Monday, June 26, 2017

Interview -- Art Alexakis (Everclear)

"I will buy you
a new life.
Yes I will."
~ Everclear ~

In 1997, Art Alexakis, along with his band Everclear, laid the album..."So Much For The Afterglow" on us.
The music was hard, crunchy and catchy.  And for many spinners of the disc, it gave them a feeling of almost absolution.

Melodic lyrics about all-too-familiar personal pains and doubts were delivered with exciting staccato guitar churns...and it felt like a good cleansing.  The songs helped wash away a bit of the crud and the crap and the confusing tangles of life that can be so hard to shake off.
More than anything though, the music gave reassurance that we were not alone in the struggle.  And maybe that helped us see a small break in the clouds.  And for some, that was all we needed to see.

Am I using too much hyperbole?  I don't know.  Maybe.  I'm not declaring this the best album from the 90s.  Hell, I'm not even sure this is Everclear's best album of the 90s!  All I'm trying to say is...I feel a whole lot better when I play it.  Get you some!

Art Alexakis Interview  --  June 2017
Art Alexakis (vocals, guitar)

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to begin with a bit of a curve by asking about the song Everclear recorded for the "Detroit Rock City" soundtrack in 1999.  How did you become involved and how did you decide what song you were going to contribute?

Art Alexakis:  Well, we had already done a couple of shows with Kiss, so I had gotten to know Gene and Paul.  And Gene wanted Everclear to do a song for the soundtrack.  They were leaving it up to us to pick it.  And I wasn't sure I was gonna do it.

I was living up in Portland at the time and it had been raining like hell, as per usual.  But I was in L.A. for something to do with business and was driving a convertible.  I never get convertibles, but that was all they had.  And it was a sunny day.  I'm driving around and what comes on the radio but "The Boys Are Back In Town."  I've always been a huge fan of Thin Lizzy.  Saw them back in '76 at the Santa Monica Civic.  Saw them a couple of times.  Big fan.

And that song came on the radio and I'm like...'Oh my God!  This song!  We need to do this!'  And I could hear in my head how we would do it, right?  'Cause my whole thing with covers's got to keep the integrity of the song and what made the song great in the first place, but it also has to sound like whoever's doing the cover.  In my case, Everclear, of course.  So, I had an idea how I'd do it.

So, I got on the phone the next week with my management and Gene with his management.  And Gene was trying to get me to do it for next to nothing.  For like, free. (laughs)  I remember being on the beach with my family in Hawaii and Gene was haranguing me to do this soundtrack for nothing.  I'm like...'no, that's just not gonna happen.' (laughs)  Gene says, 'Artie, c'mon.  Artie, this is gonna do wonders for your career.  C'mon!'  I'm like...'Gene, it's not gonna happen.  Ya know, what do you care?  It's not coming out of your pocket.  It's coming out of the record company that's putting out the soundtrack that's connected to the movie.  I mean, really?  No,  I'm not doing it for free.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  You're killing me! (laughs)

Art Alexakis:  They had wanted us to tour with them in '96 when we were at the height of doing "Sparkle And Fade."  We were planning to headline a tour, which we ultimately did, where we were making thousands of dollars.  But Gene offered us to open up for Kiss through North America.  And I'm like, 'You know what, man?  I'll do it.  I'll do it for a fraction of what we're making.  I need this much.'  Which would've been like five grand a show. And at the time, we were making four or five times that.  Which is really...I mean, we hadn't played for five grand in a long time.  Or even since.  'Then I'll be able to pay for my crew.  I'll be able to pay for the bus.  The hotels.  No problem.  I'll do 20 dates.'  And he wouldn't do it.

The most they offered was $500. Now, who you gonna get for $500 bucks?  You're gonna get a cover band, that's what you're gonna get.  But they got somebody, 'cause the record company paid for it.  And whoever it was, went into debt because record companies don't give you anything for free.  If they pay for it, it's coming out of your royalties.

But anyway, back to the soundtrack. We did finally record it.  We tried mixing it with Andy Wallace who had mixed our album "So Much For The Afterglow", but it just didn't come out right.  Then I mixed it with Neal Avron, who was my main recording guy back then, and it came out pretty good.

"The Boys Are Back In Town" - Everclear / "Detroit Rock City" Soundtrack (1999)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, it's a nailed cover.  Since we both dig Thin Lizzy, do you have a favorite song?

Art Alexakis:  One of my favorite rock songs of all time is "Cowboy Song."  It's definitely in my top 50.  Could be in my top 20.  I love the dueling guitar leads.  I just love Phil Lynott's vocals.  Their songwriting and rhyme for the time were just great.  And yet they were always considered a mid-level band, ya know?

Casey Chambers:  In America, for sure.

Art Alexakis:  For sure.  Nowhere else, but in America.  But I mean, they were great.  "Jailbreak" is just a great album.  But I go deep.  I like "Johnny The Fox."  I like "Renegade."  My favorite record from them is probably "Black Rose," if you want to go deep.

Do you know what's a trip?  The label that put that soundtrack out was Island Records before they got all swallowed up by Def Jam.  And I met with the president of Island Records about doing that song  He was an Irish guy and he told me he had been a roadie for them back in the day and knew Phil since they were in high school.

He had worked his way up through the music business. From road crew to tour that.  And after listening to the song, he said, 'Phil would have loved the vocal on this.'  And that just meant the world to me right there, ya know?   'Cause when you do a cover, you wanna do it with respect to the song.  You want to do it in your own cadence.  In your own voice.  But you also want to capture the voice of the spirit and vibe of the song, too.   I'm glad you like it.  I love that song.  We're talking about breaking it out and bringing it back into the set.  We haven't played it in awhile.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, that'd be a great one to hear.  It's the 20th anniversary of Everclear's 3rd album..."So Much For The Afterglow." (1997)  I'd like to ask you about the title track.  It's a killer surprise!  Summer harmonies leading into a crashing wake-up call.

Art Alexakis:  The Beach Boy thing, yeah.

Casey Chambers:  Was that the idea you had for the song going in?

Art Alexakis:  Not really.  When we first made the album in the fall of '96...and I've since stopped using working titles 'cause they never stick...I was calling it "Pure White Evil."  And I wanted it to be really heavy songs.  And really mellow.  Really heavy, really mellow.  It was just me thinking too much.

And I wrote and recorded 15 or 16 songs.  I went and mixed them in New York and then played them for my A&R guy.  And he listens to it twice and he's like, 'Well you know, man, I'm not telling you what to do 'cause you know I can't.  You have creative control.'  That was part of my deal when I signed.  'You can do what you want.  We'll put it out and we'll work it as hard as we can.  But I'm telling you this, as your friend.  This is not a great album.  It's good, but it's not great.  And you can do better.  This is not the album you want to make.  I guarantee it.  You don't want to make this album.'  And that just kind of kicked my ass, ya know?

"So Much For The Afterglow" (1997)

So I spent two or three weeks in New York just walking around the city.  I went and saw "Jerry Maguire" like 10 times.  I don't know why.  There was a song in it.  I wasn't sure who it was.  I think it was Bruce Springsteen.  It was!  It was called, "Secret Garden."  And I wrote a song called, "Song From An American Movie" 'cause that song just made me really emotional.  It made me miss my family.  But while I was there, I was writing songs in my hotel room.

And I wrote about three or four more songs.  One of the songs was "So Much For The Afterglow."  It was just that feeling of...'Okay, well this is what it feels like when you're up high and you get your ass kicked a little bit and how do I put this into a relationship type song?'  I was writing down copious notes in notebooks.  I hope I still have those notebooks somewhere, 'cause it has the notes of what I would do for each song to make them better.

It came off as kind of a punk rock song, ya know?  It just started with my vocal going... 'This is a song about...' and it kicks in, right?  But it just didn't fit anywhere on the record.  I thought it'd be a really strong album opener.  And I'm really big into album openers.  Some of my favorite songs..."Rocks Off" on "Exile On Mainstreet."  "Debaser" on The Pixies'..."Doolittle."  I mean, I could give you a list.  I've made mixes for people of just album openers that are just great.

Casey Chambers:  That'd be a really interesting mix to compile.  Note to self.

Art Alexakis:  They just set the tone and get your heart going.  That's what I felt.  As a matter of fact, I've got a show on Sirius XM, and I think I'm gonna do a whole show about album opening songs.

Anyway, so I wanted some sort of intro.  I could do strings.  I could do this.  And then I'm thinking...what about a cool Beach Boys...just a little ripoff.  But not really, it's just a doo-wop thing which they ripped from the doo-wop bands of the '50s. (laughs)

"So Much For The Afterglow" - Everclear (1997)

So I wrote and sang all the parts.  All the harmonies.  I went into a studio in Hollywood and recorded that all in one day.  And this was before ProTools.  Before Auto-Tune.  There was none of that going on.  So every note had to be perfect. Had to just be perfect.  And we quadrupled every track.  I did all the parts myself and then I had the boys double me.  Triple and quadruple me on all the other tracks.  There was like 20 or 30 tracks there.  And that's the way it came out.

Casey Chambers:  It's a great way to kick things off.

Art Alexakis:  And it just goes to show, my A&R guy who was right half the time, was like, 'This is a horrible way to start the record.  People are gonna think it's going to sound a certain way and turn it off.  And then it goes down this punk rock thing which is too typical for you.  It's just a horrible way to start the record.'

But then all these positive reviews of the album came out saying, 'What a great way to start the album.' (laughs)  So I sent about four clippings of those to him and just said, 'Love Art, fuck you.' (laughs)  But it was good natured.  It was good natured.

Casey Chambers:  (laughs) I read that the song..."One Hit Wonder"...initially took a bit of slap and tickle from some record people, too.

Art Alexakis:  Yeah, same thing.  Same guy. (laughs) He's saying, 'Man you're just setting yourself up for failure.'  That was a song I wrote in New York as well.  So obviously, I was pissed off in New York.  There was a lot of 'fuck you's' going on.

The critics, and especially in Portland, were always talking shit.  'Oh, they're just a one hit wonder.  The sophomore slump is gonna get them.'  This and that.  This and that.  And so, I wrote "One Hit Wonder."  It was just kind of a 'fuck you' to them.  And if the record wasn't successful, I guess it would have made me look stupid. I was going out on a limb, but at that point, I didn't really care.  I didn't really care about the success.  I just wanted the record to be great.

"One Hit Wonder" - Everclear / The Late Show with David Letterman 

When I turned in the record, I go, 'This is the best record I can make.'  And my A&R guy agreed.  He said, 'I don't know if this is the best record you can make, but this is a great record.  You did it.  You did what you had to do.'  We had a really good relationship.  We didn't always agree. We'd cuss at each other.  Call each other names.  Hang up the phone, and then we'd work it out.  But that's how an A&R relationship is supposed to be.  They're supposed to be honest and tell you what they think.  Sometimes they're right.  Sometimes they're not.  But it's like any relationship. (laughs)  It worked out well.  We've been playing that song every night, 'cause we've been playing the whole album and it's been fun to play.

Casey Chambers:  I recently watched a clip of Everclear performing "One Hit Wonder" on David Letterman's show.  What was that experience like?

Art Alexakis:  Oh, that was the 3rd time I'd been on his show.  So, it was interesting.  Paul's always great.  David was a big fan, but we never got to talk to David.  No one did.  When David would walk to the would not let you be in the hallway.  I guess he just doesn't want people to look at him from behind.

Casey Chambers:  Was that just a Letterman thing or was that the typical talk show way?

Art Alexakis:  No.  It was just with him.  No one else.  Conan would come backstage and hang out with us and talk to us.  And Jay would always pop into the room.  Always.  Every time.  Just to say, 'Hey guys, how's it going?  What's going on?  You guys okay?  Everything good?  Thanks for being on the show again.'  He wouldn't hang out, but he'd come in just for a few minutes.  It was always really respectful.  Very cool.  Thoughtful.  And Dave's not... not... thoughtful.  It's just...he's his own thing.  And I always accepted that.  Plus, we were born on the same day.  We were both born on April 12.  Me, him, and Claire Danes.  I don't know what that means. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Slice me a piece of cake. (laughs)  Let me ask you about the song, "Everything To Everyone."  I really dig that strange keyboard thing you have going on.

"Everything To Everyone" - Everclear / "So Much For The Afterglow" (1997)

Art Alexakis:  Yeah, well when I was doing my copious notes, I felt that that song needed a kind of droning...a melodic drone to go through the song.  I thought it would be a cool intro, as well, if I could get the sound right.  I tried synthesizers.  I tried guitars.  And then I was playing a Wurlitzer in the studio and I had the engineer run it through a SansAmp, which is kind of a distortion.  A light distortion.  And through a Chorus and an Octaver, which splits it into a high and low.  Then I did it in three different keys.  Complimentary keys.  And I just sat there for three or four hours and recorded this intro until it sounded right.  And I put it on the song.

Casey Chambers:  It's amazing the details that get fleshed out in the making of a song.  Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your iconic gem, "I Will Buy You A New Life."

Art Alexakis:  Ya know, it's funny.  Right before Christmas, we went into a studio not far from my house in Portland to do some vocals, add some guitars and other things.  Record a couple of covers.  And while I was up there, I had this idea in my head.  I wrote down all the words, picked up a guitar and pretty much finished the song in an hour.  It's a very personal song.

When I got to the studio the next day, we were pretty much wrapping up, I showed it to the guys.  We worked it out for about an hour and then recorded it.  I did the vocal that night, and the next afternoon we were doing backup vocals.

We had already asked Rami Jaffee, (The Wallflowers, The Foo Fighters) to come out to do "Normal Like You." I had wanted a Farfisa kind of sound on it, so he brought his Vox organ with him.  And while Rami was there, he asked if we had anything else for him to do.  I looked at Neal Avron and told him I'd really like to put some organ on this.  He goes, 'Yeah, that'd be awesome!'

So I played the song for Rami and he's like, 'Yeah, I can get a B3 sound out of this.'  We hooked it up to a Leslie and he got that cool sound and put the organ on it. And it sounded great.

But even at this point, even after mixing it, it still didn't have the intro with that bell sound.  And I go, 'It's almost like a toy kind of piano thing I hear in my head, but I can't get it.'  He goes, 'Okay well let's break for lunch.'  And he leaves and he brings back this kid's toy piano.  One of these little Playschool things.  And he puts it through a SansAmp...just a couple effects...and it came out perfect!  Ya know that was exactly what I wanted.  So that's how that came about.  And that was also in my notes I made while I was in New York.  But it was just finding the bell sound.  It just took some screwing around.

"I Will Buy You A New Life" - Everclear / "Woodstock 99"

Casey Chambers:  "So Much For The Afterglow" is such a special album.  There's almost a spiritual connection between the album and Everclear fans.  It means something.

Art Alexakis:  It really does.  I always knew people really connected with that record.  Of course, they did or it wouldn't have sold three million records.  But I didn't know, until I started this tour, what a catharsis this album has been for a lot of people and how personal it was.  It's been very intense.  I'll have grown men, women too, but especially grown men, come in line and they'll tell me stories with tears in their eyes.  They're about to break down.

Apparently, this record made it easier for some people to get through high school, which is really a miserable time for everybody.  If you're having a good time in high school, the rest of your life is probably going to suck. (laughs)  I'm telling my daughter now, 'Have fun.  Concentrate on the fun times.  You're going to feel weird.  People are gonna be weird.  Little things that are really little're going to think are huge at the time.  Just remind yourself.  Your daddy told you it was going to be okay.  It's gonna get better.  I promise.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  No doubt. No doubt. (laughs)  Well, I'd like to thank you again, Art, for all the great music you have given us.  And for hanging out with me this morning.  It's been a pleasure.

Art Alexakis:  Well, my pleasure too, Casey.  It's been great.

"I Will Buy You A New Life" - Everclear / "So Much For The Afterglow" (1997)

Good stuff.

Go visit...
The Art Alexakis Show on Sirius Radio

Casey Chambers
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everclear is one of my favorite groups. Thank you.