’s nothing intense and personal about them (laughs), but I love KISS, I love their sound, I love all those bands.

But at the same time I also really like intense singer/songwriter music with stories. Like Luca, by Suzanne Vega.

Again, I love intensely personal stories that matter, even though I may not relate to it. But as human beings I think we can all relate to passion and emotion. And I think that was true with Father of Mine, I think a lot of people related to it on a personal level but also like “I had a great mom & dad, but I’m a dad now and it resonates with me to just be a better father”. I hear stories like that all the time.

Honestly, a day does not go by without someone reaching out to me either in person at like Starbucks or the grocery store or on social media about the impact that song has had on them in their life.

Rock Cellar Magazine: That must feel pretty rewarding.

Art Alexakis: Absolutely. I’m taking damage and turning it into something positive for people. That’s what we do. And I get the same thing about the song Wonderful.

Without sounding smarmy it’s a blessing, man. It’s a gift that I was given, and I’m grateful but I don’t really claim 100% ownership of it. I think our gifts come to us and we either learn to use them or we don’t.

Man, I’m 52 years old, I have no bones about how old I am. I play in a rock & roll band. I’ve got a beautiful, intelligent wife, I’ve got two awesome kids, I’m living the dream, every day.

Rock Cellar Magazine: That’s great.

Art Alexakis: It is great. A lot of people take things like that for granted, but I don’t. At all.

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