Known for their raw lyrics and sound, the popular ‘90s alternative rock band Everclear plays with Eve 6 Saturday at Rockin’ in the River in Clarkston, along with area bands Brothers and Silent Theory.
We talked with Everclear frontman Art Alexakis via phone to find out more about the band, the songwriting process and his house way up in the west hills — something he once sang about in the group’s hit song “I Will Buy You a New Life.”
As the conversation began, it led to the reality of getting older and the scars — and tattoos — collected along the way:
360: Tell us about your latest tattoo.
Alexakis: The latest one I got was my youngest daughter’s name on my arm, I got that about eight years ago. I got a couple in my late 20s and then I got most of mine in the late ‘90s, early 2000s and then I just got tired of getting cut on. I’d say half of my body is covered in tattoos, or at least a good third. I dig ‘em, they still look pretty good — for a guy my age they still look pretty good. There’s a couple I want to get but I’m not that into it. I always said I was going to get a backpiece and another guy in the band is like, “Who are we going to show our backs to?” I’m like, “Good point. A bunch of kids at the pool, right?” There might be a couple more tattoos in there, but we’ll see.
360: You guys made it big in the ‘90s, which is when a lot of people who will be at Saturday’s concert began listening to you. Is nostalgia or sentimentality ever a dynamic for the audience?
Alexakis: When I do a ‘90s tour, there’s an element of nostalgia — I wouldn’t say sentimentality — but as far as nostalgia, I think a little bit of nostalgia is helpful and healthy. But at the same time, music is music. I was listening to Joni Mitchell this morning, and it’s still relevant to me and I’ve been listening to that song for 45, almost 50 years. It’s not necessarily sentimentality, a good song is a good song.
360: A friend of mine was telling me that when she was younger and things got hard, she would listen to your songs because they had hope. Tell us more about your songwriting.
Alexakis: I’m glad to hear that, because a lot of people think my songs are just depressing and they’re not. Well, they are at times but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes you gotta squint but it’s always there, ‘cause I feel that’s how life is. I just write songs that I would like to hear. They’re not all autobiographical like people say they are, maybe two or three per record are autobiographical, but they’re songs that come from somewhere in my life or somewhere in my perspective and my understanding. I talk about more literal things, I like being a storyteller because I like storytellers. I tell stories, and stories connect.
360: A lot of your songs have very specific detail, which is part of telling the story.
Alexakis: That’s right. That’s called creative license. You describe. Hemingway had a way of doing that; I’m not comparing myself to Hemingway but I’m just saying writers that I appreciate have their own way of describing a situation.
360: And just in telling your story, your truth, it can bring hope?
Alexakis: Yeah, but it depends on what you’re calling truth — I mean, what is truth? I don’t mean that in some nebulous, philosophical way. I mean, if it’s a truth to me and I believe it, that’s actually kind of comforting, even if it’s depressing, because at least it’s got a sense of belief and finality and a sense of borders to it. And when you’re a younger person, you’re looking for that, you’re pushing against those envelopes, but at the same time you want them to be there because it makes you feel safe. I think we all want that at any age, we want to feel safe.
360: How have your songs changed over the years?
Alexakis: Your message is going to change, unless you’re a robot. As a human being, your story’s going to change, your experiences are going to change. I’m 56, I’ve lived a lot of life; I’ve been a lot of places; I’ve done a lot of things and constantly doing more stuff. You live life and it puts a slant and it puts another wrinkle on everything you do, whether you talk about it precisely, specifically, or not, it just is. So, I think that’s how my writing has changed over the years. There’s more a sense of humor, more of a sense of hope and a lot less (B.S.) — you get older, your propensity for (B.S.) diminishes.
360: Are you still writing songs?
Alexakis: Yeah, writers always write songs. I do write a lot more prolifically when I’m working on a record or project. I’m actually working on a solo record. It’s going to be out later this year or early next year. I’m about halfway through it. It’s just me, I’m the only person playing and singing on it. I’m playing everything. If it needs drums, I’m not a good drummer, but I’ll figure it out. That’s what I always do. It’s a challenge; it’s something different. If people want to go to Pledge Music and look for Art Alexakis, that’s where we’re doing studio updates. It’s a lot of fun.
360: The members of Everclear have changed over the years. What goes into making a band work?
Alexakis: I think that everybody has a part to play. It’s not just that, there’s definitely a chemistry there, though it’s not always an easy chemistry. It’s a relationship, you know, and some of your best relationships aren’t always the easy ones. When you put people together it creates a different dynamic and it feeds different things. And sometimes you’re able to give it those things and sometimes you’re not able to give it those things any more and that dynamic ends. I don’t think anything’s supposed to last forever. I think people who get all sentimental about it wish it would, but it’s not going to. The Beatles weren’t going to last forever — they evolved, they ended, and it was great.
360: And how do you manage those changes in the band?
Alexakis: I depend on a team around me, and so I build a team of people that get my vision and are synchronous with it, who can bring something to it as well and can make the vision better. My whole thing is the song is the god, make the song better. I don’t care who does that. And you give credit where credit is due.
360: Last question: Did you ever buy that new house, way up in the west hills?
Alexakis: (Laughs) Yes. Yes, I did. I bought several houses — but I did buy a house in the West Hills — in Portland, Oregon. There’s a west hills in every city, it’s usually upper-class white people that live there, and that’s what that whole song was about. Because, I didn’t live in the west hills, I lived in a place called “Felony Flats” — it’s the more white-trash part of Portland, more crime going on, gangs and stuff. But that’s not what the song’s about, it’s not about Portland — it’s about anywhere.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Rockin’ on the River featuring Everclear, Eve 6, Brothers and Silent Theory
WHEN: Gates open at 3 p.m. Saturday, July 28; music starts at 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Dave’s Valley Golf Center, 725 Port Way, Clarkston
COST: $32 in advance, $40 at the gate, free for ages 5 and younger
Advance tickets are available at Lewiston A&B Foods locations, Rosauers, Lewiston and Clarkston Albertsons or online at rockinontheriver.org.
OF NOTE: Food and beverage vendors on site, no outside food or beverages are allowed. People should bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.