In Los Angeles, everyone knows Exene Cervenka was always many things.
For the last 35 years, she’s done it all — music, poetry, art, film — but she’s best known as the co-singer of X, the seminal Los Angeles punk band formed in 1977. Yet, despite her six solo albums (not counting collaborations), all of which could not sound more unlike X, some might be surprised by the sound of her latest solo release.
The Excitement of Maybe, released March 8, is a jewel of alternative country, full of vocal harmonies and love songs of light and darkness, “just like love itself,” as she told the Current on the phone from L.A. It is the second album she has released since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009.
“I’m doing really well, actually,” she said. “I don’t let that diagnosis … ” Then she stops, and it’s obvious she doesn’t want to talk about it. “Yes, I’ve been diagnosed with MS, but I’m doing really well.”
After performing in Austin with her band during South by Southwest, Cervenka will visit San Antonio March 26 for an intimate performance, just her and her guitar, at The Ten Eleven. “I’d like to play my songs and talk to the audience, tell stories, interact with them,” she said. Expect a conversation about the state of real punk, the one that’s coming back.
“Early L.A. punk was all about love, freedom of expression, individuality, loving each other, and helping each other survive outside of the corporate structure,” she said. “Now it’s 2011 and everyone in the country better learn how to do that, or they’re going to be screwed.”
Cervenka says the best of the musical and social scene from 1975 to 1982, unlike ’50s or ’60s music, was not allowed to be heard on the radio or seen on TV, and what you did see had nothing to do with punk.
“It all became a cartoon,” she said. “Fashion, fascism, redundancy, all your songs had to be played fast and had to be played by men, with the girls on the sidelines and the guys at the mosh pit. And that thing was exactly what real punk was against. That’s the punk I’m talking about, and that’s coming back out of necessity. And it doesn’t matter if you play bluegrass, or folk, or punk, or hippie music, or whatever music. If you got that same ideal, it is punk.”
X was — and still is — the embodiment of that punk spirit Cervenka talks about. Without a clear front person, it was the union of four talented people from different musical backgrounds who mixed punk sounds with anything from rockabilly to blues to folk. It was part of a scene that, unlike most of its English counterpart, was more than just attitude and DIY ethics — it was musically challenging, and X was among the most challenging of all. Los Angeles (1980) and Wild Gift (1981), both produced by the Doors’ Ray Manzarek, were chosen by Rolling Stone as two of the 500 greatest albums of all time, while Pitchfork chose Los Angeles as one of the top 100 albums of the ’80s (Wild Gift, by the way, was “Record of the Year” in everybody’s list).
“In 1978, in the USA you couldn’t find two punk bands who sounded alike,” she said. “`Austin’s` Big Boys didn’t sound like the Replacements, X didn’t sound like the Plugz, or the Weirdos, or the Cramps, or Blondie. All those bands were completely original. Everybody was scary and smart. That’s the way it should be, and that’s the way it’s going to be again.”
The Excitement of Maybe is mellow in nature, but all the songs carry a good punch and could be played by X or any band in punk format.
“Any of my songs could be played in X,” she clarifies. “I guarantee you any one of the songs on my solo albums could be X songs … but that’s a whole other subject of why X isn’t recording new material. I have song after song after song, so many songs X could do and that I haven’t recorded yet.”
When I ask her whether she would like to record them with X, she screams the answer.
“I would loooove to!”
So what’s the problem?
“You know, it’s an internal problem within the band, let me just put it this way,” she said. “There’s no consensus that making a record is a good idea. I think it is, but the consensus is not there.”
But is it a disagreement about the sound, or is it about something else? Is the band afraid she will make X sound like one of her solo albums?
“No, I think if we went to the studio to record an album with X we would sound like X and make a kick-ass record,” she said. “I think X could make a great record right now. But not everybody is ready to make that move.
“I give up … I have no idea what will happen in the future, but nothing surprises me. But hey, I’m happy. The album came out today, I’m talking to you, you like it, I’m going on tour … What more could I ask for?” •
Exene Cervenka w. Kevin Seconds (from 7 Seconds)
8pm doors, show at 9pm, Sat, Mar 26
The Ten Eleven
1011 Avenue B