Everclear frontman Art Alexakis brings his newly released debut solo album ‘Sun Songs’ to Dublin’s Sound House on October 20th.
The veteran songwriter, best-known around these parts for songs such as Santa Monica, So Much For The Afterglow and Everything To Everyone - from a string of platinum selling albums throughout the ‘90s - has released nine studio albums with Everclear to date.
‘Sun Songs’ is Alexakis’ first release since he announced his diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis, a subject which he tackles head-on in the album’s lead single The Hot Water Test.
“I have made a lot of changes. I went to a plant-based diet, which is sort of a protocol that has an 80% chance of putting my MS into remission, so I'm doing it. I feel way better than I did when I wasn't exercising, and still eating meat and processed foods. I feel like I'm doing everything I can. Will I still end up in a wheelchair? Maybe. But am I doing everything in my power to avoid that? Yeah.”
Alexakis is famous for his frank lyricism, but he’s also a private person and the decision to go public with his diagnosis was a bold decision but one which he ultimately took because he believed it could help other people with serious illnesses.
“It's cathartic for me to a certain extent. I wouldn't have made it public, if I didn't think me talking about it would help create some dialogue, and it went viral and it did. It's something that people come up to me and talk about every time I do a show or I go get coffee. I don't like ‘talking about’ talking about my personal life. I'm really impressed by the fact that you picked up on that I don't say multiple sclerosis one time in the song. It could be any disease. It could be anything.
"You'll find out, if you haven't already, that people start getting sick and dying as you get older. It sucks. People die, your parents die. It's the natural order of things, but that doesn't make it any better or any easier. My mom died of cancer about ten years ago and I'm still not over it."
For Alexakis the Dublin date is a long-term ambition set to be realised at the third time of asking having twice had to cancel shows due to financial difficulties. "This time I'm coming and hopefully I can bring the band back with me next year.”
Alexakis and Everclear are set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Grammy-nominated 2000 album ‘Songs From An American Movie’.
“We're gonna do a worldwide tour focusing on the album. We did it on our last two platinum records so we're gonna do it on this one too."
For some artists these nostalgic jaunts can force them to revisit sections of their passed and derail the momentum of current artistic ventures, however, Alexakis has no such fears.
“I don't have that kind of damage,” he says, laughing. “My damage doesn't go back that shallow, my damage goes way back to the place I grew up Santa Monica, California. I live in Pasadena ( 35 miles away - he goes to visit friends and family regularly but he doesn't want to live there). "There are too many ghosts, I don't want that, but I don't really have any ghosts since I've been sober, to be honest with you"
One of the songs on ‘Songs From An American Movie’ is a cover of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl which the reclusive songwriter approved of.
“When a song’s published you don't need anyone's permission to put out a cover - you have to pay the publishing - but when you do a video of any kind you have to get their permission. We sent him the video and all he said back was ‘approved’ and ‘nice version’ and that's all he wrote. His manager was like: ‘he doesn't approve anything that's amazing."
Alexakis has a refreshing take on Van Morisson’s reputation as a curmudgeon. “Let's just say it. He's earned it. let him do what he wants.”
Like many people of his age, Art Alexakis’ musical awakening came via four cheeky chaps from Liverpool invading America.
“It started with The Beatles, I was 4 in 1966, I'd sneak out of the room when my mom wasn't looking to watch the Beatles. and hide behind the couch - probably in my underwear - and I knew right then and there that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to do that. You wanna be a cop? Nope, I want to play guitar in a rock'n'roll band.
“You know how little boys go through a phase of when they don't like girls. Never went through it. I thought boys were stupid. Boys would call me a sissy and I'd go you're a sissy man, I like girls. I don't want to hang out with boys. I knew even then and I've been married four times. So, I think it was predestined.”
When we joke that you have to kiss a few frogs Alexakis interjects. “Who is the frog in this scenario?" says Alexakis, acknowledging his luck. “You're the frog too.”
“Yeah, I know I was a little fucking sailor, but you don't plan shit like that it just happens. I always believed in the dream, I believed in white picket fences, the whole nine yards. I've been with my wife for 15-16 years now and she's still my best friend, my sweetheart and everything is great. It's amazing how easy it is to stay married to someone when you don't cheat on them it's amazing. Go figure. All joking aside I finally made my match and we've built a really great life.”
Another formative musical experience for Art Alexakis was seeing Led Zeppelin live in the LA Forum when he was 15.
“I lied to my mom and told her I was going to a church camp out thing and I went and did drugs all weekend. Fuck man, that's what you do when you're 15, if you're not doing that at 15 something's wrong.”
Despite the fact that Art Alexakis heart belongs to punk rock, he has a lot of affection for Led Zeppelin.
“I'm very punk rock. I don't like a lot of that guitar solo shit, but to be honest with you, Jimmy Page for the most part on record didn't play long guitar solos. He played licks, and I liked that he kept it relatively short and sweet. Lead for twenty minutes? That's masturbation. I liked it when you're lyrical and you treat it like it's a vocal line it tells a story with notes. You get in, you get out, you don't do any more than you need to.”
In Ireland, Everclear first shot to prominence when their track Local God featured on the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 blockbuster Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio
“It was big in the States, It sold four to five million copies so it was really successful, but it wasn't change your life big.” Everclear got the placement because they were on Capital Records who were looking after the soundtrack to the movie.
“'Sparkle and Fade' had gone platinum and we did okay out of it but we knew we were gonna make more money off of the next thing, but when they signed us to do that song (Local God) we made twice as much money off of that fucking soundtrack album than we did off of Sparkle and Fade, true story."
As well as the unexpected financial boost from appearing on the soundtrack, Local God became an unexpected hit single outside the States. When touring Australia later that year, the president of EMI Australia approached the band at soundcheck after discovering a glaring omission from the setlist. Unbeknownst to the band, Local God had been a top-five hit on the radio for three months. “We had to learn that song in the soundcheck and we still play it almost every show.”
Recently, Art Alexakis embarked on the Songs and Stories tour, with some of his peers Colin Collingwood (Fountains of Wayne), Max Collins (Eve 6), and Max Wozniak (Marcy Playground).
“I'd been doing a thing for a while where I'd show pictures, tell stories and jokes and play songs appropriate to whatever I was talking about, but I always wanted to do it with other people. It was a weird mixture of people but boy it really worked on stage.”
In a video promoting the tour on Paste Magazine, Alexakis talked about how he believes rock'n'roll songwriters don’t get the respect they deserve.
“I feel for the most part rock'n'roll songwriters do not get a fair shake compared to people who play singer songwriter type music. I think it's a different type of songwriting, but it's just as valid and I think a lot of great songwriters - I'm not talking about myself per se - I'm talking about peers and people I'm influenced by they get the short end of the stick sometimes from critics.
"I think Chuck Berry was a phenomenal songwriter, but James Taylor will get more credit when he's equally a great songwriter, but Chuck Berry did things with words and melody that were almost like Walt Whitman. He had a vision of America as a thing bigger than the sum of its parts and I think that that was brilliant.
"I think Bruce Springsteen gets enough credit because he did that acoustic album 'Nebraska' that gave him credit for that, but I thought he was a phenomenal songwriter before and after that. I love that record don't get me wrong but it's like you kind of have to do that to get respect. I just put out a mostly acoustic record and not because of that because I don't really care who likes me or doesn't, but inadvertently yesterday the record came out and I found out it debuted at number 2 on the singer-songwriter chart. I didn't even know there was a fucking singer songwriter chart.”
Alexakis is famed for penning extremely personal song but he claims the reality is not as personal as it seems at first glance.
"There's a couple of songs on each record that do that inadvertently like Father of Mine, but not every song on every record is autobiographical I'd say a third of them are. I just like to write in the first person, I like to create stories…I like writers who can write different types of songs and I can't tell whether they are personal, autobiographical or not, they create great stories and that's what I try to achieve.
"Shakespeare was nothing like what he wrote about. He was just a weird middle-aged guy living in a small town writing all these stories about bigger events in life than he would ever see and I think that that's the power of the human imagination."
White People Scare Me, one of the highlights of 'Sun Songs', charts the rise of far-right hate in America and the toxicity that Trump and the Republican parties are bringing to public discourse. Trump rallies feature in the track, but Art Alexakis didn’t subject himself to the experience first-hand.
“No, fuck no. I can see this shit on TV, I don't need to go. If they saw me they'd skin me alive. A friend of mine and I were going to go, but my wife was like please don't do that, please don't go there because she knows that I am not the kind of person that can go and not say anything.
"I can't. I won't. I'd be like 'Hey racist fucker with swastikas on your forehead, fuck you!' That's me, I engage, even at my age. I'll be 90 years old and I'll still be picking fights with racists. My friend and his girlfriend went, and they felt like they were in a different country, they felt like they were in a very scary country.”
However, the idea behind the track is a long-held belief, rather than a recent realisation.
“I've known that white people are the worst thing to ever happen to the world. It just is, it's not even up for argument. Look at everything. We used to be on tour and we'd see a bunch of scary people all over the place and say white people scare the fuck out of me, black people don't scare me, white people scare me. It was kind of a joke. And that's why I say ‘Looks like the scary clowns are driving the car again’ at the beginning of the song. It's a joke that isn't funny man. It's not funny because it's true.”
The track has received comparisons to David Bowie’s I’m Afraid of Americans, a nod Alexakis is happy to receive even though he isn’t familiar with the track itself.
“I've never heard the whole thing because it was really synth pop and it wasn't my thing. but I've had a couple of people make that connotation. It's David Bowie so it can't be bad.”
With Trump’s presidency in a never-ending crisis of his own making that has led to the complete polarisation of America, Alexakis hasn’t given up hope that things can better
“I hope it gets better. I'm doing everything in my power to make it better. My whole family are very proactive trying to get more Democrats and Progressives elected and just trying to calm that hate.”
Art Alexakis has a long history of engaging, even testifying before Congress in 2000 in favour of the Compassion for Children and Child Support Enforcement Act, which was sponsored by Nancy Pelosi.
His refusal to bow down to populism has cost Alexakis friends and made some of his longstanding personal relationships turbulent.
"I got to the point where I had to fire somebody that worked for me. He was a Trump fan. I had to say that ‘we need to not talk politics, let’s talk business’ and he refused to do that and I said politely, fuck you, I'll give my 5% to somebody else."
Alexakis admits that he finds the process of quietly deleting and muting people from social media difficult.
“It's hard, I want to fight everybody that says shit like that. I'm old and I'm not as strong as I used to be. I'm gonna pick a fight sometime that I'm not gonna be able to finish, but I just can't abide it and the hate just makes me hate. And I don't wanna hate. I don't want to feel that shit. It's contagious, hate is contagious. I think that's what happens at the Trump rallies - they are in there looking for someone to hate because they hate themselves so much.”
Despite the turbulent times and medical situation, for now, at least, it’s business as usual.
I'm gonna keep playing my songs, playing my music and I write and record when I feel I need to. I'm just gonna be myself. When I feel like writing I'll write and when I feel like recording, I'll record. Until then I'm gonna tour this solo record and I'm getting ready to write a memoir. After that, we'll see. I think I've got the next couple of years in line.”
And that’s more than most of us can say.
Art Alexakis plays The Sound House, Dublin on October 20th. Tickets €16.00