“It was time to make a balls-out, unapologetic rock record” — Everclear’s Art Alexakis on their new album

photo: Paul Brown

Art Alexakis could easily spend this year concentrating on the past, as it marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Sparkle And Fade, the platinum-selling album that turned his band Everclear into rock stars. And he very well could lean on that milestone when the group heads out on their annual Summerland tour, a cross-country jaunt that this year will highlight fellow ’90s post-grunge acts like Toadies and Fuel.

But what Alexakis wants to firmly focus on in 2015 is the present, in the form of Black Is The New Black, Everclear’s ninth studio album. The record finds the frontman (who just turned 53 before Black‘s release) exposing some surprisingly sharp fangs and claws. On neck-snapping tracks like “This Is Your Death Song” and “Pretty Bomb,” his guitar and vocals feel coiled, tense and poised for attack.

Substream caught up with Alexakis as he relaxed in the front yard of his California home with a cigar to talk about the new record, the work of promoting Sparkle And Fade and what it’s like to expose your scars to fans night after night.

Black Is The New Black feels so much more aggressive than your last few albums. Was that your goal this time around?
ART ALEXAKIS: It was time to make a balls-out, unapologetic rock record. You listen to early Everclear stuff, it was pretty ferocious. I just keep coming back to my guitars. I can’t get them out of my blood. I have a really great guitarist in the band, but I wanted to rely on myself for this one, just like in the early days. I even played some of the leads on the record. Every record until Welcome To The Drama Club, I’m playing all the guitars. This is a return to that.

Like most of your work, a lot of the songs on this new one feel very personal.
Some are very personal. The song “You” is very personal. Two or three songs on the record are autobiographical. Some songs are from my life but I create characters for different events. They are definitely coming from things and feelings that I’ve experienced.

Since you’re singing these often intensely personal songs all the time, does it ease the pain that inspired you to write them in the first place?
It makes it worse. [Laughs.] I have to relive “Father Of Mine” every fucking night. They’re not songs that I can just phone in. I have to be invested to resonate and connect with people. That sounds like a pat answer, but it’s the truth. For people to feel that song, I have to feel it as well.

With people having so many distractions and other options for entertainment, how difficult is it to get people to pay attention to what you have to offer?
It’s so much harder. Who hasn’t gone to Starbucks and seen everyone on their phones reading or on Facebook or taking a picture of their latte? That said, I think the technology has made it more personified. You have to be connected. Instead of standing outside a club and handing out flyers like we used to do, now we’re going to people directly and trying to get them to take a look. It’s much easier for a band like Everclear with a name that they’re at least familiar with. You can make more money by selling less records but you have to work 10 times harder. I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram every day. It’s part of the deal. A lot of older people in bands seem to really hate that aspect of it. I don’t hate it. Is it what it is.

We’re closing in on the 20th anniversary of the release of your breakthrough album Sparkle And Fade. What do you remember about that time?
I was about to get married to my then-longtime girlfriend who was going to become my second wife. We already had a three-year-old daughter together. The record was about to come out and we were on our first bus tour opening up for Sponge. I had the blinders on, working so hard and touring so much. We sold 100,000 copies of it before “Santa Monica” actually hit. Selling that many records without a radio hit? That was hard. I’m surprised I still have a voice after that. So much screaming.

What do you think the 1995 you would think of the 2015 version?
He would wish he had more hair. [Laughs.] I think I’m probably in better physical shape than I was in my 30s. I think he would have looked at him and said, “Wow, you’re still doing it. Awesome!” I’m still making music, still playing. I still got the fire in my belly. I think he’d be cool with that.