Q&A: Everclear frontman Art Alexakis hits City Winery for solo acoustic gig

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Everclear at City Winery

Hopping off the tour plane on Wednesday, Everclear frontman Art Alexakis noticed something troubling when he went to fetch his gear. His guitar was smashed.

“It looks like a fork lift went through the case and went through the guitar,” Alexakis told WTOP. “I’ll probably buy another guitar or get a loaner or something. We’re trying to figure that out right now. … I’m playing North Carolina [Wednesday], New Jersey [Thursday] and D.C. [Friday]. That was gonna be one of the guitars I was playing!”

What if he can’t find one in time?

“You told me to just play air guitar, so maybe I’ll do that,” Alexakis joked.

Don’t worry, he’ll be ready to go for Friday’s gig at City Winery in Northeast D.C.

“It’s all Everclear stuff,” Alexakis said. “I’ve been writing and singing Everclear for about 25 years, so that’s been the majority of my singer-songwriting career. I just put out a solo record ‘Sun Songs’ that came out in October, so I’ll be playing a few songs off that as well. … We’re still rocking the bigger venues with Everclear, [but] this is a nice juxtaposition of smaller crowds, more intimate. It’s just fun. It’s a different thing.”

Born in Los Angeles in 1962, Alexakis got bit by the music bug at a young age.

“I grew up with The Beatles,” Alexakis said. “I saw the Beatles on TV when I was 4, not the first time they played ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ but the last time in ’66. I remember coming out of my room and sneaking around the couch and watching it when I was supposed to be in bed. From that moment on, I never wanted to do anything else.”

From there, he listened to anything he could get his hands on.

“I grew up as the youngest of five kids, so I was heavily influenced by the music around me,” Alexakis said. “I listened to everything. I went through hard rock, Motown and soul, then punk rock and hip-hop and alternative. Some big bands for me were The Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Sex Pistols, Ramones, X an L.A. punk band, then of course a lot of the more alternative bands from early Soul Asylum to The Replacements, REM, The Pixies, Sonic Youth, Public Enemy, all sorts of different music. I love it all.”

He also endured hardships as his father left at age 5, while his brother overdosed on heroin.

“I’d say about a quarter to a third of my songs are autobiographical, but I like to write from the first person,” Alexakis said. “I like storytellers. That’s what I like to listen to, I like people telling stories and losing yourself in the stories, whether it’s autobiographical or not. There’s got to be truth to everything you write.”

He eventually moved to Portland where he formed Everclear in 1991.

“I started Everclear with the idea that I wanted to be a singer-songwriter with a hard rock slash punk rock band,” Alexakis said. “I put an ad in the paper and found some guys. They didn’t work out very well, so I found some other guys, then I went back to those guys, then just slowly over the last 25 years, replaced people as it goes. It’s my thing. It was never like, ‘Hey, let’s start a band,’ it’s always been my band.”

After the debut album “World of Noise” (1993), they found breakthrough success with their second album “Sparkle and Fade” (1995), which went platinum with such songs as “Heroin Girl,” “Santa Monica” and “Heartspark Dollarsign.”

“I think that’s what makes us a little bit different from the next band is we write storytelling,” Alexakis said. “In the ’90s, a lot of people were really into imagery and writing lyrics that were very caustic and cryptic. I’ve got some lyrics like that, but most of the time, I want it to tell a story from one perspective or another.”

Their third album “So Much for the Afterglow” (1997) sparked a string of hits, including “Everything to Everyone,” which topped the alternative chart.

“I remember being at Macy’s in New York for the MTV Awards,” Alexakis said. “I remember hearing drum and bass music way in the background and finding speakers where I could listen closer. I really dug the groove of it. At the same time, I was getting calls on my cellphone from the president of Capitol [Records] to do shows for his friends for no money. … Lyrically, that’s where it came from, those people in your life who have no personality of their own, they just get what they need from you.”

It also included “I Will Buy You a New Life,” which hit No. 3 on the alternative chart.

“It was around Christmastime [and] we had just bought a big house on the West Coast,” Alexakis said. “I started playing the song. The next thing I know, my wife at the time is sitting there really emotional listening to it. … I’ve been married twice since then, I’ve been married to my wife now for 16 years and we’ve got a 12-year-old daughter. That song still has meaning, but maybe in a different kind of way. I wrote that for one lifetime, for a different life. Now it has different meanings for my current life.”

Still, the album’s most mainstream hit was the autobiographical “Father of Mine,” which reached No. 4 on the alternative chart and landed No. 23 on the Adult Top 40.

“It’s cathartic,” Alexakis said. “I remember watching my eldest daughter sleep when she was 6 or 7 and this emotion just came over me. As we left the room, I said to my wife, ‘How does a man walk away from that?’ … Relationships don’t always work out, but a real man moves down the street and helps raise his children. … I remember going into my office, shutting the door and just writing these words.”

The next album “Songs from an American Movie” (2000) featured the hit “Wonderful.”

“I had been a child of divorce and I grew up in a housing project where just about everybody was a child of abuse,” Alexakis said. “I didn’t want to have kids because I didn’t want them to go through the hell that I’d gone through. So when I had a child and I’m watching her go through a divorce between me and her mom was one of the most excruciating things. … So I started writing things that I had felt or had heard other people saying being a child of divorce and watching my daughter go through it.”

The song connected with people who had gone through the same thing, reaching No. 3 on the alternative chart, No. 3 on the Adult Top 40 and No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Today, the band is about to go on tour to mark that album’s 20th anniversary.

“That was our fourth platinum album in a row,” Alexakis said. “We’ll be doing hits off that all next year.”

But first, check out Friday’s solo acoustic gig at City Winery.

“If you like ’90s rock and you like Everclear music, you’re going to have a great time,” Alexakis said. “I put on the best show I can, it’s personal, it goes back and forth, it’s reciprocal between me and the audience. I always come out after the show and meet with people. There’s always a part of the show where I take requests and questions, so it’s very interactive. If you’re looking for a night of good songs and fun, come on out.”

Find more details on the City Winery website. Hear our full conversation below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Everclear's Art Alexakis (Full Interview)

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