Art of Everclear

It was good to be a rock musician in the mid- to late-1990s when alternative music exploded into the mainstream. Major labels were seemingly signing any band with crunchy guitars in hopes of scoring the next Nirvana or Pearl Jam. The second wave of rock bands that flooded the market during this time, achieved varying success; but one artist who beat the odds and carved out a solid and still-active career is Art Alexakis, the driving force, songwriter and front man of Everclear.

After a troubled childhood in the 1970s that included abandonment by his dad, and a brother who died from a drug overdose, Alexakis bounced from home to home and became a heavy drug user. Kicking the addiction after a near-fatal overdose, he put his energy into music; first in Los Angeles, followed by San Francisco, and finally, in Portland, where he formed Everclear. After two indie label releases and buzz in the Pacific Northwest, the band signed to Capitol Records in 1994.

What set Everclear apart from many of its counterparts was the solid songwriting on its debut Sparkle and Fade.

Alexakis’ experiences provided him with a wealth of storytelling material, and with song titles like “Heroin Girl,” “Nehalem” and “Summerland,” it was clear that characters and places were the lyrical landscape. Despite the in-fashion crunchy guitars, Alexakis also had a strong knack for melodies as the band’s first hit, “Santa Monica,” became a summer anthem that connected with landlocked radio listeners who, like Alexakis, were “dreaming of the West Coast.”

With Everclear on the map, it was the sophomore follow-up, So Much for the Afterglow, that exploded the band into the mainstream with the mega hits “I Will Buy You a New Life” and “Father of Mine,” which led to a more Top 40-based audience. For its next record, the band made a bold decision to release a two-volume record titled Songs From an American Movie. Volume 1 landed the band its last big hit with “Wonderful,” a Top 40 mega-ballad that found a strange place in cultural history when the graduating class of Columbine High School, following the school-shooting massacre of students, used the song as their graduation theme.

The music industry was fast changing, though and Volume 2 failed to produce any hits, based more on record label issues. The follow-up, Slow Motion Daydream, was then released with a whimper by the label as a download and a less rock and roll-friendly Top 40 emerged.

Around the same time, it seemed the rags-to-riches happy ending to Alexakis’ story wasn’t meant to be, as a series of hardships hit the musician’s life. Professionally, the band parted ways with Capitol, and both long-term band members left the band. Personally, Alexakis suffered another divorce and was forced to declare bankruptcy after creative differences with Uncle Sam over back taxes.

Most artists would have thrown in the towel professionally and considered it a good run. As Alexakis himself notes, “I have friends who were in platinum-selling bands that are now selling real estate.” But the now L.A.-based rocker — whose life, it seems, would make one hell of an inspirational underdog film — forged on, releasing the excellent Welcome to the Drama Club as well as a record of covers, The Vegas Years, and a record of acoustic versions of the band’s hits, In A Different Light. In addition, he’s become a political activist, campaigning for John Kerry and Barack Obama and releasing the somewhat controversial single “Jesus Was a Democrat,” as well as remarrying and raising a young daughter.

These days the Everclear business is picking up, with an album in the works, another new lineup and a steady stream of both full-band concerts and solo acoustic storyteller-style dates, including Alexakis’ upcoming performance at the Canyon Club. Alexakis, who is fast approaching his 50th birthday, remains positive about Everclear’s future and, at the same time, is open to exploring other creative outlets.

“I do want to branch out and do other things. I went to film school in the’80s; I would love to write and direct, get back into acting. I did a lot of acting as a kid. In the waters we swim these days, it’s kind of par for the course to multitask. But I’m not that calculated about things. Maybe I’m not that smart (laughs). At the end of the day, I play guitar. I sing. I write songs. My priority, creatively, is definitely Everclear. If other things come my way, I’ll pursue them as I’m making music. Everclear will always exist.”    

Art Alexakis appears at the Canyon Club on Thursday, June 30.