X Frontman John Doe Has More Fun in the New World
Living quietly in Austin for two years now – and only for hours at a time!
"It's been about six months, nonstop," says X singer/bassist/songwriter John Doe of his insane schedule as he nurses a beer and chili at the Long Play Lounge.
The North Austin watering hole in which he invests is situated within walking distance of the home he purchased in 2017 with partner Krissy Teegerstrom.
"X does a holiday run on the West Coast every November and December, then we recorded in January. After that, [punk supergroup] the Flesh Eaters went on a tour of the West Coast. I had maybe 10 days off in February before they did Texas and New Orleans. Then X did some other stuff in March."
He pauses, thinking.
"I can't remember what."
Born John Nommensen Duchac in Decatur, Illinois, on Feb. 25, 1953, one of punk rock's most respected pioneers, now 66, appears only slightly grayer and craggier than the lanky aspirant peering from the sleeves of nearly 40-year-old X LPs Los Angeles and Wild Gift. Hyperdrive creativity appears to suit him. Into that fray add in More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk, the just-issued sequel to 2016's Under the Big Black Sun, co-authored and -edited by Doe and Tom DeSavia.
"The Flesh Eaters did another tour in March of the Midwest and the East Coast. That was another two weeks," he continues. "Then I went straightaway to Florida to work on a movie for a month. It's a remake of D.O.A., a period piece. Did it in St. Augustine, which is a beautiful, sleepy town – maybe 15,000 people – near a buncha beach communities. I did that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to listen more and be more vulnerable, and to do something that scared the crap outta me. Terrifying, because I was the lead guy and it was a shoestring budget. I'm taking the Edmund O'Brien role, and it's all film noir – suits, ties, death, poison.
"Right after that, I started on a monthlong tour with X. When I came home – this was a record for me – I was home for 12 hours!" he laughs. "I arrived at 4 in the afternoon and left at 4 in the morning to get a 6am flight to L.A. to start the book tour. I got back here Sunday and I'm leaving tomorrow for another X tour."
For the record, today's Wednesday. His book bio lists all three arts mentioned here and locates his home somewhere between Austin and the interstate. Yet his multifarious pursuits – especially X, formed in 1977 with guitarist Billy Zoom, ex-wife/co-singer/songwriter Exene Cervenka, and drummer DJ Bonebrake – ensures scant moments to set down his bags and kiss Teegerstrom before reboarding the tour bus.
"Hear that?" grins Doe as Bill Withers struggles through a fluff-encrusted stylus over the PA. "Dust on the needle. You don't hear that on Spotify!"
Besides craft beer and vegan or meat chili, the bar boasts an enormous vinyl collection, and an unobtrusive TV only switched on for special occasions ("like if the Astros are in the playoffs, or if Beto wins"). His Austin ties go back to an early 1980 X date at Club Foot on the Los Angeles tour, booked after being contacted by the Big Boys.
"I sure miss Biscuit," he laments. "I always liked Austin: quality of life, affordability. I could buy a house here. We live in a modest Fifties house – 1,100 square feet. Also my partner is a native Texan.
"I'm a career artist," he acknowledges, leaning into reasons he can barely enjoy domesticity. "I take it really seriously, whether it's X or a movie or the Flesh Eaters or this book. I give it everything I've got. Nowadays, there's no way of making money, except for being on the road. We never made any money on the records. We'd make a little bit on the publishing, and I still do, but less and less because of Spotify and Pandora.
"From them you get a big stack of papers and a check for $150," he laughs. "On it they say, '20,000 plays!'"
More Fun in the New World finishes what Doe and DeSavia began with Under the Big Black Sun. Both mock up a portrait of Los Angeles' multifaceted punk scene as told through a series of essays from the musicians, scenesters, and journalists. These ended up mini-autobiographies, providing a portrait broader, more inclusive in scope, than your average scene history.
"With the first book, we wanted to be sure there was context, because Los Angeles was responsible as much as anything for why the music sounded like it did," he explains. "Everyone was given a topic we thought they were experts in, for both books. I can't tell those stories. I can't tell [Go-Go's guitarist] Charlotte Caffey's story about addiction and recovery. I couldn't tell Robert Lopez's story about being Latino in San Diego and being in this great punk rock band, the Zeros.
"I also didn't want to be the authority. Too much pressure!"
The second volume also expands the remit into the Eighties, including creative types inspired by SoCal punk. There's artist Shepard Fairey, actor Tim Robbins, skateboarder Tony Hawk, and filmmaker Allison Anders, who's cast Doe in several of her movies, most recently Lifetime June Carter Cash biopic Ring of Fire, wherein he played AP Carter. DeSavia's introduction reiterates Teegerstrom's takeaway from the first book: L.A. punk "tossed seeds, and those seeds had taken root" across non-musical disciplines.
"I'm all for punk rock," says Doe. "Because punk rock in anything – not just music – is freedom. You go into a room and you do what you want as long as you don't hurt anybody too bad."
Certainly no one's butthurt by the promise of new X recordings – the original lineup's first since 1985.
"Hell has frozen over!" Doe laughs, finishing his beer. "We did some old songs that never got an actual recording. We did a new song and another song that's been re-imagined. Exene and I worked on a couple of other new songs."
The hyperscheduled musician promises more recording, with a new single and EP forthcoming on Fat Possum Records, but for now he bids adieu. After all, there's a tour bus to catch.