Exene Cervenka and X in Redondo Beach
Exene Cervenka in the here and now: an interview
by Bondo Wyszpolski
With the 1980 release of “Los Angeles” on Slash Records, X made an impact on the local music scene that’s reverberating still. The group, which formed in 1977, cut seven studio albums between ‘80s and ‘93, the first five of them with the classic lineup of vocalist Exene Cervenka, bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom, and drummer D.J. Bonebrake. While never a mainstream sensation, “Los Angeles” and “Wild Gift,” as well as “Under the Big Black Sun” and More Fun in the New World,” were impressive for their blend of punk rock with an active twinge of rockabilly. Zoom left the group after “Ain’t Love Grand!” and although Dave Alvin and then Tony Gilkyson came on board, the band pretty much gave way to solo projects beginning in the mid-’90s. Eventually the four original members regrouped and, well, we’ll let Exene answer a few questions, which concern new songs and (soon, it is hoped) a long-awaited new studio album.
Q: After the dozen or so years apart, when the original X members reunited, was there fresh energy and new ideas or did it simply feel like picking up from where you’d left off? That is, how was it different when starting the second round, so to speak?
Exene: “It (felt) somewhat tentative. We had all changed a lot over that period. I’m sure there was some confusion and emotional hesitation. But obviously we got through it because the benefits outweighed the difficulties. It wasn’t long before things got very comfortable and we all embraced our reunion.”
Q: Are there any earlier songs (perhaps from the first four albums) that perhaps because of political correctness, etc., that you wouldn’t play now? Or would play much differently?
Q: I see that your early albums are being remastered and re-released. I’ve listened to the first one and there’s certainly a cleaner sound that further allows one to appreciate the individual contributions in a new way. How does it strike you? Did the entire band have a say-so in the result? Is there a release date for the remainder of the albums?
Exene: “Pretty much yes. Our records have never been out of print. Quite an accomplishment.”
Q: Are there other groups/artists from the late ’70s/early ’80s whom you admire, and who still manage to persevere in making and playing music? We may think of rock music as being solely the provenance of the young, until we come across or remember those artists who somehow keep going… and make us want to keep going as well.
Exene: “I love Blondie. I love Debbie. She is the one artist I feel weak around. She is so beautiful and talented and funny. She is very much like Jean Harlow but still so original. Just a magic being. I love the band, too. X opened for them. And later John and I did our duo thing opening for Blondie and Garbage! So I have been blessed to see lots of Blondie shows! I saw them when they first played L.A. also, and I think in N.Y. way back then. I love Garbage too; and getting to know Shirley has been great. John and I recorded a song with Garbage late last year. It’s findable online. “Destroying Angels”. I see El Vez whenever I can – he is one of the earliest artists in the punk scene with the Zeros. Phranc is amazing though I’m sad to say I haven’t seen her play lately. We are playing with Violent Femmes and hopefully Psychedelic Furs this year. Lots of great bands still playing!! Lucky us!!!”
Q: Any favorite bands that have come out of the South Bay? Hermosa is famous for Black Flag, of course, but there have been a few others.
Exene: “Well, I love Keith Morris. In any and all of his musical incarnations.”
Q: What’s the spirit like when you get together with old friends who were musicians in those early days? (I’m thinking of someone like Chris D). Do you ever jam with or collaborate with any of them now, or at least talk about doing so?
Exene: “We don’t jam really. The Flesheaters are playing and recorded a new record and they are the best representation of that perhaps. Really most people I know are firmly in the here and now (if still here of course).”
Q: The group has new songs (recently recorded, at least). Did you or do you try them out at your shows? I would think that releasing a record of all-new material must be a little “scary,” in that fans want the old sound (to some extent), but you don’t and they don’t want you to sound dated. However, we always want to see the heroes of our youth come back strong after a hiatus and then dazzle us. So I guess we’ll all be waiting!
Exene: “I think we will be playing some of that material; don’t see why not, but we haven’t talked about it yet. The songs are a mix of old and new; new takes on old themes also. Hope people will like them.”
Q: What about your creative work apart from the band, and what about your art? You showed some of it in Palos Verdes last year; any chance they’ll be more of it on view in the South Bay?
Exene: “I haven’t done much since that exhibit art-wise. I have been doing a lot of fiction and poetry writing. Not sure what will happen with that. I enjoy it a lot and plan on doing more. I’m focused on X!”
X performs Thursday evening as part of the launch for BeachLife in Redondo Beach ER