Gary Leonard

‘Excited to Be Here’ – Interviewing the Legendary Band X

With a motive that stems from a wonderfully raucous career and a searing collection songs, X is winning over more and more people year-after-year, garnering new generations of listeners with their latest releases, and making super-fans out of any and every concert attendee.

Pioneering punk band X were planning on performing across North America in June, but then things got derailed when a band member had to undergo emergency surgery (details kept private). Fortunately, it was only a temporary setback and the band is now resuming their tour, which includes an August 31 stop at The Palladium in New York City. (Swing revival band Squirrel Nut Zippers will open.)

Calling from her California home, X’s co-singer/co-songwriter Exene Cervenka says she’s feeling a lot of “gratitude and excitement” as she and her bandmates hit the road once more. She’s especially happy that that they’re going to play songs from their most recent release, Alphabetland, because they couldn’t properly tour for it when it came out in 2020 – which was especially unfortunate, as it had been their first new studio album since 1993’s Hey Zeus!.

They’re also going to treat audiences to some brand new material: “We’ve been playing four or five new songs during our shows recently that we’ve been working on that we haven’t recorded yet. We’re playing those live because it really makes the song so much more realized once you’ve played it even once in front of an audience than if you’re just playing it in rehearsal, because you come up with different things in a live setting.

“You’re not going to rewrite a song because the audience doesn’t overwhelmingly go ‘yay,’ but you do get feedback – you can sense it the same way they can if something’s not working,” she continues. “Like, if you play something live, it’s like, ‘Oh, that part didn’t really sound as good as I thought it did in rehearsal.’ It’s just kind of a collective feeling. But they’re pretty realized by the time we play them live, we pretty much know what we’re doing, so they’re not going to change too much from that, I don’t think… but it’s exciting, I think, for people to hear new songs.”

With a laugh, Cervenka admits that playing new material in front of audiences doesn’t always go quite as planned, though. “At first it’s really nerve wracking and kind of like, ‘What if we all stop playing?’ Which we have, in the middle of a new song. ‘What song is this?’ But it’s just so much fun.”

Of course, they’ll also play plenty of their best-known songs, such as “Los Angeles,” “White Girl,” “Blue Spark,” “Burning House of Love,” or any of the other fan favorites they’ve created throughout their lengthy career. She says they never tire of performing these familiar songs, even though some of this material has been in their setlists for more than four decades now.

“The fact that we’re still together and still playing is pretty amazing,” she says. “That’s not lost on us every time we walk out there. For me, it’s very much of a ‘wow’ feeling, so I can’t possibly get sick of doing it.”

That said, she adds that continuing to write songs is just as important as honoring their back catalog, “because we’re in a band, and that’s what bands do.” To that end, she says they plan to record all of those new songs they’re refining on this tour, so fans can likely look forward to a new X album in the coming year.

By her own account, there was no way that Cervenka could’ve guessed that she’d end up with such an illustrious and longstanding music career. After all, when she was growing up in Illinois and Florida, she didn’t dream of being a singer or songwriter – instead, she thought she’d become a professional writer.

When she was in her early twenties, she moved to Los Angeles and met singer/bassist John Doe at a poetry workshop. Without much money and no good job prospects, she began singing in his band and quickly realized that her poetry skills made her a talented lyricist. From there, the band evolved into X, and they soon became one of the most popular bands in the L.A. music scene.

The late 1970s was an exhilarating time to be a young musician – even an inexperienced one like she was. “It was the beginning of punk. You could jump up on stage and scream for five minutes and then jump back into the audience. It was fun. So people just did what they wanted to do, and it was this thing where you got to experiment,” she says.

Starting with their 1980 debut album, Los Angeles, X became one of the most influential bands in the punk genre. Since then, they’ve released eight studio albums, crisscrossed the world on dozens of tours, and continue to be cited as a major musical influence. Still, Cervenka says that she never feels under pressure from people’s high expectations for her band.

“I’m 67 years old. I’ve been doing this for 45 years. If I can’t handle it, I shouldn’t be doing it anymore. I expect things from myself, but no one else can decide for me what my goals and expectations of myself are. It’s like, ‘Ok, I’m rehearsed, I’m prepared, I like what I’m wearing, I’m excited to be here. Everything else is out of my hands.’”

As she contemplates the upcoming tour dates, she is content: “I’m just grateful. Here we are doing an interview, it’s a beautiful day, and you’re asking me about my band. I think we’re just in a really good place.”