Finding Redemption


Art Alexakis hasn't been getting much rest of late, but he still sounds as effusive as a teen boy who just lost his virginity.

"I have an almost-16-year-old that I have to get to school at 8 o'clock in the morning, and then I've got a 5-month-old that decides what time we wake up," the Everclear frontman says cheerily on a recent Friday morning, just past 9 a.m. "She's been deciding that it's just not a good idea to sleep."

The guy is caffeine personified, a chatty, affable rock 'n' roll dad who speaks forthcomingly, as if he were talking with some long-lost pen pal.

Of course, Alexakis has become known for his effervescence, as he and his band have a tendency to come on like alt-rock Alka Seltzer with such impossibly buoyant hits as "Wonderful" and "A.M. Radio."

It's not as if there's no dark side to the band's catalog -- far from it, Everclear tunes long have been populated by desperate characters, junkies and wayward fathers, all searching for a measure of salvation.

It's something that Alexakis can relate to: He is a former drug addict who lost a brother to heroin addiction and who once OD'd on cocaine himself.

But most of the hard luck types who populate his songs eventually find what they're looking for -- especially himself.

"I feel like all my characters and all the situations have redemption," Alexakis says. "I totally believe -- and it's from some of the things that I've learned in my life -- that no matter how screwed up and how dark it gets, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. It might not be close, and it might not be easy to get to, but it's there. I guess I would call myself a pessimistic optimist."

Despite weathering his share of storm clouds, Alexakis' latest release is all sunshine. A covers album that doubles as a pop pixie stick. Cheekily titled "The Vegas Years," the disc, released Tuesday, sees the band chirping through everything from the Go-Gos' candy-coated "Our Lips Are Sealed" to Tommy Tutone's ubiquitous '80s staple "867-5309 (Jenny)" to the theme for "Speed Racer."

"I've always wanted to do this," Alexakis says. "We had a lot of covers that had never seen the light of day on a real release. Some of these have been B-sides on Japanese or German releases, or something like that. Never in this country have we had these songs on a proper album -- except for 'Boys Are Back in Town,' that came out on the greatest hits album. I think it's a really fun album."

That's a simple enough aim, and this bunch never has been about overthinking things, revving up straightforward, Beatles-esque melodies with a touch of guitar grit and real-life pathos.

"The thing with me is that I never tried to reinvent the wheel, and I get criticized for that sometimes," Alexakis says. "But then, at the same time, a lot of people love what I do. Neil Young didn't reinvent the wheel, he just put his stamp on it, his flavor, that lilting sound of his voice, that guitar playing. Everything had the feel of Neil Young, and he was a huge influence to me because of that, because he had really defined himself."

And how does Alexakis define himself? With two words.

"Resiliency and tenacity," he says. "I get a lot of tenacity from my mom. She just passed away a couple of years ago, but she was a tough, tough old lady, man. I loved her fiercely. And she loved fiercely, too. She was crazy as hell -- she really was, I'm not just saying that. But, man, when she got a hold of something, she never let go, and that's something that I learned."

He also learned how to do things for himself.

Before Everclear got off the ground, Alexakis ran his own label, Shindig Records, and he's become so disillusioned with the current state of the record industry that he's planning, at least for now, to release songs online, including the band's next single, the forthcoming "Jesus Was a Liberal."

"Who's not going to buy a song for a buck?" Alexakis asks. "You can't even buy a pack of gum for a buck. To me, to buy a song for 99 cents and everybody gets paid, I think it's brilliant. I'd like to do it every two or three months, working it as much as I can with the limited budget that I have, then turning that money around and putting it into another single. I don't think there's any reason that I can't perpetuate a career by doing this. It doesn't have to be this huge thing where you're selling millions of records. I can sell 100,000 records by myself and make more money than I ever made off of my albums."

Besides, these days, Alexakis is splitting his time between his band and a budding career in film. He's producing and acting in a movie set to start shooting in August and plans on keeping active in the medium.

Alexakis attended UCLA film school for a time before embarking on a career in music. He's always been an open book, and these days, he's looking to add a few new chapters to it all.

"I had to make a decision between music and film, because I felt that film was something I could do at any age," Alexakis says of his choice to forgo a career in movies when he was younger.

"I wasn't looking to be an actor, I was looking at making films, and I don't think it's important that you're young and bright-eyed to do that. Being in a band, there's a certain point where you have to walk away from that, and I wasn't ready to do that in my 20s," he continues with a pause. "It's probably a good thing that I didn't."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0476.

 

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