Ever clearer

 

Art Alexakis entered the rock 'n' roll arena rather late in life. You can most definitely blame drugs for this, as Art indulged in all manner of illegal substances, stopping to reflect upon his station in life only when a cocaine overdose temporarily stopped his heart. Chastened by the experience, he formed Everclear in 1991 when he was almost 30 years of age, yet he was already a veteran of sorts through working as a roadie for a long line of North-West punk rock bands.

Youthful enough to be inspired by grunge, but mature enough to have classic 1960s pop imprinted on his psyche, his intention was to front a band that offered a keen pedal-to-the-metal approach on guitars, yet was tuneful enough to appeal to radio station programmers. Add in a healthy dose of paranoia, angst and a near-death experience and you've got yourself a US rock group who slowly but surely started to touch a nerve. So much so, in fact, that none other than Nirvana's Kurt Cobain name-checked the band as being one of his favourites.

Fast forward 10 years: Cobain is long dead, yet the ghostly presence of Nirvana continues to act as an inspiration for many rock bands. It has been argued that Everclear inhabit the space left by Nirvana after Cobain's death, but this is too simplistic. Rather, they have come along in the slipstream, effortlessly melodic despite the integration of occasionally blistering rock guitars, and relentlessly romantic in the classic sense of the word. Imagine a mixture of epic-sense Springsteen (nostalgic, but not dewy-eyed) and Nirvana (nihilistic, but stopping short of being consciously dangerous) and you'll have some notion of Everclear's clever amalgam of classic styles.

"I'm big into romance, the classic sense of romance, of heroes and stories and lessons," says Alexakis, 39, with bleached blonde hair, goatee, and a laconic drawl of a voice. "I like, basically, old fashioned narratives." Is it an age thing? "No, it's more than just that. Every generation defines itself and its culture - that's a given, right? But sometimes instead of a generation defining itself and its culture, the advent of all the technology, the Internet, what have you, the media blitz that goes on in the US, culture defines a generation.

"That's one of the scary things about being a parent now. I've got a little girl aged nine - she's right on the brink of being a little girl still and yet wanting to become an adolescent. It's an exciting time, but it's a frightening time. I meet a lot of kids after shows, and they're really confused. Young kids really worry about things, which is good in a way; but it's also a situation where they're not able or ready to figure things out."

The last two albums by Everclear (Songs From An American Movie, Vols 1 & 2) have given the band a higher profile than ever before. Fusing riffs and romance, morals and realism, there's a lasting sense of great in-depth songs on both. Alexakis also does on the two albums what very few (if, indeed, any) mature rock stars do these days: without mawkishness or insincerity, he mentions his daughter (Anna). She is, he says, "the kind of cohesive glue that binds the records together".

He knows that mentioning his own children in songs leaves him open to sneers and criticisms, but laughs it off regardless. "Yeah, I shouldn't be married with kids. I should be out chasing skirts and partying just because I'm in a rock band, tying in with people's ideas of what a guy in a rock band should do. You know, it's all about perception. I couldn't really give a shit about what people think. I'm too old, and I've been through too much to care.

"I love being a dad. Right now I wish I was home; my daughter is going to be getting up in about half-an-hour and I wish I was waking her up and making her cereal and walking her to school. That gives me way more pleasure than all the crap that surrounds what I do on the road. The only thing that keeps me here is the playing of the music at night. All the other stuff might mean a lot more to a younger guy who doesn't have family. But to wake up in my own bed with my wife, knowing my kid is safe in her bedroom - that's the best feeling in the world for me.

"Is it hard to reconcile? It's just a matter of the distance and the space. If I could play music and everyone could come to me it would be fine! As you get older you get more selfish. I'm selfless in the way of me being a dad, but I'm selfish in the way that I don't want anyone to dictate to me what my life is about. My family and myself dictate that. So maybe it is harder to reconcile, but to be honest with you I've been clean and sober for years and this whole rock 'n' roll party thing hasn't been important to me. It's always been about making great rock 'n' roll records. I love bass, drum, guitars. There's probably a day on the horizon when that will disappear but hopefully I won't live to see it."

There has been debate, meanwhile, in some quarters (er, pubs, mainly), about the American movie of the CD titles. Which one is it?

"Oh, I'll tell you that - I haven't told anyone in the US yet, but I'll tell you," says Art graciously (I believe him, too).

Before he tells The Irish Times, however, he says he has to preface it with a story. What follows is a monologue worthy of Harry Dean Stanton's famous "I Knew These People" from Paris, Texas: "I was in New York in early 1997. I had recorded what was to be an album called So Much For The Afterglow, but getting into the mix I started to realise the album wasn't all there. There were some good songs, but they weren't finished, creatively. And there were some poor songs there, too. I knew it in my heart when I played the record to the record company people that it wasn't finished, that something was missing. Yet I was hoping they'd tell me it was great, that it was wonderful.

Three of the people I played it for told me that it was indeed wonderful, but I had a sinking feeling they were full of shit. The fourth guy I played it to - my A&R guy - said the record was okay; it wasn't bad, but not great. He said our last record was great, but this one wasn't, and that we shouldn't put out anything that wasn't great. I listened to that, but I was in New York, I was away from my family, my kid, I was lonely and I felt like a failure. So I went and saw a movie that I still can't really define.

"There's a Bruce Springsteen song in the middle of the movie, and when I heard it I started crying. I saw that movie about three times, walking the streets at the weekend, just thinking, thinking all the time. I went back to my hotel room and wrote about six songs in a two-day period. I called the band and said that what we had to do might not be right but we had to do it: we had to go back into the studio and fix the album. They agreed. So we went back to the studio for two weeks and we did it. We recorded a couple of new songs, fixed another few, and remixed it. A month later we played it for the record company and they all loved it, every single one of them. And I knew they weren't full of shit this time. And I owe it all to the movie . . . Jerry Maguire!"

Alexakis laughs out loud when he says this, knowing that Jerry Maguire isn't exactly the kind of movie anyone would expect to have inspired two of the better rock albums of the past two years. But like he said before, it's all about perception; he's too old, and he has been through too much to care what people think.

"I have a penchant for movies that tell a story," he finishes, an intelligent and eloquent former cocaine addict who came out the other side of hell to live a life. "And Jerry Maguire is the epitome of a good `American movie'. The guy gets the girl at the end. The good guys win, the bad guys lose. All those elements are what make American cinema. Even at its most vile. Orson Welles's A Touch Of Evil? There's still redemption at the end of it.

Judging by my life - the crap I put myself through - I believe in redemption. I believe in light at the end of the tunnel. I also believe that if you keep driving through the light you'll hit another tunnel. But, hey, that's just life. Learn to deal with it."

Songs From An American Movie Vol 2: Good Time for a Bad Attitude (Capitol) is currently on release