The quintessential Los Angeles punk rock band X (L-R) Billy Zoom, DJ Bonebrake, Exene Cervenka and John Doe, pose in a 1980 Los Angeles, California portrait session. Though the band never had a "Top 40" mainstream hit, it did develop a rabid cult following, influencing numerous other bands of the time.
The seminal Los Angeles punk band X burst onto the scene in 1977. An important part of the first wave of American punk, the band has remained influential throughout its nearly four decades together. Boasting their original lineup of Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake, the band will close out 2012 with dates in California – including one on Sunday night at the Casbah.
SoundDiego recently spoke with iconic vocalist Cervenka from her Orange County home.
Scott McDonald: Good afternoon.
Exene Cervenka: Hi, Scott.
SM: How are you?
EC: Oh, you know. I’m hanging in there.
SM: Ready to get back on tour?
EC: We’re always on tour, man. We play all the time. We just got back from the East Coast and a quick trip out to Phoenix. Now we’ve got about seven California shows to finish out the year.
SM: You’re billing this as “all original members.” Was there a time when it wasn’t?
EC: Yes. For a little while in the late '80s it wasn’t. But here’s the thing: People still don’t know that we’ve been playing together consistently since ’95, that we didn’t break up, and that Billy [Zoom] is still in the band. So we have to do that because people will assume that it can’t possibly be the real band. You’ve got to overcome the brainwashing and bulls--- that people seem to be under ahead of time, or you f--- yourself. You know what I mean?
SM: I do. And it seems so strange that it’s been 35-plus years.
EC: Tell me f--ing about it, man. It is strange. And I’ll tell you what: We’re going to be there till the bitter end. And I am honored to be in that position. I’m honored to give people something in this world that isn’t bulls---. We all need something. Some sort of consolation for what everyone’s going through now. It can be hellish, and I feel like I’m right there with everyone. But I’m going to live through the bulls---, do my best to stay me and be proud of what I’ve done for my whole life. And I’m glad that I’m still around to do it.
SM: How have the crowds changed over the years?
EC: They really haven’t, man. Back in ’76, there were all these young kids around and a bunch of people who were much older – people who were intelligent and into the arts – who found it too. And it’s always been that way. I remember Ray Manzerek being so happy that he found the punk thing because he believed that music was dead. It was only 5 years after Morrison died that punk started. And for us, it was always a mixture of old and young, and all kinds of different people. I characterize our audience as truth seekers. In the beginning, it was people who went out of their way to find something that was hard to find. And now that it’s a lot easier to find, we’re attracting a lot of people who didn’t know it existed. It’s not an age or scene-defined deal. It’s a mix. It’s never been something where everyone’s the same age and wearing the same thing. That’s just not punk.
SM: Does that mean it hasn’t changed that much for you?
EC: It’s kind of like being a great-grandmother and looking at your great-grandbaby. You just have to say, ‘Wow, look at life go on.’ I can’t help but appreciate the whole history of the band and all of the people who have come to see us, the experiences and the love, and still being a part of it all. I feel that way all the time on stage. And I’ll look over at Billy and see it on his face too. It doesn’t go smoothly every night, but we enjoy it and want everyone there to enjoy it every night as well. It’s an amazingly great time most nights.
SM: How do you feel when you hear you’ve been an influence on a band?
EC: Well, when you talk about influence, you need to talk about agenda and motives. Some people model themselves after something they look up to and some people model themselves after something they think will be commercially viable. And some people just become devoted to a certain style because they love it and want to become it. And that’s all great. But I think it’s a big compliment because there is such a huge history of music. To be appreciated, or even be on anyone’s mind at all, is always nice.
SM: Everyone in the band does other things as well and you just released a solo record last year. Anything else you can talk about?
EC: I just put out a new record. In 1997, I put out a record by a band called Auntie Christ. It was Matt Freeman from Rancid on bass, D.J. Bonebrake on drums, and I played guitar and sang. It’s a punk rock record and all the songs are intense and fast. It was released really badly and I always wanted that one back. So I remixed it and re-released it. I think it’s an amazing record. And what’s weird, it’s a perfect 2012 record. I was kind of feeling like, ‘why didn’t I make a record this year?’ But then again, I kind of did.
SM: Well, you are busy.
EC: Tell me about it. I write an advice column for the Orange County Weekly called ‘Ask Exene.’ It’s been a really interesting endeavor. I also have a radio show called ‘Devil’s Night Radio’ on every Sunday night. So I do those things every week and I just try and keep up with life.
SM: Looking forward to playing back at the Casbah?
EC: Well, we’ve just played so many thousands of shows, and so many down there in San Diego, that some of them do get lost in the old memory hole. But I do want to warn people – that place is pretty small and it’s going to be so f---ing loud. Billy Zoom does not have a volume control on his amp. It’s either on or it’s off. And I love that about him. So when the sound guy tells him to turn it down, he says he can’t. And he literally can’t. So bring your f---ng earplugs. It’s going to be intense. That’s what it’s going to be.
SM: How is your health?
EC: It’s excellent but weird. Apparently, I have nothing wrong with me that any neurologist can diagnose. I just went to a new doctor and he told me that I needed to forget about that MS diagnosis from a few years ago. He said it couldn’t be that. But he did say there was something wrong. And that’s fine. I’d much rather go around with an ignorance about it. My health is good and everyone’s got something, you know?
SM: Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be slowing you down.
EC: I’ll tell you what – it’s been 18 years of off and on diagnoses of this kind. I’ve been having health problems that whole time. I didn’t go to the doctor recently and he said there was a problem. I’ve been dealing with it for years and years. But at some point, I had to realize that the doctors didn’t f--ing know. Some said this and some said that. So I’m just moving forward. And it’s changed my life. So many people have reached out to me. And my heart goes out to all of them. It made me feel like it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And of course people are sick. I mean, look at this world. I just feel lucky that whatever I have is something that comes and goes. It hasn’t killed me, so I just keep moving on. Life is a trip. Life is a f---ing trip. That’s all I can say.