banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

INTERVIEW: Art Alexakis, Everclear – April 2015

| 14 May 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW: Art Alexakis, Everclear – April 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

Everclear Art Alexakis 01

It was twenty years ago almost to the day that Everclear released album number two, Sparkle & Fade, and burst onto the playlists of a global audience with their tales of drug damaged lives and hope. Art Alexakis brings the band back to Perth for a show at The Rosemount Hotel this Thursday, 14 May to play the album from start to finish. SHANE PINNEGAR has the story.

Sparkle & Fade’s singles Heroin Girl, Santa Monica, Heartspark Dollarsign and You Make Me Feel Like A Whore all lit up alternative charts around the world, paving the way for their even-bigger follow-up album So Much For The Afterglow.

Everclear - Black Is The New Black cover

A lot has happened in those two decades – singer/guitarist and main songwriter Art Alexakis’s bandmates left, to be replaced by an expanded line-up of five, and there’s been another six albums before last month’s Black Is The New Black became Everclear’s ninth record. Alexakis says he wanted to tap into the very essence of what Everclear is all about for this album.

“That was the idea; make a classic, old Everclear record. Contemporise it, modernise it, more mature lyrics because I’m older. I’ve got a great band so I just pushed them to the nth degree, and produced it in a way that makes it sound contemporary.”

Featuring some of his best songwriting in years, Black Is The New Black is as inspired as anything he’s done before.

“Honestly, and I know it’s weird,” he shares, “as you listen to the record you can tell it’s a dark, heavy record, lyrically and musically. But I think the fact that I’m happy in my life and I’m in a place in my life where I’m really grateful and present and really in touch with my sobriety and everything else that’s good in my life, my family, my friends, I think it gave me the security and safety to go into the dark places. Trust me: I’ve got plenty of dark places inside of me. I was able to go into them, and come back out again with songs like that.”

Alexakis has always managed to tap into his dark past as a drug addict, and temper those tales of despair with a glimmer of hope. To quote one of his twitter followers recently, he “puts into words what most people cannot see”. What’s most surprising is that he can access those dark days past and return unscathed.

“Well, I don’t know if you’re ever totally unscathed when you’ve been damaged,” he qualifies, “but I think you can get to a place where you can enjoy showing the people the scars. [laughs]

“I’m in a place where it is what it is. It’s not all autobiographical, but there are songs on there that are. Yeah, I deal with some really difficult stuff on this record – like I do on every record – but the main thing is, I just wanted to make an Everclear record, which to me is a singer/songwriter playing with a badass hard rock band that encapsulates everything from rock to punk and pop, everything. I think that’s all there.”

Everclear 03

Job done, then, and as Alexakis mentioned above, Black Is The New Black is HEAVY.

“Yeah, dude,” he laughs. “We just channelled our inner teenager when we made this record. When we were in the studio, Freddy [Herrera, bass player] was just getting the biggest, scariest bass down, and the kids recording with us were like, ‘oh, that’s crazy.’ I’m like, ‘no, no! Make it more distorted.’ Freddy was like ‘checck THIS out!’ and our drummer Sean [Winchester] is just killing it. He just killed it on this record. We just couldn’t be happier with it really. Freddy has been in many, many bands, and [aside to Freddy] weren’t you telling me yesterday, it is the best record you played on?”

Freddy, sitting next to the singer, shouts a “yeah” into the phone.

“Yeah,” continues Alexakis, “This is one of our best records I think we’ve ever made.”

Alexakis says that although the tour will be presenting the entire Sparkle & Fade album, they’ll still feature a few of the new tracks.

“One of the great things about coming to Australia is we’re playing the whole Sparkle and Fade record from the beginning, and that’s what we’re starting with: the whole record,” he explains. “And then we’ll take a break and come back and play some other hits, fan favourites and new songs. It’s going to be a great set. I’m pretty stoked.”

Lyrically the new record goes into some dark places, and on a song like The Man Who Breaks His Own Heart, for instance, it sounds like Alexakis is trying to make good for past mistakes. Does he feel like he still has to try to make amends for some things?

“Yeah. I’ve been clean and sober for 26 years – in June it will be 26 years,” he says, by way of an explanation. “Everybody fucks up in life. Everybody makes mistakes. Good people do bad things. But when you get a bit older, I think it’s good for everybody to be present and be aware of that and acknowledge it. Most of the time when you do something wrong to somebody and they’re close to you, I think what most people want is you to acknowledge that you did it, and be open about it, listen to them, and move on. I’ve definitely moved on, but I felt, lyrically, I needed to make that connection.

“It’s funny because that song in particular, I wrote that song back in 2004. I didn’t like the way it came out when we first demoed it. I didn’t like it. A lot of people did, [but I thought] it just didn’t fit the record. When we were making this record, I just changed the riff around, kicked the guys out of the studio for a couple of hours and worked out an arrangement, wrote a new bridge, a new verse, and it just came together like that.”

Everclear 02

American Monster is another piece of classic songwriting and a scathing slice of social commentary. The lyrics to this track are enthralling, like watching the news.

“Thanks, man, yeah. Well, you know what’s funny – I don’t know if you’re a parent or not, but I’m a dad,” he says before I tell him I have a daughter. “Oh you’ll get this then. I’ve got one kid who is seven-years-old, and she would have bad dreams. Older kids at school would talk about devils and ghosts and stuff that would freak her out. So I’m walking that line [where] she still believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

“I want her to believe in good magic and happy things like that, but I don’t want her to believe in the bad magic. When I started thinking about it, the real monsters are people, primarily white people. White people have done more bad things in this world than anybody else; atom bombs: white people, Nazis: white people. We’ve done horrible things in this world.

“People do it every day,” he continues, “and they are people that aren’t crazy. They’re just mean. They’re just evil. The main thing is learning to identify so you can just avoid them, but I wanted to write a song from the perspective of pure evil and celebrate — that character just celebrates evil. I think our culture is like that. I think our culture celebrates evil. We love people when they do things right. We love people when they do things wrong. It’s spooky. That’s probably the social commentary you’re talking about, huh?

“But the thing is, you’re teaching them and at the same time, if you’re present, you’re going to be teaching yourself at the same time. You’re going to be aware of more things. You ever find yourself going, ‘wow, man, I never thought about it like that.’ It’s great. It’s the best thing in the world. It’s also one of the hardest things in the world you’ll ever do, because there’s so much at stake.”

Alexakis goes on to explain how they utilised a crowd funding campaign to get the album made.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way it came out, couldn’t be happier with the way we’re working it. I’m working with this organisation called PledgeMusic that’s a fan-sourcing [so the] fans are involved. And we’ve got a great label, that’s a small label [with] major label distribution out of New York. They’re great.

“So, we’ve got muscle behind this but at the same time, it’s controllable,” he explains passionately. “I’m not giving the record away. The band is going to keep sharing the profits, which no-one is going to get rich off, but at least it’s there. The old model, the old music business was like, make a record, you give it to the record company, and they own it forever. They get 80% of everything from it. That’s just a bad business model.”

An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay – that’s what it’s all about.

“Well that IS what it’s all about,” he agrees. “If you do something, you should get credit for it. You should get paid for it. That’s what’s fair. Everybody goes to work every day. That’s our job in life. We’ve got to work. We’ve got to put food on the table and pay for school and swimming lessons and all that good stuff and put money into the economy so that everybody gets well. That’s the idea.”

Everclear 04

With the Sparkle & Fade tour starting shortly after our conversation, Alexakis says the band were ready to immerse into the album in rehearsals.

“We’re getting ready to do that. We’re going to spend a week working on that, but we’ve all been practicing it, singing the songs. I’m ready to get into the studio and start working on that.

“Half of the songs on the record we play [live] anyway. We play them all the time. I can’t do a show without playing Santa Monica: it’s just impossible. There are about six songs that we haven’t played in a while, and we’re going to work on those songs. Most of the songs on side 2 [of the record], and I’m looking forward to getting into them – it’s just like playing new songs that people know and can sing along with. It’s pretty exciting.”

The legacy of Sparkle & Fade is a pretty special thing to have on your resume, no doubt. It must be great, knowing that that’s out there and people still love it?

It’s awesome – and the record that followed it was an even bigger record here and there, So Much For The Afterglow,” Alexakis says. “Hopefully we’ll do a 20-year anniversary of that in a couple of years. Yeah, I’m really blessed, man. We’ve made a lot of great music. We’re still making great music. I get to go out, and I’m really grateful to be able to be a part of it and have that as a legacy, exactly as you said.”

The band have a gruelling schedule ahead, with seven shows in eight nights on their Australian tour. On their last visit Down Under, in 2012, the strain was showing on Alexakis’ voice by the last gig of the tour, so I ask him how he copes?

“I think it’s more from flying,” he says. “That’s the problem in Australia: you’ve got to fly everywhere because those cities are pretty far apart. You can’t get on a bus like in the States, for a few hours. Go to bed and wake up, you’re in a new city. That’s how it is in the States. It’s not like that in Australia. But I’ve been working out and trying to take care of my voice. I’m doing a solo tour while getting my voice in shape. I think we’re going to have a lot of energy by the time we get to Perth this next time.

“Thanks for saying that. I’m going to be well aware of that – I’m not going to talk to anybody! I’m just going to have a sign that says, ‘fuck off, don’t talk to me’!”

Everclear Art Alexakis 02

Talking of his solo acoustic Songs & Stories tour, during which Alexakis relates anecdotes about his life and music, what are the chances of bringing that gig to Australia next time around?

“I would love to bring it Down Under,” he enthuses. “I think that would be a lot of fun. It looks like we’re on one of those touring cycles, doing tours down there every two years. Maybe in the off year, I can come down and do Songs & Stories down there. That would be really cool. I know that they’ve talked to my agents about that. Hopefully we can make that happen. I think it will go down well!”

This story first appeared in edited form in the X-Press Magazine 13 May, 2015 issue

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad