words: Jade Kennedy
Last year was a somewhat selfish one for Art Alexakis – a fact he himself will happily admit. The Everclear front man released his debut solo record, Sun Songs, and toured it throughout the UK, Canada and USA. He announced the tour, which began in May 2019, in a somewhat odd fashion – by penning an open letter to fans disclosing his Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis almost three years earlier.
“I hadn’t been hiding from it, but I was diagnosed in 2016 and it was about three years before I talked about it,” Alexakis said.
“I guess part of it was not wanting people to get the wrong idea about me if I’d walk weird or talk weird, that they’d think maybe I was drinking or on drugs again. I’ve been clean and sober for 30 years.
“But also, more than that, I don’t like ever being disingenuous. I wasn’t being honest. I don’t like that feeling of that elephant in the room, that’s not being 100 per cent honest with everybody in my life.
“Also I wanted to be able to connect with other people and tell the story of how you can have a disease like this and still not give up. I’m not trying to be a role model, you know, but I’m kind of tuned into that space because as a parent, you’re a role model every day – I’ve been a role model every day for the last 27 years of my life.”
Alexakis said the revelation had been motivating.
“Ever since then I’ve been so driven… I’m like a shark, you know, if I stop swimming I’m gonna die,” he laughed.
“But it’s been a big year of changes for me, and I’m feeling things and taking care of myself and doing a lot of self-care.”
His statement – which you can still read on the band’s web site here – quickly and unexpectedly went viral.
“I mean, I just went on our social media and put it out there and it went viral,” Alexakis said.
“I’ve heard from over a hundred thousand people now, and every correspondence has been overwhelmingly positive and filled with love and support.
“It’s pretty amazing. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect the fans to be so full of support and a lot of people have been pretty sad about it, but for the most part it’s just amazing how supportive and upbeat and just positive people are. It makes me really proud of our fans and just, you know, people talk about how bad the world is, and there is bad things, but you know man, people overall are pretty wonderful. They really are.”
Chalking up three decades on the road – Alexakis did four Everclear tours just between his MS diagnosis and revealing it to the world – is enough to wear down anyone. But having a chronic illness is not going to steer this punk rock veteran off the road just yet.
“Well you know, (touring) is harder,” he said.
“Everything’s harder as you get older, and everything’s a little bit harder from the MS. It just is what it is. I try to give myself more time as far as back up between shows… it doesn’t always work out that way, so I’m still a lot of times doing four or five shows a week. I prefer to do three to four shows a week. But, you know, I have to eat right I have to sleep right… Back in the day I could go days without a lot of sleep or eating very well and it wouldn’t affect me. Now it does. It’s definitely not what it used to be.
“Back in the day it didn’t matter so much, as you get a little bit older, even in your 40s and 50s it’s not what it was 10 years ago, you know, even if you’re in good shape. I mean I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’m eating well and working out and really taking care of myself. But I have to know when to recharge my batteries, to have enough energy… I want to be able to have as much energy and as much action at each and every show, and be able to sing and to have all of this stuff. And, if I don’t take care of myself I can’t do that.”
It’s safe to say Alexakis will be taking good care of himself when the band embarks on it’s longest-ever tour of Australia, taking in more than a dozen festival and headline shows around the country. He was excited about the prospect of what lay ahead after the 14-hour flight from California.
“We’re so excited to come back,” he said.
“I’ve never been there for as long as we’re going to be there – we’re going to be there for like three and a half weeks – and with that I think we’ve got 15 shows now? Something like that. And the Hotter Than Hell shows – I am so excited. There’s all these bands and it just harks back to our punk rock years, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The Hotter Than Hell tour will see Everclear perform with the likes of Cosmic Psychos, The Grates, Area-7, Frenzal Rhomb, Unwritten Law, The Superjesus and Motor Ace – a line-up reminiscent of 1990s/2000s Australian summer festivals like Livid, Big Day Out and Homebake.
I asked Alexakis about a story I vaguely recalled reading in a magazine in my high school days, which involved the band having a guitar stolen at a Big Day Out or similar festival.
“Oh yeah! It wasn’t Big Day Out, it was… Oh, what’s the name of that festival? It was outside of Melbourne… And it was in ’98… It wasn’t my guitar though, it was our bass player’s bass that got stolen, and someone threw a pipe bomb on stage while we were playing,” he laughed.
“So… Wow, yeah, it was getting crazy. I’m trying to think now, what was the name of that festival? Oh, it might’ve been a little before your time. It was crazy!
“That was one of our weirdest tours, the band was going through some challenges at the time and, you know, it was what it was, but the shows were great.
“I remember also on that tour in Wollongong, we were playing a show inside a big, like, amphitheatre, and the lights were off and someone threw a boot and it hit my microphone and hit me in the mouth and broke my teeth (laughs) and I was like putting blood on the stage and had to leave for a minute, but went back and somehow finished the show (laughs). But you know, I tell you what, you guys are crazy – you guys are descended from criminals (laughs) so what do you expect? (Laughs) I love it!
“On this tour we get to go to Hobart in Tasmania, and those people are all really descended from criminals (laughs) we played there in ’98 and it was just insane… In-sane… I’ve never seen so many crazy people. And I think those crazy people are still there, because we’re almost sold out at that show… I’m pretty excited, it’s going to be a great show. It’s going to be a great tour. Playing the Hotter Than Hell stage is going to be just… Man, I can’t tell you how excited we are to come back and do this.”
Alexakis said although he had been to Australia 10 times or more – “which, for most Americans, that’s a lot,” – he had never heard of a lot of places on the Australian itinerary for this tour.
“I’m really stoked and excited that we’re going to be playing places that are kinda off the beaten track,” he said.
“I had to actually get a map out and, you know, ask Siri, ‘Where is this place?’
“If I have the time I’d love to go see Ayers Rock, I’ve never been there. And I’d love to go to Darwin, I’ve never been there. There’s a few places I haven’t seen before, but we have been there many, many, many times. Actually, more than ten times probably.”
Last time the band came to Australia was the 20th anniversary of So Much For The Afterglow tour in 2017 – this year marks the 20th anniversary of Songs From An American Movie Vol One: Learning How To Smile. Alexakis said fans could expect to see some tracks from that record if they were at the band’s headline shows.
“That wasn’t really that big of a record out there,” he said.
“I guess it would be for the fans, and you know what? For the headlining shows that we’re going to do, we’re going to go deep on that record… We’ll play the hits as well, but we’ll play Learning How To Smile and definitely Thrift Store Chair and maybe a couple other songs as well, because we know fans like to hear that.
“I think for the Hotter Than Hell shows it’s going to be old-school punk rock Everclear. And maybe a couple of new songs off Black Is The New Black because that’s a pretty guitar-heavy record as well. But yeah, I think it’s going to be pretty rock’n’roll, not a lot of pop songs on the Hotter Than Hell Tour, But, you know, we’ll play the hits – you’ve gotta play the hits.“
For someone that didn’t have the smoothest start to life – it has been well-documented that Alexakis was raised by a single mother as the youngest of five kids in a low socio-economic area of LA, and his life was touched by death, substance abuse and suicide at a very young age – Alexakis has overcome a lot to have a professionally and personally fulfilling life by anyone’s standards. Perhaps without even meaning to, he has been inspirational even before his MS diagnosis.
So what, then is he most grateful for? And what would he like his legacy to be?
“Hmm… That’s a good question,” he said, quietly.
“I’m most grateful for my family. I know that sounds like a stock answer but it’s really true. I’m really grateful for my family and my relationship with my wife and my daughter and with my friends; just the support group I have in this world.
“But at the same time I am extremely grateful that I’m a 57-year old guy with MS and I get play for a rock band. I get to sing, and play guitar in a rock band for a living, and I’ve been doing that for almost 30 years… And I’m going to do it for the rest of my life. I’m very grateful for that.
“As for my legacy? I hope I will leave a legacy of positivity. That my music was positive and constructive and helpful to people; and it seems like that’s what people tell me it is, so I hope I can leave a legacy of that in my life. Leave something behind that means something.”
Watch: Everclear – Santa Monica
Everclear Australian Tour Dates
Thursday 30 January: The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle NSW
Friday 31 January: The Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
Saturday 1 February: Hotter Than Hell, Adelaide SA
Sunday 2 February: Odeon Theatre, Hobart Tas
Thursday 6 February: Croxton Bandroom, Melbourne Vic
Friday 7 February: Pier Bandroom, Frankston Vic
Saturday 8 February: Hotter Than Hell, Melbourne Vic
Sunday 9 February: The Basement, Canberra ACT
Wednesday 12 February: The Helm, Mooloolaba QLD
Thursday 13 February: Parkwood Tavern, Gold Coast QLD
Friday 14 February: Racehorse Hotel, Ipswich QLD
Saturday 15 February: Hotter Than Hell, Townsville QLD
Thursday 20 February: Freo Social, Fremantle WA
Friday 21 February: Carine Tavern, Duncraig WA
Saturday 22 February: Hotter Than Hell, Dunsborough WA