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MUSIC Art Alexakis reflects on music, LGBTQ rights and multiple sclerosis
by Jake Ekdahl

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Art Alexakis is the singer-songwriter and guitarist for the multi-platinum rock band Everclear. He is currently on the road with other artists on his Songs & Stories tour, and will perform at Chicago's City Winery on Wed., June 5.

Alexakis spoke with the Windy City Times about a variety of topics, including his career, publicly revealing his battle with multiple sclerosis, music, his longtime support of LGBTQ rights and staying sober for three decades.

Windy City Times: What first drew you to music?

Art Alexakis: It sounds like it's something a commercial writer would write, but seriously I think I was born with it. … When I was 4, I wrote a letter to Santa asking for an electric guitar, a drumset, a microphone and an organ. Even then, I was a control freak; I wanted to do it all.

You went public about being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis recently. What motivated you to do that?

AA: The main thing was it felt like it was becoming a secret.

It wasn't something I was hiding from but it wasn't something I was really public about. And then I started hearing from people that I was falling off the wagon [or] that I had a brain tumor, all sorts of stuff, that I was dying. You know, it's just like, alright. It wasn't just about that. It was mostly because I live my life in a way now that I don't have to take [it] from anybody. And I just put it out there. And it's just so much easier at the end of the day to not have an elephant in the room."

WCT: Did it bother you when people who were unaware of your MS symptoms speculated you had "fallen off the wagon?"

AA: I didn't really care about that. People think [that] it's a death sentence—I did. I didn't know what it was. And there are millions of people who live with it every day. I meet them at every show.

WCT: What has it been like receiving letters from people saying they're experiencing the symptoms you have?

AA: I counted—[there have] been 32 people who reached out to me and said the have [these] symptoms. And I urged all of them to get an MRI and all that stuff. Out of the 32, four of them came back to me and said they got diagnosed with MS and they all caught it in the early stages, which is really, really good because you have a better chance of keeping it from progressing, the earlier you catch it.

WCT: Tell me about your Songs & Stories tour. What makes it different from you previous work?

AA: It's not my band. And it's not big electric guitars. This time it's four other singer songwriters; we all have our own thing and it's very different from each other. It's working. We're about seven shows in and we're hitting a stride. It's really fun.

WCT: You'll be alongside Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne, Max Collins of Eve 6 and John Wozniak of Marcy Playground. Have you worked with them before?

AA: I've toured with Mercy Playground three times, I've toured with Eve 6 twice and I've been friends with Max for about 20-some years.

WCT: I'm curious to hear your perspective on sharing an acoustic version of your songs with people. What kind of new opportunities does that create for experiencing the music?

AA: I've always believed that a really good lyric and melody—[that] you can do it on a kazoo and people are going to get it. And when you strip something down to just guitar and vocals you hear a different aspect of the song without all the production and bombast.

WCT: Do you have any songs in particular you like to play acoustically?

AA: I like to do them all acoustic pretty much. That's how they were written.

WCT: You've been a longtime advocate for LGBTQ rights. What first made you speak out?

AA: I speak out because it's ridiculous it's even an issue. Who cares? People are what they are. … I've become in my life just very tolerant of other people, [and] I hate it when people bully anyone who is vulnerable because they're different.

WCT: You've been sober since June 15, 1989? That's a significant day of the year for you, I understand.

AA: It's the day my brother died, it's the day I almost died from an overdose and the day I got sober.

WCT: I would imagine staying sober while on tour takes a lot of preparation and preventative planning.

AA: I don't work with people who are full-on drunks or addicts. … I just don't want to be around it. One of the great things about this tour is all the guys [I'm touring with] we're all sober. I don't think there's anything wrong with using alcohol or even pot or whatever, if you can do it responsibly. I can't.

WCT: What advice would you have for musicians who are just starting out now?

AA: It's a different world, and my advice now is the same as it was then: If it's something you really want, don't give up. Keep finding ways to make yourself better. And when I say "better," [I mean] not in anybody else's estimation—[but] in your own. Just try to make yourself and your work as good as it can be, and as original as can be, and as unique to you as it can be… if you don't give up, you might not be successful, but if you do give up you definitely won't be successful.

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