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I had a chance to talk with one of the most underrated artists of the past 15 years, the front man for the rock band Everclear, Art Alexakis. Everclear just released, for FREE, a new single called “Jesus Was a Democrat” and you could imagine the controversy to follow considering that the general election is happening in less than a week.
The controversy though gave me and Art a chance to talk about things that we don’t usually get to delve too much into around here.
Besides the controversy surrounding the single, we chatted about general politics, religion, American culture, Everclear’s future, and the music industry. I even found a way to work video games in there a little bit. Here’s what Art had to say.
AA: What’s going on man?
RC: Not much. I listened to the song, “Jesus Was a Democrat”, free MP3 on EVERCLEARONLINE.COM and I have to say that I was stunned at how out there it is. Just basically saying “this is the situation, this is what’s going on” and obviously it’s more geared towards blue states than red and you guys are a little controversial in terms of “Hater” off of your last album, “Welcome to the Drama Club”. But this is just putting you guys out there, right?
AA: A little bit yeah. I mean if you look at it politically, what I’m doing is just connecting the dots politically. My frustration has always been that I’m a Christian, but I don’t buy into, never have bought into, the belief that Jesus and God are these men who just dictate that this is how you have to live your life or you are going to burn in hell. Never bought into it. It just never made sense to me. Even as a kid. It didn’t feel right. It just didn’t feel right. In ’88 when the right wing really started trying to co-op the phrase “family values” and make liberals look like bad guys, I don’t see too much difference than now when they’re trying to make the one black guy who can become president look like a terrorist, or Arab, or Muslim, as if being a Muslim is a bad thing. I mean so what? But the way the waters are running now, even though those people aren’t in the majority, they sure get a lot of ******* air-time. And it just scares me about how totalitarian these people want to be, the Sarah Palin’s, all these people. They want a God’s white
RC: That’s true. Unfortunately, unless you don’t have a really strong outlet, and even when you do, sometimes you get criticized for saying what you think.
AA: Well, I get criticized. But I get a lot of support. Since the song came out and went viral on the internet, there has probably been only 5% really negative, 10% that I disagree with you but respect your ability to say what you want to say, which is fine, and the other 85% is positive. I haven’t heard anyone say “eh, it’s ok”. And that’s fine. Wouldn’t you rather have people like that? I’d rather have people hate me or love me. Instead of just not caring. And it’s like, the song came out of me and I’ve been wanting to write this song for a long time. I’ve been telling people Jesus was a Democrat since ’88 just to piss people off. I mean, I’d say to people, I’d be at parties with older Republicans and I’d be like “So you know you guys can’t really prove that Jesus was a card carrying member of the Republican party, can you? Can you prove it? Cause I heard he has an ACLU card.” That’s me making friends.
RC: Well, I love this song personally, and there was a lot more positive feedback like you said because there is a lot of truth in this song. But again it is still controversial. Even in the lyrics itself. You mention Jesus wearing a Che t-shirt, referencing Che Guevara and the most popular photo in the world. That’s basically what he was. A revolutionary.
AA: You’re right. He was a revolutionary. Have you ever ready Che though?
RC: I’m not as familiar with his work as I’d like to be unfortunately.
AA: Read his Manifesto and his Diaries. That stuff. Read the source. In hindsight, Jesus would not wear a Che t-shirt probably. I would bet big money on that. I’m just saying that if we were a young kid born in the
RC: Well, that’s the story. That even the people killing him. He forgave them.
AA: Forgive them for they know not what they do. Please forgive them. I mean, wow. Think about that. How many people could look at the people that were hurting them, pointing the gun at their head, and getting ready to pull the trigger and you know they are going to pull it, and just go “man, I forgive you”.
RC: I have enough trouble forgiving the guy who cut me off in the tunnel this morning.
AA: Absolutely. Forgiveness is hard for me man. It is for most American-Western males. It’s a sign of weakness. It’s what we’re taught in society. Forgiveness is for other people, not for us. It’s the way we’re raised. It’s our code. It’s not necessarily a spoken code, but you know it deep inside. Because if you don’t, you’re not perceived as being a man and it is hard to shake that. Just like it’s hard to shake what you learned about God and religion when you’re a kid. Even though sometimes you know it doesn’t feel right. I’ve talked to hundreds of people who are like “It just never felt right to me” and I agree.
RC: I hear you. You speak about how it never feels right and that there are these underlying messages in society. Something about your music is that there is always a message, there is always a story to it and it’s something I’ve always really appreciated. It’s not just all sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, even though you have a few songs mocking that. And I admit I have been a fan of yours for the longest time, since I first heard “Father of Mine” and I was hooked. Speak a little bit about how you always try to convey a message through your music, this one being a little more politically geared, but just in general how you try to impact society.
AA: Well, that’s a good question. First off, I don’t like preachers. I don’t want to preach. I like people who tell stories. I like storytellers. A lot of my songs are misconceived as being auto-biographical when they’re not because I write in the first person. Now “Father of Mine” specifically was autobiographical and there are a few of them in there. And I think it’s important for a writer to be able to delve down, and dig deep inside your own mind and to make sense of it and find the lessons that you’ve learned and put them in story form so that other people can take it as entertainment or take it as something they can connect with. It’s up to you. Those are the kind of writers’ who I’ve always cared about. Are you a fan of Bob Dylan?
AA: Are you familiar with the song “Tangled Up in Blue”?
RC: Of course!
AA: One of my favorite songs of all time. I don’t know how much of that comes to him, that’s about him, but I know that it is such a personal song from the first person, that I know he has either thought about those things, or fantasized about being a logger in the northwest woods or whatever, but you get that he’s done something to connect with that in his own way. Whether it was schleppin’ hash at a diner or something where he could connect with that. Same thing with me and that comes from living life. To be specific about your question, how does it impact. I don’t know. I guess it depends on people. I’m just putting it out there. Putting it out there for free. Whether it blows up and does great things, I don’t care. I know we don’t sell as many records as we used to. That’s just life. It’s true with everybody. Whether you’re U2 or Everclear. It’s just one a different level. I never look at it as we’re not as valid as we used to be because people don’t know about us as much. We’ve never gone away. We’ve never broken up. Guys have come and gone, but Everclear is Everclear. Everclear has always been my thing. The people closest to the band, know that without a doubt. It’s just my expression and sometimes it connects with people on a big scale like “Father of Mine” or “Santa Monica” or “I Will Buy You a New Life” or “Wonderful” or “Everything to Everyone”, which were five really big hits, or sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes people don’t even know about it. I hear that with a lot of bands. I’ll hear songs from bands I know and be like “why wasn’t that a hit song?” and no one knows. And then you listen to hit songs and you go “why is that a hit song?!”
RC: That leads me nicely into my next question. You have the Hannah Montana’s of the world and the Jonas Brothers and these canned, company made bands like from 50 years ago or something. What direction do you think the music industry is going in with these teenie bopper bands dominating the main stream?
AA: I think it goes in cycles. You look at the late 80’s and look at all the canned metal bands. They all looked the same and all sounded the same and there were a few that were really good that popped their heads above water, but it was hard to see them because of all the bad imitators and pop music had become really horrible and then suddenly out of nowhere came Nirvana. I think that happens every 10-20 years or so and I think we’re about due for a new Nirvana. I don’t think they’re going to sound like Nirvana. I don’t think they’re going to look like Nirvana. But something is going to come in and kick around the culture a little bit and it happens all the time. I think right now in our culture, the guy doing that is Barack Obama. I mean come on. He’s a black guy and he’s this far away from the presidency. I mean that’s huge! And people lose sight of it. So I don’t know if its going to come from music. I’m sure it will. I know it won’t be from me. I’m too old and crusty. I’m not really that crusty. But I’m old and I think youth is what speaks to
RC: That’s a possibility. It’s tough to say.
AA: It is tough to say. It depends on what levers it pushes and who decides to write about it and where it comes out and who sees it and who puts it out online. Right now, you can put a video online and it can go viral and millions of people could know about it and never be in the press up until that point. It’s a trip.
RC: Yeah, society is very fickle right now because of all the different forms of media and new forms of expression that are coming out.
AA: Do you think there is so much stuff out there that it is a little hard to raise your head above the crowd a bit?
RC: Yeah I definitely think so. As someone even trying to break into another aspect of the business such as myself, you’ve got Youtube, iTunes, media being released within media like certain video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, and you just scratch your head and don’t know where to turn. It’s a bombardment of different media forms to the point where your head just starts spinning some days. What’s your opinion on things like Rock Band and Guitar Hero and these different forms of the media to get things out there?
AA: To be honest, I don’t really know too much about them. I really don’t. I don’t have a teenage boy. I have a 16 year teenage girl who is a leftist, elitist, 16 year old.
RC: How’d that happen?
AA: Man, I don’t know. I’m white trash through to the core. I don’t know where she came from. All joking aside though. I think those things are entertainment and I think anything that entertains and that people go after in a large way, in a mass way, opens up new marketing potential and people are going to market themselves that way. And the music industry that we knew about 10, 20, 30 years ago is gone. Just gone. Putting a big full page ad in Rolling Stone magazine is not the best way to advertise what you want to do, even though it would cost a half a million dollars. You’d be better off spending $5,000-$10,000 online. More people would know about it and you could be more specific about where you’re going to your market. It’s like the differences between where John McCain saying he wants to use a hatchet and Barack Obama wants to use a scalpel. It makes more sense to use a scalpel and go in there and specifically market to the people you want to market it to. And with Guitar Hero and video games and stuff like that, you’re going right to the people, right to your demographic and it’s kind of brilliant from a marketing point of view. Kind of evil at the same time. I don’t know though. I don’t listen to the radio. I listen to satellite radio and talk radio and when I do listen to music, I listen to classic rock or older music. I like hearing hit songs. I’ve listened to some new music and some of its ok, but nothing that really shakes my tail. I’m producing a band called “Apparently Nothing”. They just write such great songs and they’re like 22 years old. One guy’s 20, another 23, and the kid can sing his ass off. And it’s just been a pleasure to work on it because it’s just a great rock ‘n’ roll record.
RC: When’s it coming out?
AA: I don’t know. We just finished the basics. All the guitars and vocals and stuff and not we’re putting on background vocals and getting ready to mix it so I don’t know. We’re going to try to shop it and I’m going to give it to some people and those guys will try to shop it around and might put it out themselves. Who knows? It’s just a different world right now.
RC: Well, hey, if you want, call me back up when it’s ready and I’ll sit down with them and see if we can’t get them on the website.
AA: Well give it a listen. If you like Everclear I’m sure you’ll like these guys. These kids grew up with 90’s rock and really had some good perspectives on it. I think the songs are great. I like it and I’m 46, my friends like it, my 16 year old daughter likes it so I think it’s valid and good.
RC: Taking a step back, “Jesus Was a Democrat” is the first original work you’ve come out with in two years, since “Welcome to the Drama Club”. You did have “The Vegas Years” six months ago, but that was a bunch of covers. When can we expect to see some more original work from Everclear?
AA: In terms of a new album, we’re working on a new album. I think the song will be a part of the new album. We’re doing a few songs at a time because we’re not signed to a label and I don’t want to be signed to a label. When we have an album done, we’ll shop it around and see if there’s a deal out there and see if people are excited about it and want to market it and put some money behind it whether they’re a major label or an indie label or something else. We’ll see. To answer your question though, we’re going into the studio in January to record the remainder of a full record. I’d like to have it out by next summer. Whether that happens or not, who knows? I’m infamous for making albums, walking away from it, and then coming back and going “we need to record some more songs”. I do it every time. I always say I’m not going to do it, but I do, but it’s because I don’t feel like it’s done yet and I want to make a great record.