Art Alexakis is a dick. Or, so I've been told. While having never met the man in person—by his own admittance Alexakis seldom leaves his Forest Hills home and hasn't gone to a local show in close to two decades—I've heard plenty of stories. His backbiting ascent to the peaks of pop music success, the West Hills home, the foreclosure of the West Hills home, the well-publicized divorces, the revolving door of disgruntled band members... for Alexakis, it never really ends. His name has been on the lips of the disparaging for close to 17 years, so why would that change now?
Yet, it's intriguing to think that, to this very day, outside of our glorious little bubble Everclear is still seen as Portland's biggest band. While Alexakis might have racked up more trial separations and bankruptcy filings than hit songs—and he's written a lot of hit songs—the man is a rockstar God the world over, yet the epitome of Judas in his own hometown.
None of this makes digesting Everclear's latest, In a Different Light, any easier. An undeniably lazy cash grab of re-recorded hit songs (why?) in which there is little discernable difference between the new and old versions, the album's release only solidifies the notion that Alexakis is running on fumes, creatively spent and returning to the alt-rock well one last time. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Throughout our interview the one constant theme repeatedly touched upon by Alexakis is that he is, above all, a businessman, not an artist, just as Everclear is a moneymaking enterprise, not a band. This thought process has led to the questionable, if sadly predictable, path Everclear travels—the re-recorded hit songs, Indian casino tours, becoming strangers in their own town—and has helped callous Alexakis to the point of numbness. While his music might no longer matter to fans, or even to the man himself, like it used to, Alexakis is genuinely passionate about supporting the St. Francis Dining Hall, the beneficiary of Everclear's upcoming hometown show.
MERCURY: What do you think of being considered the most hated musician in Portland?
ART ALEXAKIS: What did I do to deserve that? I really haven't done anything that controversial. I think the most controversial thing I do is benefit shows for Portland Public Schools every couple of years. Our next show is a benefit for St. Francis Dining Hall. Their mission is not funded like the bigger missions are. It's not sexy, but it's going to feed people through the whole holiday season. I think that's cool.
I'm paying my bills, I'm still making enough money to pay the guys in the band and the promoters are making money. Everyone's making money, but we're making a little less and helping people. I'm just trying to keep my head above water as far as financials go and do the things that matter to me, regardless of what other people say. I'm 47 years old. I can only be in junior high for so long.
Which, I assume, means you are in a position to no longer care what people think about you and the band, correct?
I stopped worrying what other people think when I got sober... I don't really care what people think. I mean, do I want people to get what I'm doing? Of course. Do I want to be liked for what I'm doing? Of course. But if you don't and you've got a perspective on me, there's usually an agenda. If you don't like me for some reason, okay, there's nothing I can do about it. I just move on. It doesn't really hurt me and I think that's what's pissed a lot of people off.
It seems that when Everclear first became successful in the mid-'90s, there was backlash toward the band in town, but that feeling hasn't necessarily dispersed over time.
If you talked to people at the time they didn't like the fact that I was from California and that I had come up there and started a band. They thought that that was a premeditated thing, that I just went, 'Oh, Portland's a hot scene. I'm going to go start a band there.' That wasn't the deal.
[The backlash] wasn't a lot of people, it was from a lot of people that were really loud. It was my girlfriend-at-the-time's ex-boyfriend, a lot of his friends, and, you know, it was just the scene. I wanted to make nice and play with people, I wanted to help build the scene but people didn't want that. So we just did our own thing and the majority of people in Portland have always been supportive. Every band I've ever talked to has had a similar situation like that, especially in a smaller town. And Portland is not a small town, but it acts like a small town sometimes, which is a good and bad thing. Great place to live. Great place to raise kids.
I noticed that Everclear now plays less club shows and is often on the rock band casino circuit. Is that odd to make that switch?
We do both. If someone's going to pay us and give us a room, we're going to play. If you look back there's really no change in the attitude and the belief system that we've always had: If you want us to play, we'll play, if financially it's feasible. We're still playing shitty rock clubs, and if a casino asks us to play, it's surreal playing in those places, but I don't pull any punches. I still play "Heroin Girl," I still play "You Make Me Feel Like a Whore."
Why did you re-record older songs for In a Different Light? Aren't those songs still under contract with Capitol Records? Do you still own the songs?
With any recording contract there's a clause that you can't re-record those songs for a couple of years and that re-recording clause came up a couple of years ago. I asked my lawyer, 'Can I do this?' and he said, 'Yeah, you can do it.' I mean, I don't own the publishing to the songs, I own the writer's share of it; I sold that in my bankruptcy a couple of years ago. That was pretty publicized.
To me, the prevailing sense of the band is that Everclear absolutely cannot—and doesn't want to—escape the '90s.
You make it sound like there's a big dump truck with "the '90s" painted on it chasing us around. I don't look at it as necessarily a bad thing. It is what it is, man. I'm not making the kind of music I was making 15 years ago. That would be bad. That would be pathetic if I was doing that. Some bands make the same record after record... that would be boring to me. I can honestly say I've never made one song that I didn't want to make. I never sold out.