Art Alexakis has an unmistakable voice.
The longtime Everclear frontman called me back about 15 minutes after our scheduled time to chat and quickly apologized for missing my call, although after hearing his excuse, there was no need for any mea culpa. He’d been giving his daughter a ride to school.
“I have two children,” says Alexakis from his California home. “One who is 27 and she’s married, and then I have my 11-year-old, so that was the one I was taking to school. She’s turning into a pretty awesome little lady, little woman. She went trick-or-treating last night without parental guidance for the first time, and all the parents were freaking out. I can remember being 8 years old and just running wild on Halloween, but it’s a different world now.”
This seems like a far stretch from the guy I first met in the mid-’90s, when Everclear were on their way up the musical ladder. Our bands shared a bill at the Nile Theater, and you could tell that Alexakis and his then-bandmates, Craig Montoya (bass) and Greg Eklund (drums) were going to become something. There was a look in his eye that said, “Hello, nice to meet you, but don’t get in my way.” When the band played their blistering version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” it was like fire.
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An outspoken advocate for people in trouble, Alexakis quickly gained a reputation for being a strong songwriter and even stronger personality as Everclear’s popularity soared. Sparkle and Fade, their second record and first of several platinum albums, was just about to drop. The 50 or so people in the Nile that night could say they saw them in a small place way back when. Alexakis and I had a great conversation about Jon Wayne’s Texas Funeral record. A few months later, everyone knew that great voice; they were all singing along with “Santa Monica” on the radio.
Fast-forward 24 years after our first conversation, and the tone has changed considerably. Alexakis is in a very different place than he was in those early days of Everclear. Our conversation turned to another subject that middle-aged folks talk about: health.
In March, Alexakis announced that he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). It affects the body in several ways. Lesions develop in the nervous system, usually on the brain or in the spinal cord. It is often necessary to do a spinal tap to make sure the diagnosis is correct. For Alexakis, this was painful.
“I had a headache so bad that I could barely get my head off the ground. I had to go and get a blood patch. They take blood out of you and put it right into your spine. The blood clots keep the spinal fluid from leaking,” says Alexakis, who had been symptomatic for MS for years before being diagnosed in 2016.
According to Alexakis, his physician thinks he may have had an attack of MS 30 to 50 years ago, but his health was good enough during his younger years to keep the disease at bay. This is common with MS, which affects people in different ways. More recently, as the singer/guitarist has gotten older, the impact of the disease has been more prominent. He has faced occasional balance and walking issues.
“It freaked me out when I was told that I have MS, but then I learned about it, and my wife learned about it,” says Alexakis. “I made a lot of changes. I’m on a plant-based diet — no sugar, no salt, no oil. I feel really good. Fatigue has all but disappeared. I used to feel the buzz of the disease in my body, but I don’t feel it anymore. I feel good. The knowledge of having it, at first was kind of daunting, but now I consider it a challenge. It made me really grateful for everything.
“I think that the knowledge of this disease, and the possibility that I can end up in a wheelchair, it scares me, but whenever anything scares me, I fight back,” he says. “I always have. Ever since I was a kid and in juvenile hall, I’ve fought back. If my back was against the wall, I said, ‘Fuck you.’ That’s my attitude.”
After the first leg of his solo tour, which brings Alexakis to Crescent Ballroom on Sunday, November 17, the 57-year-old will have a hip replacement. He’ll recover for roughly three and a half weeks, and his solo tour resumes after the first of the year. It’s another telling example of how it is hard to keep Alexakis down. The musician doesn’t seem at all fazed by the upcoming surgery.
“I said to my wife, ‘Do you mind if I’m walking around with a cane during the holidays?’ and she said, ‘Not at all.’ So, we’re getting it done and then getting back on the road,” says Alexakis.
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Alexakis seems to be incredibly grateful for his wife and daughters, whom he speaks about affectionately in conversation. He met his wife, Vanessa Crawford, in Tucson in 2004. The two married in 2009. Their daughter, whose name is Arizona, is the subject of the song “Arizona Star” on Alexakis’ first solo record, Sun Songs, which came out over the summer. The album is mostly acoustic.
Fans of Everclear will be happy to know there is a tour coming up in 2020 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Songs From an American Movie Vol. One: Learning How to Smile as well as the possibility of more solo material. On this particular tour, it will be Alexakis alone with an acoustic guitar.
“I like doing the acoustic,” says Alexakis. “I play about four or five songs from the new record, and then I play the hits. I take requests on Twitter, and at the end of the show, I also take requests from the audience. I did the solo record because I wanted to do something different. If I did a solo record with a different band, how is that different from me doing an Everclear record?”
Art Alexakis is scheduled to perform on Sunday, November 17, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are $25 to $130 via Eventbrite.