Better human beings
Now a father, Everclear frontman sings new songs reflecting childhood
Aboard his tour bus in the early morning hours, Art Alexakis, the founding member and lead vocalist/guitarist for the ’90s alternative rock band Everclear, lies in his bunk answering questions from journalists across the country while waiting for the night’s upcoming performance in Fort Wayne, Ind.
As a singer-songwriter of hits like “Father of Mine” and “I Will Buy You a New Life” from the album So Much For the Afterglow, Alexakis has had a long career of chart-toppers backed by major labels like Capitol Records.
Everclear is currently on its annual Summerland Tour, a traveling festival that revives the sounds of rock ’n’ roll during a decade when music from bands like Sugar Ray, the Gin Blossoms and Eve 6 ruled the radio waves and topped the charts. Now in its sixth season, Everclear makes a stop in Sacramento with supporting acts Marcy Playground, known for their ’97 earworm “Sex and Candy,” and Local H with its popular song “Bound for the Floor” that will guide ’90s kids into the wistful memories of their youth.
Yet, for Alexakis, being on tour with old friends and playing the hits for fans of the genre isn’t so much a time warp, it’s just three bands performing music without tracks or computers; a rare commodity these days, he says.
“When you look at the crowd, there’s a large part of nostalgia there, but also there’s a lot of young people that are coming to the shows,” Alexakis says. “I’d say about 25 percent of our crowds are millennials and they’re just excited about rock ’n’ roll, about great songs. We’re live without a net. And that’s what the ’90s were about: guitar songs on the radio again. Really good songs and very diverse compared to the way radio sounds now.”
Everclear’s latest album, 2015’s Black is the New Black, is a heavier and much different approach to the band’s pop-driven blend of folk-style storytelling marked by distorted guitars and Alexakis’ conversational vocal-style. Instead, songs like “You” explore one of the darkest moments of his youth—the time when he was raped by a group of boys that lived in the same housing projects as him when he was only 8 years old.
“I never told my mom because my mom was a hillbilly from North Carolina and my brother was in and out of juvenile hall. My brother and my mother would’ve killed those kids,” Alexakis says. “It’s a song about me dealing with it and I’d never written about it or really talked about it before, except in therapy. It’s an intense song, man. It really is, but it was really cathartic to write that song.”
The lyrics are a gut-punch that knock the wind straight out of the listener. It’s an ominous glimpse inside the pain he’s been carrying with him since the incident occurred all those years ago. For Alexakis, the process behind songwriting is liberating. But he wouldn’t necessarily say music is a form of therapy, at least for him. He writes popular songs on issues that are universal, like in the song “Father of Mine,” where he candidly shares the memories he had when his father left his family. Alexakis was around 10 years old, and the music and lyrics evoke the emptiness he felt.
“I don’t know if that actually helps me because I’m playing it every night. ’Father of Mine’ was very difficult to perform early on, but when it became a hit song I had to play it. It was the No. 1 song on the record,” Alexakis says.
A father of two daughters, Alexakis participated in the documentary The Other F Word, a day-in-the-life of punk rock dads like Lars Frederiksen (Rancid), Fat Mike (NOFX), Flea (Fear, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and more. The doc showed Alexakis driving his family around, holding one of his young daughters and speaking honestly about what it means for him to be a dad compared to his experience with his own absentee father.
“I love just being a part of their lives and seeing them growing up and changing. I love that—and at the same time—I hate it because it’s finite and that’s going to end,” Alexakis says.
When it comes to advice for parents with children of their own, his words are simple: Be there.
“Be present. Be conscious. Even when you physically can’t be there, be there. I know that sounds trite, just be engaged. Give a damn,” Alexakis says. “Look at some of the dads that don’t give a damn and the moms that don’t give a damn. A lot of it’s generational. Hopefully we’re making better human beings that are going to make a better world. We’re giving them less damage than our parents gave us and I think that’s the way it needs to be.”