Few artists are as synonymous with the punk rock aesthetic as Exene Cervenka, from celebrated and legendary Los Angeles punk trailblazers X. A vocalist who can bring the beauty every bit as well as the ruckus and an outspoken catalyst for change and getting the fuck informed, Exene and crew have been wowing fans and changing lives since the 1980 release of their breakout album, Los Angeles. And now, as the band approaches 40 years of band-dom, they will re-release their first single, “Adult Books” b/w “We’re Desperate,” and hit the road with new arrangements of time-honored tunes. I caught up with Exene to chat because damn, she’s awesome. Ch-check it:
ADV: I read a lot of interviews in preparation, and people almost seem more interested in asking about politics than your music. Is this a good or bad thing?
EC: I’ve been outspoken since the 2nd grade in Catholic school, so that’s more me bringing it up than anyone asking. But we are living in a fascist police state now, and I have had run-ins with the media and corporate overlords where they told me if I kept doing or saying things, we wouldn’t keep our shows…so I don’t really talk about politics anymore. If I were not in a band, I would be fine saying whatever I felt, but I saw what was happening to the people in the band and their families, and this is how they made a living. Now, we’re in a bad position, and I’m being political by saying that, but it’s live to fight another day. We can’t fight the police state now; hopefully one day we will. But it’s not about me, and I wonder, why destroy myself when people don’t give a fuck about their own country?
Los Angeles is turning 35. Is that insane to hear?
It’s a little different than having a birthday, but time is strange. I was 20 when we started doing X, so we’ve become kind of this normal family. Really, it’s all the same to me.
You came up in LA during an era when punk was all about New York or England. Was that challenging?
It was all challenging. People thought The Knack was like the LA version of The Talking Heads. California was about power pop and The Eagles, and England had The Sex Pistols. The first time we toured, somebody wrote something about how we were sitting around LA in swimming pools, but we actually lived in this tiny apartment. It’s the same now. People believe what they hear through media. We didn’t have Internet then, so we had to fight the perception, but if you’re worried about what people think, you shouldn’t do anything with your life at all. People will try to stop you and bring you down and make you feel bad, but that’s why the scene was so great; everyone was so close and like a family.
I hear you had almost no music experience when the band started. Any advice for kids just starting out in music?
Just to be clear, the male members of X were always incredibly accomplished musicians, just…extremely talented. Whereas today, I think most people just make things on a computer. I don’t think anything is real anymore; I think it’s just a bunch of hacks and corporate bullshit. I think on a grassroots level, bands have to get good, but there’s nobody like The Doors or The Allman Brothers out there anymore. I mean, when we started playing, we used a tuning fork!
So do you think people are thirsting for “real” music again?
Oh yes. There are small labels everywhere now and so many bands doing great jazz stuff and punk. I know there are a lot of great people out there learning to play great music.
What have the crowds been like lately?
We have people who have been fans since the ’80s and ’90s and lots of young people and lots of people in the middle. In the old punk days, it was always a mix partly, I think, because it’s an outcast society. It was always gay kids and black kids and Asian kids and white kids…
What was the impetus behind the new setup?
I don’t think we know what to call it, but we do a lot of the songs we didn’t use to play live like “Come Back to Me.” Billy [Zoom] rearranged a lot of his guitar stuff, and it’s much more vocal and lyric driven; more intense and poignant. It hasn’t lost the edge, though, and we’re not doing anything less than we usually do. Everyone always expects the worst, like we’re too old or we’ve become too quiet, but we want to keep going and trying new things.
Is it tough to keep touring, or can you not imagine any other way?
I don’t see us stopping, but we’ve been around forty years, so it might be inevitable. I don’t know how many years we have left, and we don’t make a great living at this, but every day, for me, I like it more and more, and I appreciate it because I can’t do it forever. We keep talking about writing, but it’s hard getting everybody together. You never know. We feel very fortunate and we’re very happy to still be doing this.
Heath Concerts presents X
7:30 pm Monday, April 7
11 W San Francisco St.,