Everclear frontman Art Alexakis opens up to Substream about his new album, his politics, and his love of Bob Seger.
Art Alexakis is an enigma. For the better part of three decades now, Alexakis has written and recorded music that blurs fact and fiction. His songwriting and storytelling are unmatched in the rock world, and that has captivated audiences around the world. But for everything you think you know about him or the stories he’s telling, there is always more to be understood.
“I try to write very honestly and say what I need to say, but there are always secondary and third meanings to everything that you can take in another way. I feel that is the craft of a songwriter, and I think a lot of times, I don’t get credit for that because people see the simple story.”
Sun Songs is Alexakis’ first solo record. The album finds the Everclear frontman exploring sonic territories he’s previously shied away from with stories that once again blur reality. He’s lived everything he sings about, or he’s singing about a life he could have lived, and it is often impossible to tell the two apart. Such talent is a credit to Alexakis’ commitment to his craft, and it allows him to be more vulnerable than the average songwriter.
Ahead of Sun Songs release, Alexakis spoke with Substream contributor James Shotwell about the making of his debut solo album.
SUBSTREAM: I want to ask you about some songs on the record [that are not the single], starting with “Orange.” It’s a fun song, and it’s very narrative-driven. Can you tell me a little bit about the creation of that song?
Art: It’s not autobiographical in any way, shape, or form other than the fact I grew up on the West Side of LA and lived in Orange County for a while. At the time, Ronald Reagan was big [this was in the 80s]. I saw X in Irvine, and I made out with a girl there. My friend also hooked up with a girl.
I made up a narrative inspired by those things that I experienced, but it’s also a political poke in the eye because Orange County is blue [Democrats] now. There is more blue than red, more Democrats than Republicans, for the first time in eighty years. It’s a poke in the eye at the end with “orange is turning blue, orange is turning blue.”
For me, it’s a ton of fun. I get to fuck around and tell a story about some doofus and his wife leaving him. The culture down there is tattoos and punk rock. There are a lot of white people who dress like Chicanos. That’s the culture I grew up in. Sometimes it feels like home to me, but other times it seems very alien.
Also, I just love the word and the color orange. It works on different levels for me, and that’s fun.
SUBSTREAM: There is a saying about how nothing rhymes with orange, so I think a lot of songwriters avoid that word.
Art: Oh yea! I have heard about that before, but it wasn’t on my mind when writing that song. I don’t use the word in a rhyming way.
SUBSTREAM: There is a part of me that thinks the song will feel familiar to fans because it brings to mind an era of Everclear that was rooted in personal stories. This is like another chapter from that era in your life, even if it is a made-up story.
Art: Well, there are a lot of made-up stories on Sparkle And Fade as well. I’ve had people argue with me about that, telling me there is no way I made it up. Like, man, Virginia is not even my Mom’s name. I made the story up. But I don’t get upset at that — I laugh.
SUBSTREAM: Another song that seems to tie into the political themes of the record is obviously, “White People Scare Me.” I feel like it’s almost begging people to mention it when writing about the album.
Art: It’s kind of a gimme, right? The first time I saw the Dead Milkmen’s albums, I realized they had the best titles. “Left-Wing Pigeons”? I had to hear what that was about.
It’s funny, I’m sitting in a car with a guy I’ve been working with for nineteen or twenty years, and we’ve always said that forever. We’re white guys who grew up in black neighborhoods, and nothing scares me more than white people. White people are horrifying. We’ve said that for years. Everything bad, think about it, is all white people.
It’s kind of funny, but in the song, I even say it’s a joke that isn’t funny anymore. With the rise of Trump and all his minions, all the nastiness that has come out over the last few years…It’s not funny anymore. It’s not a joke or a rib poker. Fucking white people are scary, man.
SUBSTREAM: It reminded me of Bowie’s “I’m Afraid Of Americans,” in that you’re saying something people have felt and not been able to express themselves.
Art: It’s not just Americans, but I am talking about American culture because that is what I know. But look at what is going on in part of Europe and Russia [as well]. It’s just…It’s scary, man. People are frightening.
SUBSTREAM: My partner doesn’t read or watch the news anymore. They rely on me. They ask me to summarize the most important stories for them.
Art: I do the same thing with my wife! Last night, we were watching the debates, and when we went to bed, we agreed to not discuss [the debates] until the next day. It was just too depressing, honestly.
SUBSTREAM: That makes sense to me. It’s the kind of thing you know we need to be watching, but it can feel like such a bummer.
Art: It was. I was really disappointed with Castro. I thought he went for a cheap shot, and…I had to stop giving him money. I have been giving three or four of the candidates money to see which one I was going to like. My favorite so far is Elizabeth Warren. She didn’t disappear last night, but she didn’t do anything to make waves. I’m not sure she can go the distance, but I love where she’s going.
The only one I think can go the distance right now is Biden. I thought he was better [during the debate], but fizzled out. You can’t blame him, though, since it was three hours long. That is a long time to be on your feet, and I couldn’t do that. Ten people is also stupid. They should do two nights of five people.
SUBSTREAM: The big problem seems to be those ten people on stage. It’s too many. It’s like going to a local show with seven bands on the bill. They need to focus their efforts because you’re spreading people too thin.
Art: Absolutely. People think, “you can put 80-minutes of music on a CD,” and I [don’t understand doing that]. The best albums in the world are under forty-minutes. The best albums that anyone grew up with were between thirty-five and forty minutes…When it’s over, hopefully, you want to listen to it again. That’s the whole thing. Even with songs, when it’s over, you want people to want to hear it again. I think people have lost track of that, and they’re trying to make up for better with more, which has never worked for me.
SUBSTREAM: I obsess over the business end of music over the longterm rather than short. Having covered several legacy acts this year, from Bob Seger to Kiss, there are songs in those catalogs that sound as good today as they did four decades ago. When I hear new music today, I think no one is going to care about [the songs being released] in five years.
Art: Five years? Try six months.
SUBSTREAM: You’re right.
Art: You mentioned Bob Seger. This last year was my Bob Seger year. I went back and bought all his records on iTunes. That album, Beautiful Loser, which has shit production, has some great songs. Just watching the evolution of his career…just great fucking songs. He had vision and flavor. No one has flavor anymore. No one has their own thing anymore. They all sound like the next guy or the girl who was big a few months ago. I don’t even listen anymore.
Even my kids have started to get away from it. My daughter’s favorite band right now is Rage Against The Machine. It’s really cool, and I feel like we’re building a better person. My wife and I are definitely influencing her, which is what parents do, but hopefully, we’re raising her right to recognize [that kind of] talent on her own.
SUBSTREAM: We should plug the album once more before we’re done. Sun Songs arrives on October 10, and then you’re touring a bit this Fall.
Art: Yes! We have some additional dates rolling out for November, December, and then a few in January as well. After that, I will be back in Everclear full time.