FACE TiME POLiCE
A NEW LiFE
ART ALEXAKiS OF EVERCLEAR
TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT THEiR NEW CD iN A DiFFERENT LiGHT
THE NEW LiNE UP
AND GROWiNG WiSER AS A ROCKER
NOVEMBER 6, 2009
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
It seems like it was only yesterday when EVERCLEAR had established itself as Americaís top post-grunge act. Twelve years ago, the bandís third album ĎSO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOWí became the template for punk guitar rock with a pop sensibility. The images of the platinum cropped ART ALEXAKIS and his band mates jumping up and down to their electrifying punk pop indictments against absentee fathers (ĎFATHER OF MINEí) and conformity (ĎEVERYTHING TO EVERYONEí) were mainstays on MTV and that college music channel that my University subscribed to. While billed as Ďalternativeí it was not easy to find what the bandís melodic crunch was running contrary to. For all intents and purposes, EVERCLEAR were mainstream and ART ALEXAKIS was eager to use the fame as a pulpit for political activism Ė namely his support of the COMPASSION FOR CHILDREN AND CHILD SUPPORT ACT. Even when teen pop and rap-metal started oozing out of the woodwork, EVERCLEAR got into concept album mode with ĎSONGS FROM AN AMERICAN MOVIE VOL. I: LEARNING HOW TO SMILEí which yielded their biggest hit ĎWONDERFULí. By the time the band released ĎÖVOL. II: GOOD TIME FOR A BAD ATTITUDEí, the momentum stopped and the glory days were over. The effervescent punk pop sound that defined the later half of the nineties disappeared and was replaced by the dirge of nu-metal - a fitting soundtrack to the instability of the aughties.
Now, ART ALEXAKIS and EVERCLEAR are back with a new album, a forthcoming tour and a new lease on life. Notably absent are his old band mates CRAIG MONTOYA and GREG ECKLAND and in their place are a decidedly rootsier bunch of rockers. For their latest album ĎIN A DIFFERENT LIGHTí (429 RECORDS) ALEXAKIS surveys his past acoustically with stripped down Ė but by no means less electrifying renditions of EVERCLEARís gritty catalog.
ROCKWIRED spoke with ART ALEXAKIS over the phone. Here is how it went.
Hello ART, how is everything?
Iím doing well. Just flying with the family and weíre stopping here in San Francisco. Sorry I couldnít get on earlier. I know I ruined my schedule for 9:30 but I was in the air.
Itís different to be out there promoting your stuff now a opposed to 1996 isnít it?
It seems like right now itís all about the internet and itís all about getting people connected. Itís just not like it was ten years ago.
Itís not and I remember the heyday for you guys. It coincided with my college years.
I see. Where did you go to school?
The UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO.
Was that a fun place to go to school?
It was awesome! It was a total party. I donít remember anything else.
The reason that Iím asking is because my seventeen year old is doing the dance right now. Sheís dong the SATs and doing interviews and looking at different colleges now.
Wow, sheís got a punk rock dad! Thatís got to be awesome!
I guess. Iím pretty old school when it comes to being a dad Ė well maybe not. Iím cool but Iím strict too. My daughter says she likes it that way. She knows that daddy and her mom havenít been together for ten years but that we always know where she is at and that sheís safe.
I understand that growing you didnít exactly have that kind of security yourself Ė that sort of family unit.
You know whatís funny? There was this woman that was interviewing me the other day and after asking me something, she was like ĎWow! I wish you were my dad!í You know what? I wish I was my dad. I do. My mom did the best she could. She really did. Yeah I had it a little rough but what can you do?
Talk about being on the road again with this new incarnation of EVERCLEAR Ė and a quieter one at that.
To be honest with you, they are not quieter. If anything they are louder. The great thing about this current band is that they can do anything. There is totally that chemistry there. I know that you probably hear this crap constantly from people who have changed their line ups but seriously, this line up is like my dream line up. Everyone seems to be getting a long and playing nice and there are no dramas so far. If we ever do get a lot of success I wonder what is going to happen because that is like throwing gasoline on a fire. It really is. Right now, it is my dream-come-true. Everybody plays their asses off and everybody is fun to be around. Itís a blast. Iím having a blast. Iím forty-seven years old and Iím playing rock n roll for a living and Iím having a great time.
What made you not want to work with your two previous partners in crime?
You mean CRAIG and GREG.
They havenít been in the band since 2003. There were some personal things and some musical things. I think people just move in different directions sometimes. Iím not trying to make excuses or give you this namby-pamby story. I didnít want to play with CRAIG anymore and GREG didnít want to play with me and I was okay with it. GREG was all broke up about it and was like ĎI want to form my own band and I want to sing!í and I said okay. There was nothing to talk about. Heís a great drummer but I donít really want to be in a band with him singing. CRAIG is CRAIG. What are you going to do? It was funny because I started working with these other guys and I really wasnít planning on calling it EVERCLEAR. I wanted to hear what it sounded like. It sounded like EVERCLEAR. Everyone who heard these new songs thought that they were great EVERCLEAR songs so we were EVERCLEAR. We made a couple of records together and then the same thing happened. There were two guys that I didnít want in the band and of the two that were left there was one that I really wanted but they left because the other guys left and one of them wanted to come back. It gets dramatic at times.
Rock n roll can be dramatic.
Just the people. The rock n roll aspect Ė when everyone is playing Ė is when everything is fine. Itís when the girlfriends and the drama and all that crap comes in. Iím getting too old for that. I just want to play music and I want to be around people that want to play music and make a living.
With that being said talk about the new members of EVERCLEAR. What do you think each of them brings to the table both musically and personality-wise that makes it work so well?
I think thatís a great question! It really is! FREDDY HERRERA is my bassist. He is an old friend of mine who was in this band called THE EXIES. I donít know if youíd remember them or not. They toured with us, had a song that was almost a big hit and they were on VIRGIN for a couple of records. Iíve known FREDDY for years and I had been trying to get him in the band for a long, long time. He was always committed to what he was doing before. It was funny because he called me in May and we got together and we talked. It just clicked. He was just one of those people that I had always liked but we lived in different cities. He brings this heart and soul that is palpable and heís got this tremendous stage presence. A couple of the really dumb people think that heís CRAIG because heís a Native American but CRAIG only looked like a Native American. FREDDY has got a true sense of melodicism and rock and it fits perfectly with my songwriting. Heís got a great voice and he can play anything that I throw at him. On drums is a cat named JORDAN PLOSKY and heís been playing for a long, long time. Heís from Long Island and has been in LA for about four or five years and has played with just about everyone. He toured with this pop guy RYAN CABRERA and he toured with PERRY FARRELL. Heís just a super pro drummer and great kid with a lot of attitude. He grew up listening to rock n roll and he has that kind of thing that GREG had where he just makes everything his own. Iíll suggest to him to play a shuffle and heíll play it but it sounds like him. It wasnít exactly what I was thinking of but itís better. Iím not a drummer. I know what I want to hear vibe-wise but Iím not a drummer and I donít want to write parts for him. On keyboards is a kid named SASHA SMITH. Heís from Northern California and he is Ė technically Ė one of the best musicians that Iíve ever played with. He reads music and everything. I wanted someone who understood something about Americana-type keyboard playing but be able to fuck it up with things like synthesizers and piano and that stuff is just right up his alley. He was a great pick. On guitar, is JOHNNY HAWTHORN. He tours with TOAD THE WET SPROCKET. He does a lot of stuff with them and he has his own project Ė THE JOHNNY HAWTHORN BAND. He plays mandolin and lap steel guitar.
What inspired this change in sound?
To be honest with Ė last year when I started to write songs that were going to be on our next record, which we are going to record in February and March, I wasnít really happy with the way that things were coming out. Everything seemed pretty complacent to me and I wanted to mix things up. I wanted to be more exciting. I went to the guys and told them that the songs didnít end up the way that I wanted them to and a year after that conversation, I just started looking for a new band.
What kind of place are you coming from as a songwriter these days. Back in 1996 it was pretty to hear where songs like EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE and FATHER OF MINE came from but what kind of place are you coming from now?
Iím ten or twelve years older than that now. Iíve got two kids Ė one young daughter and a seventeen year old and have been divorced a couple of times. Iíve lived some life so that is a really good question. I think Iím basically as fucked up and angry as I used to be but Iíve gotten better at communicating that now. My perspective has changed a little bit but not too much. Itís still me. I think I express myself differently because I think I have built for myself a bigger palette to paint from if that makes any sense. Not Just in instrumentation but in the way that I express what is inside of me. My understanding of myself and world around me has exponentially increased but Iím still the same guy in a lot of ways.
How about the way you go about songwriting Ė has that changed?
I never went about it one certain way. I always try to mix it up. Sometimes the words come first and sometimes, the melody comes first. It changes. Technology has changed the way people do songwriting but I still use an acoustic guitar and a notepad and I go at it. Iíve also co-written with people. I like it but itís not my favorite thing in the world because I donít really get it. Itís like learning a different way of breathing. Seriously, I know how to write songs by myself. If I think about it too much, Iím going to freak myself out. I donít know how I do it, I just do it. Do you think about breathing? People would freak out if they stopped breathing. You just do it.
For this tour that you are about to embark, on of the old EVERCLEAR classics are getting re-worked. Which re-worked songs resonate for you the most and why?
The re-worked songs that you are referring to come from the album A DIFFERENT LIGHT. A lot of those songs are songs that evolved over the course of fifteen years. Weíve done them more acoustically because fans have asked for that and wanted to hear more vocals and have the songs stripped down a little bit. To do something that was so bombastic and not have it lose any of its power by stripping it down is really challenging. Of the versions on that album that I like the most I like SUMMERLAND. I love the Latin feel on it. I like the way it kind of smokes and builds up. I also like SANTA MONICA. I like the way that sounds just as big without all of the big guitars. I canít think of a song on there that I donít like. I love the way the new songs sound. I love the way the song AT THE END OF THE DAY came out. That was a song that I had written back in í04. It was about a divorce that I was going through at the time. I liked the song but I didnít love it. My manager had another act Ė this girl MARION RAVEN Ė whom he wanted me to co-write with. She came to co-write but she really didnít have anything to contribute so it was basically me writing for her. I had this song and I was playing it for her and she recorded it and I forgot about it. I went to Iraq last year with EVERCLEAR which was about five days up to the election which was really interesting. We went there and I had seen so many people Ėmen and women Ė of every financial caste and I had met people over here who have family and significant others over there and this song started to resonate for me. It was bigger than what I had just thought about when I had written it. When I went to record I had tweaked it lyrically and we recorded it for the record and it sounds great.
Talk about a little more about this album that you are about to record in the early part of this upcoming year. I remember in the early part of the decade, EVERCLEAR embraced the notion of a concept album before a punk pop band like GREEN DAY came up with AMERICAN IDIOT. Will it be anything as grand in scale as that?
I donít really think so. The last record that I wrote was an album called WELCOME TO THE DRAMA CLUB. It came out in 2006 and that was a very introspective record because I had gone through a lot of stuff like divorce, bankruptcy, my mom died, a friend of min Ė a mentor of mine Ė died. My whole life went into an upheaval in like a four month period. This new record will be the opposite of that. Itís about me as a middle aged guy looking out at the world around me and giving my take on it. Thatís kind of where itís at for me right now. Some of the stuff is very heavy. Itíll actually be a return to some of the more punkier guitar rock. I hadnít felt like doing that for a while and now I am but there are also some bluesier, weirder songs. Iím super-excited and so is the band. Weíre going to go into rehearsals in early February and hopefully walk out of the studio with a record in either March or April.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve seen this new band live?
The same thing that Iíve wanted my whole life Ė I want people to come away going ĎMan! That was so much fun! That was a rock show!í I love rock n roll and I want people to come away from it smiling. It takes a lot for people to spend twenty bucks on a show. It takes a lot for people to do that and I understand that. I want people coming away thinking ĎIím so glad I did that! That was totally worth it!