Courtesy of Big Picture Media
When he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2016, Everclear singer Art Alexakis had a rather unusual reaction to the news.
“I know this sounds weird but finding out that you have a debilitating disease for me was something that made me very grateful for what I have rather than for what I don’t have,” says Alexakis in a recent phone interview. As part of a tour in support of his first solo album, Sun Songs
, he performs at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Grog Shop
. Jason Kaminski opens the show. “It made me work harder to keep everything at normal. I have to work harder. I have physical therapy three times a week, and I have to work out with a trainer two times a week. I get deep-tissue massages. I’m vegan. I don’t wanna be vegan. I don’t wanna be plant-based. I want to eat steak and hamburgers, but I feel 150 percent better. I’m not eating sugar or extra salt or white bread. That will change in the next six months to the point that I can have a little bit of meat, but my plate will always be three-quarters plants.”
Coping with the diagnosis helped inspire the content of the songs on Sun Songs
. Their personal nature made Alexakis think it was time to release his first album apart from Everclear, the band he’s fronted for close to 30 years.
“Everclear has always been my thing,” he says. “It’s a one-guy band like Nine Inch Nails or Smashing Pumpkins. I never wanted to do a solo record with other guys. What would be the point? I love my guys, so why not use them? I figured if I ever did a solo record, I would do it by myself and play everything. I’m not a great musician, but I can make shit happen. I’ve been listening to a lot of records from the ’70s and early ’80s before production took over and got crazy. I love the sound of those singer-songwriter records that sounds like they just walked in and picked up a guitar and started playing. That’s what I wanted. I wanted to hear the extraneous sound, and I wanted it to sound live like you walked into someone’s living room, and they started playing for you.”
He recorded at his studio that he uses mostly for rehearsing and for storing his guitars. Making the space sound good wasn't challenging but recording without the accompaniment of other musicians was.
“The challenge was that I didn’t have guys to bounce stuff off,” Alexakis says. “I had one guy — my friend Stuart [Schenk] who engineered and co-produced. It was basically us in the studio. I had one of my crew guys come by to tune stuff if I using multiple guitars in one day. But there was no input there. That was a challenge. When you work with musicians who are better than you, they’re going to give you something better than what you envisioned. When it’s just me playing, it’s challenging. I played guitars and put the vocals down and if I felt like it needed more production, I would add a keyboard or a kick drum. I’m really happy with the way it came out.”
“The Hot Water Test,” a track that finds Alexakis singing in a particularly nasally drone over an acoustic guitar riff, recounts his reaction to being diagnosed with MS. Alexakis refers to the track as the “obvious song” that references his illness.
“There’s also a sense of gratitude and well-being on the record that I didn’t feel until I got diagnosed,” he says.
The lurching “Arizona Star,” a track that sounds like it could be a stripped-down Everclear song, serves as a tribute to his young daughter.
“I just love my kid,” says Alexakis. “She is so cool and so smart and so sweet. She’s so compassionate and so much better than my wife, who’s an angel. It’s like, ‘How the fuck did we get her?’ 'Sunshine Love Song' is a love song to my wife. 'California Blood' is like a love song about my life and the experience of being a West Coast kid. The whole album is about the West Coast. I always thought that if I wrote an album like Nebraska
, which is one my favorite albums, it wouldn’t sound like that because that’s not my experience.”
The music business has changed so much during the time that Alexakis has played music, it’s hard to imagine what keeps him motivated now that artists make so little money from selling albums. But Alexakis says he’s proud of the legacy that he’s left behind with Everclear, which formed back in 1991.
“It used to be that you toured to support the record,” he says. “Now, you put out a record to tour. It’s all about touring. I have to tour to support my family and the guys who work for me. I’m happy we all own houses and have a good life. We’re not getting rich, but we’re making a living from playing rock ’n’ roll, and we’re all in our fifties. That’s pretty good.”
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