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The Press

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 EMI corporation.

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 whatsoever.


"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 those places."

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."


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 lyrics."

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 after 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 use.

"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 else?"

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 sensationalism."

"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.