Friday, January 22, 2010

Art Alexakis: An Exclusive Interview with There Stands the Glass

At the risk of tarnishing his formidable street cred, I'll divulge that Art Alexakis was utterly charming when I interviewed him last week. In addition to his uncommon graciousness, Alexakis spoke with a candor rare in rock stars.

It's tempting to wax nostalgic while considering Alexakis' band Everclear- I still get chills when I hear 1995's "Heroin Girl"- but it's unwise to think that Alexakis' best days are behind him. He's an indefatigable survivor.

Everclear's In a Different Light Tour brings the band to Kansas City's Midland Theater on January 26.

There Stands the Glass: You're 47. How do you continue to stay musically inspired?

Art Alexakis: I don't like a lot of the contemporary rock bands right now. I don't really like what they're doing. I don't find it very exciting. It's kind a retread of stuff that's already been there. It makes me work harder to find something within me that feels new and exciting and still feels honest to what I'm about.

Good things can inspire you and bad things can inspire you.

I remember seeing Cheap Trick opening up for Kansas who I wasn't a fan of. I was set on fire. It was 1976-77. I went home and stole my friend's copy of In Color. I go, "Is this your cassette?" And he goes, "Yeah." I go, "OK, thanks." He goes, "Give it back!" I said, "I'll give it back in a couple weeks." I don't think I ever gave it back.

You can go see a horrible band, or who you think is a horrible band, and it can inspire you too. I'm better than that. That sucks. And people are buying that? People are into that? I hate that. It inspires me even more into doing what I do. I think that's a personality thing.

TSTG: I'm encouraged by older artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young who remain artistically challenging. Do you have any such role models?

AA: Neil Young still pushes the envelope. On the flip (of the) coin, you've got Billy Joel and Elton John going out and doing their hits. I'm not deriding that. I'm going to go see that. I love Elton John and I like some Billy Joel and I'm excited to see the show.

But it's a different universe than what the Neil Youngs and the Bob Dylans are doing. I can almost guarantee you that Elton John and Billy Joel probably have more friends that Neil Young and Bob Dylan. The people pushing the envelope are not the nicest people in the world to hang out with. They're just not. You don't get it all in life. You can try, but you don't get it all.

When I'm in that studio mode I'm not a pleasant person to be around. I know it. I work really hard not to be a total asshole.

I specifically like to be away from my family so that I don't come home still thinking, "I've almost got that bass sound of that one part in that one song..." I'm tuned into the minutiae and my wife wants me to change a diaper? Who does she think she is!

I get like that.

It's better if I'm kept in a little cage of a hotel room somewhere and placated with sugar, because that's my drug of choice these days. Give me a couple of Hersey bars with almonds and let me watch a little pay-per-view and I'm fine.

TSTG: What makes for a good song?

AA: Emotion, articulation and drama are all really important to me. You have to tell a story that resonates with people. And you got to tell it with a melody that hooks them. It's not rocket science. It either resonates or it doesn't. Take all the technology and all the crap away and it's about what connects with people. No one's been able to put their finger on it. Some people are better than others, I would say luckier.

My A&R guy back in '94 convinced me to put an extra chorus on "Santa Monica". That's been the basis of this whole career ever since.

Was he right? I guess so. Would it have worked without it? Who knows? We'll never know. Do I care? No! Did it make the song any worse? If anything, it went a little bit longer than I thought it needed to. When I produced it I just made it more exciting. I threw some stuff on top and had the drummer open up the cymbal a little bit more. I just took it up more so it wasn't boring to me.

It was an old-school pop-rock formula but it worked.

TSTG: What can long-time fans expect at an Everclear concert in 2010?

AA: I don't jump as high as I used to. I still jump around. I'm still putting every ounce of my energy into it. I can still hit all the notes. I still play with passion.

My band is better than ever. We're still hungry. When we walk on stage we're ready to explode.

I believe in rock'n'roll. I love the power of rock'n'roll. I don't know if it's going to be around when I'm a grandfather. But man, I still feel it.

(Here's excellent fan footage from a January 20 show.)

TSTG: Have you stayed in touch any members of Frogpond? (Alexakis produced Count To Ten, the Kansas City band's 1996 debut album.)

AA: We had a falling out after the first record.

The first record was mainly just to get to the second record. I told them I would do the first record if they committed to doing the second record because I liked the new songs. But the label wanted to put something out. So I took them into the studio before they were really ready and we got that album out of them. I thought it sounded pretty good for as much work as we put into it.

Then they wanted to work with other people. When people get a little taste of success and the record labels start pumping them full of hot air it becomes kind of a thing...

Wow, man, I haven't heard that name in years!

(Note: My questions were edited for brevity.)

2 Dope Boyz offer a new Mac Lethal track. So angry...

Kansas City Click: Ces Cru top Friday's bill at the Riot Room. It'll look and sound a lot like this.

Mark O'Connor's band pays tribute to Django Reinhardt Saturday at the Folly Theater.

D.R.I. wreak havoc Sunday at The Record Bar.

Michael Pagan performs Monday at Jardine's.

Advance tickets to Everclear's concert Tuesday at the Midland Theater are only $9.33. See you there.

(Image of Alexakis by jahat.)

1 comment:

brucedene said...

On a completely unrelated note, perhaps you'll enjoy this: