Los Angeles punk band X is celebrating 40 years together in 2017, and impressively the band’s original lineup—John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake—remains intact. The Weekly caught up with Cervenka to discuss how.
To what do you attribute X’s longevity? Longevity is the hardest thing to get—in a career, in life—because so many things can stop you along the way, accidentally or on purpose. John and I were married, then we got divorced. Billy quit for a while. We got back together in the mid-’90s, before the get-back-together rage.
We did an in-store for a reissue [1997’s Beyond and Back: The X Anthology], and 900 people came. We kind of went, “Wow, people like us!” Right after that, Pearl Jam asked us to play some shows. The first one was in Las Vegas, if I remember correctly. [It was: July 11, 1998.] That’s when we realized it was still really fun. We wouldn’t have this long-term career if people didn’t wanna see us, so we’re very grateful about that. You can’t play if nobody wants to see you (laughs).
How has the band been able to weather all the ups and downs of a lengthy career? A lot of it is just luck. We’re still around, and so many of our friends are not. I wish that wasn’t the case; I wish everybody was still here. … We’ve learned how to coexist pretty well. There’s all these horror stories about being in a band. It’s always like, “Wow, those people hated each other, and they took four different tour buses on the road.” We don’t have enough money to take one tour bus. Billy always says the reason we’re still together is ’cause we didn’t make enough money to quit or kill ourselves.
Digging back through X’s catalog, there’s such an alchemy of different influences and sounds. That’s true. I’m lucky to be in a band with three really amazing musicians who can play every kind of music and have all kinds of musical history behind them. Billy played with Etta James, with all kinds of soul bands, with Gene Vincent. Everybody in the band is really smart, and everybody reads a lot of books, and knows a lot about life. They’re just amazing people.
X has a Grammy Museum exhibit opening up in October. How involved are you guys in that? We’re heavily involved. Nwaka Onwusa curated the exhibit, and she really gets it. We started collecting things—D.J. had some stuff, I had other things and John had so many photos. There are setlists and a typewriter and the original drum set and clothes … People started contacting us, saying, “Hey, do you want this?” It’s just incredible.
Are you working on anything new at the moment? I’m working on some fiction, and I’m working on some art. Sometimes I work a regular job when we’re not on the road, because, frankly, what am I gonna do all day? Write songs? I don’t think so. And I need to make a living. X doesn’t make enough money for us to make a living.
Besides the show where X opened for Pearl Jam, do you have any Vegas memories? I’ve been hanging out at the Double Down a little bit, because I have friends in Las Vegas. I did a DJ night there recently. I love that place.
X with Skating Polly. September 6, 7:30 p.m., $30-$35. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.