Exene Cervenka first made a name for herself in the late 1970s as the frontwoman for the Los Angeles punk band, X (best known for their aptly-titled first hit, “Los Angeles”). Critics have often credited her involvement as a writer and frontwoman as the defining factor that set X apart from the scene’s other punk bands. Over the years, Cervenka has continued to build on the credits attributed to her name, involving herself in new bands such as the Knitters, Auntie Christ, and the Original Sinners, as well as solo performances, spoken word performances and other art exhibitions.
This past Spring, Cervenka and bandmates John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake – X’s original lineup – embarked on their “13×31” tour, a name reflecting both their “unlucky thirteen, fuck the world” philosophy (according to an interview with The Village Voice) and the band’s 31st anniversary.
Vive Le Punk caught up with Cervenka to talk about living the punk life, 3 decades in.
K: What’s it like 30 years later, being on tour, still doing this, still playing music, and having a career?
E: It’s the same.
K: What do you mean it’s the same?
E: It’s the same.
K: What’s it like being one of the last surviving bands coming from that era, coming from that LA scene?
E: Well, it’s all very strange, being the last surviving band. And also being representative of LA, because we kind of stood up to LA at a time when everyone laughed at it. It’s very rewarding, to me, to still be doing this.
K: What are your feelings, looking back at the New York scene and the London scene, and the remnants of it? And seeing your peers coming back and playing now, at least the few that are left?
E: I’m feeling pretty positive, for the most part, about just about everything these days…. I’d like to get together and do some spoken word shows with some of the people that are still around. Like, do some kind of thing with Richard Hell or somebody like that.
K: Did you ever try to do something like that before? Bring the different coasts, the different groups, together?
E: Well, I have different projects…. But we all have a lot of stuff going on.
K: Have you ever done anything with the other females, the other rock ‘n’ roll chicks of that era?
E: We’ve done a lunch, yeah.
K: What was it like being one of the few women in the music scene, and in punk rock, in an era when it was really male dominated?
E: Well, it wasn’t male dominated. That’s the good thing about it. There were a lot of women in the scene. There were the The Go-Gos, and The Motels, and The Alley Cats… And some other bands had women in them. It was a pretty mixed scene. And the guys were not sexist at all. It was a pretty magical time as far as all of that stuff….
K: So, you don’t think it was tough to be a woman? You had a lot of peers and you weren’t the only one?
E: No, I don’t think it was tough at all. It’s a lot tougher now.
K: What about the LA scene now? Do you support it, are you a part of it?
E: I wouldn’t know. The scene belongs to the kids. It does not belong to the adults.
K: Why do you not really follow what’s going on now?
E: It’s just too much. There’s just too much to follow…. I try to keep track, but there’s just so much music that I listen to already.
K: How do you tour now? Do you have a van, or a bus?
E: We have a van, and a truck with equipment and merchandise and stuff.
K: Is it ever tolling, being a little bit older and having done this for so long?
E: I’m pretty autophobic, which means you don’t like yourself. I should say car-phobic. I don’t really travel in cars much, but I like touring, if that makes sense. I like being on the road. It’s a fantasy world.
K: Even 30 years later, it’s a fantasy world?
E: It’s a fantasy world with no dishes to wash.
X hit the road again in December to play their remaining “13×31” tour dates in California. Cervenka’s new solo album will be released Spring 2009 via Bloodshot Records.
Words & photos: Kirsten Housel