By Steve Appleford, email@example.com
7:25 PM PDT, May 23, 2014
Art Alexakis is still obsessed with the art of songwriting. It hardly matters what era or genre if the tune and lyrics are just right, he says, whether it's the Beatles or X or the Pixies. As the leader of Everclear, the singer-guitarist has been a platinum-selling artist with hits of his own, and he's now ready to share what he's learned along the way.
"To write great songs, you have to love great songs," says Alexakis, 52. "You can't just be a great musician. You can't just be a great writer. You have to love the idea of a song telling a story and a whole world encapsulated in three or four minutes."
His work with Everclear continues with a newly recorded album and upcoming summer tour, but Alexakis is also moonlighting as chair of the new songwriting department at Los Angeles College of Music, located in Pasadena. He'll be teaching songwriting and what he calls "my take on the history of song" at the school.
The new program officially begins in the fall, but Alexakis has already been at the school for talks and songwriting seminars. "I'm totally excited about it," he says of teaching. "We've done a few clinics here, and I just find it invigorating." Students can get an early glimpse of Alexakis' program among LACM's "Summer Xperience" courses, currently taking applications.
Alexakis joining the faculty is another sign of the private college actively incorporating the voices of well-known artists, including recent appearances by Moby and Linda Perry.
"I'm looking for people who want to do it really badly and just teach them my process and my way of thinking — which is a little off-kilter," says Alexakis, sitting in a borrowed office in one of the school's two buildings on Fair Oaks Avenue, his blonde hair still cropped short, wearing a long-sleeve black shirt over tattooed arms. He lives in Pasadena.
He'll be drawing on his own experience and career, which soared during the '90s alternative explosion as Everclear climbed the Billboard album charts with "Sparkle and Fade" (1995), "So Much for the Afterglow" (1997) and "Songs from an American Movie" (2000), and videos that saw heavy rotation on MTV (back when the network devoted most of its programming to music, pre-reality TV). Some of his biggest hits were also deeply personal, mixing streetwise attitude and heartbreak on 1998's "Father of Mine," which included the lyrics: "My daddy gave me a name, then he walked away."
"We lived through the era of money shooting out of the ground," Alexakis recalls of the '90s. "It was ridiculous. The dichotomy between then and now is interesting — it's still all about the song. It's all about the music. It's all about the content. When you lose sight of that, people make mistakes."
Everclear has just finished recording a new album, which he hopes to release later this year or early 2015. In an hour, he would be hearing new mixes of the songs, then meeting with a record company about the album.
"It's loud," he says. "There's a lot of guitars. It's an old-school record. They're punky, and some are just heavy riffs. It's like a throwback to old Everclear stuff but with a contemporized sound. The idea was to make a rock record, because that's what I want to do. I know it's not the popular music right now, but that's where my passion lies."
Making the record as he prepared to begin teaching songwriting meant paying more attention to his own process, he says. For Alexakis, sometimes the words come first, sometimes the music.
"I just try to make it interesting and try not to get in a rut," he explains. "I've found that if you try to write in the same way all the time, you get a monochromatic sound to your songs. I grew up with the Beatles, so I like the idea of stepping outside that box."
In June, Alexakis and Everclear embark on the Summerland Tour, an annual event he co-founded in 2012 with other '90s hit-makers. This year's road trip also includes Soul Asylum, Eve 6 and Spacehog, and arrives at the House of Blues in Los Angeles on July 17.
"I decided to do this with the criteria of doing bands that are real bands that still make records and tour and had big hits in the '90s. That's refreshing and that's fun," he explains.
"I'm old school. I really enjoy rock, and I really enjoy young bands — and there's a whole slew of them that are going to break on the scene any time now. Rock bands — girls and boys. It's really exciting."
For more information, visit lacm.edu or call (800) 960-4715.