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On the Road to Summerland

Everclear's guitarist/vocalist, Art Alexakis, talks with us before Summerland hits Harrah's Resort SoCal



    It seems like Everclear has always been a fixture in my life. Sure, I've listened to their albums and heard the hits like "Santa Monica" and "Father of Mine" on rock radio -- but throughout my formative years, I grasped and held on to the band's music the way a child would a beloved, frayed-around-the-edges teddy bear.

    The band (who bring their Summerland Tour with Soul Asylum, Spacehog and Eve 6 through Harrah's Resort SoCal July 19) have always penned brutally honest, hard rock anthems about rough relationships and broken homes. Before I had hit my teen years, I'd already moved around the country with my single mother -- often camping out in dark, damp trailer parks and taking over "new kid" labels in various schools for a couple weeks at a time until we ended up moving again just to repeat the cycle all over.
    No matter the constant new faces, the bullying, the uncertain homes, food and future -- I always had Everclear, my headphones and my Sony DiscMan. Their 1995 album, "Sparkle and Fade," was my religion. I literally wore out the first copy I had on CD (on CD!). By the time 1997's "So Much For the Afterglow" record had come out, I had finally established roots -- I had lived in one place for more than a year; I had made friends; kids weren't throwing basketballs at my head as I walked by the courts at lunch; things seemed like they were on the up and up. And even though my life wasn't in tatters, the band's music still resonated all the same.
    Everclear guitarist/vocalist and primary songwriter, Art Alexakis, has always had a way with words even though he's been singing about challenging subject matter since the '80s.
    "'Father of Mine' was a super heavy song. I argued against it actually," he recounts. "I just thought it was too intense for a single. I thought it would either fail miserably or connect in a big way." Alexakis lost his argument but won the gamble, as millions of people who ever dealt with an absent parent, or a struggle at home, felt an inherent bond with the massive hit.
    Even though it was sometimes difficult for me to articulate myself clearly due to incapacitating fanboy-dom, I was lucky enough to speak with Alexakis before their show -- and asked him all the questions I had wondered about while wearing out my "Sparkle and Fade" CD.
    Everclear's Art AlexakisDustin Lothspeich: I'm a huge fan. You must get that a lot but it's very true for me. I hope that's not off-putting to start an interview that way [laughs].
    Art Alexakis: Well, first off, thank you so much. That really means a lot to me. It makes me feel kind of embarrassed -- I'm not a gusher [laughs] -- but I truly appreciate hearing that my music has connected with other people. I mean, I believe all art is a selfish thing. You express what you're feeling or thinking but then hope, at the end of it all, you connect with other people.
    DL: Do you get that a lot?
    AA: Yea, but it depends on the age group. I do get that a lot for "Sparkle and Fade,"  "So Much For the Afterglow," and "Songs From an American Movie." I think I hit my mark and connected to people a lot stronger than I thought I would. I feel really blessed.
    DL: Well, you write hard rock songs but some of them also have a very poppy feel. Do you think that works against you in today's rock scene?
    AA: My music has been a perfect blend of everything I love. Punk, rock, pop (I'm talking the Beatles) - I think popular music is really interesting stuff but it just doesn't latch on and have any hold that you can connect to. When it comes to me, for lasting impact, I like harder rock & roll. I like it with some melody. I think all the guys and gals in the '90s, we all grew up in the '70s with Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Cheap Trick, Kiss, Journey and all that stuff -- heavy rock with a melodic edge. Then we took it through R.E.M., the Replacements, Husker Du, the Pixies, Jane's Addiction -- it set up the '90s alternative thing. It ran the gamut.
    DL: So, not really a fan of today's pop music?
    AA: Sometimes it's just frosting, no cake -- pure frosting. I get it, pure sugar tastes great, but the first six times you hear it, you're good.
    DL: Do you think your new work is on par with stuff on "Sparkle and Fade"?
    AA: Well, we just finished a new record and it's honestly heavier than ["Sparkle and Fade"] -- big guitars, dark lyrics and it's very contemporized, production-wise, with the drums and vocal sounds. But it's an old school Everclear album. It's just more grown up. I'd like to think I'm a lot more grown up. I'm older for what that's worth [laughs].  If you think you're reinventing the wheel, you're lying to yourself. It's rock & roll -- every note has been played a million times before. It's just how you put 'em together.
    DL: Do you ever feel any pressure to live up to prior success with your new material?
    AA: I feel pressure to live up to what I think is good. If I think it's good, it'll go on the record. It's how I've always felt. Do I feel like I have to live up to "Santa Monica"? To be honest, I feel like I've written much better songs than "Santa Monica" like "Jackie Robinson" from our last record -- that no one heard 'cause no one bought the record. Well, I guess 25,000 isn't "no one" but it'd be great to hear some new Everclear on the radio, and new Soul Asylum, Eve 6, Spacehog -- all the bands on Summerland -- we're still real bands. That's my criteria. I don't do "moth ball" bands. I don't want bands to come out of hibernation and wait for royalty checks. These bands are still doing what they love to do.
    DL: Was that the main idea behind putting Summerland together?
    AA: Well, yeah. There's a huge amount of people that wanna hear this music and these bands. It just makes sense. I try to give people value; I have kids, a family -- I understand value. We've got low ticket prices, and I kept them low on purpose. I want to provide for the bands and the people -- bands with a bunch of hits, still vibrant, still making music, they play short sets -- it's a three hour show with four bands and they have to play the hits. Most importantly though, they gotta sound like the hits. I want the people in the crowd to sing along. These are sing-alongs. We were in the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland -- that's the place in the movie, "Spinal Tap," where they're wandering around lost in the basement trying to get onstage --and it's a Tuesday night, during a thunderstorm, damn near sold out, and 1,600 people were singing along from first song to last song. That's a rock show.
    The 2014 Summerland Tour with Everclear, Soul Asylum, Eve 6 and Spacehog stops at Harrah's Resort SoCal Saturday, July 19. Tickets are available here.

    Dustin Lothspeich plays in Old Tiger, Chess Wars and Boy King. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.