Art Alexakis Q&A: 30 Years of Everclear, Touring with MS and Being ‘Confrontationally Authentic’ (“When You’re 60, You Don’t Have to Be Nice Anymore”)


Adrian GarroCategories:Featured ArticlesFeatures

Rock Cellar Magazine

Originally recorded in a friend’s basement for $400, 1993’s World of Noise was the first release from Everclear, prior to its emergence in the mid-1990s as an alt/rock staple with era-defining radio hits like “Father of Mine” and “Santa Monica.”

On June 10, Everclear released a remastered version of the album — marking its first appearance on digital streaming platforms. It’s a way for the band to kick off its upcoming 30th anniversary festivities, a summer filled with tour dates with special guests Fastball and The Nixons.

Rock Cellar caught up with Everclear mastermind Art Alexakis for a career-spanning look back on his band, where it’s been, where it’s going, life as a musician battling Multiple Sclerosis and more.

Rock Cellar: So, 30 years of Everclear. What did it feel like when you realized it’d been that long?

Art Alexakis: I’ve been doing it for so long, and I’ve had the thought before, but it really hit home that this is my life’s work, you know, doing what I wanted to do since I was four years old, play rock and roll in a rock and roll band. I never wanted to be a singer until I just got tired of dealing with singers. [laughs] Singers who don’t play instruments suck.

Rock Cellar: It is quite a different dynamic.

Art Alexakis: You’re being nice. I don’t have to be nice. I’m past that. I’m 60. When you’re 60, you don’t have to be nice anymore. No, you’re right, it is a different dynamic, and there’s people who do it really well. But just coming up, trying to find guys in my teens and 20s that weren’t pretentious assholes was pretty hard to find. So I’m like, “You gotta be a pretentious asshole. I can do that. Why not me?” I took a year off, I was 23, writing songs. And that opened the way to eventually what Everclear was going to become, a singer/songwriter and big, loud guitars.

Rock Cellar: And I like especially that you’re revisiting World of Noise, because your very early stuff was a little bit of a precursor of where the band would go. Looking back on that now, what do you feel about that album compared to the success that would come a few years later?

Art Alexakis: It’s almost like a document more than a record. It’s a document of where I was at the time. It was honest, it was really genuine, you know?  I grew up with bands in the 60s and 70s, and 80s. And I always felt like, what you put out on record is not necessarily what you put out live. Live should be louder, more intense, more immediate, because you don’t have the dimensions that you can do on a record. So it’s two different things. I’ve always felt that. That being said, as Everclear evolved and I evolved as a writer, and a producer, and a player, the music changed, but honestly, our live show has always been pretty balls to the wall rock and roll.

Rock Cellar: I think that’s key too, because from my perspective, I’ve listened to all the albums for a long time, for decades, even. And I know there’s a lot of people that only knew Everclear from “Wonderful” or “I Will Buy You a New Life,” or whatever. But there’s such a brooding intensity to a lot of the other earlier stuff, and especially the live show. Even if you saw the band in that heyday, you know, 20+ years ago, you still got a show you probably didn’t expect based on those radio hits. So I think treading that balance was always very interesting, how you did that.

Art Alexakis: Man, that’s a really, really good perspective. And it’s something that we talked about. We made Afterglow, there’s looping stuff on that record, and we tried in rehearsal to use them. It just slowed the music down, it didn’t feel alive. Literally, the whole experiment lasted like two hours. I was just like, “Fuck, we’re a rock and roll band.” What we do on record is interesting, and I want more dimension to it, I want to play with sound and all that stuff. But at the same time, we’re fucking rock band, anything other than that is pretentious. And even to this day, just about every band we play with. There’s actually two bands that we’re playing with on tour on this 30th anniversary tour, the Nixons and Fastball, none of us use recorded tracks that we play to.

Everybody else does!

Rock Cellar: I’ve noticed that a lot more since coming out of pandemic a lot of bands seem to be doing that.

Art Alexakis: Even before! It’s understandable and I get it, but even before when we did the Summerland Tour for what, six years, and we’ll probably do it again. But man, just about every damn band had tracks, had a click track.

Rock Cellar: So far in five minutes of an interview, you come across very earnest, saying what you feel.  That’s also been at the core of your songwriting, because you’ve exorcised a lot of personal demons — or at least tried to — with a lot of your subject matter. And I feel like in the 90s, that hit in a big way for Everclear because of that exactly. It felt more confrontationally authentic than a lot of the other stuff that was going on at the time.

Art Alexakis: [laughs] Did you just come up with that? I’ve never heard that. I gotta tell my wife that. Confrontationally authentic. She’s gonna say, “Fuck you.”  But yeah, I appreciate that. Honestly, everything aside, that’s all I really adhered to. When we started to Capitol, just as an example, I was 32 years old. That’s old in the rock game. Not compared to 60, obviously. They pulled me into the president of Capitol after we signed. They’re like, “OK, we’ve got this marketing plan, we’re gonna do this and this,  we loved it. “We love the new album that you turned in, everything’s great. But we need you to do one thing. We need you in our bio, to tell people that you’re 24 years old.”

I’m like, Yeah, I kind of figured that might come up. I said, “Do you guys remember when we negotiated before we signed the contract? You remember what I said?” And the president’s like, “We’re not talking about creative stuff.” I go, “No, no, I said in all things. It’s in the contract. It’s in the short form and the long form.” It sucks for them when the artist actually knows. I just told him, I’m like, “No, we’re not gonna do that.” And he’s like, “Oh, I’m not asking.” I go, “You’re not telling me, either, because I don’t have to be told. Look. I’m sorry if this makes it harder for you guys. I think I’m pretty good for 32.” They’re like, “You look great. You can pass for 24.” I said “That’s pushing it, but regardless, it’s not who I am, to be honest with you.”

I told the president of Capitol, “Dude, I don’t need you to help me look like an asshole. I can do that all on my own. Trust me. This is not gonna happen.”

 

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Rock Cellar: There’s a picture I saw on the Everclear social recently where it’s your shirt says like, “I’m not drunk, I just have MS,” or something like that. And I feel like that shirt is the perfect way for you to express what you’ve been dealing with for the last few years, trying to tour with all that going on. How’s that all going?

Art Alexakis: Well, thank you for asking. When I saw that shirt, I knew I had to get it. That was actually an issue where people were talking shit. We were the big fish in the little pond. We’re from out of town. The hipsters automatically hated us. Everybody else, we sold more records there than ever. Yeah, we have a huge fan base there, radio loves us. Everybody loves us. But you know, the hipsters didn’t like us back in the day. And I remember my brother-in-law telling me, “Yep, people are saying that you’re using again, drinking again.” I go, “Well, one of the reasons I wanted you to come over was I wanted to tell you I got diagnosed with with Multiple Sclerosis. My sobriety is strong. I have a hard time walking.” And my poor sister just started bawling.

Someone made that shirt for people, because it wasn’t just me. And this is just basically saying, “Fuck you, man, this is what I am.” I’m out there doing it the best I can, and I ain’t gonna stop. Thank you for asking. I’m actually feeling really good. I started a new medication six months ago. My neurologist just went over an MRI that I did and all my lesions have shrunk, no inflammation. Will I start walking better? I’m working out more, doing really good physical therapy. It’s all about fatigue for me. I still go on stage just about every every week, so I think I’ll be OK. It’s better on tour, to be honest with you, because I got my bunk to go take naps in.

Rock Cellar: There’s a little clip in the 30th anniversary teaser video where a young-ish Dave Grohl is saying, “Oh, I gotta go see Everclear, they look like they’re gonna be awesome live.” Did Everclear cross paths with Foo Fighters over the years, at festivals or anything like that? And if so, did you have any memorable exchanges with Taylor Hawkins?

Art Alexakis: Taylor, like, a couple of times on stage, walking on stage, he’d be there and he’d wave, like, “hey man, how you doing?” I have friends that were close with him. That’s a whole different story about drugs, but as far as Dave Grohl goes, that interview was backstage at a show at the Roseland Ballroom. We had been asked by them to play a show with the Foo Fighters. They’re coming up and, and Sparkle and Fade had just come out. Dave goes, “I just heard the record, I like it. I look forward to seeing ’em live.”

And in that same interview — you could see it if you’d look through the archives, because it’s probably on YouTube — “So what do you think of Everclear? A lot of people say they sound like your old band Nirvana?” Dave’s like, “I don’t think Everclear sounds like Nirvana at all.” And then he goes, “Bush sounds a lot like Nirvana. ” That was cool.

Rock Cellar: I had a realization this week listening to Everclear getting ready for our chat, that “A.M. Radio” came out in 2000 and references music technology from 30 years earlier. If you did that, now it would refer to 1992. And that makes me feel old with the context of the song and what those lyrics are about. [laughs]

Art Alexakis: That’s technology, right? It’s not gonna stop until it’s like embedded in your fucking head. “Here. There you go. That’s the new album.” And I say that jokingly, but who knows? But I think in that song, what it’s saying is it doesn’t matter what the technology is. It’s all about what the music makes you feel. And that was the great thing. AM radio as a kid living in the projects? I didn’t have to pay for it. We had a transistor radio, right? We had a radio and every car had an AM radio. You could hear what was going on. The big radio station in LA was 93 KHJ. And they played fucking everything, they played rock, they played pop, they played Black music, Hispanic music, they played Zeppelin. And I’m glad that that’s a foundation. But it’s a great perspective you have on the technology, but really I think what that song was about was regardless of the technology, what are you getting out of it?

Rock Cellar: I’ve always been fascinated to imagine what it’s like when someone in a band is at the store buying milk and they hear their song play over the speakers. By now, that must have happened to you a million times. But what was it like the very first time?

Art Alexakis: To be honest with you, the very first time that I remember, it was during Afterglow when we started to have big hits, I heard a song from Sparkle and Fade as Muzak. But not “Santa Monica” — it was “Heroin Girl.”  I’ve tried to find it since then, but I just can’t find it. I was listening to it, Craig was with me, [former Everclear bassist Craig Montoya]. He was with me and I look at him and go, “What the fuck is that?” You could just see the look on his face. And we listened to the whole thing. We’re sitting there in the aisle, it’s like the middle of the night. We’re grabbing food and shit to go back to the hotel.

Those moments when you have a song, or songs, in our case, that connected with a large amount of people. There’s all sorts of different things that happen. Most of them good, not all of them. I’ve had people come up to me and just scream at me like, you know, “I know Esther’s family,” the name from “Heroin Girl,” and they say, “they’re pissed off, they’re gonna fucking sue you.” I’m like, “Great. I made up the name from a girl that I had a crush on in fifth grade.” Not a real person. She’s an amalgam. And actually, the line where, you know, a policeman said to another officer, “just another overdose” — this was them saying that to my mom, at the morgue, about my brother. But like I said, most of it is overwhelmingly good and positive. Some of it, not so much.

Rock Cellar: What are your expectations and hopes and excitement for the 30th anniversary tour and the Flannel Nation festival event in San Pedro in August?

Art Alexakis: I hope people come out and see the band and enjoy the fact that we’re going to play the hits like we always do, and a lot of fan favorites from the big albums. But we’re also gonna play more songs from World of Noise. You know, we usually play one maybe, but now we’re gonna definitely play two or three. And I’d like to do at least one song from that the bonus tracks. My favorite one that whole from the B-sides or bonus tracks is “Blondes.” I really love that song. I told the guys to learn that song because I’d like to play it. It’s like, fucking old-school grunge.

Everclear rock. That’s what we sounded like, you know? I always had a pop side, I always had a country side, and I knew that Everclear was my vehicle and we were going to go there. But at that time, that’s what I did, hard, semi-melodic, kind of dissonant at times.


The Everclear 30th anniversary tour dates:

Thursday, June 9
Friday, June 10
Saturday, June 11
Sunday, June 12
Tuesday, June 14
Thursday, June 16
Friday, June 17
Saturday, June 18
Sunday, June 19
Wednesday, June 22
Thursday, June 23
Friday, June 24
Saturday, June 25
Thursday, June 30
Friday, July 1
Sunday, July 3
Wednesday, July 6
Thursday, July 7
Friday, July 8
Saturday, July 9
Wednesday, July 13
Thursday, July 14
Friday, July 15
Saturday, July 16
Saturday, August 6
Saturday, August 13
Saturday, August 27
Saturday, September 3
Emmett, ID @ Stoney’s Road House
Grand Junction, CO @ Los Colonias Amphitheater
Colorado Springs, CO @ Sunshine Studios
Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre
Odessa, TX @ The Ector Theatre
Waco, TX @ The Backyard
Lubbock, TX @ Cook’s Garage
Norman, OK @ Riverwind Casino ^
Memphis, TN @ Minglewood Hall
Virginia Beach, VA @ Beachfront Concert Series +
Glenside, PA @ Keswick Theatre
Washington, PA @ Hollywood Casino at The Meadows
Princeton, WV @ Food Truck Frenzy
Charleston, WV @ Haddad Riverfront Park +
Greenville, SC @ Cowboy Up Nightlife
Baltimore, MD @ Hammerjacks
Nashville, TN @ Sky Deck
Lexington, KY @ Manchester Music Hall
Franklin, OH @ JD Legends
Streator, IL @ Streator’s 4th of July Celebration +
Millville, NJ @ Levoy Theatre
Jim Thorpe, PA @ Penn’s Peak
Schenectady, NY @ Frog Alley Brewing Co.
Hammondsport, NY @ Pavilion at Point of the Bluff Vineyards
Kannapolis, NC @ Village Park Amphitheater +
San Pedro, CA @ Flannel Nation Festival at Port of Los Angeles^
Niagara Falls, ON @ The Avalon Ballroom Theatre at Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort ^
Henderson, NV @ M Resort and Casino
^ Everclear only; no Fastball or The Nixons
+ indicates free show



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