While Everclear cut its teeth on hard rock power-trio blast in the wake of Kurt Cobain's death during the early 1990s, frontman and sole remaining founding member Art Alexakis found chart popularity with midtempo pop tunes featuring lyrics that ring true because he's actually lived them and knows what he's talking about. Case in point: probably his most famous line is, "I hate those people who love to tell you money is the root of all that kills; they have never been poor, they have never had the joy of a welfare Christmas."
He's got plenty of personal-experience fodder for the new Everclear album. In the years since 2002's Slow Motion Daydream, Capitol Records dropped the band, the other two Everclear members (Greg Eklund and Craig Montoya) quit, Alexakis got divorced, and he filed for bankruptcy. Keeping the Everclear name, he reformed the band with new personnel two years ago, gigging hard and getting their stage chops, readying for the release of Welcome to the Drama Club, a new album due out in September. The first single, "Hater," stirred controversy with an X-rated video on iFilm.com taking aim at certain religious leaders and, many viewers would argue, Christianity itself. It follows in lock-step with previous Alexakis songs revealing his agnostic-looking stripes.
Bullz-Eye caught up with Alexakis at his Oregon home at the quite un-rock & roll time of 7:30 in the morning. And no, we didn’t catch him on the back end of an all-nighter.
Bullz-Eye: What's a rock star doing up at 7:30 AM talking to me?
Art Alexakis: I'm not really a rock star. I'm a dad.
BE: Good answer.
AA: I can't help other people's perceptions of me. I used to get up early, I wake up about 7 o'clock every day. I have a daughter, I have her every other week, and I have to go get her and they wanted me to do interviews so I told them (this would be a good time). Where are you calling from?
BE: New Hampshire – but I was up at 7:30 this morning changing diapers myself.
AA: Yeah, brother. My daughter's 14 years old and I'm still programmed to take care of babies.
BE: Tell me a little introduction to your new album. This interview will probably be a lot of fans' first exposure to it.
AA: It's the first album since March 2003 and I've been through a lot of stuff personally, a really ugly divorce, members left the band, I went through a bankruptcy. I'm a 44-year-old guy, and I took some time to kind of re-evaluate what I want to do – not just musically, but personally. This record is probably the most autobiographical one I've ever done. I've done some autobiographical songs (such as) "I Will Buy You a New Life," and "Father of Mine," but this album pretty much...I felt like I needed to document where I was. I write a lot about my personal life, and I think that the ideas and thoughts I have make sense on a universal level.
BE: How would you characterize the evolution of the band's sound since Sparkle and Fade, your first commercially successful record in the 1990s and you were three guys banging it out?
AA: It was never really three guys banging it out. It's been me writing the songs and arranging them. They'd come in to play their parts. Musically, to some people, it sounds a lot different, but to some others it doesn't. I think in some ways it's closer to Sparkle and Fade because it wasn't gone over with a fine-toothed comb like some of our last few records. For a period, I guess I thought I was Brian Wilson, and that was fun. But this album is closer to an old Stones album, like Exile (on Main Street). We got everybody in the room together at the same time (and played live). We overdubbed over that, but the basic tracks are the band playing in the room. That's the vibe I wanted to get, and I felt we got it. It's not as bombastic, not as guitar-heavy with, like, big crunchy guitars. It's got more finesse to it. The bass player is a pretty amazing guy, and I actually got a lead guitar player because he can do some things that I can't. We've been together since April of 2004, so this is a band...that is tight, tight, tight. We have the ability to be kind of free with the music, and that's fun. (A) lot cleaner guitars. The anger and the vitriol is more in the lyrics.
BE: I find it interesting you dropped the Exile reference. "Under the Western Stars" opens with a bluesy rock B-3 organ sound, which is new.
AA: Yeah, we have B-3 or piano on every song. We have a full-time keyboard player and I love it. It just adds a whole different texture. I don't know if I'd call it blues rock.
BE: It's a bluesier sound, though.
AA: Definitely there's a more bluesy, R&B feel to this record. Seventh chords, ninths, there's all sorts of blues things in there, it feels warmer to me. C'mon, I'm 44 years old, I grew up with Led Zeppelin, the Beatles. They were the next-generation blues bands. It's not about big bar chords.
BE: The blues also has a lot of personal-experience stories, and Everclear was definitely that from the beginning.
AA: Pretty much. I always felt we were singer-songwriters in a rock band. I played in blues bands back in the day. I love real blues. White-boy blues is a big thing here, but I've never really felt that. But there's things like that coming out in this record.
BE: Capitol Records dropped Everclear in 2004. How's that sitting with you now, was that a good experience, bad experience overall?
AA: As far as Capitol Records goes, you know, when I was there it was through three regimes, three different presidents. It was like being on three different labels. The first two labels, I had issues with, but it was a relatively good experience. The last guy who was there (Andrew Slater), I don't understand what his thing is. I don't understand where he's going with his label. He hasn't really sold many records, and he's still there...but I don't know why. I'm actually glad to be off Capitol Records. We're on an indie label now, so it's sort of like putting out a record ourselves but they have distribution with Warner/Atlantic, so they have commercial money coming from that.
Me talking to you is a big deal. Capitol never had me talking to the dot-coms. They were there, but rarely did I ever, maybe one or two back in the day. I'm doing interviews all week with online publications. It's back to grass-roots, (appealing to) people who like maybe one or two songs and might want to find out more about the band. It's not like starting over from scratch, but we're starting over with a new band. I feel like I'm hungry again.
BE: It's gotta feel like starting from scratch in your personal life after divorce, bankruptcy, and the two other original players gone from the band.
AA: I am starting over. Every day it's starting over. I'm pretty happy, I have a great relationship with my girlfriend and a great relationship my daughter. I have more real friends than I ever have. When you're in a crisis situation, you find out who your real friends are.
BE: The band's stage show changed considerably from the start. Originally you were three guys, and then I remember a show at Hampton Beach (NH) Casino with Fastball opening in 1998, where you had percussionists and a more elaborate setup.
AA: Was that the night the power kept going out?
AA: That was crazy. What you saw...that was a band that had one percussionist, me, (bassist) Craig, and (drummer) Greg, a keyboard player and a guitar player. Those were all hired guns. Now, the band is five guys: Bass, drums, rhythm guitar, a keyboard player, and me. It's a lot more cohesive, we're not trying to add a lot of extra textures. We've reinvented a lot of the old songs. They sound like the old songs, but they sound more in-depth. I think B-3 on "Santa Monica" sounds awesome. I like that rock kind of sound. It doesn't sound like Deep Purple, in case you were worried (laughs). Or Uriah Heap (laughs more). It sounds like Everclear. We get a lot of kids who come out...people who flat out tell me, "I don't want to like the new band," come up (later) and tell me, "I like the new band." I hear that every show. We sign autographs after every show. The other guys love the attention, they don't have any rock-star attitude. I couldn't get (Eklund and Montoya) to sign autographs to save my life. I didn't have a problem doing it, but they did.
BE: Tell me about the new single, "Hater."
AA: The song originally started about a breakup – all the songs on the record are about different things, you have sad songs, happy songs, love songs, pissed-off songs saying "I don't want to be abused by you anymore" – and that (last one) is what "Hater" is. It epitomizes that feeling when you're just at the end of your rope, where you're just, like, “Fuck you, I want out.” When we went to make the video, we had a limited amount of money. I was reading different treatments (for the video story) and this one guy wrote about this Jesus character that was the "hater Jesus." Politically, I thought it was a really cool statement (dedicated to all the people who use religious beliefs to justify their own hateful feelings). We made that video for next to nothing, put it on the Internet, and pissed off a lot of people.
BE: In the history of Everclear, you've had some episodes of fans acting out (such as two escapades in 1997: One, a fan threw a shoe at Art and knocked out teeth; another killed the tour when a Melbourne fan threw an explosive on the stage). Is touring an adventure now?
AA: It's toned down quite a bit. Fans are there for not just the music but for the lyrics. We stop between songs, and fans are still singing – and it's usually the whole house. Not just the hits. That's one thing I love about our fans.
BE: Three New England Patriots players – Scott Zolak, Drew Bledsoe, and Max Lane (total weight, 800 pounds) stage-dived at your Paradise show in Boston in 1997 and severely injured a girl. How did that incident change Everclear? Did it give you a bad reputation?
AA: It cost us money, and hassles in the sense we had to fly around and give depositions. We had to hire a bunch of security and talk to corporate lawyers, insurance lawyers, stuff like that. It wasn't the first or last time we had been sued by a fan. That's just part of any band. Any kid comes to a show and stage-dives or crowd-surfs and gets kicked in the head, and comes home with a black eye and mom says, "We're going after 'em," and calls an ambulance chaser. Our insurance settles it out; they ask for $100,000 for a black eye, we give them $2,000, and they say, "Okay." In this case, this girl has a valid, valid, horrible mishap happen to her. You had these huge football players jumping off a five-foot stage onto a crowd full of teenage girls, and it seriously damaged this girl for life. In my opinion, she had every right to go after them. But her lawyer didn't just go after them. They went after them, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the county, the club, the promoter...everybody. And the players. And the Patriots. Why she went after the Patriots, that made no sense, she should have just gone after those three guys. But she suffered a serious injury to her spine, you know? I like Drew, he's a good guy.
BE: Did you know him from before, or was he just a dude you sort of recognized? (Everclear was coming up as a club band in Portland when Bledsoe, a professed Everclear fan, was a high school and college football star in Washington.)
AA: I had met him two or three times before. He's a really neat guy, I just think he made a bad choice that night, and people have to pay for their really bad choices. I think he paid for it a lot more than the New England Patriots or anybody else. I've played the Paradise, solo gigs. I love Boston, will always play Boston. And yeah, for a few times after that, while the case was still going on, we'd come to town and I'd get a few questions about it. I still get questions about it from people like you (laughs).
BE: I always wanted to ask about "Pale Green Stars" from Sparkle and Fade, my favorite Everclear tune. Is that about something real, fictitious, or a blend of ideas?
AA: It's real. My daughter's name is Anna, and originally I recorded it with her name. Her mom, my significant other at the time, said it was too personal, I couldn't do the song. I said, "I could change the name" to Amanda, and she said, "Okay." There's perspective on Anna throughout all my writing. "Wonderful" is about going through a divorce, "Annabella's Song" is about her, and on the new record there's a song called "Clean," about her becoming a young lady. She's my priority in life, always has been. She's the reason I'm still alive, in a lot of ways. She's kept me from doing a lot of self-destructive things, getting wrapped up in my own misery.