John Doe on the Early Days of X

October 22, 2013

In 1977, acceptance of the L.A. punk movement was quick—I would say maybe six to ten months—because it was in the air. Everybody was ready for something new. They were tired of Peter Frampton and stuff like that. It was just time. So everybody in punk rock drew a line and said, “This is now, that was then. Let’s move forward.” That was liberating.

The scene was extremely cooperative, because everybody had to pull together to keep this very tenuous sort of wobbly, shaky thing moving. Brendan Mullen [founder of The Masque punk club] gets a lot of credit for putting on gigs and keeping the community going. Everybody worked together, and, at the same time, nobody wanted to sound like each other, so the style of the groups was all over the place. I don’t think it was until the early ’90s that punk was codified into “This is what punk rock sounds like.”

Exene [X vocalist] hadn’t sung in a bunch of bands before X, so she just sang what she heard. She didn’t know any “prescribed” harmonies—which is why she’d sing in fourths or seconds and do all these dissonant drones. We’d also make up song structures in threes, rather than fours, or put a measure of 2/4 between a bunch of 4/4 measures. We were just being contrary, I guess, and Billy [Zoom, X guitarist] was always complaining about that. He taught Exene and me about rockabilly, and he’d tell us, “Don’t do that, because people in 1962 wouldn’t do that.” He put limits on things—made us have boundaries—which was good, because I believe that you can’t play all kinds of styles and still have people know what kind of band you are.

Last year, X celebrated its 35th anniversary, and the band is still touring today. And in all those years, there has never been any doubt about the “X sound.” —Michael Molenda

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