Featuring the poetic lyrics and approximate harmonies of John Doe and Exene Cervenka, the turbo fretwork of Billy Zoom and the propulsive drumming of DJ Bonebrake, the band X has been whipping up their whirlwind of punk rock energy off and on for the last 3½ decades.
X drummer DJ Bonebrake talked to Noozhawk about Thursday's show, X's classic first album and more.
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Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming show?
DJ Bonebrake: A rockin' show [laughs]. It's always good to play, and when there are people there, fans there, it's really fun. Ventura's always fun. It's a good venue. Yeah, a lot of excitement, and a lot of energy [laughs].
JM: You're sharing the bill with The Blasters, who you've known forever. What are some of your memories of those guys from back in the day?
DJB: Gosh, drinking lots of Budweiser, hanging out. We had a good time. We played a lot of shows together, and they're just buds. Dave Alvin isn't playing with The Blasters now. He does on occasion. But there's Phil Alvin.
I always loved that Johnny Bazz still has a bottle opener on his bass guitar. That says it all [laughs]. And Bill Bateman's always been a good friend. We just talk drum stuff, you know, and hang out. They're just good friends. I've known them forever.
JM: I first heard X when I was in college in Iowa in the late '80s. Was there ever a point where you realized, oh my gosh, people in places like Iowa are listening to us? X was very much an L.A. band, but you did reach beyond.
DJB: I think the advantage we had is that we started touring, right in '78. We just said, "We're going to New York." The L.A. scene was really isolated, and people didn't take it seriously, because there was a New York scene, and the English scene, and then everyone proclaimed "Punk is dead." And you can't take anyone seriously in L.A., you know. They were hanging out with movie stars and living in Bel Air or Beverly Hills. That was the attitude.
What we did, we jumped in John [Doe]'s Travelall and bought a trailer, then it broke down and we rented one, and we drove to New York straight and played CBGB's. We played that s*** hole. Great club, but you know, we drove all the way and it was like, "This is just some crappy club. The toilets don't even work." I think that helped us to get on the map.
JM: The first X album, Los Angeles, is such a great album. What are your reflections on that album, which is now over 30 years old?
DJB: Well, I think it's a great album. I really do. It's one of our best.
What I remember about it is that it came together really quickly. By the time we recorded Los Angeles — I forget if it was recorded at the end of '79 or the beginning of '80, it came out in '80 — we'd been playing the songs a lot. You know, we'd been playing them live, and we had 25 songs and we just said, let's pick the songs that would be great for an album. But we had the luxury of having so many songs to pick for, for the lack of a better word, the perfect album.
In a way it was easy. We just went in and got sounds and played. We didn't play to a click track. We'd just play a song, we'd play a number of versions, we'd go out there and play five, maybe nine at the most. We just played over and over, and then listen. You know, banal stuff. We played until we got what we thought was the right take, and we went on.
I mean, in the studio you're kind of in a blur, because you're focusing. I have some memories of hanging out and talking to Ray Manzarek, or something, in the lobby in between songs. But basically you're there working very long hours, focusing intensely. That's the weird thing about reminiscing about an album. It's basically work.
"Tell us the events about sitting around your house writing a novel." "Well, I sat at the desk and I wrote a bunch. For 10 hours a day, then I got drunk and then woke up the next day and did the same thing." It's kind of like that. You just focus on it. We had all the experience of playing everything live.
We'd been turned down by the majors. Ray Manzarek thought he could get us a deal, and we got all these rejection notices. Slash, which was a magazine at the time and maybe had released one record or a couple of records, said, "Oh, we'll give you ten thousand dollars and you can put it out." And Ray said, "Don't give me a fee, because you need it for the budget. I don't need it."
I just remember, we were just ready to go, and it was over before we knew it.
JM: I should point out that you make the very first sound on that album. You hit the snare drum and it launches into "You're Phone's Off the Hook, But You're Not."
DJB: I didn't even think about that [laughs]. It's good to know that. I was in the vanguard. I was saying, "Come on, guys!"
JM: You set the tone for the whole album with that one snare drum shot [laughs].
DJB: You know, it's an important snare. I don't use it anymore, but I was using my Ludwig marching snare. It's a deep and wide, 15 x 12 marching snare. The history of that snare ... I was in a Buddhist marching band when I was 13 years old or something, 14. It was my first new drum. I remember I painted a house to get the $170 to buy it. So, it's got a history [laughs].
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.