It’s been a challenging few years for Art Alexakis. Recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, the Everclear leader has had to adjust to a new way of life, one that has informed his debut solo album ‘Sun Songs’. Looking to the future with positivity and vigour however, Art is in defiant form; “I’m going to live for a long time, and love life. That’s the job, right?”, he tells us. We sat down with the singer for a chat about the disc, his forthcoming solo tour, life adjustment, and plans to celebrate 20 years of Everclear’s ‘Songs From an American Movie’. Everything to everyone: Eamon O’Neill
Hi Art, how are you?
I am not too bad. I’m so excited to come to Dublin! Other than the not so obscure fact that I’m half Irish – because most people in America are, white people anyway – we [Everclear] almost came to Ireland twice. But because of financial things with the label, they cancelled the shows. And so I’m very excited to come back.
So your upcoming solo gig in Dublin will be your first ever show in Ireland?
First ever show! We had a sold-out show in 2000, and I was really excited. We had a sold-out tour, basically in England and Scotland and the show in Ireland, and label at the time cut the funding. Because of the way we were touring at the time, if we didn’t have that extra tour money – which we should have got contractually – there as a new president there at the time that didn’t like us, and he cut all that money, we’d have been out of pocket like, fifty grand. I just went; “yeah, I can’t do that”.
Then there was the 2013 tour, which was supposed to include a Dublin date.
Yeah, then in 2013, that was just such a horribly, horribly done tour by amateurs. They lost so much money on that tour because they didn’t advertise anywhere. So anyway, we’re back, and we’ve got a great new promoter that’s helping us rebuild our footprint in the U.K., and I was adamant, I said; “you have to include Dublin”.
The upcoming dates are in support of your debut solo release ‘Sun Songs’. You must be excited to get that out?
Yeah, I’m really excited. I was excited to make it and finish it. Finishing something is always good, especially when it takes over a year to make. It’s now starting to kick in that it’s coming out, because I just released the first single that’s getting a lot of attention. It’s just weird because it’s something I’ve lived with for a while and almost forgot about, and then now, it’s like, this is my new thing; I’ve got to get back into this head space!
The album kicks off with you talking to the producer saying; “are we ready to go here?” before counting in ‘Sunshine Love Song’, which really sets up the laid back approach of the album.
Well, I think so. That was the idea. The whole record, the whole idea of it is just; it’s real. Man, there’s not going to be Pro Tools; there’s not going to be no sequencing or any of this other shit that everybody takes for granted now. I didn’t want to do that; I just wanted to just go in with my friend Stewart who’s an engineer and co-producer that I’ve worked with off and on for years, and I felt safe in there, just me and him, recording a track or two. I recorded all the music, all the vocals, and wrote all the songs, and did it when I felt it. I wasn’t on some record label’s schedule, like; “okay, you’ve got to deliver this by this date”, I was like; “you know what? We’re going to have a record when we’re going to have a record”.
So you were happier working at that pace?
You know what? It came out, and I know it’s a goofy word to use, but it really was ‘organic’ in that opening, and the way we did it. If you listen to every song, you’ll hear talking, you’ll hear little instances here and there that might be off-key or off-pitch, and that’s the way they did records when I grew up in the ‘70s. I miss that. And short records; eleven songs, 38 and a half minutes; any classic record from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s are probably about 40 minutes or less, because that’s the most you can put on vinyl.
The album is getting a vinyl release, isn’t it?
Yes, look at the cover! It’s a picture of the sun as an orange vinyl. Incidentally, most of the vinyl’s going to be black, but there will be 500 orange vinyl just sent out randomly.
Earlier this year you announced that you had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis; did that inform your decision to make a solo album, or was it already in the planning before that?
Well you know what, that’s a good question because no one has asked me that, and to be honest with you, the solo record’s always been in the back of my mind. But to actually do it now, it was about a year and a half after the diagnosis, and to answer your question; yeah, everything after my diagnosis, every decision has been taken into effect the fact I have MS. So, how could you not be affected by that? It wasn’t a conscious thing, like; “oh man, I gotta do this now because I might not be able to do it in a few years”. I don’t really think that’s going to be me. I’m working hard for that not to happen; I’ve already been working out this morning, I’m on a strict plant-based diet now – which sucks, but I’m going to live for a long time, and be a dad, and hopefully a grandad someday, and keep making music, and write a book, and love life. That’s the job, right?
‘The Hot Water Test’, which you recently filmed a video for, tells the incredibly personal story of your diagnosis; was that difficult for you to record?
Yeah, it was a hard song to sing, and it was a hard song for my engineer to listen to. We did it in the studio down the street from my home, and I walk out of the booth, and this is a kind of stoner hippie dude and you never see him anything but laughing, and he had tears coming down his face. He says; “that was a pretty great take”. Then he goes; “you should let me know the lyrics before you sing words like that, because I wasn’t expecting that.” It’s not just this song; the whole record has a lot of intensity, but there’s a lot fun, because I’m very happy. And you know, that’s life; it’s the best time of my life in many, many ways, but I have MS, and I have a hard time walking, but I do, and I walk without a cane or anything, and I’m working hard with physical trainers, and I feel better and I’m getting better. Could it turn around tomorrow and put me on my ass? Yeah, technically it could, but the fact that I quit nicotine, sugar and salt, oil and animal products and everything else, gives me a better chance of it to go into remission, and that’s why I’m doing it.
Anyone has heard Everclear will know that you’ve never been afraid to write tracks of a personal nature.
Yeah, well, ‘Father of Mine’, of course, and songs like that for sure. But they’re not all like that, and I’d say every record has about a third of the songs that are autobiographical and this album is no different. It does have like, about a third of them are political songs.
‘White People Scare Me’, which is pretty cutting, is a good example of one of the political tracks.
Yeah, well it’s kind of true, especially in America. Was it informed by Donald Trump and what’s going on in the world right now? Absolutely. I mean, the first line is; “Looks like the scary clowns are driving the car again”. You know, how could you not be? It’s a shit show. Every fucking day it’s like; can’t this guy just shut the hell up and do his job?! But there’s no place on this earth that isn’t without its challenges, and its controversy, and ours has been growing for a long time. But the whole idea of ‘White People Scare Me’, I’ve felt that for years and years. My friends make jokes about it, but right now, because of what’s going on, it’s not funny anymore.
When you were writing, did you find that there were tracks you had to set aside as more appropriate for Everclear, or was it clear that they would all make the solo album?
It was pretty clear cut. There’s a couple of ideas, and if I felt like they were like not appropriate for this record, or more riffy, or it needed to be more bombastic, I kind of threw them into the back pocket. There’s a couple of here that, over the years when I was making Everclear records were like; “nah, that idea’s for something different”. All the songs on this record are acoustic, but I’m still a rocker. I’m not Iron &Wine! I love those guys, but no matter how hard I try to be those guys, I will never those guys.
Were you influenced by any other artists making this album?
The stuff I grew up with like Cat Stevens and Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, and all those records. I was like; “I need to do this in my way, that puts out that same attitude, but it’s not going to sound like that”. But I’m not trying to be those guys. And when I say “those guys”, I don’t mean just guys; Joni Mitchell ‘Blue’ is one of my favourite records of all time.
Will your forthcoming solo shows follow in the same format as your U.S ‘Stories and Songs’ tour?
Yeah, pretty much. It’s very conversational. I get everyone involved, and then at the end of the show for the encore, I put a mic out in the audience and people can come up and ask me questions, or give me requests, or try to stump me and I’ll play something old. That’s fun for everybody; it’s fun for me, and it’s fun for people in the crowd.
It sounds like a very intimate show.
It sounds like fun to me! It is intimate, and this record is very intimate, even when it’s not 100% autobiographical. I’s say one of the most intimate songs on the record is not autobiographical. It's called ‘Sing Away’, and it’s about, when I read about kids that get shamed and bullied online and they end up killing themselves; how do their parents feel? Because I would want to go kill those fucking kids. That’s how I would feel at first, but then I would feel heartbreak, and I’d want to communicate my love and heartbreak to my child, and that’s where that song came from.
Going back a little in your history, and the ‘Songs From an American Movie’ albums  saw perhaps your greatest success.
That was an exciting time for me, and you know the 20th anniversary of those records is coming next year. Are we going to celebrate it? Yes we are, and that’s all I can tell you right now, and you’re going to celebrate it with us, how about that?
Will former members Craig Montoya [bass] and Greg Eklund [drums] be involved?
Absolutely not. No, not a chance in hell, ever. Please tell people; let that one go, because that’s not going to happen! Look at me in the past, and when I say things, whether they happen or not. I’m pretty good about it; I’d say 99%. If I wasn’t sure, I would tell you; “I don’t know. Maybe?”. It’s a surety.
Finally, what lies ahead for you?
Doing the solo tour, doing it here in the States, working this record, and getting ready to write my book. People have been trying to get me to write my book, and I’ve been wanting to write my memoirs for a while, and I’m going to do that over the next year or so and hopefully get it out the year after, on the 20th anniversary tour. Yeah, man, I just have ideas and I want to do them, and that’s exciting.
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Art Alexakis's 'Sun Songs' is released on on October 11th via The End Records/BMG. Art tours the U.K. and Ireland in October. For all things Art Alexakis and Everclear, visit the Everclear website.
Art Alexakis Solo Tour:
8th Oct - Evanston, IL - Space
9th Oct - Pittsburgh, PA - Hard Rock Cafe
10th Oct - Boston, MA - City Winery
14th Oct - Manchester, UK - Night & Day Café
15th Oct - Norwich, UK - Epic Studios
16th Oct - London, UK - O2 Academy Islington
18th Oct - Glasgow, UK - Broadcast
19th Oct - Birmingham, UK - Actress & Bishop
20th Oct - Dublin, IE - The Sound House