Art Alexakis Goes Out Past the Breakers
Bone Magazine, March 1996
By Richard Challen
Art Alexakis calls promptly at five o'clock, exactly forty-five
minutes late for his scheduled interview. This is not surprising.
As a rule, most phone interviews exceed their allotted time period,
causing frantic publicists to receive calls from cranky journalists as
a result. What is surprising is that Alexakis, singer and
guitarist for the red-hot Everclear, is not the least bit apologetic.
"I wasn't aware I had another phoner today," he explains. "To be honest,
Capitol [Records] keeps adding more and more stuff, because the requests
are through the roof. If I let them, all three of us would be doing
separate interviews six hours a day. And that's just not gonna happen."
These days, the honest-to-a-fault Alexakis can afford to be choosy.
As one third of the Portland trio Everclear (which includes bassist
Craig Montoya and drummer Greg Eklund), the 34-year-old husband and
father has watched his band's second Capitol release, Sparkle and
Fade, shoot from unerground status to Top 40 sensation in less than
two months, spurred by judicious airplay of "Santa Monica", a
paradise-in-hell snapshot with bristling guitars and an infectious,
almost countryish chorus. Everclear's indie credibility hasn't suffered
in the interim, thanks to a gutsy first single ("Heroin Girl"), an
equally gutsy follow-up (the next release, "Heartspark Dollarsign",
attacks intolerance towards interracial couples), and - as Alexakis
notes proudly - the lowest return rate for its CDs in the entire
Like its 180-proof namesake, Everclear is deceptively potent; this
is music that entices with its singalong hooks and then knocks you
sideways from the sheer force of its own conviction. And, in his own
way, Alexakis himself possesses a similar intensity. He refuses to
mince words, cloak his sentiments, or be swayed from his perspectives;
he also laughs often and addresses nearly every subject with remarkable
sincerity. Alexakis is the genuine article: an artist with no persona
"If you were my age, you'd find nothing cool about Duran
Duran," Alexakis mutters. The two of us have been arguing music back
and forth for the better part of this conversation, leading to several
cheerful, off-the-record diatribes from Alexakis about certain members
of the current alternative-rock echelon. ("There is no punk movement,"
he states at one point, in reference to his band's unwitting inclusion
in said genre. "Punk lasted a year and a half. I was there. I
remember.") Needless to say, Everclear's frontman has some pretty
strong opinions when it comes to his likes and dislikes. What's
intriguing, though, is to watch how the shifting textures on Sparkle
and Fade all relate back to Alexakis' shopping list of influences.
"I'm big on melody," he begins. "I'm a big Beatles fan. I'm a big
Zeppelin fan, too. I think there's a lot of Zeppelin in my music, but
not the excessive stuff - even though that's what they did and that was
great for the time. But see, I'm 34 years old. I grew up with all
that stuff and punk rock and new wave and that
techno bullshit and Husker Du and Sonic Youth and
the Pixies and the other great stuff that happened.
"And it's all in there, along with Otis Redding, Smokey
Robinson, and Hank Williams, Sr. It all made an impression on me, and
it all comes out at its own time."
In fourth grade, Arthur P. Alexakis was editor of
the school paper at Braddock Elementary. "I was writing editorials
when I was nine," he brags with a combination of pride and
self-effacement. "I was cock of the block, yessir."
Lest one assume early exposure made him more tolerant of the
profession, though, allow us to continue into the college years. "I
went to journalism school and hated it," he adds, laughing. "I hated
journalists, too, for the most part." Told that his current interrogator
attended a university with no journalism major whatsoever, Alexakis is
quick to approve. "You would've despised it. It's dog-eat-dog in
Regardless, Alexakis continued writing for rock magazines well into
his twenties ("It was paying for my coke habit at the time," he confesses),
leading to the first of his many frustrations with the music business.
"I reviewed Poison when they first came out. And I said, 'I hate this
music. I hate what this music stands for. But this will sell a lot
of records, because these guys are better looking than all of the girls
I go out with.' And it appeared in a small daily out of Santa Monica,
The Evening Outlook. Well, the critic for The Los Angeles
Times read my review, and then this guy fuckin' quoted me
without credit - pure plagarism - and that quote got picked up all
over the wire services. The guy got rich from it."
He pauses to savor his audience's momentary disbelief. "That was
my quote, I kid you not."
THE RECORD MOGUL
In the liner notes of both Sparkle and Fade
and World of Noise (a $400 recording that Capitol reissued with
minimal remastering), this credit appears: "Produced by Arthur P. Alexakis."
Everclear's frontman also co-manages the band with Darren Lewis, designs
promotional strategies (including his plan to re-release World of
Noise and the out-of-print Nervous and Weird EP on a single,
budget-priced CD), and signs acts for Capitol.
His future plans include starting another label - he financed his
own record company, Shindig, in 1987 - and developing young bands
through the well-worn process of indie release, college radio, and
touring, touring, touring. "That's how you develop bands," states
Alexakis, matter-of-factly. "That's how major labels used to
develop bands. But they stopped."
To credit Capitol, one of the biggest labels in the business has
taken a surprisingly hands-off approach toward Sparkle and Fade,
allowing the band to pick its own singles and negotiate its own press
and touring schedule. This is the creative control that Everclear
lobbied for - and won - during their intensive signing period in 1994,
and it partially explains why Alexakis has made decisions that would
baffle many industry insiders.
"We've turned down 25 tours in the last six to eight months," he
says as his interviewer's jaw drops again. "Big tours.
Because we just didn't think they were right. Alanis Morissette ...
turned it down twice. Primus ... twice."
"I tell you what, I am amazed that 15-year-olds like
this record. I can understand them liking the music, but the lyrics?
You should see the letters I get! They totally understand the
message. Their favorite songs are "Summerland", "You Make Me Feel Like
a Whore", "Strawberry" ... I mean, these are pretty fuckin' serious
The blunt honesty that colors Alexakis' conversation also drives much
of Sparkle and Fade, an album laced with images as raw and gaping
as an open wound. Professing that "lyrics today have gotten too clever,"
Alexakis took the opposite tack with this album; at times, the lack of
removal from his grimy subjects - drug use, suicide, sexual antagonism -
is almost too uncomfortable to bear. It seems only natural to wonder
how Everclear's frontman tackles such intensely personal songs night
"They're not that personal," Alexakis shoots back, more than a
trifle defensively. "They just sound that way .. All come from somewhere
in my life, but they're not all personal stories. You know, my mom
didn't jump off a bridge." There's a long sigh. "All I did was write
from a personal perspective. I just wanted to tell stories."
Such a dismissal might carry more clout if Alexakis, now clean and
sober for ten years, hadn't been so open about his checkered past -
broken home, drug use - in the press or on record. (The oft-cited
"I heard a policeman say / Just another overdose" line in "Heroin Girl"
refers directly to the death of his brother.) A more likely explanation
for this current, non-committal stance is the spate of recent articles
focusing less on Everclear itself and more on the luid details of its
singer's past history. It doesn't help that Alexakis is fresh from
perusing a just-released piece in a major music magazine, only to
discover the central theme is - you guessed it - Art's good ol' drug
"It's the same old crap," Alexakis says in disgust. "'Salvation at
last.' 'Triumph over tragedy.' Well, fuck me." His voice, already
agitated, now takes on an angrily sarcastic tone. "Whatever, yeah,
I guess I had a hard life. It was hard when it wasn't my fault, and
then I made it harder because of my own bad decisions. I'm scarred
from it emotionally and mentally, and I'll have to live with that
specter of drug abuse but, hey, I left it behind. Why can't everybody
Silence follows until Alexakis quietly apologizes for his outburst.
He remains silent when his interviewer suggests that perhaps
journalists simply desire a better understanding behind songs like
"Strawberry" and "Chemical Smile". "Maybe focusing on that aspect does
give my music validity," says Alexakis finally. "But it's also
"You know," he continues, "it's easier to write about stuff like that
than to write about how hard it is to keep a marriage together when
you're on tour all the time. And how to not become alienated from your
children when you're away. And how to get along without doing
drugs on the road."
And so, like it or not, it all comes back to the person.
For Art Alexakis, neither one - the singer railing against his demons,
the guy with a wife and a kid - can exist without the other; both come
from the same place, and both, invariably, need the other to survive.
One of the best songs on Sparkle and Fade is "Pale Green Stars",
where a little girl sees her parents fighting and cries as her father
leaves. It may well be the most tender thing Alexakis has ever done.
It's also something he never could have written three years ago.
"My daughter is wonderful," Alexakis says softly when asked about
his family. "She's healthy, she misses her daddy ... I mean, it's hard
to keep any kind of relationship together when you're never there.
And my wife and I have problems, but we're trying hard to work them
out. I hope we will be able to ... and I'm confident that we can."
And as he finishes, both of us realize the one thing so many
articles have managed to overlook. Despite everyone's fascination with
his past, it's the present, after all, that concerns Alexakis the most.