He's the antithesis of the contemporary rock star. There was no overnight success, he didn't ride to fame of the back of some trendy image and judging by the age curve, he's about 10 years past his prime. Yet it seems like each time Everclear frontman Art Alexakis defies convention, his band becomes more successful.
The album, Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile, debuted at number 9 on Billboard's album chart. Five weeks after its release, the record was still in the top 35, and the first single, the buoyant, melancholy "Wonderful" was at number 25 of the Billboard singles chart. In some ways it makes perfect sense. On the surface, Learning How to Smile is Everclear's poppiest hour, crossing the strummy, organic songwriting of Tom Petty or Van Morrison (there's even a cover of "Brown Eyed Girl") with modern rock textures and soaring orchestral embellishments. But underneath, Everclear are still writing their own rules.
Lyrically, the disc is fairly downcast, chronicling the demise of Alexakis' marriage. And even when he indulges in sheer euphoria, as in the ebullient new single "AM Radio," Alexakis sounds as out of place as a middle aged man griping about how movie tickets used to cost a nickel: "The VCR, and DVD, there wasn't none of that crap back in 1970/ We didn't know bout the world wide web, there was a whole different game being played back when I was a kid."
Perhaps Everclear's most obvious refusal to conform comes with the work in progress, Songs From an American Movie Vol. 2: Good Times for a Bad Attitude. The album, scheduled for release by year's end, is a defiant middle finger to anyone who thought the band went soft. The songs Alexakis played Guitar.com recently were raw, and savage, brimming with angrily buzzing guitars and dripping with attitude. A day before he flew off to Portland to get married for the third time, we joined Alexakis in the studio to discuss musical reinvention, solo albums, and guitar approach.
Guitar.com: Songs from an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile started out as a solo album, right?
Alexakis: Yeah. We'd sold a million and a half records [of So Much for the Afterglow], and we'd had three singles that had done well on alternative radio and we had toured a lot, and we thought we were done. The guys wanted to go home. I wanted to do another record. I wasn't too happy with my home life. I was four or five months away from a separation [with my wife] and I wanted to make a record. So I told them I wanted to make a solo album, and they were cool with that as long as it was different from what Everclear was about. So I decided to make something more R&B, to push my singing a little bit.
Guitar.com: How did the rest of the band end up getting involved?
Alexakis: I had written about 12 new songs, and then all of a sudden, "Father of Mine" became a radio hit long after we thought the record was over. So we played the Snowcore tour, which was great. And then when I got back I pulled out the record and listened to it and it didn't seem so far away from being an Everclear record. And I thought even though the songs sounded really good, they would sound better with these guys playing on them. I really think we have a chemistry as a band when we're locked in. We're not the best band in the world; we'll never be the biggest band in the world. But I think we sound like ourselves, which is more than a lot of bands can say.
Guitar.com: Learning How to Smile is more upbeat than your previous discs, but it's fairly musically adventurous. There are samples, drum machines and an orchestra.
Alexakis: We weren't necessarily trying to be more adventurous, but we were trying to have more fun and do things differently. It all came about organically. There's some synthesizer in there and I've always wanted to use samples. I grew up with a lot of R&B and funk and in my early 20s I was very, very into Public Enemy, so we used a little Chuck D sample in there. There's definitely some nods from all of us to the kind of music that influenced us growing up.
Guitar.com: Did you approach the guitar parts differently this time?
Alexakis: Not really. I have a lot more guitars and amps than I used to and we made a lot of different textures. We tried to push the envelope a little bit. Not try to reinvent the wheel per se, but to reinvent what Everclear had done. One of the 12 steps in AA is to reinvent yourself every day. I think basically I was just trying to pay attention as a guitar player to what the songs called for from a textural point of view.
Guitar.com: How so?
Alexakis: For one, we turned the volume considerably down. There's not a lot of distorted guitars on the record. And instead of using guitars for all the different voices, we would use vocals or keyboards or glockenspiels or timpani.
Guitar.com: You're currently finishing up Learning How to Smile Vol. 2: Good Times for a Bad Attitude. What's that one gonna be like?
Alexakis: It's pretty pissed off and loud. The song I'm working on right now is called "All Fucked Up." It's about being all fucked up. I think the new stuff sounds a lot like Everclear meets Zeppelin. There's some loops and stuff, but there are a whole lot of guitars. It runs the gamut. There's some stuff that's more atmospheric and then there are balls-out rock songs. I think there's a lot of old Aerosmith in there too, and a lot of old punk.
Guitar.com: How are you approaching the guitar work for Vol. Two?
Alexakis: I've gone back to using guitar for all the voices in the songs. But we've approached this record from a slightly different point of view. We used to have two sounds guitar-wise: loud and louder. And now there's a lot more textures. But they're loud textures as opposed to the ones on Part One. The new one is just huge. It's all about kicking ass.
Guitar.com: Were the songs for the new album written after the mellower Learning How to Smile was completed?
Alexakis: Not necessarily. We had been working on these songs at soundchecks during out last tour. We had come up with a lot of the riffs, but we didn't really flush them out until earlier this year.
Guitar.com: You're releasing two records in one year. Why not just issue one double-album?
Alexakis: Because they are really different sounding from each other. Radiohead's also doing two records, we found out about a month ago, but their records both came out of the same recording. Ours are really like two different records from two different sessions.
Guitar.com: Are you worried at all about confusing or alienating the pop audience that likes the Tom Petty-esque songs on Vol. One?
Alexakis: No because if anyone doesn't like it, they don't have to buy it. They'll hear the singles and I think they'll be pretty indicative of what the rest of the record sounds like. I think if you're a fan of Everclear and you like the way our songs sound - the way our band plays and the way my voice sounds - I think you'll like both records. If you don't like aggressive rock at all, you probably won't like the second record. But I don't think people are as easily pigeonholed as the media and radio programmers think they are.
For more information on Art Alexakis and Everclear - be sure to visit - Everclear Online