The Inspirational Transcendence of Everclear Frontman Art Alexakis
’90s alternative rock singer-songwriter and guitarist shares his story and Spotify playlist for AARP
Never mind the cliché — Art Alexakis is a true rock ’n’ roll survivor. The Everclear frontman weathered several childhood traumas and drug addiction and eventually went on to front the multiplatinum-selling ’90s alternative rock band. While the spotlight may have dimmed over the years, he’s still at it, coping with multiple sclerosis and battling through a recent two-month bout with COVID-19. This summer and fall, he’s back onstage with Everclear on his “Summerland” tour, with fellow ’90s alt-rock survivors Living Colour, Hoobastank and Wheatus.
We caught up with Alexakis, 59, between tour dates and asked him what gives him the strength to battle through reoccurring adversity. “My mother,” he explains. “I got tenacity from my mother, and my mother instilled in me a sense of the golden rule, which is to just try and treat people better, regardless of how they treat you.”
Still, Alexakis admits he continues to battle demons. “I’m still fighting against this triggered damaged kid who was raped, beat up and abandoned. His brother died of an overdose, his girlfriend died by suicide — all these things. So I still have those triggers and my trigger is — you look at me wrong, I’m gonna f---ing kill you, because I came from the projects. And that’s still there. I’m going to therapy to change those triggers because that’s just not a great way to be in life.”
Those triggers, however, served as fuel for some of Everclear’s best-known songs, including the top 5 alternative hits “Father of Mine” and “Wonderful,” but Alexakis cautions that’s not always the case. “A lot of people have a mistaken view about where all my songs are coming from,” he says. “I’d say about a third of the songs are autobiographical, and about a third of the songs are an amalgam of different things I take from my life or my experience, things I’ve heard about or people I know, and the other third is just me writing, just creating.”
Founded as a trio in Portland, Oregon, in the early ’90s, with Craig Montoya on bass and eventually Greg Eklund on drums, Everclear leaped into the crowded alternative-rock scene with hits that also included “Everything to Everyone,” “I Will Buy You A New Life” and “Heartspark Dollarsign.”
“Father of Mine,” in which Alexakis writes about the pain of his father leaving his family when he was just 5, is autobiographical. Though Alexakis’ father tried to reestablish the relationship over the years, ultimately it didn’t end well.
When Alexakis had a run-in with the police as a teen, his mother was faced with the choice of sending him to juvenile hall or out of state to live with his father, he says. “She put me on a plane to Houston,” he says. “I had a friendship with my father, but not really.” In later years, his father expressed interest in reconnecting and wanted Alexakis to fly out for a visit with his young daughter. Alexakis said he would, if his father called his mother, who was dying of cancer, and made amends. “I said, ‘You call her up, don’t deny anything’ ” Alexakis recalls. “ ‘You tell her the truth, be a mensch and listen to her, let her say whatever she wants to say and take it like a man. You do that, and I’ll fly out with my daughter next week.’ He said, ‘I’m going do it right now,’ but he never did it.”
After living through such repeated disappointments, when his father died, Alexakis had an interesting reaction — or maybe lack of one. “He died three days before David Bowie and I was way more racked up about David Bowie dying than my dad,” he says, “because I knew David Bowie. I met him once, but he gave me more in life through his music, his persona and his artwork than my dad ever did.”
Alexakis, who is the father of two daughters, ages 29 and 13, is trying to not make the same mistakes as his father made. “I never thought I was going to have a kid at the age of 45, but I did,” he says of his youngest daughter. “It’s great. It’s wonderful. That wasn’t really in the brochure, but I met a younger woman and there you go.”
While his current family life is going well — he even recently had his young daughter come out and visit him on tour — Alexakis continues to battle health problems. He says he’s doing pretty well in his ongoing struggle with MS, but COVID-19 put him in the hospital for more than a week. “I feel like I’m doing really good, but it’s a lot of work,” he says. “I had pneumonia for two months, so I did the whole pulmonary test and I’ve got about 89 percent, so I got about 10 percent damage from scar tissue, which isn’t bad. I just have to do breathing exercises and warm up, like I do anyway. It’s just like anything though. When you get older, s--- just gets harder.”
Still, Alexakis is feeling good about the state of his band. “As far as I’m concerned this is the best [version of] Everclear that’s ever existed,” he says of the lineup that today includes guitarist Davey French, bassist Freddy Herrera and drummer Brian Nolan. He has no plans to reunite with Montoya and Eklund, with whom he recorded the band’s biggest hits, and who left the group in 2003, with Alexakis going solo for a while.
“Craig and I have become Facebook friends lately and I hope that grows, because Craig was like a little brother to me,” he says. “We did have a falling out and I’ve always felt bad about that and hope that it would resolve, but it’s never going to resolve into me getting rid of the guys I got in my band now.”
Besides the band, Alexakis has also been pursuing education with the goal of becoming a certified life coach and counselor. “I’m about a year-and-half from getting my bachelor’s in psychology,” he says. “At the same time, I’m finishing up my year course to become a master life coach. I want to get my master’s in a couple of years in psychology. I want to specifically work with creative people — call it ‘Coaching for Creatives.’ Because that’s what I know. I know how it feels to be addicted. I know what it feels like to be abused and I know how it feels to be abusive.”
“I think I can connect with a lot of creative people at every level,” Alexakis adds. “That sounds exciting to me, especially as I’m getting older. But I’m not going to ever stop playing in the band until they actually take my guitar away from me.”
'Art Alexakis’ Eclectic Favorites' Spotify Playlist
Inspired by KHJ, the legendary Los Angeles top 40 station of the late 1960s and early ’70s, Everclear frontman Art Alexakis grew up enjoying a wide variety of music. “I grew up with AM radio,” he says, recalling such legendary DJs as “The Real” Don Steele and Robert W. Morgan, who enthusiastically announced the hits. Though he later graduated to album-rock stations and hard rock, as well as folk — as reflected by some of the choices on the playlist — that mix of rock ’n’ roll and Black music — R&B, soul and later hip-hop — remains part of his musical DNA.
Tangled Up in Blue performed by Bob Dylan
“I just love that song. I love how it just creates all this imagery. It’s a great song with great lyrics, a great melody and great music between and it all happens in five minutes. I like how cinematic it is and how it tells a story.”
Living for the City performed by Stevie Wonder
“I grew up in a housing project in Culver City called Mar Vista Gardens and that was a song that really connected with me. I’m not Black. I don’t pretend to understand that perspective, but when I grew up, most of my friends were Black and I understood what was going on and saw what was going on in their lives.”
California performed by Joni Mitchell
“It came out when I was really young, but I didn’t really get into it until I was about 19 and went through a breakup and found the world’s best breakup album, which is Blue by Joni Mitchell.”
Don’t Believe the Hype performed by Public Enemy
“I remember driving a car at Christmastime. I was moving up to San Francisco in late ’87 and somebody had given me the cassette of the soundtrack Less Than Zero and there’s a song on there called ‘Bring the Noise,’ and I was just blown away by Chuck D’s words, his presence and the noise and the dissonance, because I was really into Sonic Youth and stuff like that.”
I Saw Her Standing There performed by The Beatles
“The Beatles are probably my greatest influence of all, like most white-boy singer-songwriters, whether they want to admit it or not. This is one song that I never get tired of listening to. It’s a Paul song, not a John song. I f---ing love this song. For its time, it’s almost like punk rock, so fast and tense and there’s just not one weak beat in the whole thing. It’s a little sloppy when I listen to it now, but it’s because it was recorded live in the studio.”
Rocks Off performed by The Rolling Stones
“It’s the first song on Exile on Main St. I just love a real good album opener because I grew up in a time of the albums, when people made cohesive albums. Not necessarily concept records, but a good album to me is automatic and it moves. It goes up and down and it tells a story with the songs. That album is legendary for good reason.”
Fire performed by Ohio Players
“It’s a song I grew up listening to as a kid, but I still love listening to it. I love old-school ’70s funk.”
Debaser performed by Pixies
“It’s an album opener and that album, Doolittle, is one of my favorite records of all time.”
Thrasher performed by Neil Young
“This is from Rust Never Sleeps. He did a hard side and a soft side, and this is the second song on the soft side. It’s one of those songs, like ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ that just tells us a very personal perspective and story very poetically. Neil Young is a huge influence on me.”
Microphone Fiend performed by Eric B. & Rakim
“I just can’t get enough of it. It’s from back in the day when they were still using samples and no one was getting paid for them. You could just create a whole new universe and not have to pick up an instrument, which a lot of people don’t like, but I always thought was really cool. My daughter, when I was dropping her off at school when she was like 9, used to rap this with her little pixie voice.”
White Girl performed by X
“They’re one of my favorite bands of all time. That riff, still to this day, just gets me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”
Sweet Soul Music performed by Arthur Conley
“It’s a song I grew with as a kid and I still love it. He was a protégé of Otis Redding. He name drops a bunch of R&B singers. It’s just fun. It’s two-and-a-half minutes of glorious rock ’n’ soul. It just makes my heart sing every time I hear it.”
Ten Years Gone performed by Led Zeppelin
“I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan and this is one song I never get tired of listening to. This is a really weird atmospheric song off of Physical Graffiti. It reminds me [of] when I was 16. I was in Texas on several hits of acid down at the beach in Galveston. People would go down there on Fridays and Saturdays and everyone was hooked into the local radio station that was playing a six-pack. They were playing Physical Graffiti and every truck and car on the beach had it on. I’d say like 50 or 60 of them were playing it. I met a girl and it was just a magical night.”
These Arms of Mine performed by Otis Redding
“It’s one of the first songs he ever recorded. It’s an old-school R&B song and you can hear when he sings the first words that he wasn’t close enough to the mic. ‘These’ isn’t loud enough. I miss that magic — warts and all. That’s what makes it human.”
Our Town performed by Iris DeMent
“It’s like a new country song. It’s kind of folk, kind of hipster. It’s amazing — I think she grew up in Pacific Palisades and I don’t know why she has a voice like that, but she does. It’s just phenomenal. Every time I hear it, it makes me want to cry.”
See instructions below on how to add the playlist to your phone or tablet.
GET THE PLAYLIST
Every playlist on Spotify has its own unique code, similar to a QR code. Called Spotify Codes, these bars make it easy to add a playlist to your Spotify app on your device. Here's how:
- Download and open the free Spotify app on your phone or tablet.
- In the app, tap Search.
- Click the camera icon.
- Scan the barcode above, then tap the arrow to listen.
Renew your membership today and save 25% on your next year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal. Get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.