For Art Alexakis, charismatic frontman and driving force behind the multi-platinum powerhouse Everclear, there’s truly no debate about evolution. If you’re not growing and changing and getting creative with your classic songs over time, he says, “then you’re not a band, you’ve become a jukebox!” And every so often, to remind yourself that making music is still the invigorating joy it’s always been, it’s a great idea to take a look back at your classic songs and look at them, as Alexakis does on Everclear’s 429 Records debut, In A Different Light.
Nearly fifteen years since his Portland, Oregon based unit captured the hearts of rock fans everywhere and hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart with “Santa Monica” from their Top 30 album Sparkle and Fade, the happily restless singer/songwriter gears up for Everclear’s next phase by taking a unique, organic look back at “Santa Monica” and a personal selection of eight more their biggest hits and fan favorites from throughout their career. “Learning How To Smile,” “I Will Buy You A New Life,” “Summerland,” “Everything To Everyone,” “Wonderful,” “Father Of Mine,” “Rock Star” and “The Maple Song” are all “revisited” on In A Different Light.
The dynamic new set also features two new Alexakis penned tunes, “Here Comes The Darkness” and the infectious first single “At The End Of The Day,” featuring backing vocals by performers in Portland’s underground funk gospel scene, including soul singer Liv Warfield. While Alexakis is hitting the road this fall starting October 5 in New York with a new lineup that will debut on Everclear’s highly anticipated next album--bassist Freddie Herrera, drummer Jordan Ploskey, keyboardist Sasha Smith and guitarist Johnny Hawthorn. He is joined on In A Different Light by the Everclear ensemble of 2003-2009 guitarist Davey French, keyboardist Josh Crawley, bassist Sam Hudson and drummer Tommy Stewart.
“It’s always been more exciting for me to play with different musicians who can challenge me, put their own stamp on my songs and make them even better than I could have conceived,” says Alexakis, who created the classic Everclear sound in the mid and late 90s with Craig Montoya (bass) and Greg Eklund (drums). “My philosophy has always been whatever makes the song work wins. It’s always exciting to bring in a fresh young group of players who can bring new blood to the songs I’ve played for years and inspire me creatively.”
Alexakis’ reasoning for embarking on In A Different Light was not only to bridge the gap between the previous Everclear lineup and the new one, but also because of that long-held belief that songs, like bands, evolve naturally over time. He wanted to chronicle the way he had been playing many of these classic tunes for years, with the help of the backing band that was instrumental in taking them to a whole new creative and musical place.
“There’s nothing more fun for me than exploring the possibilities of my songs when we play live,” he says, “and I always thought it would be cool to reproduce the way they’ve grown in a studio setting. I’ve played songs like ‘Santa Monica’ and ‘Father Of Mine’ what, thousands of times by now? Doing the same old thing doesn’t interest me, so performing them the way I did ten years ago would be ridiculous. But recreating them, as the album title goes, ‘In A Different Light’ is exciting. We’re showing how the arrangements for these songs have changed over the years. I know the word ‘organically’ is overused but that’s what the vibe and approach was. The basic songs are still there, the recipes are still intact, but I turned down the guitars, favored acoustic over the electric and added more keyboards.”
“As the sessions evolved,” Alexakis adds, “I wanted it to feel like a live, more acoustic, natural recording with an energy that’s different from the original versions, with less loops, less groove oriented. It makes sense because I recorded those 10-15 years ago and I’ve changed, this is a different band, and while they still sound like Everclear, the goal was to bring to the sessions the reality that my life is now and see how that would affect the songs.
“The challenge was to make things new while retaining the stuff that made the song cool and good in the first place. It was also interesting to put songs from different eras side by side and see how they could live together. Although I wrote ‘Fire Maple Song’ 16 years ago and the two new tracks much more recently, everything fit together very smoothly. I knew I would be fine when a few of the tracks leaked to hardcore Everclear fans online and the response was overwhelmingly that they dug it!”
The latest release in an extensive discography that began with World Of Noise (released independently in 1993 and re-issued by Capitol the following year), In A Different Light follows Everclear’s dynamic and eclectic 2008 covers album The Vegas Years that featured songs made popular by The Go-Go’s, Hall & Oates, Van Morrison, Tom Petty and others. The band’s last album of all original material was 2006’s Welcome To The Drama Club, a portrait of Everclear after Alexakis had parted way with his longtime bandmates, found new players, been through his third divorce and filed for bankruptcy. He found peace through writing music and the band then hit the road to emerge as a cohesive unit again.
Everclear’s canon of original material--seven studio albums of bracing songs with Alexakis’ unique, singular vision--is marked by multi-million sales, critical praise, a Grammy nomination (Best Rock Instrumental for “El Distorto de Melodica” from 1997’s So Much for The Afterglow) and various awards, including the 1998 Billboard “Modern Rock Artist of the Year” honor. They hit the Top 5 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart with “Santa Monica,” “Everything To Everyone,” “I Will Buy You A New Life,” “Father Of Mine” and “Wonderful.” Writing in the Los Angeles Times about So Much For The Afterglow--double platinum both the U.S. and Canada and platinum in New Zealand and Australia--Richard Cromelin noted that “...Alexakis makes it all vivid through accumulation of detail, and he spits it out with a Lennon-like candor and an unruly, unstoppable energy.”
Alexakis has built a solid career and devoted fan base on heartfelt songs culled from real-life experiences that he’s always been open about. His father abandoned the family when Alexakis was a child, leaving his mom to raise five kids in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood. His older brother died from an overdose, and the singer had his own early battles with drugs before cleaning up. He would later chronicle these experiences in his songs, including “Heroin Girl” on Sparkle & Fade (platinum in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia) and “Father of Mine” (about his absentee father) on So Much For The Afterglow.
Alexakis has directed some of the band’s classic videos, produced a short film of his own and has appeared in various movies, including, most recently “Rid Of Me,” whose young director, James Westby, had another one of his films, “The Auteur,” screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Everclear’s frontman has also been politically active, testifying before Congress in 2000 to speak on behalf of a “Deadbeat Dad” bill; and serving as a delegate from the city of Portland in his adopted home state of Oregon at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He also expressed his political views on his own “Blackjack Radio” show in Portland and via his many appearances on Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect.” Alexakis has a 16-year-old daughter, Annabella, and in 2007 celebrated the birth of a second daughter, Arizona Star, with his wife Vanessa.
“Besides my love for making music, one of the reasons I still keep Everclear out there and evolving is because our fans still want us to do this,” he says. “Many rock bands have the strange experience of watching the same fans come to their concerts over the years and age before their eyes, but I am proud to say that we’ve always attracted new young fans even as our most loyal ones have stuck with us from the beginning. One of the reasons I had fun making In A Different Light was because while my voice has aged and gotten lower since we started the band, I think it still sounds good but in a different way, and it was great to explore new possibilities. I’ve got some mileage on my voice as well as my life, but I’m still here, enjoying new ways to look at the great things we’ve done in the past and looking forward to Everclear’s next adventures.”