Everclear today: Dave French, Art Alexakis, and Freddy Herrera.Photo by Paul Brown/Courtesy of Big Eyes Media
He's most associated with cities on the far west coast like Portland, L.A., and "Santa Monica." But if Art Alexakis says from the stage that “It’s great to be back in Houston,” he wants you to know it’s not just rote stage banter; he means it.
Beginning in the spring of 1979 and for a couple of years, the singer/guitarist of Everclear lived with his father and a post-divorce second family in Alief, and attended Alief Hastings High School before moving to Katy.
“I did a lot of damage in the suburbs as a 17-year-old!” he laughs. “But we used to go to Montrose because that’s where all the punk rock bands were at. And Fitzgerald’s and all those clubs that aren’t even there anymore. I loved living there. It was just exploding with people and culture."
Alexakis is talking the day before the kickoff of the Summerland 2021 package tour that will find Everclear sharing the stage with other ‘90s-based rock and alt-rock acts Living Colour, Hoobastank, and Wheatus. It stops at Houston’s Arena Theatre on July 8. The band already has about a dozen gigs under their belt since this spring.
“We’re ready to rock, dude!” he says. “That 15 months I was home, it was great to spend so much time with my family and my daughter. But it was hard on kids who are supposed to be enjoying middle school having to do it at home. A lot of kids suffered anxiety and depression. It’s just wonderful to see things opening up.”
As if to pile on, Alexakis also caught COVID this past January, putting him in the hospital for a week and a half and bed for two months.
“It physically kicked my ass. I’m still building back from muscle atrophy,” he says. Fans also know that he was diagnosed multiple sclerosis a few years ago, but he’s pragmatic about it. “COVID and MS had a battle. And I was the battleground! But I’m feeling better all the time.”
Alexakis co-created the Summerland tour years ago, naming it after what he says in the liner notes for the band compilation Ten Years Gone is “Hands down…my favorite Everclear song of all time.” Its message of just grabbing a lover and taking off for parts unknown (including the mythical place of the title) and leaving all the crap behind certainly has an appealing message.
“I don’t remember that I said that exactly, but it’s one of my favorite songs, along with ‘Learning to Smile.'” He offers today. “People just love it so much. And it wasn't even a single. We’re playing it every night on tour.”
As for the tour’s other acts, Alexakis is a big fan of one in particular. “I’ve been a huge, huge…did I say huge Living Colour fan ever since the start?” he says. He was living in San Francisco when their [debut record] Vivid came out, and a “pretentious musician friend” bought the cassette for $6 at Tower Records, played in in the car, and immediately expressed his disdain.
Alexakis couldn’t believe it, and offered him $4, then $5 to buy it on the spot, which he did. “He said that it ‘Didn't sound like cool music.’ I could give a fuck about that! It became my new favorite tape,” he recalls. “That guy did the same thing with the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa. So, I think I win.”
Alexakis formed Everclear in 1992, with an original lineup that also included Craig Montoya (bass) and Scott Cuthbert (drums). Two years later, with Greg Eklund replacing Cuthbert, Everclear released major label debut Sparkle and Fade to great success, following it up with 1997’s even more successful So Much for the Afterglow.
Many of Alexakis’ emotionally raw songs were based on his hardscrabble life growing up, which involved poverty (“I Will Buy You a New Life”), parental discord (“Wonderful”), romantic discord ("Santa Monica," “Everything to Everyone”), family death (“Fire Maple Song,” “When It All Goes Wrong Again”), paternal abandonment (“Father of Mine”), and a drug addiction/lifestyle that almost killed him in the late ‘80s with a cocaine overdose (“Heroin Girl” “Amphetamine”).
Other songs looked back with a mix of nostalgia and regret (“A.M. Radio,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Summerland”). And there was humor with “Volvo Driving Soccer Mom” in which Alexakis wonders what happens when porn stars age out of the business.
The next effort, two volumes of Songs from an American Movie, were more ambitious, and the classic lineup stayed together until 2004. Alexakis has continued to record and tour with other members, and the current lineup includes Dave French (guitar), Freddy Herrera (bass), and touring drummer Brian Nolan. In 2019, Alexakis released his first solo record, Sun Songs.
The Summerland tour, of course, is built around fun ‘90s nostalgia, but Alexakis takes it seriously. In fact, it’s in all of the band’s contracts that they will not only play their radio hits, but they will also be in full and in their familiar style. He’s unapologetic about that requirement.
“They’re the songs that made people like you. I don’t want to work with people that don’t want to play their hits. I always thought that was pretentious and selfish and just doesn’t make sense to me,” he says. “Our hit songs are my best friends! They made my life so incredibly great. What I’ve done with that hasn’t always been great…divorce, divorce and divorce. But that’s on me, not the songs!”
Because of the raw emotion and intensity of many of Everclear’s songs, Alexakis has had thousands of fans come up to him—often shaking and with tears in their eyes—telling him what the music means to them. It’s something he says he never gets tired of.
“Most of the time, people are showing emotions, and my music is connecting with them and being of service to them. I get it every day. It may have helped them in their sobriety or their relationships,” he says.
But things can get a little weird as well. Like the time in New Zealand where a man came up and said he’d like to introduce Alexakis to “the author of his songs.” Confusion ensued.
“He points to this woman in a black velvet dress who looked like she had done a lot of acid and stepped out of a Fleetwood Mac song. And he said that she wrote all of Everclear’s songs. And also all of Nirvana’s!” Alexakis says. “So, I asked him to ask her where is Nehalem? [the title of a song off Sparkle and Fade]. “The guy said ‘Uh, on the other side of sunshine.’ And I said ‘It's a little town on the coast of Oregon. Now get the fuck out of here!’”
Finally, Alexakis is nothing of not a student of his rock and roll history. When I mention that I just randomly read in the book They Just Seem a Little Weird that Alexakis attended a KISS show at California’s Magic Mountain amusement part for their cinematic, uh, achievement KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park, he gets excited.
“Wow, I’m reading the same book right now! I was really surprised to see myself in there, I don’t remember giving that interview!” he laughs. And there’s a story to tell.
At the time, Alexakis was 16 and in and out of juvenile hall, so his mother made him attend a private Christian school – making him use his own money willed to him by his deceased brother. He was at a McDonald’s getting something to eat before taking the bus home, when a thirtysomething white guy in a tie approached and asked, “Do you like KISS?”
At first, Alexakis thought the guy was hitting on him. But when he was told about the movie filming and that the tickets were free, Alexakis took them.
“Dude, me and my best friend—he was 17—he took his mom’s car without permission and we drove all the way there. We went on the rides, and I think we took a couple of hits of acid and saw KISS right there in the parking lot in front of the Colossus roller coaster!” he laughs. Then adds that it wasn’t exactly like seeing a regular concert since there was a lot of starting and stopping for filming. And excitable front man Paul Stanley turned the stage schtick on and off like a faucet.
“I was going, these guys are so full of shit, but I love this band!” Alexakis says. “One of my friends says they’re the ‘best worst band in the world.’ They’re not great musicians and their songs kind of suck. But they’re KISS, and that’s kind of awesome!”
The Summerland 2021 Tour featuring Everclear, Living Colour, Hoobastank, and Wheatus is at 8 pm on Thursday, July 8, at the Arena Theatre, 7326 SW Freeway. Call 713-772-5900 or visit ArenaTheatre.net $39-$89.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.