Interview: Art Alexakis and Jonny Dubowski from “Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj”
The Massie Twins recently got a chance to sit down with Everclear’s Art Alexakis and Jonny Lives!’ Jonny Dubowsky, who are currently on the Van Wilder tour with actor Kal Penn to help promote the upcoming film Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj. You can learn more about Van Wilder 2 at www.MySpace.com/VanWilder2, and Everclear at www.EverclearOnline.com, and Jonny Lives! at www.JonnyLives.com. Read on to hear Art and Jonny talk politics, ethics, and the insanity of rock star life!
The Massie Twins: You guys are musicians first, right?
Jonny Dubowsky: I’m not an actor ever. Art is an actor of a different caliber.
Art Alexakis: That’s debatable. I went to film school as well, back in the day, but I put all my energy and focus into music. I had to make a choice somewhere down the line. Now it’s fun to do it when roles come up. But to get involved with a soundtrack; that’s something near and dear to my heart and I’ve been very picky about it. I haven’t agreed to do too many soundtracks and this one I really liked because I thought, one: all the bands on it were really cool and two: I really thought it fit the movie. It was cohesive and I love when people do things with a purpose instead of just putting a couple hit songs on there; then it’s just filler. Too many music directors just play by the rules. They deliver what their bosses want, and what they hope will be a hit song (which rarely is), but it works better when you’ve got a stronger soundtrack. It tends to sell more when people like the connection with the movie and the compilation of songs.
MT: How much input do you have as far as the creative aspects to a soundtrack?
AA: Well, in this one, not much. There have been other times that I’ve written songs specifically for the movie. Jonny’s song is the title track on this movie, but I think he came in after the fact. Jonny and Kal made a video together, and Kal co-directed the video. I don’t know if you guys had a chance to see it, but it’s pretty funny; they just got together in one day and knocked it out.
JD: It was insane. When I saw the trailer I was excited to be involved in it, and they said we’d get to make a music video. I read the treatment and it takes the Taj character and even advances it further. Now he’s teaching this class, throwing all the rules out the window, and it’s sort of a political satire: there’s an Osama piñata that the George Bush character can’t find, George Bush has Tony Blair on a dog collar and he’s riding him around the classroom and during the entire video the Taj character is an ice cream man and the ice cream is melted because of the global warming. And then of course there’s the gratuitous teacher who goes from banging erasers to soaping the blackboard to wiping herself down.
MT: Did you run up against a situation similar to how the freedom of speech issue hit the Dixie chicks? Was that a consideration?
JD: I think for the Dixie Chicks they were coming out from being country stars (their core audience), and their political views are not necessarily the ones that I personally believe in. I’m not too concerned, because if someone doesn’t like my music because I’m an extraordinarily liberal democrat, then I don’t want that kind of fan anyway. They should be able to see the larger picture. It’s not like I’m on a soapbox preaching, it’s pretty basic stuff that I’m interested in. On a political scheme it’s amazing to me that it’s hard for other people not to see that this is all possible. I think making videos like this is going to help shift the tide. Obviously the tide is turning a bit now. And I think with pop culture we can gently poke fun at it and initiate a larger discussion, especially in younger audiences.
AA: That’s kind of our jobs. The way I look at it, being, I don’t want to say cultural icons, but as people that make music and write songs, like Jonny was saying, if you want to get an idea of my political bent, just look at my lyrics. It’s easy, I’m not hiding anything from you, and it’s funny, because I’ll get emails all the time from very conservative people that say “I had no idea you meant that”. Really? I’m curious where that’s coming from. “The only song I really know is Santa Monica, but I’m a huge fan.” I appreciate that but this new album of ours Welcome to the Drama Club came out about a month and a half ago and is our 7th studio album. I’m 44. I’ve been making music as Everclear since I was 30. The song that’s actually on the soundtrack, Hater, we put out on the internet. We made a really cheap video and it was really controversial to a lot of people. It got a lot of the evangelicals up in arms. It went on the internet as “viral”, where it just starts sending it and we got a call from the PTO for Pat Robertson and also Bill O’Reilly. So I went on the Bill O’Reilly show and talked about it. If you go to www.MySpace.com/everclear and Jonny’s is www.MySpace.com/jonnylives you can see the video. And he’s trying to beat me down with the “O’Reilly factor”. The whole point of that is I’m not saying anything I haven’t said from the beginning. It seems like common sense that what we do puts us in that place. So the correlation to the Dixie Chicks; I don’t think that’s accurate. They do what they do and that girl has her political bent, but her fan base is very conservative, and very white.
MT: Did you see their documentary about 10 days ago?
AA: You’ve got to understand that crossing over from country to pop, unless you have a really hardcore, big hit pop song, is difficult. And they’ve had crossover hits before, but they are viewed as a country band and by evidence of the lack of success of their last record they have to be aware that if they’re in it to make music, great; they’re always going to sell pretty good records and I’m pretty sure they’re always going to make a decent living, but they’re not going to get the same fame and adulation until they come up with a hit and make a story for themselves at pop radio. But getting back to us…
MT: What’s the craziest thing a fan’s ever done?
AA: Crazy in a good way or crazy in a bad way?
MT: In a good way.
AA: These girls brought birthday cakes out to my show and they had about 200 people outside singing Happy Birthday to me in Columbus Ohio.
MT: How about you, Jonny?
JD: We had a fan in England that we met in Brighton and she basically followed us around for 18 days all through the UK. Being a new band and just making a name for ourselves, we weren’t used to this kind of incredible enthusiasm. She’d never heard us before; she heard us for the first time that night, and then went to all 18 of our shows across the entire country, all the way up to the north through Manchester and back down around and I don’t know how she did it. I think she slept in her car, but by the end of the tour, she was like our surrogate cousin.
AA: When I get stalkers, they’re not that nice. They freak out, and they think we were married at one time.
JD: I don’t know if anyone hooked up with her, but that might’ve added to the story. I might have to do some investigative research.
AA: Trust me, you want to avoid doing that. Not from personal experience, but from seeing it from other people’s bands, that’s a bad idea. Some people kind of lose themselves. Sometimes they forget what’s real and what’s not.
MT: What are the rest of your bands doing while you guys are touring individually?
JD: My guys are calling me up every couple of hours, saying “What’s going on?” We’re all involved in the night life in New York DJing and bartending and hanging out. Everclear, Jonny Lives, and two other bands from the soundtrack are going on tour in January and February so they’re just brushing up on their sleep.
MT: What do you hope Van Wilder 2 does for your careers?
JD: For me personally, it’s doing it right now. I’ve had the rare opportunity as a new artist to tour with someone like Art who is really a great mentor as to what to do and not to do. No one can show you the ultimate path, but it’s certainly nice to be with someone knowledgeable. It’s great to be on this type of tour where I get to be exposed to all these great new bands. I just hope the movie reaches the audience where they see the development of the character – it’s an intelligent film as well as being really funny.
MT: What are some of your favorite cities to tour in?
AA: Phoenix, Arizona. (Chuckles all around). I love coming to Arizona. My girlfriend’s from Tucson, so I come here a lot, and I have friends here. Chicago’s great, New York’s great, Kansas City’s great. Los Angeles is great in its own way. People don’t really get that enthusiastic for most bands, but we’ve got a following that we play 1000-1500 seaters and everybody knows where it is. We’ve got a pretty good core following, and now with MySpace and the internet, it’s really cool to reach out to people. A lot of people don’t know we have a new record out, because we’re not on a major label anymore. It was our choice not to be on a major label. One of the few things that we miss is the promotional money that can get the word out there. Perhaps that’s the only thing. As far as dealing with the day to day, I’ve got that fire in my belly again that I had 15 years ago. It’s exciting. And hanging out with young bucks like Jonny, I have become the Obi-Wan of the promotional tour. When they’re about to do something, I can say, “Maybe do it like this”. It doesn’t make me smart, but I’ve been through it. I’ve had my hand burnt, so don’t get your hand burnt. I’ll tell you how to not burn your hand. It might not hurt too much at first, but in the entertainment business, especially with the internet, if you get burned a little bit, it sticks around forever…it’s like a woman’s scorn. It never goes away.
AA: It’s been really great. They came up with a song for this college tour we just did and we had so much fun, we’re gonna do it again in the Van Wilder tour. I love rock and roll. There are so many bands now that seem to be adding orchestras and mimes and circus clowns and it’s like, “man, just give me rock and roll back”. That’s my personal taste. It’s what I like. I went early to see Jonny’s band play more times than any other opening band. (Barclay’s rep, the lovely Julie, steps in to remind Art and Jonny of their hectic schedule.) One more question. We started late. We were talking politics.
JD: I have to give a shameless plug to that Philadelphia cheese steak place we ate at yesterday.
MT: Art, you were in London, and I know Jonny, you’ve toured over there. Is there a huge difference between performing here and overseas?
AA: Absolutely. They boil meat.
JD: They drink their beer warm.
AA: They create tops on tequila bottles that no one can open up–
JD: –except for me and Dave Grohl. I noticed an actual cultural shift between the times we went over there. We went about 7 times in the last two years and right before MySpace caught on in London, there was no disconnect between the bands and their fans. The young kids were able to find new bands that were not being promoted by major labels and take those bands and make them successful. That was a lot harder to do in America before MySpace, and now with the advent of such a community it allows that to happen here, which is great.
AA: There’s nothing else we can talk about because Kal’s publicist won’t let us talk about the midgets.