At 50, Everclear's Art Alexakis has just about seen it all. The guy has beat a drug addiction, formed a band, and was even elected a delegate at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Oh, he's also toured Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. Maybe he really has seen it all. Speaking from a tour stop in New Jersey and in anticipation for tonight's show at Trees, Alexakis spoke candidly about his musical and political aspirations.
Many critics have called your new album, Invisible Stars, a return to form. Do you agree? In some ways yes and in some ways no. I knew the album was going to be a rocker. I felt like I had the fire back in my belly. The lyrics are from a whole new guy. I've been through a lot. There is more of a sense of humor on this album. I don't think it's darker because I still think there is light at the end of the tunnel. I've been on a roller coaster for a while now and that gives you a different perspective.
There have been several incarnations of Everclear. Have you ever thought of dropping the band name and going at it solo? Yes, I have. Originally, I was going to do that with this record, but it just came out like I wanted Everclear to sound. The guys [Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund] that everyone calls the original guys were not in the original band. They were in the third version. It started to feel not like Everclear and I was ready to go make a solo record. As a matter of fact, Songs from an American Movie, that was a solo record. That was a solo project where I recorded the whole record and then they heard it and wanted to be on it. I didn't want to do that, but I got pushed into doing it. I think it came out good, but I wanted to something more punky and poppy. Sometimes, I want to do punk and sometimes I want to do the acoustic thing. I grew up in a time when bands didn't play it safe and do the same things over and over and over.
Are you still on good terms with Craig and Greg? I saw them the other day. I chatted with Craig, but Greg wouldn't talk to me. But I don't think he talks to anybody. He is not a happy guy. No, I don't think we are on good terms. I walked away from that. It wasn't like they were founding members of the band. It was always my thing. They were just some guys I picked to play in my band, just like the guys now. But the guys now are better musicians and nicer guys. I think it's more of a band now than it ever was before. I know there are a lot of people who want the original band, but they should come out and give this one a chance. Nine of ten people have told me that it's better now than in 2000.
You grew up in L.A before moving to Portland and starting the band, but I know you spent some time in Houston. Actually, I grew up in Santa Monica and spent some time in San Francisco. I lived in Portland for 20 years. But when I was a kid, I lived with my dad in Houston. He still lives there. I was just talking to my bus driver, who is also from Houston. I lived all over Houston in '77 and '78 and part of '81. I have a strong connection with Texas.
When you decided to call the band Everclear, did you ever get contacted from the company that makes the alcohol? It's really funny. I got a call once from this man who said he worked for the corporation that made Everclear. He was from St. Louis and I could tell it was an older gentlemen. He asked me questions like, "Do you believe in God?" and "Is this a satanic rock band?" I told him, "No sir, this is just a rock band, just some white boys playing loud rock and roll." He told me that he didn't have a problem with it. I never heard from anyone else. I don't know if it was real or if someone was pulling my leg. But no one has ever challenged us over it at any time.
What was your role in the 2004 presidential election? I was a delegate from Oregon at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I was an elected delegate, not an appointed delegate. Some of those celebrity guys are appointed. I went out and got elected. I went house to house and to town halls. I got old people to vote for me. It was a great experience. I got to play a show at the convention and my daughter got to meet Obama. I just sent in my absentee vote today. I write a couple of political blogs. I can't wait to be in Dallas on Election Day. I can't believe I am going to be in a red state on Election Day.
Did you get some negative reactions to your song "Jesus Was a Democrat"? We didn't sell that song. We put it out free and it got about 180,000 downloads in 2008 before the election. There were different takes on it. Some people loved it and some people hated it. People asked me when I became so political and I told them that I have always been political. People weren't paying attention. When we played Iraq, I was told by commanders over there not to play "Jesus Was a Democrat." We played Guantanamo that summer and again, I was told specifically to not play that song as well.
Did you ever feel in danger while in Iraq? Not really. There were a few times when we were up in the Black Hawk helicopters, and it would feel scary. It was weird and bizarre, but I am glad we went. It was just seven days after the election. It was strange to be around the military. That is definitely a caste system. The lower ranks are filled with African Americans and Hispanics while the officer class is primarily white. They seemed pissed that their Commander-in-Chief was a black guy.
There are rumors that Hilary Clinton could run in 2016. We could see the first African-American and first female president back to back. I am 50 years old and I cannot believe that I got to see the first African-American president. But when I saw Obama speak at the convention in 2004, I knew that guy was going to be President some day. I just didn't know that it would be four years later. It could be Hilary next. I would like to see that. I think she is great. She is getting older. It would be awesome to see Bill Clinton as the first first man.
Do you think Obama will be re-elected? Yes, I do. I think he will win the Electoral College for sure. I think it's dicey on the popular vote. I think it would be great if he did it that way because those republicans would start squawking. I am not a fan of Romney and Ryan.