It’s not that long since we last spoke to Everclear’s Art Alexakis – less than a month, to be precise – but a lot has happened since then. He’s released his first solo album ‘Sun Songs’, and completed a short European solo run in support of the set, and although that cycle is still ongoing, thoughts are turning towards next year’s 20th anniversary of the release of Everclear’s ‘Songs from an American Movie’. Planning to celebrate the milestone by playing the album in its entirety, we caught up with Art in Dublin for a chat about the album's fraught creation, and the forthcoming tour. Learning how to smile; Eamon O’Neill.
Welcome to Dublin, Art; how are you today?
I’m great. I’ve never been in Dublin before, and we went to go see the statue of Phin Lynott from Thin Lizzy. That was a big deal for us. We’re older, and we grew up with Thin Lizzy. I’m a huge fan of him, and just the fact that a big, scary 6ft 7 black, Irish guy in a rock band; he just broke all the rules. People are constantly telling you - especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s - that you can’t do things, and my whole life it felt like that, so it was an inspiration for me.
In our last interview you said how much you were looking forward to getting to Ireland; what does it mean to you to finally be here?
I know, there were two cancelled shows before this, and it means a lot. It’s a Sunday night, and I don’t know how many people are going to be here, but I don’t care, I’m going to put on a great show. It’s my last show before I get to go home and see my family for the first time in two and a half weeks. It’s a long time. I have a daughter who will be 12 in a couple of weeks, so I’m missing her, and my wife and my dogs; everything. I love being at home. I’m very happy in life. I’ve had a lot of things – the whole thing that we’ve talked about – and it’s really helped me to be grateful for what I have.
You’re talking about your diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, and it sounds like you’re focusing on positivity, rather than the negative.
Yes, because where’s that going to get you? It’s not even being this like postcard-like, strong warrior for this; you are, because you really have no choice. If you feel yourself getting pushed towards the edge, you’re going to fight to get away from the edge. It’s just human nature if you’re a fighter, and I’m a fighter.
As you mentioned, you’re coming to the end of this cycle of acoustic shows, and this tour has followed similar shows in the USA.
Well, I did the ‘Songs and Stories’ tour, and I tried to coincide that with the release of the solo record, but it didn’t work out because I’d finished the record, but I didn’t have it in in time so that I could work the record and it could be out for that tour. I’m actually glad, because that was a thing on its own, and I didn’t need to concentrate on the album; I could concentrate on the tour. I did it with three other guys, and that was great. And now, yes, I’ve gone into the cycle of this album, and then starting next year, it’s Everclear again.
Before the ‘Songs and Stories’ run, you were out on the road celebrating 20 years of ‘So Much For The Afterglow’; do you enjoy the contrast between the heavier shows and the intimate acoustic ones?
I do. I like it all. I’ve got to tell you; people are always asking about another Everclear record, and I’m like; “I don’t want to talk about it”, especially this close to after another record, but I’d really like to do an Everclear record with drums and bass and big acoustic guitars. Do you remember a band called The Alarm? Mike Peters is a wonderful person, and I just love that; almost punk with acoustic guitars kind of sound. I’d like to do a record like that. That would be fun. It would be fun to play live and to tour.
Immediately, a song that springs to mind from the Everclear catalogue like that is ‘Unemployed Boyfriend’.
Oh I fucking hate that! I hate it! But I have to play it next year, because it’s on the record. Why do I hate it? Because! Well, one, that’s my ex-wife [who provides the commentary on the track] on that thing. I think it’s a kind of a stupid song, and everybody loves that song! But you know, it’s very dramatic, and it’s very cinematic the way it changes perspective. She’s telling the story, and then all of a sudden he’s doing it; it’s like a thing you’d see in a movie from the ‘80s or ‘90s, which I was going for. I wanted it to be cheeky and kind of kitsch. But you know what, I used to think only girls liked that song, but men love that song.
Musically, there are some nice chords in that song.
It’s fun to play, it’s fun to strum, and it’s actually going to be fun to sing. I’m a sport. I wrote the song.
The reason you’re playing it is because you’re intending to celebrate the ‘Songs from an American Movie’ albums next year.
The first record. The second record just sounds tired to me. There’s some good songs on it, and we’re going to play a couple of them, definitely; I’ll play ‘Rock Star’, I’ll play ‘When it all goes Wrong Again’. A few people are trying to get us to play ‘Overwhelming’, and people want us to play ‘The Good Witch of the North’, which is not one of my favourite songs. We’re going to learn a few songs from the second record, but we’re going to play the whole first record, and what we did with ‘So Much For The Afterglow’ is we played side one, then we took a break from the album, played a bunch of other hits and fan favourites, and then we did side two. So we’ll do similar, and we’ll play songs form ‘Afterglow’ and then we’ll come back and do side two, and then we’ll end with, like big hits. It’ll be a good show.
How did it come about that those two records were split and put out separately as ‘Vol. One’ and ‘Vol. Two’?
It was the management; my manager, who I later fired because he wasn’t very reputable. Basically, management always wants you to make money now, so he had the idea that if we could do two records, then we’re out of our contract and they have to renegotiate. And I’m like; “Okay, what if the two records aren’t successful and they won’t negotiate?” And he goes; “Well, we’ll get them to negotiate before”, and I’m like; “no one’s ever done that.” And there’s a reason why. I wanted to do a double record where it was hard song, soft song, hard song, soft song [*interlocks fingers to demonstrate*], so then it was like two hands like this; this is the hard songs [left hand], this is the soft songs [right hand], and one is telling a story, the other is telling a story, and at the end they tie up.
That’s a really great idea!
That was my idea to do that, and the other guys in the band at the time, they wanted to get paid, so they wanted to do what my manager did. I should have at the end of the day, said; “fuck you; it’s my band, it’s not happening”, and I could have done that, but I didn’t, because I didn’t want to be that guy. But in retrospect, I would have, and I have taken all those songs and like gotten rid of six songs – including ‘Unemployed Boyfriend’ – and it makes a pretty good record, of just eighteen to twenty songs. It would have been a great double record, and it would have been double platinum, all that stuff. But, you know, it was an idea at the time, and we did something bold and different, and there are really good songs on both of them. But I think the first record is pretty great.
In the end, the second album wasn’t as commercially successful as the first.
It was gold, or almost gold. It sold about 400,000 or 500,000 copies, but the other one sold about 1.3 million. It had hit songs on it; it had ‘Wonderful’ and ‘AM Radio’, which were big hits in the States. I think that one double album; ‘Songs from an American Movie’ with that cover, that would have been it; no volume one, no volume two, just that. I think that would have been a classic Everclear record.
Universal Music owns the rights to the album, so will they be issuing a 20th anniversary edition to coincide with the tour?
No. But I am going to have vinyl pressed up. We can licence it. When we signed our contract, I insisted on vinyl; they had to put out vinyl; they put out ‘World of Noise’, they put out ‘Sparkle and Fade’ and ‘So Much for the Afterglow – they put out vinyl on all of those, and then when we got to ‘Songs from an American Movie’, they just told me; “we’re not putting out vinyl”. I go; “but it’s in the contract!”, and they go; “sue us; what are you going to do?” So it’s never been on vinyl.
So the album is getting its’ first vinyl release, and you’re going to be performing it in its entirety; you must be really excited about that.
It’s fun. I’m going to bring out a keyboard player and he sings as well, because it’s a more diverse record; it’s not just guitars.
Back to what you’re doing currently, and ‘Sun Songs’ has just been released; are you pleased with the reaction that it’s gotten?
I feel good about it. I’m getting a lot of people who are Everclear fans who haven’t been following the band that have come back on this record, and that’s what I was hoping would happen; that it would appeal to a different slice of the same demographic. But at the same time, it was fun to do. I wanted to do an album like this. I’m still getting comfortable with the songs!
Finally, we briefly mentioned your diagnosis; the goodwill that you’ve received from fans and people in the industry since then must mean a lot to you.
Yeah. I was diagnosed in 2016, and I wasn’t public about it. I didn’t hide it from friends or family, but I had people at shows ask; “are you okay, man? You’re walking oddly” I didn’t hide from it, but I felt more and more that people had an idea, and more importantly, I just felt that I wasn’t being genuine. I like to be honest. I was that guy for so many years, with drugs, drinking; living lies. It cost me many marriages and relationships, so I don’t like lies; I don’t like the elephant in the room. I don’t want that, so I just did it through our social media, and it just went viral. Then I was convinced by my management that we should put out a press release and just tell people, and yeah, the love was great, and it still is.
It’s not stopping you at all.
I don’t really have a choice; I’ve got bills to pay! But not only that, I’m doing what I love doing. I’m almost 60 years old, and I get to play rock and roll, which is a pretty cool job.
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Art Alexakis's 'Sun Songs' is available now via The End Records/BMG. For all things Art Alexakis and Everclear, visit the Everclear website.