Art Alexakis is a singer, actor and college instructor. He’s been clean and sober for 25 years, bucking the success-to-excess rock-star stereotype by straightening out before getting famous as Everclear’s frontman.
He is, in short, an interesting guy. One with stories to sing, and tell. He’ll do both Nov. 21 at Harlow’s in Sacramento, in a show titled “Songs & Stories.”
“Every time Everclear does a new record, I try to go out and play a couple of new songs, and a couple of old songs, just to see where they fit” in a set, said Alexakis, 52. He was calling from Pasadena, where he lives with his wife and 7-year-old daughter. “I tell the stories behind the songs, and maybe play a cover.”
The new album, due in 2015, is called “Black Is the New Black.” The title was inspired, Alexakis said, by a sartorial commitment he made at 16 that has withstood subsequent declarations about pink, brown and orange.
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The cover he might do at Harlow’s might be of Neil Young’s “Harvest.” There’s a story behind it, too.
When he was 19, and tired of clanging on guitar in L.A. punk bands for which other people sang and wrote songs, Alexakis devoted himself to becoming a singer-songwriter. He studied the greats before he formed Everclear, which in the 1990s scored platinum albums and several hit singles.
“I learned the whole ‘Harvest’ album,” Alexakis said of Young’s 1972 classic.
Telling stories “gives people a more rounded view of not just Everclear, but me as a songwriter,” Alexakis said.
The Harlow’s show will be solo. “It is a challenge to go out there with just a guitar,” he said, before quickly adding, “and an attitude.” After this prompts a laugh, Alexakis riffs: “That should be on my gravestone – ‘he had a guitar and an attitude.’”
His biggest songs – the irresistibly melodic yet bittersweet “Wonderful,” and the harder, just plain bitter “Father of Mine,” which alludes to Alexakis’ tough L.A. childhood after his father left the family – give no hint of how fun Alexakis is on the phone.
Personable and forthcoming, he asks questions instead of just answering them. His Harlow’s show too will be interactive, he promised.
“You can heckle me, and I will heckle back,” he said.
Though he seems like a man comfortable in his own skin, he is the opposite, Alexakis said. His brother died from a heroin overdose when Alexakis was 12, and he survived his own near-fatal cocaine overdose in his 20s. Though he has not had a drink or a drug for a quarter-century, “I am still an addict, hard-core,” he said.
Sugar can be a problem. When he was into cigars, he smoked six to eight a day, which sounds sick-making.
“Well, maybe for a lesser man or woman,” Alexakis joked. But seriously, he believes the cigars helped him through a bad period, and keep him on the wagon.
Self-awareness can go a long way. It helps Alexakis recognize that although in rock fans’ consciousness, he’s that guy who’s been through it, his personal burden probably isn’t greater than others,’ he said.
It is just that he exposed his demons publicly, through songs such as “Father” and “Heroin Girl,” a vivid portrait of addiction off the 1995 Everclear album “Sparkle and Fade.” The new album contains a song about a guy just out of rehab, Alexakis said.
Everclear has not topped the charts in 15 years, but Alexakis, who is the band’s lone remaining founding member, has diversified. He started the annual, successful Summerland Tour, which features his band and other 1990s acts. He also teaches songwriting at Los Angeles College of Music. He was writing a midterm when he spoke to The Bee earlier this week.
He said hearing “young people who have a lot of promise” inspires him. He planned his current solo tour around his teaching gig, returning to L.A. for classes. He’s also flying back next week, in the midst of his Northern California dates, for the L.A. premiere of the Reese Witherspoon film “Wild.”
The film is based on a memoir by Cheryl Strayed in which she charts her physically grueling, spiritually cleansing trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. Alexakis, who has acted on and off for years, plays a tattoo artist who inks Strayed, played by Witherspoon.
He knows Strayed and her husband, filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, from Portland, Ore., where Alexakis lived many years before returning to L.A. a few years ago. He became friends with Lindstrom after Alexakis’ now-22-year-old daughter (from a previous marriage) took a film course from him.
Because of their friendship, Lindstrom and Strayed personally contacted him about the movie role, he said. “I also know it had to do with the fact I have a lot of tattoos,” Alexakis said. He still had to audition, and pass inspection by a real tattoo artist hired to ensure authenticity.
Alexakis had soaked in little knowledge, apparently, during the many hours he sat for his own tattoos.
The film’s consultant “kept saying, ‘You are not holding the gun right,’” he said.
Alexakis has not seen the finished film (opening Dec. 5 in Sacramento). But he recommends Strayed’s memoir, in which the author reveals how, in her devastation after her mother’s death, she numbed the pain with heroin and sex.
Alexakis can relate – to Strayed’s ill-advised behavior, emergence on the other side of it and instinct to share the journey through art. “She was lost, just like I was lost, and she was able to express it,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.
SONGS AND STORIES: ART ALEXAKIS OF EVERCLEAR
When: 10 p.m. Nov. 21
Where: Harlow’s, 2708 J St., Sacramento
Information: www.harlows.com, (916) 441-4693