A founding member of the seminal LA punk band X, regardless of what else she does – and she does a lot – she will forever be associated with X, and that is far from a bad thing.
An accomplished writer, artist and musician, Cervenka has just released Somewhere Gone, her latest solo effort for Bloodshot Records. The album is a collection of beautiful, roots-based songs that stick with you long after you’ve stopped listening.
She spoke recently about the record, her influence on punk music and the future of X.
Innocent Words: Being part of one of the first LA punk bands, at the time did you realize that the music you were making was going to inspire so many others to start bands?
Exene Cervenka: Well, it kind of happened at the same time. As soon as the punk rock things started happening, 9-year-old kids started playing punk music. There was a foreshadowing of that. I didn’t know it would last 40 years and that [X] would carry some weight in the future.
IW: Do you still get a lot of bands saying that you were an influence on them?
Cervenka: I get that. Mostly I get “I was in love with you when I was 14.”
IW: Does that ever get weird?
Cervenka: No, it doesn’t bother me.
IW: Are you surprised that punk music has become so acceptable and mainstream?
Cervenka: Not really because The Germs and X and those bands are still pretty underground, and bands like The Ramones kind of broke through a little bit more to be aboveground. Mostly what’s popular isn’t the original stuff.
IW: Do you still listen to punk music?
Cervenka: I listen to some stuff. Mainly, I listen to old music. I listen to music from the ’20s to the ’70s. And I listen to some newer stuff, but when I say newer stuff, I mean the ’90s.
IW: The songs on Somewhere Gone don’t sound like they easily fit in a particular time period. Were you listening to any specific genre that served as an inspiration?
Cervenka: I listened to a lot of old Gospel music when I was writing these songs. But what mostly inspired me were my emotions. I just wrote with whatever emotions I was feeling, you know?
IW: What can you tell me about the new record?
Cervenka: I played with good people, and I trusted them to know what to play. I didn’t have to tell them how to play it. It wasn’t like “I’m the producer, and this is the way you’re going to play it.” It was the exact opposite. They had many great ideas, so the record was really easy to make.
IW: Had you worked with these musicians before?
Cervenka: Most of them. I know them all. They weren’t strangers.
IW: You did a great record with Rancid’s Matt Freeman a few years ago (Auntie Christ). Do you still see him?
Cervenka: My band, Original Sinner, just opened for Rancid last year and hung out with Rancid and hung out with Matt quite a bit. When we’re in the same city, we definitely get together. If we’re both on tour in the same city, we always try and get together. But, they’re on the road all the time and we don’t live in the same city. But I love Matt, and we’re still really close. We had a definite bond.
IW: Any chance of you guys getting Auntie Christ back together for another record?
Cervenka: Probably not because I’m still doing X and this solo thing right now.
Cervenka: Not when I’m writing it, but when it’s done, you can tell. I have one X song that I just wrote. I kind of hog all the good songs for my solo career.
IW: You’re also pretty well known as an artist. Working on anything new?
Cervenka: I just closed one art show at a museum in Los Angeles, and then I have another show up at a gallery in Los Angeles, but the next thing that I’m doing is a traveling art show in conjunction with Bloodshot Record’s anniversary. And, I’m going to do an art show in Miami in December.
IW: God knows you’ve got enough going on. Do you ever think about slowing down?
Cervenka: No. I’m picking up speed as I go. Life is short, and I don’t have all day, and I’m in a big hurry to get things accomplished.
IW: What else are you working on?
Cervenka: We’ve got a Knitters show coming up and a few X shows. X just recorded a few Christmas songs, in our own style of course. They’ll be released on iTunes, or one of those, I think. That was fun. We recorded those and produced those ourselves. It got us back in the studio and talking about doing some new songs, so that was really good.
IW: Do you like the ability to release songs a few at a time on places like iTunes, or do you prefer traditional full album releases?
Cervenka: I feel like if people are starving, they don’t care what plate you give them your food on. You know. I feel like any way music gets out to people is good.
IW: You spend a lot of time touring. Any bands that you’ve seen recently that have impressed you?
Cervenka: I like this band called Dead Rock West. There’s a Bloodshot (Records) band that I like a lot called Ha Ha Tonka. I listen to Mazzy Star a lot, so when you say newer bands, I think there’s a band from the ’90s that I like a lot. It’s funny, I try to go out and see bands… I just moved to California, so I need to try to go out and catch up on some of these bands.
IW: Why the move back to California?
Cervenka: It was a change of events, and it turned out that I needed to come back here to live, so I came back here to live. You just don’t know where the universe is going to take you.