From a troubled past to the top of the charts, to his brave battle with MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Everclear’s Art Alexakis lives for the silver linings
At 57, SoCal’s Art Alexakis is making time to stop and smell the roses. So few do, and god knows he deserves a sniff. Alexakis’s band, Everclear, was a 90s rock mainstay with three platinum selling albums to their credit and a slew of chart-topping hits, including radio favourite’s Santa Monica, Everything to Everyone, Father of Mine and I Will Buy You A New Life.
Forms of therapy
He’s an accomplished songwriter and producer with fingers in multiple avenues across the music business from A&R to founding his own labels. On the very day of our conversation, Alexakis announced his long-awaited debut solo record, due this October and an accompanying tour of Europe. But behind the music, Art Alexakis is a striking example of rising above circumstance and the embodiment of making the best of bad situations.
“Songwriting is kind of my therapy,” Alexakis begins in a candid interview with The Herald. “One of the forms of therapy for me, for sure. I’ve got PTSD I’ve got all sorts of stuff going back to when I was 8 and 6, abandonment, abuse and all this stuff.”
He’s been vocal and honest about his difficult upbringing, the abandonment by his father at the age of five, the loss of his brother to drugs and his own battle with addiction. He proudly celebrated 30 years of sobriety on June 15th of this year.
“When I started songwriting that was when I was about 20, right when I started getting clean and sober and it was very helpful for me through all that,” he admits. “The therapy of getting through sobriety and doing that, I wouldn’t have been able to do it I think without that outlet. It’s very cathartic for me and I do put a lot of myself in my songs.”
Activism has been a natural segue for Alexakis. In these turbulent times many have been probed on burning topics, incorporating the real into art. Alexakis cautions musicians to take up a cause out of a personal need and not a responsibility or for a marketing push.
“I think if you feel the need to do that then you should do that. If you don’t feel the need I don’t think there’s any obligation or responsibility. I’m very left of center, but at the same time I don’t like when people try to tell me what my responsibilities are. I know what my responsibilities are. My real responsibilities in this world is to take care of my family. And other than that it’s purely subjective. That being said I feel like I have a responsibility to be honest and true and real and stand up for the things I believe and that’s what I feel.”
His upcoming solo record Sun Songs tackles some of those hot-button topics with an honest guided hand, while also saving room for personal touches that connect quite deeply with the things that truly matter in his life: family.
“There are songs on this solo record that are pretty inflammatory. There’s a song called White People Scare Me. There’s a song made up from the perspective of a parent that lost their child from shaming and bullying and suicide. That does affect me when I hear those stories, it physically affects me.
“I have to write about it from a point of catharsis and a point of just trying to communicate my feelings on it. Same thing with racism, same thing with gender bias and bigotry and hate. It’s all in there, but there’s love songs, love songs to my wife and my daughter, even a love song to myself just because sometimes you have to just embrace yourself and embrace your own weirdness and your own fears and your own damage. You just have to embrace it and accept it. And there’s a song like that on the record as well.
“I used to not like musicians calling themselves artists but really we are,” he adds. “If you’re writing music and words and you’re bringing them out of your mind from nothing, your heart, your mind and your life then you are an artist. You’re not necessarily Van Gogh, but you are an artist. You’re creating something from nothing.”
Everclear make their long-awaited Newfoundland debut on September 16th at the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent. Alexakis himself is well acquainted with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians through several treks through the Maritimes, but touching down on The Rock will serve as a rare pleasure.
“Newfoundlanders are their own breed for sure,” he says with a laugh. “I have two friends from the Maritimes, and they call themselves ‘Newfies’ and they’re just wonderful people. I’m really stoked to go there. I really am.”
The group were one of the defining forces of the 90s wave of rock, filling a niche somewhere between the grunge mania that arose from the bowels of Seattle’s underground and the old guard fighting through emerging trends.
“There was so much variety that you could find your niche and still find an audience,” Alexakis recalls of the period. “I was writing very personal, story songs from a first person narrative and most bands weren’t doing that. We were and we were hard and heavy, but at the same time we had like a singer-songwriter presence with all the distortion and all the big guitars. And that was kind of our niche. I love heavy, hard guitar music, melodic guitar music, and I love singer-songwriters. So that’s kind of what Everclear is. Singer-songwriter and hard rock combined in a rock band. That’s what we are.”
Everclear’s maiden voyage to our blissfully unique corner of the globe comes mere months after Alexakis went public with his diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
Diagnosed three years ago following an automobile accident, Alexakis opted for transparency with his fan base, as well as to put a face and spread awareness to a condition that is often misunderstood. The resulting waves of support from thousands of fans worldwide was awe inspiring, he shares.
“Having that kind of reaction? I didn’t anticipate that,” he admits. “I figured Everclear fans would be very supportive, but so many people came out of the woodwork. It was viral. Like over 100,000 responses. I got invited on talk shows, Billboard and Rolling Stone. I wasn’t hiding it before, but I wasn’t talking about it and I wanted to talk about it not just for me but for everybody who deals with that affliction or any kind of disease. It makes you feel not as good as anybody else. That really screws with your psyche to have something that intense happen to you. I wanted to communicate those feelings and connect with people and just reassure people that regardless of what you have or what I may have we can still do what we have to do as long as we can.”
With his love of his chosen art as strong as ever, and the support and love of fans, friends and family at his back, Art Alexakis is living life to the fullest, defying odds and expectations and holding on to those silver lings.
“I think there’s a lot of silver linings in my life,” he says calmly. “I mean my life is really good right now. Aside from the MS, the fact that I’m getting older and your physical body isn’t what it used to be, but my spirit is so strong and feels like it’s 20 years old.”
For tickets to the September 16th performance or more information on Everclear and Art Alexakis visit everclearmusic.com and icebergalleyconcerts.com