Summerland Tour preview: Everclear's Art Alexakis on playing the hits and choosing food over sex
In 1995, Everclear released their second album Sparkle & Fade, which not only contained the band’s breakout hit “Santa Monica” but also a ruggedly dreamy composition called “Summerland.” Nearly two decades later, Summerland is more than just a song. It’s a franchise, and it serves as the name of Everclear frontman Art Alexakis’ touring mini-festival, which is about to kick off its third consecutive year on the road (and fourth overall). Starting this Friday, June 13, in Pompano Beach, FL, Everclear will take Soul Asylum, Eve 6, and Spacehog across North America for a healthy series of doses of alt-rock nostalgia. “These are still real bands,” Alexakis notes. “They’re not bands coming out of the mothballs to play the hits. That’s the difference between our tour and some of the other ‘90s tours. If that’s what you want to see, that’s totally cool, but that’s my thing. A lot of those bands are starting to sound like karaoke bands. I want to hear rock bands.”
Enjoy EW’s conversation with Alexakis about the new trappings of rock stardom below, and check out the official Summerland site for the full list of tour dates.
Entertainment Weekly: This is the third straight year for Summerland, and the fourth overall. What’s the curation process like? How did you settle on Soul Asylum, Eve 6, and Spacehog?
Art Alexakis: I had prior relationships with each band in a different way. To be honest with you, we’ve been getting calls from agents since the last tour wrapped asking if we’re doing Summerland again and would we consider their band. We’ve been getting a lot of that. I’m getting a lot of hits on social media about it too. So I guess we’re branding. But we’re also doing something right and people are connecting with it. It’s still a growing thing. I’d like to have bigger bands on it, but that means I have to pay bigger money. We’ll see what happens. But I couldn’t be happier that we have these three bands. They’re all rock bands, they all meet the criteria of having huge hits in the ‘90s and they’re still a band.
How far back do you go with Soul Asylum?
I’m a huge fan of [frontman] Dave Pirner. I grew up listening to soul Asylum in the ‘80s when I was in college, and they came out of the same scene in Minneapolis as the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. Over the last 15 to 20 years, we’ve probably played 20 or 30 shows together. I’m a fan of every incarnation that band has ever had. I love Dave’s songwriting—I think he’s one of the best songwriters in America, and they were on the top of my list to get on this tour. Getting them on this tour made me so excited. I don’t know him very well, but I hope that by the end of this year I can call him a friend. He’s very shy in person. That’s been my experience with him. I get it. He’s an artist. I’m more like a manager who writes songs. I’m a pain in the ass like that. I’m excited to spend some time with him and the band and go out and play with them every night. We’ve got like 40 shows in 55 days. That’s a tight schedule, especially for us old guys.
You’re 52 years old now. Have you had to change the way you tour? Do you travel with a trainer and a chef?
If I could afford them, I would. I just can’t afford that s—! I had operations in November and January on my feet. I’m feeling better already. I’m ready to start jumping around. I do prepare a little bit. I do like my sugar at night, but I try to keep it to a minimum. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke—I’ve been clean and sober for 25 years. My idea of a big night is a hot fudge sundae. That’s me getting down. That’s the one thing about this tour. It’s sort of like summer camp for middle aged guys. We’ll be backstage, and we’ve got plenty of rock and roll, but instead of the sex and drugs, we’ll be like, “Hey, did you try the brisket? Is that a rub or a marinade?” That’s where the age comes in. It’s rock and roll, food, and sex with our wives. And I have no bones about that. It’s awesome.
We’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of Everclear’s breakthrough album Sparkle & Fade. Any plans to celebrate that?
I’m talking to the people at Capitol now about maybe putting out a 20 year edition, and I know I would like to go out and just play the record as a three-piece like we did back in the day and just do the whole record at some clubs. Bands do that all the time, so it’s nothing ground-breaking, but I do like it. I saw Cheap Trick play In Color, and it was awesome. I think that’s a cool thing.
You’ve been playing those songs for 20 years, and they were obviously written when you were in a very different place. Do you still feel connected to that album?
I don’t feel disconnected. I play them so much. Some of the songs that are more obscure on the record, that might be a challenge to get back into. We still play three or four songs from that record, and it’s one of those things that I feel like I have to get into that headspace every night. I can’t just dial it in. I have to be honest with you, it’s emotionally draining. But it’s necessary, and it feels great after I’ve done it. Obviously I get the response from the fans that they feel connected. I have a pet peeve about bands that don’t play their hits. I think it’s kind of selfish. That’s a prerequisite to be on Summerland: You gotta play your hits. I want people to see four bands in three hours, with short sets and a lot of hits. Less is more. That’s how I’ve always been. I hate it when bands play over an hour. That’s ridiculous to me. Even if you have all hits! Play for an hour and walk away, and leave me wanting more. As a songwriter, I do kind of look at “Santa Monica” as a thing outside of itself, because it isn’t just my song. This is a song a lot of people tell me is a part of their high school or college years. That means a lot to me. It’s not just nostalgia, it’s life, and you have to have a certain respect for that song. There’s a lot of bands who don’t play their hits. They get skeptical of it. I understand why they do it, but why not find a middle ground where you can do it all? To be honest with you, I don’t feel artistically challenged by playing my hit songs, but they’ve changed my life. And all the bands on this tour feel the same way.
What is the story behind “Summerland,” the song from Sparkle & Fade after which the tour is named?
I was living in Los Angeles, and I had a girlfriend who was going to school at UC-Santa Barbara, about 100 miles north of L.A. So I’d drive up the 101 to see here. This was when I was still in my drug phase, and I was full of anxiety and depression. As your driving up the 101 and your getting out of the mountains, you come to this place called Summerland. There’s just a big yellow house you can barely see poking out of the trees. For some reason it’s always sunny, right in that spot, and the sign just says “Summerland” with an arrow. I was like, “God, who doesn’t want to go to Summerland? I want to be there all the time.” I never got off at that exit. I almost did a couple of times, but I was afraid it was just going to be something lame and it would blow the effect. I’ve been told since then there really isn’t much there, but I’m holding on to the myth. “Summerland” became that place for me that you can go and be yourself at your best. It can be summer all the time.
What’s next after the tour?
I’ve been working on a new record. It’s darker lyrically, a lot more akin to our first few records. I recorded that with the whole band in the room. That’s how we’ve done the last two or three records, but that’s not how I recorded the first four or five Everclear records. Back then it was just me and two other guys, and I would play all the guitars and all the keyboards and most of the vocals. That’s how I used to make “Santa Monica” and “Father of Mine” and all those records. That’s pretty much how we did this record. We worked on it for two or three months, recorded the basics in 10 days. It’s like an old-school Everclear record. We recorded the album at Live’s new studio complex in York, Pennsylvania. It’s just a phenomenal facility and a phenomenal sound. I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s less keyboards, more guitars, just a heavier sound. Originally I wanted to put it out in the fall, but everyone I talked to at the label said it would probably be better if we put it out early next year. I’m cool with that. I want the right thing. I want people to hear this record, because I think it’s awesome. But the perpetual ADHD kid in me wants people to hear it now! I think at the latest early next year, like March or somewhere around there.
Attack of the '90s