Art Alexakis from the Portland, Oregon rock act Everclear is an unsung hero of ‘90s music. With the band, he wrote radio gold songs such as “Santa Monica,” “Father Of Mine” and “Everything To Everyone” among others. What’s most impressive about his output is how his most memorable music came out during a time when grunge was fading away and boy bands were the big thing. Everclear is still truckin’ along with Alexakis as the sole original member and these days he’s joined by guitarist Dave French, bassist Freddy Herrera and drummer Brian Nolan. They’ll be taking the stage at the Greenwich Odeum on 59 Main St. in East Greenwich on Jan. 16 with New York City indie rockers Chapell opening things up.
Alexakis and I had a conversation ahead of the show about performing by himself, working for a major label while being in a band, changes in how musicians make money and his feelings on how things are today.
Rob Duguay: You have a bunch of solo gigs leading up to the show at the Greenwich Odeum. Do you ever feel more vulnerable performing by yourself to an audience without a band backing you up?
Art Alexakis: Absolutely, it’s an adrenaline rush and a nervous tick all wrapped into one. When I play with the band, I can drop a chord here and there and I got great musicians backing me up. Also when one of us screws up something in a song, you can barely hear it. When it’s just a guitar and your voice, there’s no safety net and you’re up there by yourself. It’s a lot of fun but it can also be terrifying at times.
RD: I can totally see that. It’s like you said, if you make a mistake in a song by yourself then it’s more noticeable than when you’re in the band. Everclear’s home city of Portland, Oregon has become somewhat of a hipster hotbed over the past couple years with TV shows like “Portlandia” glorifying it and blogs writing about places like Voodoo Donuts. What are your feelings on this and how much has the place changed since the band started there in 1991?
AA: I moved out of Portland in 2011 so I’m only there three or four times a year to see family and friends, my sister and my daughter live there so I’m still around a bit. I moved back to California, mostly because of the weather and the sunshine. Then I was diagnosed almost four years ago with multiple sclerosis, which is difficult to deal with in colder climates so it made sense to move to a warmer place even though I didn’t know it at the time. Portland has always been kind of a hipster spot, it’s a great place to live and for a while it was kind of a cheap place to live. Now with pot being legalized it’s become super expensive with all of these companies coming in there in full force and really changing the culture.
I love the weirdness of Portland and I’ve watched one episode of “Portlandia” but I didn’t like it. They asked me to be on the show and I declined, so I’m not a fan. It’s a thing of where there are comical things about any kind of small town or small city that has its own flavor and Portland definitely does. When you get cartoonish about it, it’s not funny to me anymore. It’s funnier when it’s real.
RD: That’s totally understandable. Outside of the band you also were an A&R rep for Capitol Records for several years, you started your own label Popularity Records in the early 2000s and you’ve produced and written songs for numerous acts. How would you describe the balance between being in a band and being involved in the music industry in various roles?
AA: I started my first label called Shindig Records in San Francisco in 1989 and that lasted until 1992, so I’ve always done my own thing. I found a lot of bands when I was at Capitol and then I got an offer from a different label. Out of respect, I went to the owners of Capitol Records and told them and they ended up bettering their offer with a fancy title and a bunch of money. There are four bands that went on to become platinum-selling acts that I found but I won’t tell you who they are. I think I had a good ear for it at the time and balancing that was incredibly hard but at the same time it was really easy.
You just have to know where your priorities are. When Everclear was coming up when we were signed to Capitol, we were constantly on the treadmill. I refused to write hit songs, I never submitted anything to anybody, I turned in a record and that was it. We would decide what the singles would be and if it was something they could work with and it was. I never played the game of submitting songs, I’ve never done a demo in my life.
Certain things are easier for some people and certain things are harder. At the time it felt like a natural thing because I had so much energy. I don’t know how old you are but you have a lot more energy in your 30s than you do in your 50s, that’s for sure.
RD: I’m 32 and I already feel like I had more energy in my 20s.
AA: I actually had more energy in my 30s than I did in my 20s, I was a late bloomer. My kids are too, we’re just late bloomers. During my 30s things just kind of came together for me physically and financially. Not relationship-wise, I was kind of an idiot and it took me until my 40s with that unfortunately.
RD: How do you feel about the internet’s effect on music through streaming, downloading and the endless ways a person can access it?
AA: I think the access is a great thing but what I don’t like about the music streaming services is that they don’t pay artists. They pay a fraction of a penny per stream, it’s ridiculous. The last record we put out in 2015, Black Is The New Black, streamed 2.5 million copies in its first week and I only made $650. That’s f***in’ ridiculous, it’s about making a living and music streaming has changed the whole thing with how musicians make money now.
The only way to make money and make a living is to tour, sell merchandise and stuff like that. Bands that never wanted to do that have to do it now or they’re leaving money on the table. The people who really care about your music are willing to wait in line, buy a ticket and a t-shirt if it’s reasonable. Apparently Justin Bieber had a VIP that had a few hundred girls in a room and he came out to wave at them from behind a velvet rope. Then he’d go away and these girls would take a photo of a cutout of him (laughs), I swear to God. That whole thing cost these girls $3,000 each, are you kidding me?
RD: That’s crazy.
AA: For a couple hundred bucks you can meet a band, they’ll sing a song for you, talk to you for 15 minutes, sign whatever you want and take a photo. People feel like they’re not getting ripped off and because of the music streaming and the internet it becomes a normal part of pretty much every band’s existence. If it’s not then they’re throwing money away and they’re not taking care of their fans, which are the people who basically pay your living.
RD: You’re involved in a lot of political activism, especially when it comes to drug awareness policies and supporting families of the military. Do you have anything currently going on in that part of your life that people can check out?
AA: I actually put out a solo record last year called “Sun Songs” and there are some political songs on there. There’s also some personal songs, every record I’ve done has some autobiographical stuff and there are songs where I’m just writing a story from the first person. There’s a song on the new record called “White People Scare Me,” people who know me and know my music know my politics.