In many ways, X put L.A. punk on the map. Formed in 1977, X found critical and cult success with a succession of acclaimed records.
Nearly 40 years later, founding members—vocalist Exene Cervenka, vocalist and bassist John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebrake—still share the stage as X, and this year finds them reworking older material and playing through classic albums like they’ve never done before. Drummer DJ Bonebrake spoke with the Bohemian about the band’s longevity and their slate of new shows.
“I guess we were just meant to be a band,” says Bonebrake, who joined the group last, after Doe and Zoom saw him playing in another L.A. punk outfit, the Eyes. “We somehow share an artistic vision, and we like what we do. When we play onstage, it can be absolutely magical, so we keep doing it.”
Bonebrake acknowledges that it took the group a little while to learn to play live, but he was immediately hooked on his fellow members poetic lyricism and distinct sound, which carried a heavy dose of rockabilly within their loud and fast approach. “They weren’t stuck in one style. They weren’t afraid to do something that wasn’t considered punk rock.”
In the early 1980s, X released a number of highly influential records, beginning with their debut, Los Angeles. Eventually, the band experienced the inevitable hiatus, when Zoom left the group and Doe and Cervenka started side projects. Yet the group has been together and touring semi-regularly since reuniting in the late 1990s.
This year, the band has changed up their standard live dynamic. Earlier this month, X performed all four of their first albums over four consecutive nights in Los Angeles, a feat that will be repeated in New York, Chicago and Cleveland later this year.
For their show at Napa’s City Winery Saturday, July 26, the group is going in a new direction. “It’s almost acoustic, it’s quieter. We wanted to rock out at times. We didn’t want to make it real campy, like Shatner reading poetry,” laughs Bonebrake.
X will also be performing songs they haven’t played for 30 years. “Come Back to Me,” “Bad Thoughts” and “The Unheard Music” are all classic tracks that will take on new, ethereal sounds, and the members will be switching instruments throughout, with Billy Zoom taking up the sax and Bonebrake on vibraphones.
Bonebrake is inspired by the current change-ups. “Anytime you do something new, it excites you, it makes you play better. I think that’s always a good thing.”