As the singer, guitarist and songwriter of Everclear, Art Alexakis penned some of the most popular alt-radio hits of the late ’90s and early 2000s. Songs like “Santa Monica,””Everything to Everyone,”Father of Mine” and “Wonderful” became part of our collective musical consciousness. Now in 2011, the platinum-selling band which showcases the current line-up of founding member Art Alexakis (vocals/ guitar), Dave French (guitar/vocals), Freddy Herrera (bass guitar/vocals) and Sean Winchester (drums/vocals), have reunited for a new album. On ‘Return To Santa Monica,’ the band revisits their old musical stomping grounds with all-new recordings of their greatest hits and covers of their personal favorites, which include Tom Petty and The Heartbreaker’s “I Won’t Back Down,” The Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” and The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Art Alexakis to discuss his musical roots, the inspirations that spawned ‘Return To Santa Monica’ and what the future holds for himself and Everclear.
Your music impacted the lives of so many people over the years. I was curious to learn how music first came into your life?
Ya know, I don’t think that in all my years, I don’t think that anyone has ever asked me that specific question before. My earliest memories of music are of my mom pushing me around in a grocery cart at the supermarket, you have to remember that this was probably like ‘64, so I was about 2 years old. At that time, supermarkets were still a relatively new thing. She was pushing me around the supermarket and I was singing, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” because The Beatles were all over the radio at the time. They were EVERYWHERE at that point! I was really into it like everybody else. Even to this day when people ask me about my biggest influences in music, it has to start with The Beatles!
What made you pursue your music as a career as opposed to going a different route?
[laughs] Because I totally sucked at everything else! [laughs] No, I just always wanted to play in a band. It was like magic to me! My first letter to Santa Claus that we have written down — I remember in “SPIN” magazine, like 10 or 15 years ago when we were on the cover, my first letter to Santa Claus, I asked for an electric guitar, an organ and a drum set! Even then I was a total control freak! [laughs] I wanted to do it all!
I think it is pretty safe to say it is working out pretty well for you!
Yeah, as I sit in my studio surrounded by guitars, keyboards and computers, yeah, I think so! I’m doing OK!
Looking back on the early days of Everclear, despite the ups and downs along the way, did you think you would still be going strong all these years later?
No, I have never really looked at things like that. I am at an age and a place in my life where I spend time, every day, being thankful. Not in a weird religious sense, maybe in a spiritual way, I guess, but I am really thankful for what I get to do. I get to play guitar for a living! [laughs] I still get to do that and I still play shows and make my living by playing shows and making records! Like you said, there have been ups and downs, there have been peaks and valleys, right now I am somewhere in the middle but I am totally, 100% OK with where I am at. We just put out a record of our old songs and song covers. I thought that was fun to do and that has helped me to do an all original new record that will be coming out early next year. I am still making music and I am still creating, which is what I love to do! So, I win, ya know!
You just mentioned that latest album, “Return to Santa Monica,” which is a mix of cover songs and your greatest hits re-recorded. What made you think the time was right to give us this record?
We got pitched the idea by a cool guy named Michael, who runs one of the labels that is putting the record out. People had come to me at different times to do this but I thought that now was a really good time for it considering that I am savvy enough in the business to know what is going on. People tell me all the time that they hear more and more Everclear on the radio. When you look at the numbers of what radio stations are playing, we have what they call recurrent, older songs that they play over and over again. Our recurrents are up in some places, no kidding, 1,000%. So this is a really good time for people, I think, to get in touch with the old Everclear, to rekindle that and to hear what we are doing now. I think that is exciting and the tour we are planning for next summer is along those lines and I am super excited about all of it.
You have an interesting mix of covers on the album. Was it difficult to decide what you wanted to cover on this album?
Originally, the album was going to be six originals and six covers. Then they wanted seven originals and five covers. Then they asked for eight originals and four covers. That’s cool! I mean, we did a record that was just covers a few years ago called “The Vegas Years.” We have always recorded covers because they are really fun. It is hard to re-record something by someone else and try to keep that integrity and what made that song great in the first place but making it sound like Everclear. That is the challenge! A lot of times you will get into a song and try do it but it doesn’t really work like that, so I will let it go. But doing these songs, I thought was really cool. For example, “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” is one of my favorite songs of all time. There are not many songs that I wish that I had written but that is one of them! I just think that they [Death Cab For Cutie] knocked it out of the park with that one. I just love that song.
Personally, I really enjoy your take on the Steve Miller Band’s classic song “The Joker.” I thought it was a unique take on it and that it turned out pretty cool.
It’s just me talkin’ a lot of smack! [laughs] And putting the vocoder on there and having fun! Ya know, I hope that no one takes offense to it because I truly love that song but there are some silly parts to it — “I really love your peaches, want to shake your tree.” What does that mean!?! [laughs] Really? And “pompitous!” Come on! That’s not a word! [laughs] Everybody knows that is not a word! [laughs] It was funny because when we were working out the song, I was doing it and it just seemed disingenuous, me trying to sing like Steve Miller, and those words, like “Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby … ” In rehearsal one time, I just started doing this stream of consciousness thing. I said, “What does that mean anyway?” I was just talkin’ and everyone was cracking up when we were recording it. I thought it might be funny once but then I listened and did it a few times and it seemed to be pretty cool. So, I am glad that you liked it. It was a ton of fun to do.
Yeah! I think it is fun and your personality really comes through on it, so, thumbs up from me!
You mentioned recording a new original album for next year. What is the status of that project?
We have six songs in the can right now. I have five songs ready to do vocals, I have the lyrics written. We are just shopping it to labels now. Either way, I am putting it out next year, with a label or if I have to put it out myself. I mean, it is a different day than it was 15 years ago, even 10 years ago. I am sure that we will find a partner to put it out with us. There is one song on it, I don’t think that it is the single, a song called “Falling In A Good Way,” someone wrote that it was the name of the record. It’s not the name of the record because I am not telling anyone the name of the record but that is not the name of the record. I do think that it will be the first song off of the new record and it is a song that I would just love to do a viral video for, just a really cheap, down and dirty video. Then throw it out there and see what people say because I think that it would be a lot of fun. That is kinda the plan right now. I am writing the treatment and getting a friend of mine to help me direct and produce it using a digital camera and to put it out there and see what happens.
Has your writing process changed much over the years, obviously a lot of time passed since you guys first broke, or do you still take things on in the same way?
I think so. I have been thinking about this because I was talking about it the other day. I have been working on a curriculum for people because many of them have wanted me to work with them on writing a song. It is weird because my idea and way of writing is a lot different from a lot of similar people who give lessons or do workshops and stuff like that. Mine is more about finding what is inside of you, articulating that and crafting it from there, because that is where I think really good songs come from, even hit songs. It is not really a formula, it is more of a theory. I think formulas tend to make things sound formulaic. Go figure! But I think that I still write songs the way that I used to. Sometimes I will come up with the music and the melody. A lot of times I will come up with words and just start speaking the words or singing them with the melody that I hear in my head. I mean, it comes in different ways and I think that is what makes songs sound unique to themselves. One of the the things that I miss, when I was thinking about that the other day and talking to a friend about it, is that I still think of albums. I still think in albums. The album is one of those things that has kinda gone the way of the dinosaur. In some instances I think that is a good thing but I still want to make albums and I probably will until people don’t want me to.
Looking back on your body of work, how do you feel you evolved as an artist over the years?
I think that in some ways, there was a period that I lost the fire in my belly and I was exploring a different side of myself. I have that fire back now. I think that there is a lot more … “get loud, destroy guitars and listen to records.” Just the band being “up” is a lot more exciting. I miss that. I miss that about rock ‘n’ roll. I miss playing rock ‘n’ roll because rock ‘n’ roll is exciting to me! It always has, since the first time that I heard it. You know, you asked me about my earliest musical experience. The earliest one that I remember, even before the one in the grocery cart, is when we were going on a camping trip. I was about a year old and this was way before car seats and that stuff. I am standing on the bench seat in between my dad and my mom as we were driving up the coast highway. Picture me as a baby, just standing in a car! [laughs] Totally something that would not happen today! [laughs] Ever! I was standing there and the song “Wipeout” came on with the big drum beat. The whole song basically a drum roll! I started jumpin’ up and down and freakin’ out, getting excited and dancing and laughing. My dad changed the channel and I started to scream and freak out and started hitting him. Finally, he pulled over to the side of the road and put it back on “Wipeout.” I just danced until the song was over and then I laid down on my mom’s lap. Then they drove on! [laughs] It’s a true story! I love rock ‘n’ roll! That is what it is all about!
You have so many great stories and experiences to share. Any chance for an autobiography in your future?
Actually, I am in the process of writing a book right now. It isn’t really a memoir, I guess it is in a sense, basically it is a collection of journals that I kept when I found out that I was going to have a new baby — at the age of 45! [laughs] That is something that I don’t think that you plan on when you are 15! I know I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, I am going to have a kid late in life! Awesome!” You don’t think that. You don’t think that you are going to be that guy. But I am that guy! I had a 15-year-old daughter and a brand new baby at that time. Now I have a 19-year-old and a 4-year-old. That usually doesn’t fit into the fairy tale but it works for me! And it works for us! That experience made me want to sit down and write to my new child, and I didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl through half of it, to tell them stories, give them perspectives and have it come from the standpoint of me talking to them as an adult. When I went back and looked at the journals about a year or two ago and then I sent some of them, in a rough form, to a couple of people that work with me, they said, “Dude, this should be a book!” So yeah, that is what I am working on! But right now, I am trying to get a record out and that is the main thing!
You’ve seen the music industry change so much through the years. What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in the music industry in this current climate?
Get a real job! Be a plumber! Make money! [laughs] All joking aside, if it is what you have got to do, then don’t let anyone tell you any differently! Learn to take criticism, be able to learn from your mistakes, be able to constantly change and evolve while continuing to grow as a musician and a writer. When it comes down to it, me and everybody that I know, had a large period in their life where everyone told them, “No.” I have a large collection of rejection letters from record labels, agents and people like that, enough to fill a phonebook! You just have to get to the point where you say, “Well, you’re wrong. I’m right. This is the right thing.” Because the thing about quitting is that if you don’t quit, you still might not get what you want but if you do quit you definitely won’t get what you want, someone else will. There will always be someone else that refuses to give up, so that is my advice — don’t give up.
I appreciate your time today, Art. I look forward to spreading the word on all of your upcoming projects and seeing you on tour again soon!
Thank you, man! Thank you for your time today and for being supportive. I really appreciate it!