Exene Cervenka: I'd Stay Up All Night Writing New X Songs
Place a finger on the 1980s punk scene and one band is still having impact some 35 years after forming: X. Mixing driving punk energy with rockabilly riffs, staccato rhythms, unexpected dual vocal drive, and socially conscious lyrics, X was a defining voice in the punk movement. Their uncompromising ability to defy perceptions and expectations keeps the band going today.
X is scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom Friday, November 29.
Founding vocalist and songwriter Exene Cervenka isn't surprised X--bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer D.J. Bonebrake--still commands a strong following. Up on the Sun caught up with Cervenka at her Los Angeles home to discuss the band's longevity, Zoom's departure and return, and why the band hasn't produced any new music since 1986.
Up on the Sun: Your bio states you were "a poet with no ambition of being a singer." So, how did this happen that you ended up a vital part of X?
Exene Cervenka: "I had a job at Beyond Baroque. It was a literary art center, did poetry workshops, and stuff. I lived upstairs; I could just walk downstairs and go to a workshop. The first night I moved in I went to a reading, and John was there. He sat down next to me and we started talking.
Afterward, we went next door and had a drink, then went back to my apartment. We talked about the punk scene and what was happening and we just became friends. We talked all night. I didn't even know there was a punk scene in LA. 1976, I had no idea. John told me about that.
Well, he liked my work and wanted to hear a song I wrote. He liked it, thought it was really good, and wanted to do that song with Billy, since they were starting a band. So I had like $50 to my name, living in this little apartment in the ghetto, and he said, "You've got something of value, and I'd like to take that and do something with that."
I said, "I have something of value? I'll hang onto that." So he said, "OK, you can be in the band." He wanted me to be in the band because he thought I could write good. And back then, if you wanted to be in a band you could. It was cool. The issue was how compelling are you--back then it was all about intuitive stuff. There was no MTV, no video, no internet.
Once the band got going and you the poet were up on stage, were there ever any reservation about doing it? Did you feel like it wasn't for you?
Yes, I felt that way a lot. I was in a band with John, DJ and Billy--people who'd been playing music since they were children. Billy was like a musical genius, [and] here I come along and I'm just this raggedy little punk. I'd never sung before. They were intimidating because they were so talented.
X has been going now for 35 years. What do you credit for the longevity?
We're still the original band, but it's incredibly hard to keep three or four people together on the same wavelength. Your mood changes, your ideas change, your personality changes. You start out all happy, and then it gets more miserable and bitter, and you decide you can't stand someone any more and you split up. You have a marriage that doesn't work or other issues. All kinds of stuff.
We're lucky; we just like doing it. I love doing it, and I'm grateful to be doing it, because the last time could be next week. You know hard it is keeping a band together when you're living hand to mouth? And then to do it for 35 years, there's so much baggage.