Art Alexakis of EVERCLEAR Talks – New Album, Touring, His New Teaching Gig And More!
Posted On 28 Jul 2014
Tag: All Access Music Group, Art Alexakis, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Emperor, Everclear, Father Of Mine, Filter, I Will Buy You A New House, Invisible Stars, LIVE, Los Angeles College of Music, Santa Monica, Seether, Snowball Express, Soul Asylum, Sponge, Summerland Tour, Taylor Momsen, The Art Show, The Black Keys, The Blame, The Man Who Broke His Own Heart, The Pretty Reckless, The Rival Sons, The Virgin Hearts, Think Loud Studios, Vampire Weekend, Welcome To The Drama Club, Willobee, Wonderful, World Of Noise
Everclear is an American rock band best known for their radio hits spanning more than a decade including, “Santa Monica,” “I Will Buy You A New Life,” “Wonderful,” and “Father Of Mine,” just to name a few.
Sophisticated yet sarcastic words of wisdom and endearing experiences give frontman, Art Alexakis’ lyrics the credibility to songs that don’t ring as mere radio fluff. The highlight of each Everclear song is the fact that Art writes with a gentle pen—he shares his thoughts on life, love and idealism, and never hesitates to pour his heart into these songs. He gives the music life by injecting the heartfelt humility of his own existence.
Later in his career, Art became a political activist lobbying for special concerns, which include drug awareness policies, deadbeat dad and mom initiatives, and support of military families.
Going into a wide range of topics, the charismatic frontman, takes a few minutes while on his current Summerland Tour to chat with All Access Music Group writer, Nicole DeRosa.
Everclear has been around for 20+ years. How does your 9th studio album reflect the band’s growth since its early foundation in the early ’90s? Did you know what kind of direction you wanted with the new album?
I knew exactly what I wanted. I’ve been wanting to make a Rock record. I’ve been doing the Summerland Tour every year and it’s a bunch of ’90s bands. The first year was kinda poppy and I just called a bunch of friends, & then the next year I did it myself and said, “Okay, I ‘m gonna pick the bands that I want,” so I picked bands like Live, Filter, Sponge and man, it was just a Rock show every night! I just love Rock n Roll and heavy Rock n Roll like Filter and Sponge and new-ish artsy rock n roll like Live and all that old school rock n roll like Everclear.
It just really inspired me and I started writing songs even though we just made a record two years ago. It was six years between our record that came out two years ago, Invisible Stars, and our preceding record, Welcome To The Drama Club. I’m just ready to rock and I knew what I wanted to do and wanted to make a contemporary sounding rock record.
The only stations at terrestrial radio and really even satellite radio that play guitar rock n roll, modern guitar rock n roll is Active Rock stations. I really felt like there was a niche for us there if we made the right record, but I wasn’t making a record specifically to get played. I was making a record that was in my heart that I wanted to sound like it could compete at that format but still sound like itself. That’s what I was shooting for and we achieved that.
We went into pre-production in L.A. because my drummer and bass player live there, and we went into my rehearsal studio in Burbank twice a week. I’d bring in songs and we’d rough them out to see if they worked — and if they didn’t work out, I’d go back to the drawing board and hammer it away. We got closer and closer every week. We went into the studio in March and, man, the tracking just went so quick … it was so exciting. The band, Live, built this modern studio complex in York, PA and they said, “If you want to record, come on down.” We shipped all our gear out there and recorded our record. The boys went home and I recorded guitars and vocals; then I went home for a while again and then we went back, mixed and finished up the songs. I recorded a record in probably about 40 days. For me, that is pretty quick.
Now I’m trying to figure out which label I want to go with — one that knows how to work that format and be a partner. The whole idea of giving up touring and the whole 360 deals, I see where they’re coming from, but for a band like us, touring is everything and we’ve developed this over the years. For us to share that just doesn’t make sense. I see it for baby bands; I kinda get it. But it kinda sticks in my crawl a bit. I’m just old and that’s not the way we do things. I’m on tour right now, writing a couple new songs that I think I’m gonna put on the record. I’ll tweak the mixes and spend a couple weeks back in the studio and master it, so we’re probably look at it being done around March.
How did working as an A&R rep help you see things differently? How do you think that benefited you? And what advice would you give bands being courted by labels?
To be honest with you, everybody should know what they are talking about and be involved with every aspect of their career. When I’ve let other people (ie: management or agents) do the thinking for me, that never works out well for anybody. I just feel, like, it’s my career. I tell other artists: Work with your own people, who can be totally focused, committed and totally into it, but if it doesn’t work, they (the label) are going to go on to something else.
There is no harm in that. There is no shame in that. That’s what they do. But this is your chance, so you better be as involved as possible in every decision and have the vision to do things, because there’s no one really to blame at the end of the day but yourself. I can live with it; if I make the decision and it doesn’t work, I can live with that because it was my decision and I can stand by it. But if I make the decision to not have a choice and give it to someone else, then I have a hard time living with that because it’s still my fault, because it’s still my choice to give up that power. I don’t think anyone should do that at any stage in their career or any stage in their life for any reason. Don’t ever give up your power.
You know, I have two daughters and that’s a really important message to me to them, to never give up the power they have and to always be involved in everything that pertains to them. Of course that’s hard when you’re dealing with a six-year-old who doesn’t want to go to bed.
But back to the record: I’m just happy to have a partnership with the label where I’m able to talk to them about it and be reasonable. I found a couple of guys at labels that I’m just really stoked to talk to. You want people who are thinking outside the box to push the box as far as it can go, especially in this day and age when record sales are not even remotely what they used to be and not even as important as they used to be, unfortunately. It used to be that you toured to support a record to help sell records. Now, you sell records to help you tour. Because that’s where your livelihood is.
I can tell how much you enjoy the whole process of being in a band, collaborating with others, working in the studio creating those memories because it shows through on your songs. What advice do you have for those who start to become jaded by the industry?
In everything that you do, if you’re not having fun … you need to get another job, especially if you’re playing in a rock band. You better get a job making money. If you’re gonna sell your soul, do it. Go all the way. Go be a hedge fund manager or something like … or a plumber. Plumbers make good money, too.
You’ve had your share of ups and downs in life, what was it or who was it that inspired you to pursue your passion?
It’s a combination of a lot of things. When I was younger, I pretty much went with the flow. I know where I wanted to go, but I didn’t know how to get there. When I got clean and sober, that really opened up a part of me that had been anesthetized by drugs and alcohol and by my own self-doubt for years and years and years. When I stripped that away, I was just like, man, I have nothing to lose.
I was raised by my mother and she taught me how to be a man. One of those things about my mom is that she’s crazy as hell, but she loved me fiercely from the moment I was born until the moment that she died. There was never a day that passed when I talked to her or saw her, that she didn’t tell me she loved me and kissed me good night. She never missed a chance. Even though everything she did didn’t seem like it, there was always that constant support and tenacity. My mother taught me tenacity. She taught me how to speak what you think and not let go, ever. That’s really helped me in life and in work and definitely in music.
Like I said, when I got clean and sober, I just focused, man. I was like, I’m gonna do this. And you know what really put me over the edge of being driven? When my eldest daughter was born. I remember coming home after she was born in Portland in 1992, and I’m in this band and the other guys in the band just kinda sucked. I wanted to do this, but I still had self-doubt and I was just two years sober. I came home from the hospital to get a change of clothes for me and my girlfriend at the time, soon to be my second wife and mother of my eldest daughter. I sat down on the couch and I just felt this weight on me like, “What the f*ck am I gonna do with a baby? I can barely take care of myself. How am I gonna take care of another human being?”
My mom always taught me, things happen between people and couples. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, but what a real man does, instead of moving away on the other side of the country, (she didn’t say it … but like my dad did), he moves down the street and takes his lumps like a man and raises his kids. That’s what you do. Your focus is always on your children. If you decide to have children, that is your priority of your life. And when I thought about that, it’s like that weight went … I realized, oh, I’m not #1 anymore, okay … she is. But to keep her #1, I have to do what I’m good at. I have to do what is my passion. Instead of giving up the band, like a lot of people do, I got more focused into it and I came out of that just spinning so hard. I became relentless and started writing more fierce songs.
That winter, I met this guy at a recording studio and traded him some gear and went in and recorded every song we had and that became our first record, World of Noise. We put that out on a local label the next year and it got great reviews in the local papers and we started to become one of the big bands in Portland. We started touring on the record and never gave up. I just never ever took my eye off the ball, ever.
All those experiences are so priceless. That’s not stuff you can buy or learn in school. It’s those moments in time that you’re not always prepared for them to happen, but they happen at the time when they are supposed to.
I agree, they happen all the time. You need to be present to catch the impact of them. It’s like when your having a moment, and you hold your partner’s hand and you just look at them and go, “Wow, okay, this is real, right now. This is what’s going on.”
What is one of your most memorable stories writing a song or album?
When we were making the record, like on the second day, I got this horrible stomach flu. I was down in my room for like two days. We recorded the first two days and we’re rolling — and I went to my room and started throwing up and I didn’t come out of it for two days. I was still sick for like another week, really bad, but I was there every day making the record. By the end of the first week, we were all just looking around this beautiful studio, called Think Loud Studios, and I remember going in that studio at night with this idea. I rarely write songs in the studio, but I had this idea for a song that I had written a long time ago that hadn’t worked out … that I didn’t know what to do with and then all of a sudden …. just playing in the room by myself in the studio, and you can hear the rain outside, I got the guys in and we rehearsed it and recorded it the next day. It was the last song on the record. I don’t know if it will ever be a single, but it’s definitely one of the cool songs on the record. It’s called “Safe.” That was a really great memory.
Do you have a favorite song on the new album?
The first single off the record is called, “The Man Who Broke His Own Heart,” and I had written the lyrics and music for that for a record back in like 2006, but it was mellow and with an acoustic guitar and it just didn’t have the impact. I shelved it, even though I really liked the song. And then when I started doing the rock stuff, and we started writing other songs, I started playing that song by myself, but more aggressively. I changed some of the lyrics and it just sprouted out of the ground like a beanstalk. It just found its niche of where it’s supposed to be. When I listen to that song, to me, it’s pretty perfect all the way through. There’s nothing I want to change about it … and that’s pretty rare.
You are the new Chairman of Los Angeles College of Music’s Songwriter Program. How did you and the college start working together? Will you actually be teaching classes or just overseeing the program?
I’ve always looked at myself as an okay singer and okay guitar player/musician, but where I think my light shines is in my songwriting. When you put it all together, it sounds like me and it sounds like Everclear. Maybe in a lesser way, kinda like Neil Young. Neil Young has always been one of my idols. He just does things his way and you know when he starts singing or playing guitar, you know who it is.
It’s funny when I was in the studio, making this record, there was a famous producer, I can’t say who, but he was in Studio B. Chad Taylor, the guitar player and singer of the band Live was standing there and when the door to Studio A would open up, the producer would hear music and say, “Hey man, that sounds like Everclear” and Chad would kinda smile and say, “Oh yeah, you know that song?” And he goes, “No, I never heard that song before, but that sounds like Art Alexakis playing guitar.” And then Chad goes, “That is Art and Everclear. They’re making their brand new record.” And the guy came in, peeked in the door. He was so ecstatic and said, he has wanted us to do a rock record for 10 years! Chad told me that story and that was pretty awesome.
Knowing that is what I have to offer of what I am. I have always loved working with other people as far as songs go, so I knew this gal, Erin, who is phenomenal and used to work at Musicians Institute. I talked to her and she reached out to my management a couple years ago about doing something over there, but I don’t think the school was receptive to having that kind of program. I don’t think it was about me. And then when she left Musicians Institute and went to LACM, which was called Los Angeles Music Academy before they changed their name. Now they offer about eight different four-year degrees.
I’m writing curriculum right now and starting this fall, I’m going to be teaching my own class. There’s going to be four different classes that people must go through for their degree. I’m calling it The Art of Song. It’s basically looking at the creative aspect of writing a song and how to bring that out of you. I don’t really think you can create that; it has to be in you to be a creative songwriter and to be really good at it. If you want to just sound like everything else on the radio, you can be a technician. But to be a real creator, you have to have that in you. What I want to do is help people bring that out of themselves. That’s what I think my job is there.
It’s really funny … I did this clinic and I’ve spoken at other people’s classes, and I said, if you come to my class, I’m gonna kick your ass. That’s what’s gonna happen.
Complacency does not exist in my class. And you know what? Me saying that got three people to come join the program even though they were already graduating with other degrees. This kid said to me, “”I want you to kick my ass. I think I have it inside of me; I just want to bring it out.” I said to him, “Come to class; we’ll work on it together. You’ll kick your own ass is what’s gonna happen.”
That’s what really has to happen in life. You have to be able to look at yourself … be present and just be brutally honest with yourself and say, “This works … this doesn’t work. I want this … I don’t want this” and be able to make those decisions in your life. Not just in music. I mean, it takes awhile to grow up and say,” You know what, I don’t want that in my life. I don’t want to be with that person. This is not how I wanna live, or I don’t want this corporate life that my parents want me to have. I wanna live in a little room and do exactly what I want to do and be happy. Be happy. That to me is more than anything. The best things happen when people are happy, content and feel connected with themselves. That’s when the good stuff comes out.
It’s hard to be honest with yourself. That’s what I tell these kids … when you’re writing these songs, your going to be doing some excavating into places you don’t really want to go, but you have to go. That’s the exciting work … and some people are gonna do it and some people aren’t … some people can and some people can’t … and that’s what they’re gonna find out by taking my course. It’s not for the faint of heart. Define your way to express the human condition because we all have our own way of expressing it, dealing with it and exploring it.
You are currently working on a new weekly nationally syndicated radio program called “The Art Show.” How is that going?
Willobee and I are gonna jump into it as soon as I get off the Summerland tour and get this record done; my goal is to get it done in early Fall. Right now, we’re just totally stoked on this record so that’s a good problem to have. We’re excited to do The Art Show. I think the record and the show are going to help each other.
What bands are you listening to right now?
I like bands like Vampire Weekend and The Black Keys a lot. Most of Alternative Pop radio sounds the same to me and kinda lame and wimpy. There’s a couple of bands at Active Rock that I really like …I really like The Pretty Reckless album. Taylor Momsen has a killer voice and her guitar player is phenomenal. The band just rocks. They’re just badass! I also like Seether’s new record. I liked a lot of what I heard when we were touring in Australia. We played with a band called Emperor, who were just phenomenal. I’m just glad to see that young bands are coming up and aren’t trying to sound like anyone else … and just rock. There is another band called The Rival Sons that I love. A lot of rock bands are coming out of England, too … there’s a band called The Blame and another band called The Virgin Hearts that are really good. There’s going to be a new revolution of rock that is going to come back and blow the pop thing out of the water — and I cannot wait for it!
How is the Summerland Tour going? Any interest in expanding it? Are their any bands in particular that you would like to see performing on the bill in the future?
Summerland tour right now is specifically for those ’90s bands. I would like to keep doing that, but also maybe next year do a more Active Rock-leaning Summerland as well with bands that were big back in the day, but are still getting played at Active Rock. I’d like to get involved with a few of them out there that we’re talking to. By the end of the year, I want at least two Summerland tours ready to go.
I’d love to do a classic Hip-Hop Summerland with some of the one-hit wonders from the ’80s and ’90’s … have everyone do three or four songs, then switch out the DJs and just have hours of just hits. How much fun would that be?
My wife had the idea — and I love her ideas — and I started riffing on her ideas of taking swing bands that she was a big fan in the ’90s, such as Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but then combine them with Ska bands and send them out with dance instructors who can teach big band dancing. You can do these classes where everyone is dancing and partying and it would be so much fun. That would be a great Summerland as well. Swing dancing is fun. Ska is fun. I mean, I don’t care if you’re good or not. I can’t dance! I will learn a few good moves, get out there and jump around. Then you feel like you’re a part of it like everyone else … and everyone is smiling.
That’s the thing about Summerland — people are smiling, singing and having a great time — and that’s my job. I need to make sure everyone is having a great time. No one is getting rich off my tour, myself included. You go out and you play; we got four bands and three hours; you play a couple hits, new songs, fan favorites and get out of the way for the next band. That way, the people who win are the people who bought the tickets. They get three hours of entertainment, almost non-stop.
You’re politically active & have lobbied for special concerns which include drug awareness policies, & support of the families of the military. You have also performed for Snowball Express, which provides events for military families who have lost loved ones from war. How did you become involved in this & how has it impacted you?
I work with a lot of people and I still work with the military through Snowball Express. We’ve been to Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and the Pacific Rim. We were getting ready to go to Afghanistan, but the government said it was “too hot” (this was back in 2010).
To me, it’s about being of service to people — and I think that’s something that has come with my sobriety. I’ve been 25 years sober and I also come from an age of activism, where liberals and people believe that we can make an impact in making the world better for everybody. You do what you can. You see a piece of paper on the ground; you pick it up and put it in the recycle. When something’s going wrong, you get involved. You don’t stand in the shadows and let life pass you by. You jump on the train when it comes by. That’s always been something big to me. I just let my heart and sense of trying to be of service to people — and make that happen. That’s part of everyone’s sobriety, to be of service.
To be honest with you, I consider myself a Christian as well, but not in the old school, Sunday school sense. Those guys wouldn’t like my idea of what Christianity is about because it looks much more like the New Testament, when Jesus talks about being of service to people, and being here together and making things happen and helping each other through life.
I don’t believe this whole right-wing idea that some people are meant to fail and fall to the wayside and that’s the way it is. I don’t buy that. I never have. We’re all brothers and sisters. Make it happen. Stop thinking about it. Stop whining about it. Be a man, be a woman, get up and make something happen in your life and in the world. I’m not always as positive as I’d like to be. I’m human. I mean, life gets hard sometimes. But the main thing is, you get knocked down, you gotta pick yourself back up or be with someone who is gonna help you do it, which I’m very fortunate to have in my life.
EVERCLEAR – I WILL BUY YOU A NEW LIFE
EVERCLEAR – FATHER OF MINE
EVERCLEAR – SANTA MONICA