X’s frontwoman Exene Cervenka talks her local history ahead of the band’s show at the Bottleneck tonight

Exene Cervenka has been the frontwoman of the Los Angeles punk band X since the group’s formation in 1977, along with their various reformations over the years. Additionally, the singer has fronted bands such as the Original Sinners and Auntie Christ, both of which made ample use of her power voice. Cervenka even has a local connection, having lived in nearby Jefferson City in the late 2000s.

Now back in Orange County, Cervenka is still singing for the influential X. The band makes a stop in Lawrence tonight (with crackerjack guitarist Jesse Dayton filling in for the ailing Billy Zoom). We spoke with Cervenka by phone last week about X’s place in the music world today.

The Pitch: You lived near to Kansas City and Lawrence for several years. How did you end up in Jefferson City, Missouri?

Exene Cervenka: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

During that time, X never really came through, though you did play solo.

Well, X is its own thing. It’s funny: Some years, we don’t play too much in certain cities. It just doesn’t happen, because a club will close or it just doesn’t fit in with our routing or something. We try to play every city we can play as often as we can play it, like any other working band would, but it doesn’t always work out.

I know X has a long history with the area – what are your memories of playing Lawrence?

I remember the first time we played there … I think it was the Bottleneck – it’s been there a really long time, hasn’t it? But I remember thinking, “Wow, this is great,” because when we first started playing, you could play Chicago and New York and Los Angeles and Austin and San Francisco, but a lot of cities didn’t have really good scenes.

But there were college towns that had scenes as good as the cities and that was really exciting, because you want to play to young people. You want to play to college kids, in some place where people are learning. It was really great, but when they changed the drinking laws from 18 to 21 and over, we lost a lot of our college audience, because they couldn’t go to shows. We weren’t doing the do-it-yourself kind of backyard or basements shows: we were doing clubs, and clubs wouldn’t let people in, so that was difficult.

What’s the process for getting ready for these strings of shows?

You don’t. Why would you? It’s what you are. It’s not like, “Oh, god! I’m in a band – I’ve got to go prepare!” No, you already know what you’re doing. However, having said that, it’s a good question, because this is a different type of situation, because Billy [Zoom, guitarist] is ill, and he’s not coming with us. We’ve been doing shows with Jesse Dayton as guitar player, and he’s a great guy, and the perfect guy to fill in in the meantime, ’til Billy gets better.

We had one rehearsal – just one, to learn the whole set. The guy’s pretty amazing, so we just did one rehearsal, and that’s how we got ready for this tour, and then just started playing. Did a bunch of sound checks and stuff. It’s a lot different, because normally, we just go to the airport and get on a plane and go off and play our songs.

How did Jesse Dayton come to fill in on guitar?

I met him one night when he was playing with John [Doe, bassist and singer], very recently. The band he plays with, under his name, was also playing, and I thought it was the best John Doe show I’d seen in a really long time, and I really loved his playing and thought he was a really great guy. When this came up, and we needed to figure something out, I asked John what he thought, and he was like, “Yeah, that’s great. Let’s do that.”

Jesse was available, but he had to change his schedule around, and really went all-out to make it happen, so I have a lot of respect for him. He had to give up some gigs and learn the songs really quickly, but he worked really hard, and has a great personality about it. He’s the right guy, and we’re just so grateful it worked out. He’s suoer-talented, and has his own thing, so he gave up a lot to help.

X plays the Bottleneck tonight, September 1, with openers Dead Rock West. Details on the show are here.

Categories: Music