Art Alexakis Talks MS, His Solo Album, And Upcoming Songs & Stories Tour

Everclear's Art Alexakis is busier than you. Seriously. Not only is he putting the final touches on Sun Songs , his first solo album, b...

Everclear's Art Alexakis is busier than you. Seriously. Not only is he putting the final touches on Sun Songs, his first solo album, but he's also getting ready to hit the road for a very unique tour with the lead singers of Fountains Of Wayne, Eve 6, and Marcy Playground. We caught up with Alexakis and discussed the tour, the solo album, his recent disclosure of his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, and his dream music festival.

Tell us about your upcoming Songs & Stories Tour. How did that come about?
I've been doing solo tours for awhile when I'm not touring with Everclear or working on something. They're always a lot of fun and the fans like it. I started doing this thing called Songs & Stories where I really concentrate on telling stories and analogies and anecdotes and playing songs. It was really successful and popular. For the last few years, I thought it would be great to have three or four people onstage doing that. With the solo record coming out, it seemed like a good time to do it. I reached out to a few of my friends who I really respect as songwriters and thought I'd get one or two people, but I got eight people who really wanted to do it so I picked three from that eight. Hopefully if this is successful, I'll come back and do some more.

We all come onstage at the same time, play a cover song, and then all of us except one will walk off. In this case it'll be John Wozniak of Marcy Playground, who's an amazing singer/songwriter and musician. He'll tell stories and sing songs for about thirty minutes and we'll all come back on when he's done, play another cover song together, and then Max Collins from Eve 6 will do his set. We'll come out again, play another cover song, and then Chris [Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne] will do his set, and so on. I'll come out and do mine, then we'll do one last song together. We'll take a three minute break while the crew sets up the chairs, and then we'll come back out, sit down, and we'll do some encores, take requests, and there will be someone with a mic in the audience, if it works out that way, so that we can take questions and do a Q&A thing. People always seem to want to ask questions. I think that would be kind of different and fun. I haven't seen anything like that and it'll be about two-and-a-half hours of entertainment. I'm looking forward to it.

Will you guys be performing each other's songs together together?
That's going to happen as well. Basically, there's no rules, man. I told everyone, give us a list of songs you want us to play on, what you want us to sing. We're going to go into two or three days of rehearsal and tighten it up a little bit. We'll go out and see what works live. John's bringing a mandolin, I'm bringing a mandola, a banjo, a dobro, and a twelve-string. We're going to have a whole bunch of instruments to pick up and just play. We're all pretty good and have been playing for a long time. We've got some stories, some life experiences to talk about. I think our audiences are coming from the same place. I think it's going to be fun.

My solo shows are always fun. I like it when people heckle me good-naturedly like, "Hey man, play this song!" And I'm like, "I don't want to play that fucking song. You want me to play that song? You come up here and do an interpretive dance.

We'll be attending your Charlotte show on May 22nd, but you were just in Charlotte on April 13th for the Moo & Brew festival. How did that go?
It went really good considering it rained like hell up until about twenty minutes before we played the show. There was about half of the people there that are normally there, and only half of the people that they sold tickets to. That's a bummer. Weather's always a thing when you play an outside show, but for the people that were there, I thought it was a really good show.

Were you able to explore Charlotte much while you were here?
Dude, I've been to Charlotte about forty times in my life. My mother is from Swannanoa, which is right outside Black Mountain and Asheville. I used to play in Charlotte as a kid all the time. I remember sitting there. It was downtown, and there were all these skyscrapers and iconic buildings. I was like, "Those were not here when I was a kid."

Let's talk about Sun Songs. It's hard to believe this will be your first solo album.
It is in some ways, but in some ways people are like, "Why are you doing a solo album?" Everclear's my band. It's my thing. I write all the music, I produce it, sing it, play it. But what makes this different is it's just me playing everything. It's all acoustic guitars. No electric guitars. There's drums on about two-thirds of the songs, but I'm not really a drummer, so it's not great. Very simple rhythms. I play bass and a little keyboards here and there, but mostly just guitar and vocals.

Going into this, I wanted it to be a really honest record of where I am right now. Honest in many ways: lyrically, the way I sing it, the way we recorded it. We're mixing it now. I'm not Pro Tooling a lot of stuff, not Auto-Tuning stuff like most bands do. If I had to compare it to anything, just the feel of the record, it's closer to one of the records from The Band. I loved that stuff, that greasy acoustic where everything's sliding around, almost getting to where it's supposed to be.

I hope people like it. If you like my songs, if you like my voice, I think you'll like this.

So when will we hear the new stuff?
If I deliver it by the first of May, it'll be out by the middle of July. Middle of July, first of August, depending on when the label wants to put it out. It's up to them. Well, it's kind of up to them. I'll push back if I don't like what they have to say.

I've never done demos. These are the closest things to demos I've ever done. But it's not demos because I'm not submitting it to them for their approval. That's the one blessing I've had in my career, I've never had that. I don't have to deal with that.

One time, my A&R guy pushed back on a song. He was like, "It's not long enough." I thought, "This is a great thing. A&R guys are always telling you, 'It's too long. Cut that song down.'" I fought with him and fought with him and finally I made it longer.

That was "Santa Monica," so I guess he was fucking right.

Back in March, you disclosed that you had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. How have things changed for you since the diagnosis?
Once you know you have something like that, it's both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because you know you're not going crazy. Shit's getting weird and now you know why. That's good. But it's also bad because it gets in your head. I don't care who you are, it gets in your head. Sometimes you get defeated, but you've got to push through. I already felt like I was a pretty tough guy emotionally. I think that's made be tougher and really grateful and appreciative of what I have. I'm fighting to keep my new normal as normal as possible. The easy thing get harder, man. It just does.

What about your live shows?
I'm not doing backflips anymore but I do okay. I'm not progressive. I have never had an attack during a show. I'm sure it will happen someday but my prognosis is really good. I'm really good about my diet and exercise. I'm putting a pool in my house, which I've always talked shit about houses with pools. Matter of fact, there's a song on the record called "The House With The Pool." We can live large for a little while or we can put our kids through school or we can have a house with a pool.

I'm putting a pool in my house because one, I live in California and it's kind of obligatory to do that. But two, more seriously, I love to swim and swimming is the best exercise for me because I don't get overheated. It's just great exercise, works every muscle. My wife didn't want a pool, but when I found out I had MS, she's like, "We've got to buy a house with a pool or put a pool in." I won that battle.

Final question: you're in charge of putting together a music festival and can choose any five acts, living or dead, to perform on the bill with you. Who do you choose?
Beatles, '65-66. Zeppelin, '69-'70. Nirvana, the tour right before Nevermind came out. I did see one of those shows and it was fucking amazing. There are a lot of bands I love, but I've seen them live, and they're not great live. I love the Pixies, but the times I've seen them live, they haven't been great even though I enjoyed the shows immensely because I love the songs so much.

I'm just gonna throw it out there: R.E.M., '85-'86, right before the fourth album came out. Last one? Otis Redding, the year before he died.

What song do you all perform together as your final jam?
That's a good one. If you're onstage with the Beatles, you're probably doing a Beatles song, I would imagine. All You Need Is Love? That's pretty boring. Probably a Dylan song. If I had the ability to get all those bands together, the last one would be Bob Dylan, and we would do "Blowin' In The Wind."

The Songs & Stories Tour kicks off in Walla Walla, Washington on May 1st and finishes in Wichita, Kansas on June 13th. The tour will make a stop at Charlotte's McGlohon Theater on May 22nd.


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Strange Carolinas is the Travelogue Of The Offbeat, a wry look at the interesting, unique, and offbeat roadside attractions, people, music, art, food, and festivals in North and South Carolina.


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