When it comes to music, Art Alexakis doesn’t mind taking matters into his own hands. The tenacious founder and frontman of platinum-selling rock band Everclear has two long-awaited projects in front of him: his completely stripped down Songs & Stories tour and his upcoming solo debut LP, Sun Songs.
The laidback, 57-year-old Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter recalls a time in the record business when executives at his former label, Capitol Records, wanted to use his marketing budget to purchase glossy $100,000 ads in music magazines or streetside billboards to promote the next Everclear project. Music video directors were trying to charge Alexakis astronomical amounts to develop concepts that had absolutely nothing to do with Everclear’s music.
Alexakis, who started independent labels Shindig and Popularity Records pre-Everclear, is excited to take his music directly to his core fanbase again. “You have to be in people’s faces,” the former Santa Monica College film student and director of Everclear’s videos says. “And you have to go to places where people who are open to what this is are going to be. People know my music and who Everclear is, so you just have to remind them you’re still here.”
Going out on the road for the Songs & Stories tour is a chance for Alexakis to do something polar to Everclear’s punk-flavored sound heard on favorites like “Santa Monica,” “Father of Mine,” “Everything to Everyone,” “I Will Buy You a New Life” and “Heroin Girl.” The bare bones, two-hour long show traveling to intimate venues features Fountains of Wayne’s Chris Collingwood, Eve 6’s Max Collins and Marcy Playground’s John Wozniak.
Each performer, including Alexakis, will perform both rotating solo and collaborative sets. Their repertoires will consist of hits, album cuts, new songs and anecdotes behind the songs. Fans can even pose questions to the performers as well as make special requests. “It’s a lot more intimate,” Alexakis continues. “I’d been wanting to do it with other people and see how that dynamic would work onstage, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s a lot of fun for us, too.”
Alexakis has spent the last six years organizing and putting on the nostalgic Summerland Tour. Now that Songs and Stories’ ticket sales are starting to pick up thanks to word-of-mouth in each of the tour’s 30 cities, Alexakis ideally would like for Songs and Stories and Summerland to rotate each year.
Sun Songs, on the other hand, was an album originally conceived two decades ago: a project Alexakis reveals leaned heavy towards his affinities for hip-hop and R&B. At the insistence of label executives, management and members of Everclear, Alexakis’ attempted solo outing became Everclear’s 2000 LP Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 1 [Alexakis references the samples on “AM Radio” and how “Wonderful” was inspired by Public Enemy’s and Eric B. and Rakim’s lyrical cadences].
Alexakis admits he didn’t want to make the project a group effort but made the compromise anyway. This time, the self-proclaimed “singer-songwriter in a hard rock/punk band” asserts that Sun Songs has absolutely nothing to do with Everclear. “Everything on it is me,” Alexakis confirms. “I’m playing all of the instruments. I wrote all the songs [I always wrote the songs]. There’s no one else on this record but me, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Making Sun Songs, set to arrive this summer via The End Records, was quite an adjustment for Alexakis. Recorded in Alexakis’ studio located about a mile-and-a-half from his Pasadena, California home, no Pro Tools or Auto-Tune were used. Lead guitars were swapped out for pedal steels being plugged directly into the soundboard. The passionate musician had a field day experimenting with a dobro, ukulele, mandolin, an acoustic bass and a banjo.
Alexakis, a former Capitol Records A&R executive, played organ and drums, too, joking that he’s not a great drummer but “good enough to keep a beat.” “I’d like to be the Paul Simon-type of guy,” Alexakis confides, “but I’m not.”
Locked away in the studio for about a year-and-a-half, Alexakis had only his engineer—also Alexakis’ mixer and co-producer—present. He admits the solitude made him feel lonely but acknowledges Sun Songs as both fun and challenging.
“The music is rough, and it’s raw,” the former host of the Sirius XM grunge-themed program Lithium adds. “It’s more about the songs. It sounds like a classic record. That’s what I dig about it. It’s a really good experience, but I’m glad it’s over [chuckles].”
Working towards two ambitious projects was matched by crisis. Alexakis shared earlier this year in an open letter that he’s been battling with multiple sclerosis [MS], a degenerative condition that affects the central nervous system. He received his diagnosis in April 2017 following a minor car accident involving his brakes giving out, causing him to rear end another vehicle. Two weeks later, he got an MRI following a tingle he felt in his right arm, followed by a spinal tap, numerous blood exams and balance tests. There were lacerations found on his spinal cord. Alexakis was told by doctors he’s had MS for over a decade.
Alexakis, who’s been sober now for over three decades, decided to share his MS diagnosis after some fans commented that his inability to remember song lyrics or maintain his balance onstage was the result of relapsing. His symptoms were the result of his MS flaring up.
To this day, Alexakis gets injections three times a week. He substitutes running with swimming. One of the tracks on Sun Songs, “The Hot Water Test,” addresses his condition. He points out that having a supportive wife and two daughters makes dealing with MS a lot easier. “It has sadness and darkness,” Alexakis said, “but it has a lot of light and happiness to it. Things go south, and you deal with it. You don’t run away when things go bad.”
A man of strong faith these days, Alexakis chooses to channel his personal tribulations with benevolent acts. One dollar from each ticket sold from Songs & Stories will go towards the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, an initiative that provides financial support for medical attention and life expenses for performers, venue personnel and their close relatives. Songs & Stories is actually the fourth tour from which Alexakis has contributed proceeds to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.
The youngest of five children raised by a single mother, Alexakis, a proactive supporter of MusiCares and the MS Society, has spoken on child support legislation before House and Senate subcommittees. Using his influence to address issues such as drug prevention, LGBTQIA rights and military families, he believes, is a huge responsibility and honor that comes with being a high-profile performer.
“God has given me an instrument and a platform,” Alexakis explains. “Different people can speak louder than others. Everclear gives me a larger voice and a larger pulpit. I’m not out there shouting for the sake of doing it, but when something matters or touches me, I get involved.”
Touring and connecting with various audiences remain at the forefront of Alexakis’ career now spanning three decades. Everclear is hitting the road next year to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 1. He’s in the planning stages to write a memoir, preferring to keep the working title to himself.
Alexakis prefers to approach each project as he always has, reiterating that his tenacity, self-sufficient spirit and ambition comes from watching punk bands build their careers along with growing up as one of the few whites in a housing project.
“If I don’t know how to do something, I’ll figure out how to do it,” Alexakis says. “I’ll learn and teach myself. It made me open to different types of people, music and culture. I’m glad I didn’t grow up in some stuffy white neighborhood. You can’t get away from the stuff you were influenced by. Someday, I think I’ll die wearing a Sex Pistols or a Public Enemy t-shirt.”