Thursday, August 18, 2011

Interview: Exene Cervenka (X, The Knitters)

by Anjelica LaFurno

Legendary Los Angeles punk band X will be celebrating the 31st anniversary of their groundbreaking debut album, Los Angeles, performing the album in its entirety during the Los Angeles tour with tour dates from September to October 2011. The tour will bring the band to New York City twice on September 30 and October 1 at Irving Plaza. Tickets are still available for both. If that isn’t enough to excite a fan or anyone appreciative of American punk music, then the added bonus of viewing the film X: The Unheard Music before X’s live performance certainly will.

The 1986 documentary dissects the Los Angeles music scene X dominated, complete with live footage and interviews. Even more awesome, the band will also be performing 45 minutes worth of other songs from their rich catalogue (Wild Gift, Under the Big Black Sun) during these particular dates. We chatted up with punk royalty Exene Cervenka (vocals) via email about her own iconic role in punk history, the difference between now and then, and also X’s future.

As part of celebrating the 31st anniversary of Los Angeles you’ll be screening the film, X: The Unheard Music before performing on stage. How will this enhance the live X experience? How do you think fans will respond to the combo of music and film during the Los Angeles tour? 

Yes, we have shown the movie and played after it and it's really interesting what happens. People have seen the movie if they are X fans, but maybe not in a long time. So it's kind of like a party, people talk to each other about what they remember from that early punk time, share that with younger people, and it creates a mood.

When listening to Los Angeles, I’m always and repeatedly surprised that its particular sound was once synonymous with the mood of LA. Los Angeles today is so very different from Los Angeles of ’77, so why in your opinion has this album remained just as influential now as then? And why has it continued to be the quintessential album representative of Los Angeles?

Because it's still real. It was never fake culture, it lives in people's hearts and minds and souls. X represents freedom.

Do you feel your live shows have evolved over the years? Any key differences when comparing 1977 to 2011? Or has the formula pretty much remained the same? 

It's so completely different in some respects, and incredibly unchanged in others. the singing is so much more involved and evolved. but the words and the message and the power of the music is still there.

Recently Flavorwire listed you as one of "15 Essential Women Punk Icons." How do you personally feel about your icon status? And why do you feel the first wave of American punk was accessible and heavily influenced by women?

It's logical that at a time in our world history like this one, we would need people to look and say, "Look what she did against the odds!" There was no video, radio, tv, press, cell phones, internet at the time punk started. Somehow it found everyone who was aware at the time. So go to your local indie record store, buy something that intrigues you, and invite everyone over for a listening party. Then spread the word. That's what we did and it worked fine.

As far as being female, I am in the minority now, but lots of women were integral to the punk scene. It wouldn't have happened without that participation. I'm not happy where our culture is today and how women are represented in it, if they are even represented at all.

Did American punk music evolve the way you had imagined it would? Did you foresee any sort of evolution or did you not contemplate the genre’s survival during its prime? 

I had no idea of the future. We were so in the moment. And I wanted to be in the moment, because really, that's all we have.

Are there any contemporary bands that you’re particularly fond of? Do you have any opinion on new Californian lo-fi bands, like Wavves and Best Coast, who embrace their Californian roots and implement it in their sound?

I'm very supportive of the musicians here that are playing the oldest of Americana. Frank Fairfield, Phil Alvin, and a lot of incredibly gifted young players, trumpet, guitar, bass, singing, jazz, teens, twenties songs, crazy good stuff.

Here at Fucking Nostalgic we celebrate veteran artists by way of appreciation, but also by shining a light on what’s new. After your tour in South America with Pearl Jam do you all have any further plans to tour? Or even possibly record?

Well I always plan to keep working.

Are there any albums that make you personally feel super fucking nostalgic? 

Everything in my record collection!


Thank you to Exene for taking the time do this interview! Check out some clips from The Unheard Music below, and listen to a Spotify playlist we made up of X's catalog...

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