Art Alexakis, the frontman of the hit rock band Everclear, often heard the story repeated to him. His family reminded Alexakis of when he was just 18 months old and was in the front seat of his parents’ car as they drove down the Pacific Coast Highway. The song, “Wipe Out,” came in, lush with the big opening drumbeat. This was before car seats and seat belts, around 1963 or 1964. And then Alexakis started going wild, moving and spinning in the front of the car, possessed by the track .
It was so overwhelming that his dad cut the song because he was having trouble driving with his son moving so much up there. But Alexakis started screaming, wanting to turn it on again. So his dad stopped the car, put it back on the radio, and when it ended, Alexakis fell into his mom’s lap as his dad finally got back on the freeway. In other words, Alexakis has always had a relationship with music. So today, celebrating his band’s origins and debut album, world of noisereleased some thirty years ago, with a new tour this summer comes into its own.
“I fell in love with music and rock and roll,” Alexakis says simply.
He also remembers another occasion early on. He was about three years old at the time. He remembers his parents putting him to bed one evening around 8 p.m. on a Sunday. His parents lit The Ed Sullivan Show and watch him “with their cool haircuts” while drinking martinis. But that night, Alexakis snuck out of his room to see what was on TV. He remembers seeing a rock band and the music freaked him out again. He ran to the TV and just started dancing.
“My parents were laughing,” he says. “But I knew straight away, as my mother took me to bed, that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to do this. And that never really changed.
As he got older, Alexakis fell in love with 1970s AM radio and what could be done with a three-minute song. Listening to music provided some of the happiest times of her young life. But his life would also experience many hardships and trials. For example, Alexakis’ 21-year-old brother would later die of a drug overdose when he was just 12 years old. Alexakis’ brother had a nylon-string Spanish guitar which Alexakis later inherited “because nobody else wanted it”. At the time, his family lived in a housing estate. They were poor. But the nearby recreation center offered guitar lessons.
“Friends at school would complain about the piano lessons,” says the future leader. “I was like, ‘Let me go.’ I was just trying to get involved in the music.
Luckily for him, his mother bought him eight guitar lessons, at $5 each. It was around 1976, he says. With that, his mother said that if he could play a song for her by the time the first set of lessons was over, she would buy him an electric guitar. He agreed and she later bought him a $40 electric at a pawn shop and a “cheap” $20 amp to go with it. Alexakis began “ruining” his records by learning to play the instrument. Such a messed up vinyl was Led Zeppelin IIthat he would play, then move the needle and listen again, trying to figure out what Jimmy Page was doing.
“I am of a certain age,” says the musician, now 60 years old. “All the guys my age know what I’m talking about. Trying to learn it on the way back, like, ‘Oh, fuck.’ Taking the needle back and forth. Yeah, you totally screw up your records. It was worth it.”
Over time, life became more difficult for Alexakis. Today, he admits that he is both a drug addict and an alcoholic. He has been sober for almost 33 years (this June). But as a teenager, life was almost impossible. His father abandoned his family (as he sings in one of Everclear’s hit songs). He was beaten and raped when he was eight years old, he says. His brother died of this overdose.
“I remember tasting beer for the first time when I was, like, three years old,” he says. “It tasted like fucking candy. When I tasted tequila when I was six, it tasted like candy. It was burning but I liked the burn. The buzz made me feel normal. It was the only time I felt normal in my life.
He started drinking and smoking marijuana when he was eight years old. He started selling drugs at age 12. He took acid and speed at 13 or 14, he said. He himself almost died of an overdose in 1984 when he was only 22 years old. After that, he quit hard drugs but continued to drink. But he also started writing his own songs. He had already played in bands, but that’s when writing took hold. He had always loved songs and songwriters. Now he was trying for his. He wrote autobiographical songs, songs that took chunks of his life, and songs that were entirely fictional.
“As I got clean and sober,” he says, “my sobriety was a big part of my life. I would write about it.
Everclear’s story begins, in a way, in San Francisco. Alexakis lived there, playing music. He had also launched his own small label. Everclear hadn’t started yet, but the seeds were planted. He toured a lot and one place he stopped was Portland, Oregon. There he met a girl who worked in a record store. They had a long distance thing and she eventually moved to San Francisco. She later became pregnant and the two decided to move north from the Pacific Northwest to Portland.
“My next band was going to be my last band,” says Alexakis.
He named this next group Everclear (after a very strong grain alcohol). It was around 1991. His daughter was born in 1992 when Alexakis was 30 years old. Now, with a new baby, he needed to earn a living. But Everclear in its infancy was “a little lame,” he says today. The band struggled to get gigs. But eventually he had the opportunity to record. So he dropped off a dozen songs that he and the band had at the time for $400 in a basement studio on a little eight track and he listened to what they had.
“It’s different,” he says, “recorded music versus live music. I wanted to see if there was anything. And it did.
Alexakis sent the newly recorded LP to the folks at SXSW. They came back to him quickly and offered him a showcase. Then, as the band drove from Oregon to Texas, they sent more albums and press information. Soon many newspapers and media were writing about the young Everclear. Soon the group grew bigger and bigger. He kept spinning. Eventually they signed with Capitol Records in June 1994. He was a new dad and if Everclear hadn’t worked out he quit to move to Los Angeles and work somewhere else in the music business, possibly as a songwriter for other bands. Now, however, his dream had come true.
“Every song we had [I put on World of Noise],” he says. “I put them in order and it sounded like a record.”
The title of the album came about, in part, because of Alexakis’ amp, which was so old at the time that it ignited blue flames when the tubes got too hot. The amp would squeal and howl. This led to the expression, world of noise. Since then, Everclear has released 11 studio albums, four of which have gone Gold or Platinum. They have sold six million records and racked up 12 top 40 hits. It’s been quite a journey since its beginnings 30 years ago. And the recent anniversary prompted Alexakis to go back and listen to those originals. world of noise recordings. He remains “tremendously proud” of them.
“In real time [back then]he says, “I kind of put on blinders. That was 1992-93 and I’ve only been sober for three or four years. I had learned to compartmentalize and really put on blinders. As all of this was happening, as my career unfolded and the successes kept coming, I didn’t give myself the chance to really enjoy it.
Instead, Alexakis kept his eyes on what was to come. He even told his young daughter at the time not to use the term “rock star”. He didn’t want to think about the present. Everything was then, then, then. Today, however, after all that success, Alexakis has a new perspective. He’s not as angry or anxious as he was then. He just turned 60 in April. He was also recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a condition for which in many ways he says he is grateful today for the spiritual strength and perspective it gives him. These days he trains a lot, eats well. He’s ready for a long tour to celebrate World of Noise. Yet he endures pain and balance issues. He goes to physical therapy. He swims several times a week and goes hiking with his wife.
“I fucking hate hiking,” he laughs. “But I love my wife.”
He’s come a long way from the housing projects and bullying he endured as a skinny kid growing up without his dad. He even recently went back to school to get a degree in psychology. He embraces what awaits him while appreciating what he has done and where he is. It goes well even with the specter of impending MS. And he owes a lot of that to his deep desire and appreciation for music, which he’s had ever since “Wipe Out” hit his family’s car stereo.
“I think music is the closest thing to magic we have in this world,” says Alexakis. “That kind of energy and power is the best drug I’ve ever had in my life and I’ve had them all.”
Photo by Ashley Osborn / Press here