The new album, Everclear’s first new studio effort since 2003’s Slow Motion Daydream, and seventh overall, comes in the wake of the band’s critically acclaimed 2004 greatest hits package, Ten Years Gone: The Best of Everclear (which received a four-star review in Rolling Stone), marking a fresh start in more ways than one.
Aside from the revamped line-up, featuring bassist Sam Hudson, guitarist Dave French, drummer Brett Snyder and keyboardist Josh Crawley, the new songs are wrenched from events in Alexakis’ own life, including the recent break-up of his marriage and being forced to declare bankruptcy following his split with longtime label Capitol Records in 2004.
“I can’t tell you how many changes I’ve been through,” he says. “Sometimes getting your ass kicked emotionally will do that to you, especially when it was needed. I put myself and everyone around me through a lot: my addictive behavior, not being a good husband. Learning that anger and sex can be as big a drug drugs as any of the ones I’ve used in the past.”
The songs hit close to the bone, with Art’s recent experiences fully injected into songs such as the first single, “Hater.”
Says Alexakis: "I’ve written what I think is the ultimate break-up song...just about everybody has felt like this at one time or another.”
Some tracks, like “The Drama King,” “A Taste of Hell” and “Shameless Use of Charm,” are self-incriminating confessions, a rare find in an increasingly sanitized pop culture. Others provide an emotional balance, including the cry of sorrow found in the country-rocking lament “Portland Rain,” a heartfelt prayer for his teenage daughter (“Clean”) and the redemptive power of a new love (“Your Arizona Room”).
“All the heartache and hell I’ve been through have has made me a better, more spiritual person,” insists Alexakis, who says the recording of the album in Portland allowed him to spend time with his daughter and even drive her to school in a relatively stress-free environment. “I didn’t kill myself and everyone else in the process as I had in the past.”
“Glorious,” perhaps the signature track on the album, reflects this spirit of redemption in the face of struggle. A bittersweet reflection of a romance that escaped, Alexakis sings: “Everything fades away/The world changes everyday/When I think about you and what we had/It makes me want to say... Glorious.”
The music, cut live in the studio for the most part with the entire band playing together in one room, is an organic homage to some of Art’s own early influences, “like late ‘60s-early ‘70s Stones, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Humble Pie, Dylan, Tom Petty, the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen: guys who sing from their heart, and lyrically, I’m telling stories again, even though a lot of them are about me.”
There are also several nods to the Beatles, including “Portland Rain,” where Art comforts his daughter “with tears against her face” by referencing the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” while “Broken” declares that to fix what’s broken, “all you need is love.”
The album title refers to how sex can change the “whole biology of a relationship.” “I’ve learned how all precious relationships can be. When you go through hard times, you begin to realize who your real friends are.” After a string of hit albums in 1995’s platinum Sparkle and Fade and 1997’s double-platinum So Much for the Afterglow and 2000's Songs from an American Movie Vols. 1 and 2, Alexakis feels like Welcome to the Drama Club represents a return to his beginnings. The new album is on an independent label, just like his first album.
“I’m hungry again,” he says. “The music doesn’t sound like World of Noise, but I’ve got that same feeling in my belly. This album cost less than a tenth of what I’d been spending on recording, which proves you can make a great rock & roll record for not a lot of money. Sonically, it sounds fantastic. From a creative point of view, it feels like I’m making music for me again. I was letting myself be influenced by other people who had their own agendas and ideas of what we should sound like. This is me getting back to what I want to do and how I want it to sound. And I realized that’s where I was when I made World of Noise...."OK, we’ve got 400 bucks to make a record, so we are making a record! Let’s go.’”
That sense of organic, lived-in music comes through loud and clear. Songs like “Now” and “Shine” reveal Art’s roots in country, folk and funk, while the lyrics are naked glimpses into his soul. In “Portland Rain,” his plea is unabashedly erotic, “All I want to do is kiss you when I’m coming deep inside of you,” and on the acoustic ballad “Broken,” he channels the heartache of betrayal into a prayerful mantra, “I wish I could push a button and make the pain all go away.” The closing “Your Arizona Room” ends the album on a note of hope and optimism, as Art discovers that he can live to love again.
“It’s a cycle,” he says of the album’s sequencing. “Like a roller coaster. All my ideas about relationships are embedded in the record’s ebb and flow. It’s important to me to make a whole album, not just a series of songs. That’s what I’ve always done and that’s what I continue to do.”
Everclear’s latest once again offers a peek inside the Alexakis psyche, someone whose eclectic interests range from getting elected a delegate to the Democratic convention on behalf of Oregon and testifying before Congress regarding child support laws to actively campaigning for the Kerry/Edwards presidential ticket in 2004. That fierce commitment carries over to his music.
“I like to go for the jugular because there’s no bullshit about it,” he says. “I have nothing to lose. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, except myself. I’m not working on schedule making product. I’m making music from my heart and soul and personal experience.”
He may be a self-described “Drama King,” but on Welcome to the Drama Club, Art Alexakis and his band Everclear turn those churned-up emotions into the sound of classic rock & roll.