John Doe - 2004

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John Doe was the singer, bassist and leader of Los Angeles's delightful X back in the `80s and is now an actor and singer/songwriter with four solo albums to his name. If you're unfamiliar with X, it would behoove you to pick up the double-CD compilation Beyond and Back: The X Anthology before the end of the day. It's SUCH a wonderful record. But let's speak of the present day now, as the past carries nothing but pain and lies. John was kind enough to agree to an interview, and then kind enough to not be home when I called. Then he was kind enough to reschedule the interview, and kind enough to AGAIN not be home when I called. Finally he was kind enough to call me, apologize (a celebrity apologized to ME! ME!!!!!!!!) and reschedule a third time. As the famous Foghat song says, "Third Time Lucky." John was actually home this time, and not only was he home but he was nicer than all hell! People, John Doe is REALLY friendly. Just a supernice, easygoing, down-to-earth human being. Not like those stuck- up pricks in Madonna. So I spoke with Mr. Doe (a dear - HA! A HILARIOUS JOKE NOBODY ELSE HAS EVER MADE!) for a good hour-plus on January 9th and got the lowdown on the hoedown. My questions appear in my trademark "Bold" print. I'm not sure which brand of ink John was using.




Hey, this is Mark Prindle.


Hey. Do you have time now?

Yeah, yeah. You know what? Just let me switch phones. Hold on.


(*time passes like a fruit fly*)




So you mentioned you're working on an album? Is it a new John Doe album or something else?

Uh-huh. I guess I've got the energy to go through the cycle one more time.

Are you still driven to write?


As much as you were when you were younger?

Oh, that's hard to say. You have to be equally inspired. But there's a lot more personally uncharted territory when you're like 25 than when you're 50.

What kind of issues are you writing about this time around?

I'm actually writing a blues record, of all odd things. I'm trying to get back something a little simpler and that's what it came out to be. It's not like - it's not Texas Flood. There's no like extended solos. I'm not a big fan of solos anyway. Guitar solos or any other kind. But that seems to be what's going on. I stick to the lyrical form where the first line is repeated, and the changes are 1-4-5 and they're a little shorter.

Do you have "the blues"?

Ha! No, I just have been a big admirer, I think. And then I hear stuff like the White Stripes and I think, "That guy doesn't know what the blues is." I mean, he does. He does a good job at it. I don't wanna put him down. There's a lot worse bands.

Do you like that band at all?

Sure. Actually I like the record that had a couple of traditional songs on it. I think it was two before this last one.

Oh okay. I haven't heard that one.

It wasn't the one where there were all those sort of paparazzi -

That's the one I have.

It was the one before that. It had a Robert Johnson song on it, and it had "St. James Infirmary," I think. Anyway, it's an art form that I've always been a fan of, as long as it doesn't get really long. I hate that stuff. If a blues song is over three and a half minutes, it's not a blues song to me.


It isn't! It should be - they're concise. That's what's beautiful about them, the same way that a good Neil Young song has all these things that are alluded to and inferred, but he doesn't actually spell it out. I like that kind of mystery.

Speaking of which, what is happening at the end of "Powderfinger"? Did he shoot himself?

I don't know. I don't know.

That's been bugging me for years. So blues for you would be the original type Delta blues type stuff?

Yeah, I like that.

More so than that electric blues stuff that's just solos and goes on and on and on.

Well you know, the funny thing is that the Chicago blues stuff when it first started out was great. And then it became more and more indulgent. I remember when I was like 16, I got a Vanguard double Chicago blues record called Chicago Blues Volume Two. Then I got Volume One, and it had all those usual suspects - Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. It didn't have Lightning Hopkins or Muddy Waters on it. It was all sort of Chess and Vanguard blues. And they didn't play all those long solos. It was pretty much like the older blues.

Did you like what the British white bands did with it in the 60s?

Sure. I think I probably got into it from them.

Yeah, I think most people these days do.

You'd get the Rolling Stones record where they did "Mona" or something like that. And you'd be "Who is this Diddley character?" and you find out that it's Bo Diddley.

For me it was Led Zeppelin and "Hey! Who's this Robert Johnson character they're always talking about?"

"Who's this Robert Johnson they're always stealing from and not talking about?"

Exactly! I must have read somewhere that they stole his stuff, because you're right; they never credited him for anything.

I think it's hilarious that they would say, "Oh well, all those blues guys stole from each other." There's a big difference between someone in the `20s and `30s stealing from a guy that's put out two race records and some fairly privileged white English fucker selling zillions of records.

So who's playing on the record with you?

Let's see - this one's a little more drums, a little more bass, a little more electric guitar. I haven't gotten all of my guest stars sorted out yet, but the drummer and bass player I've worked with before. Stuart Johnson, who played on the Freedom Is. record, and Dave Carpenter, who played on Dim Stars, Bright Sky. And then my MVP Jamie Muhoberac, who played piano on that album. And Neko Case said she would be on it. And I think Dave Alvin is gonna play guitar on some of it. He and I have never done a solo thing together. And who else? Smokey Hormel's gonna play on it. He most recently played on that album by Johnny Cash.

The newest one? The one that just came out?

Right. Smokey and I played together for years when he lived in Los Angeles. He moved to New York, he played with Beck and Tom Waits and Sean Lennon, and most recently he had this really cool band called Smokey and Miho, which was Brazilian. Very strange thing; they did this record of Brazilian songs by a guy named Baden Powell. So here's Smokey from L.A. and Miho from Cibo Matto doing `60s Brazilian stuff. But he's totally into it.

Gil Gilberto? Is he Brazilian? (note: I of course meant "Gilberto Gil." Of course I did!)

I think so, yeah.

I have a friend who's really into him. Os Mutantes? Are they Brazilian?

I don't know.

How well do your solo records sell? Do they all sell about the same amount?

Oh, I don't know. I haven't - yeah.

Or how do you pick up new fans? Is it by touring?


Or people coming to you from X?

Well, that's the majority of it. And I guess some people are introduced to my music through the movies that I do. I tour when I can, when I can afford it. When I can get some decent gigs put together. I guess I toured probably three or four months on the last record. But I have a family, and I have to be in town to do auditions and things like that, so I don't tour like Mike Watt or some of the other crazy road dogs. Dave Alvin tours incessantly. Not that I don't like it; it's like an extended state of adolescence.

How many auditions? Is it regularly going auditions?

Depending on..

Whether it's pilot season or -


What kind of stuff do you have coming up?

Actually I don't have anything that I've finished coming out. I've been working on a couple of free movies, one short.. You know, you pretty much, in my situation and I think a lot of actors' situations, you pretty much go in on any audition that you think you can do something with.

What's your favorite acting work that you've done?

I like some of the stuff I did in Roswell, oddly enough. Because even though it's sort of limiting in the style or the range that you can use because it's for television, you still have a lot of other different opportunities to express different emotions. More regular, you know? Especially in feature films - you're lucky if you have two scenes to actually develop your character. Also I probably have - I think I still have a part in that movie Torque that's coming out.

I don't know about that. What's that?

It's a movie with Ice Cube and a bunch of other people and motorcycles all over the place.

What's your role?

A country sheriff. I get to play the Jackie Gleason character.

Oooh! Is it a comic character or an evil racist?

Nah. A little bit, a little bit. I don't know. I have no idea what it looks like now. I may be totally cut out of it. I know they had some problems with the ending. A lot of stunts that they couldn't afford to pull off. What a surprise.

Are you still doing any of the X reunion shows? Are they still happening?

Oh yeah. Yeah.

Do you still yourself enjoy doing those? Or is it kind of like, "Well, I need to bring in some money."

Oh no!

You still get a kick out of it?

I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it. I mean, the money is nice, but it's not hundreds or thousands of dollars, that's for sure. Maybe if you added up a whole year's worth. And we play about 20-some shows a year. We did quite a bit last summer. We did a trip to the east coast, although we didn't play New York City. Figure that one out.

Yeah, not a big market here.

Heh. No, there aren't very many people there that go to see music. I don't know. It wasn't the right offer or something. We played there and we played through the Midwest and the south. Then we played just before Thanksgiving here in L.A.

Do you stick to like the first four albums? Or do you play stuff from everything?

The first four records. Because that's what people really identify X with, and we're sort of not really a nostalgia band, but it's kind of like - I personally do it more for the audience. You know, the people who didn't see us but want to. And we're still good! (pause) That was lame.


But we want it to be fun for all those people. And we have a great time.

Also I know that there were a ton of really positive reviews for See How We Are. Is there any interest in that line-up of the band getting back together for a few shows? Or have you ever done that?

No. No, we haven't really. People really want to see Billy Zoom, and I can understand that. We actually do Knitters shows though, so we get a chance to play with Dave Alvin. Yeah, some people were first introduced to X through See How We Are, and then went back to the punk stuff. I think the most original material we did was on our first two or three records.

What were your feelings about Ain't Love Grand?

I thought they were really good songs, but it was the wrong production.

The production is really godawful on that record. They really did a number on you guys.

Yeah. Well, we had done four records at that point with Ray. Ray Manzarek. And we figured, "Well -" You know, each one was supposed to be "Oh, this is the one," so you start believing whatever they're telling you. And then you think, "Well, maybe we don't know what's good for us," and you release the reins of control. And I kinda liked the big sound of the hair bands.


Not the songs! The songs were terrible, the singing was godawful, but you know, that big sound.

That big anthemic, anth-, anthemic?

Yeah. And actually it was a little bit preceding the harder rock, faster hard rock stuff. It was more like rock and roll bands that were using that sort of production. But a lot of people really liked it. It was the best selling X record.

Was it?

Oh yeah.

Did that video get played a lot? "Burning Hou-"

Oh yeah. You know, the songs were very personal; it was about Exene's and my breakup. But it's too bad the production sorta keeps that hidden - all the reverb and tricks. Michael Wagner is a good producer for certain things, but he had a very defined formula. On that record, everything was just demoed to the nines. I mean, every beat, every note pretty much. And then there's very little spontaneity, very little being involved kinda, especially for the rhythm tracks.

At the time, was there a backlash from your core audience?

Oh yeah.

Oh yeah?

Oh yeah.

Did they come back for See How We Are?

It's hard to say.

But you got a new audience for See How We Are, right?

Yeah, I don't know. It was some of the same, some of the - I don't know. I don't really keep track of that stuff.

But when you were looking at the crowd, was it the same exact people every time?

Exactly. I think it's really, really important for a songwriter, a singer, an artist - if you want to go that far, to calling what we do art - not to think about the demographics and not to think about who the audience is. And to really try to do your thing intuitively, because once you start thinking about it, you'll probably screw things up and not dig as deep and do things for the wrong reasons.

Or you're just gonna repeat yourself but with no passion.

I have to say that I think about who might listen or what people might want to hear from me, or what X was. And I purposely didn't try to piss people off or be difficult to listen to. I know there are some bands that purposely try to be obtuse, and try to alienate or be evasive with their music. But we never tried to play hard-to-get, you know.

Speaking of the production of Ain't Love Grand, the effect it had on my listening to it -- which was years later obviously; not obviously, but I was younger at the time -- was when the box set thing came out - the greatest hits, was it two discs? I think. Beyond and Back. I was amazed that "Burning House Of Love" was such a good song! It never sounded good to me the way it was mixed, but in the version on Beyond And Back it sounded great.


Made me kinda want to hear the whole album that way.

Well, we tried to do some remixes. That was the only record that I actually wanted to try to remix a couple, for the reasons that I told you. And then we tried to do it again for the Rhino reissue, but unfortunately the medium, or the recording machine tape and the things that we used for that record of course are so outdated to the point that it would cost a fortune to remix it.

Oh. Man, that compilation is amazing. Just nonstop great song after - It really hits home how many amazing songs you've written on that - There's no weak songs at all on there! It just goes and goes and goes.

I'm sure you could find plenty of people who would say there's plenty of weak songs, but thanks for the kind words. And I'll share that compliment with Exene when I talk to her.

Okay. What was the feeling when you went back to do Hey Zeus!? What did that come out of?

It came out of a really positive climate for music, what with all the bands out of Seattle and all kinds of crazy shit getting played on the radio, and us getting an offer to make more music. And we had continued to play - Tony, Exene and I and DJ. We took a break for maybe two years after the live record - Live at the Whiskey. So that's where it came out of. And I think the only difficulty with that again was production. Unfortunately the guy who produced it had never heard or seen X live, which was a gigantic, huge oversight on our part. And then after we finished the record, we played at KROK, which is the big radio station out here. We played some function, and he came back after we played and he said, "Oh my God. I had no idea!"


Heh heh. You know, I like some of the production on that, you know? I thought it was pretty forward-looking.

I didn't see anything wrong with it.

But it proved to me that people want X a certain way. They didn't want to hear X being adventurous; they wanted to hear X playing punk rock. And I don't fault them.

I'd say I really love about half of the songs on there.


"Someone's Watching" is great. "Lettuce and Vodka" I like a lot. I wasn't sure what to expect. It's a pretty good record though.

There are some that are stinkers, but that happens.

I saw on your web site the movies you admitted to being in, and I noticed that The Decline of Western Civilization wasn't one of the movies you admitted to being in. Was that an oversight? Or do you have bad feelings about that movie?

No, I don't have bad feelings about it. It had a very specific agenda, and I don't think that it's a true representation of the punk scene in L.A. at the time. But that was how Penelope Spheeris got the movie made. She said, "I'm gonna do a lurid sort of sensational punk rock movie." I didn't purposely leave it off. I just feel that that's not acting really. I also didn't list The Unheard Music, I don't think.

I think you might have listed that one, which was why I wasn't sure.

Oh. No, I think it's alright.

What was the scene actually like?


What was the scene actually like? Was there less of the violence?

Oh, way less. And the bands that were purposely omitted were I think more of the interesting and eclectic bands rather than what has come to be known as punk rock.

Who were the ones at the time that were left out, that would be a lot bigger and more well-known now if they had been in there? Like the Minutemen?

I'm not sure that they were playing then. They might have started, but it came out in 1980. It came out right after Darby killed himself. So it's gotta be the end of '80, beginning of '81, something like that. Bands that should have been included were Plugz, which became the Cruzados. The Weirdos - they just re-released some stuff of theirs.

I'm actually interviewing the singer tonight.

Oh, John Denney?



Yeah, I spoke to the bass player about a month ago. He's really nice.

That song - whatever it's called, "mm-biddy-um-bop tonight."

Yeah. "Helium Bar."

I heard that on some compilation. It's an awesome song!

One chord!

Yeah! I couldn't do that. It's a fuckin' great rock and roll song! I mean, that would, if it was recorded better -

It had that weird phaser on it.

Yeah, but if it was recorded better and really as punchy as they could do it live, that would rival "A-Wop-Bop-A-Loo-Bop-A-Wop-Bam-Boom," you know? Just full-on rock and roll. Anyway, them. The Go-Gos were playing then. And this band called the Alley Cats.

Were the Screamers around then?

The Screamers, yeah. And they were incredible. But you see, they were much more artistic, much more arty. Not violent, and much more kind of wacky - especially the Weirdos and the Screamers. The Plugz were much more musical and almost rootsy. The Alley Cats, same thing. And they were really - The Go-Gos obviously. I mean, everyone saw the Go-Gos and thought, "Oh my God, they're gonna get signed immediately." Then years later, they got signed to that crappy IRS label. Whatever. It was much more diverse than what The Decline of Western Civilization Volume One shows. And once that whole Orange County and the really truly violent crowd came along, people got disillusioned and the scene began to sort of fragment. It's weird how short-lived those scenes are.

Do you think that scene would be remembered as much today by people if not for that movie?

Oh yeah.

Oh yeah? Okay. Yeah, I guess a lot of great records did come out of that.

I don't know if great records, but I think as time goes on, everyone wants to comb through what's happened in the past. You know, the New York scene and the L.A scene and the London, or the England scene all get sort of picked apart. And there was no movie for the English punk rock scene or the first wave of New York punk.

Oh, that's true. Yeah.

So in that way, I guess we're kinda lucky they have all those performances on film. However, there was Urgh! A Music War, which they should put out on like extended DVD so you can see all the really terrible performances. I think they had 50-some bands.

Yeah, when I rented that one, I probably liked five of them. I really couldn't get into a lot of those bands, I'm afraid.


Decline, I could get into all of them except maybe Catholic Discipline. I guess they were alright. Kind of a strange choice to have on there.


Let me see - I saw a quote from you in another interview that I really liked, where you were talking about you first did a country record because you wanted to be more "real," and now looking back, you were just like, "Well, punk rock is just as real" or something like that.


Have you ever made a record that you felt like, looking back, you felt like it wasn't really where you were at the time? Or do you always stay true to -

No, there's nothing I've done that I think was really false or calculated. They were true for where I was at the time. I think everyone searches for validation, validity - and being lasting, that sort of thing. I think I was referencing Mike Ness's solo record.

Oh that's right. Yeah.

And yeah, country is very appealing. And at some point you think, "Oh, those are the real guys." Yeah, they are.

And the blues guys are real guys too.

Unfortunately they're all dying. When they're gone, that's about it.

Hey, we still have Robert Cray.


He's the real blues.

Uh. he can play. But it's not my cup of tea.

Oh. Eric Clapton your cup of tea?

No, no. I can't even think of any - John Lee Hooker is the last one that I could really take my hat off too.

Are there any other -

R.L. Burnside - he's still alive, isn't he?

Yeah. I've never heard him. I hear he's awfully good though.

Yeah! Yeah.

Are there any unexplored musical vistas that you think you might want to try in the future?

Won't know until I get there. I think it's important to listen to new music all the time. I do that. It's important to keep sort of fresh. You don't have to be an encyclopedia, but if you keep listening, you'll keep getting different ideas.

Who are you listening to now?

Actually I was listening to a lot of old stuff for the past six months. But of new people, I quite like that new Death Cab For Cutie record. And this guy from San Diego named Tom Brosseau who's got a few independently produced CDs by himself, and this guy Gregory Page who I did some co-writing with. Grant Lee Phillips, who's gonna be on my new record. I love Grant Lee Phillips. He's just so talented.

You mentioned Neko Case. Do you like the New Pornographers?

Not as much as I like Neko's solo stuff. They're a little sort of - I don't know. Maybe I should listen to the new record, but the last one - what's it called?

Mass Romantic? Was that the last one? Yeah.

It just kinda sounded a little generic to me. Generic kind of rock.

It did to me the first time I heard it. The second time I listened to it, it sounded like bubblegum melodies pumped through modern equipment. Which I liked! It's kind of like listening to The Turtles, but a NEW version of The Turtles!

(laughs) Nah, I would say that Neko's last record was a huge step forward.

Oooh, I need to hear that.


I haven't heard it, no.

Oh! It's spectacular.


Yes. I would say, you know how Matthew Sweet put out a few records before that Girlfriend?

Yeah. Mm-hmm.

I think that that was his masterpiece. And I think the same thing about Either/Or for Elliott Smith. And Blacklisted. I think Neko could go on to do as good or better records, but this one was the point at which everything kind of converged - the songwriting, production, she used a lot of the guys from Calexico. Very sort of Western and just beautiful.

Okay. Blacklisted is the name of it?


I'll have to grab that. She has a really good voice. Do your kids like their music?

Do they like MY music?


Well, sort of. I guess. They don't say, "Oh Dad, Dad! Play one of your songs for us." That'd be a little too Father Knows Best for me. They like good music though. They like songwriters. They like Aimee Mann and stuff like that, that I like. They don't go for, you know, Britney. Thankfully they got through their boy band phase really quickly.


And they don't listen to like black metal.

Wait! What's wrong with black metal? As long as they're not burning down a church or something?

There's nothing wrong with it! I just -

You don't want to hear it in your house.

It's a little too intense for me. The funny thing is that the keyboard player Jamie Muhoberac - he listens to that ALL the time. He plays such peaceful music on piano and organ and all these keyboards and stuff. He plays on all these different people's records like John Mayer records - everybody's records. And he's listening to this "JIH-JIH-JIH- JIH-JIH `ARRR! RAOWR! RAOWR!'"


He actually made some. He's actually doing a recording right now. And he said he can't do the vocals any place else but in the car. So he goes into his driveway and he goes like, "AAAAAHHH BAH BAH GAH BWAAAAAH! AHHH! GEGAH!"

He's recording a black metal album?

Yeah. And I've just got this image of Jamie - this same Jamie who plays beautiful music - sitting in his car going, "AAAAAHH! GAH-GAH-GWAAAAAH!"

He records the vocals in the car!?

In his car, yeah. He doesn't wanna be screaming and yelling in his house! It's sort of more private, I guess, for him.

Did you ever think there'd be a day when you'd say, "That music's too loud! Turn down that loud music!"?

Uhhh. yeah! Most of the time, X is too loud. And it was back then.

Oh yeah?

Sure! Those damned guitar players. Not sensible like us bass players.

Did you write those songs on bass? Or on guitar and then teach them to Billy Zoom? Or were they written together or -

I wrote most of it on bass, and that gave Billy a little more room to decide how to voice the chords on his guitar. I would say up until maybe - I wrote a few songs on acoustic guitar for More Fun in the New World.

Why did he leave the band originally?

I think he was just burnt out. He was tired from touring and making records and touring and making records. It just wasn't that satisfying.

Did he do anything after X music-wise?

Recently he's done a pretty good number of productions. Nothing major-label, but he has his own studio now and he does a lot of bands in Orange County, which is where he lives. Does a lot of punk rock and surf stuff. I'm sure probably way too many bands that want to be Blink-182.

Did you read - I know you're quoted - I think you're probably quoted a lot in both of them, come to think of it, but did you read both of those books that came out about the L.A. scene this past year?

No I didn't.

Oh, you didn't?


Oh. I was gonna ask you if people were remembering things accurately - if they were accurate depictions of the scene.

I know one thing is that they didn't do a lot of fact-checking, which I think is really poor. They did not do enough fact-checking, because somebody read me this piece about Exene laying in a bed with a swastika - Nazi flag over our bed or something like that. Uhh - no, she didn't. That wasn't the Exene I knew! She may have had some Nazi memorabilia, like a pin or something that she found in a thrift store in Florida, but no.

Were you interviewed for both of them? I read them a while back; I can't -

What - the one for Darby and -

I know you were quoted a lot in that one, the Darby one.

Darby was a sweet guy. But I love the fact that they've tried to make a movie about Darby several times and they just can't get it together, and I think, "Oh, thank God." Thank God they're not gonna be making a movie of that, because they'll just get it all wrong. They'll just screw it up and they'll get the wrong guy, and he'll be hunky instead of like soft and squishy like Darby really was.

And it'll turn into like The Doors by Oliver Stone?


You could see it as that though.


You could see it turning into that though.


Because he's such a mythical character now.

Yeah. He was just really confused. He was pretty smart, but he definitely had some big problems.

You knew he was in trouble, right?

Oh yeah. And I told him to try to move somewhere else, you know, and just get out of the scene instead of being depressed about the way it was going. I mean, he never talked openly about his sexuality - it was always this big secret, but I kinda knew, through Lorna and stuff. She's the one they ought to make a movie about because she's kinda disappeared completely.


Yep. Nobody has any idea where she is.


In all of the books, in all of the interviews, in all the stuff that's come about the Germs, she is MIA.


She was last living in New York, but no one knows where she is.


I know! There's something for your investigative reporting.

Oh, I'll find her. I'll find her and I'll INTERVIEW her!


That's what I do!

Well, that would be a huge coup.

I'll just look under "Doom" in the phone book. How hard can that be?

Heh heh. Sounds like one of those `40s films with Barbara Stanwyck. Yeah, they even tried to find her to get clearances for re-released stuff, to pay them money for different things, but nobody knows where she is. Pretty wild.



I guess it's probably not too hard to find Pat Smear. You could probably hunt him down.

Yeah, Pat's pretty available.

He's kind of out there. Okay, is there anything else that should be in this about what you're doing now or what you want L.A. -

Citizine readers to know?


I don't know. Hmm.. I think we've covered a lot of ground. I would imagine that since Citizine leans pretty heavily towards the punk rock world, if there's anything you can think about that you want to talk about in terms of X or anything.

Oh. I didn't want to - I don't know. I'm always kind of - Okay, let me ask that then -

I'm not leery about talking about X. I'm not protective of that or feel as though that's the only thing that I will be known for.

Okay. But that's why I didn't want to harp on that.

No. I mean, it can get sort of annoying, just like, "Oh yeah.."

Yeah, that's what I mean. But at the same time, you were part of something - you created something legendary.

I guess so.


You know, you certainly don't think about that. I think if you did, you'd be a real turd! If you walked around thinking, "Yep. I was part of something legendary! Heh heh. I'm a legend! I'm a legend."

You know some of the people from your very same scene are like that though.

Get outta here.

I certainly -

Don't name names!

Okay. I certainly got that feeling when I talked to a former singer for two popular bands, one of which was Black Flag and one of which was a band he formed after Black Flag. I really got that feeling when I talked to him!

Who, Keith Morris?

Yeah! Is that not what he's like? Maybe it was just a bad night, but I really got that feeling from him.


But hey! You said, "Don't name names." I could be talking about the DC3!

You could be talking about Dez.

Oh, yeah! I don't know. It's hard to -

I don't know. People can do what they want. I like Keith Morris, even if he is kinda full of himself. The funny thing about - I would say the thing that's most misunderstood about that scene is that nobody knew what punk rock was at the time. They knew what they didn't want to do, but it wasn't like, "This is punk rock." Punk rock was pretty much anything that wasn't part of the establishment and wasn't slow and been around and dull. The phrase used to be "used, old and in the way." That was a big phrase back then because everyone did feel as though their options were limited by the fact that there were so many bands that had been around for ten or twenty years. It was like "Could you clear out a little bit and give us some room a little bit?" Which is certainly the case nowadays! However, it was an issue even back when punk was beginning. And punk wasn't dull. It was just like a rock and roll band. If there was anything I think to me that was punk rock, it was something that was rock and roll. Meaningful, fast, short. There was no very - like there is now, there's a very strict definition of "punk."

That kinda started with the Ramones. It's that Ramones sound sped up.

Now it's even been more refined. But back then, it was just anything that was kind of adventurous and trying to figure something out.

Yeah, that really doesn't describe punk rock today.

No! No it doesn't. And that's why I liked a lot of bands that were on Dangerhouse. Dangerhouse, even though they were a bunch of fucking cheaters and liars -

Were they?

Oh yeah. They burnt everybody. But they did record a lot of really great bands, like the Deadbeats and Black Randy and the Metro Squad - bands that had a high kind of kitsch factor. The element that Blondie had.

Didn't Dangerhouse put out something in the past 5-10 years that was live stuff by four bands? The Germs, the Weirdos - I ask because now I - were the Plugz on Dangerhouse? Would they have been on this thing?


Oh, it's the Skulls. That's what I'm thinking of. The Skulls. Alright. I've never heard the Plugz. That's upsetting.

They have a record called Electrify Me.

Is it good?

It's representative of what they did.

Is it findable these days? Did anyone ever put it out on CD or anything?

Mmm, I don't know. I don't really know. Of course I haven't listened to it in forever, but I remember it being cool.

Can you still enjoy stuff from those days, aside from - I mean, obviously you still enjoy X's stuff. You play it live and everything.

Well yeah, I don't listen to X records. I did a lot when we were doing the reissues, but actually a friend of ours had kind of a punk rock CD collection, and I listened to the Adverts and the Adolescents and all those old bands like that, and I couldn't really get into it anymore.

Are you just bored with it?

I guess it just doesn't fit into my mood, which is probably the reason that we don't make new X records. I think Exene's last band was pretty close to what X did. The Original Sinners. And I applaud her for that. I just don't get the X thing, you know. That sort of speed kind of mood. Plus I think that's why I started doing this sort of blues record - because I wanted to get back to something simpler, but I didn't want to make a punk record.

When you go back and look, was there a time when suddenly you were just like, "Man, I don't like this stuff anymore."? Did it just hit you one day? Or was it just a continual process of growing and changing your music and not thinking about it really?

Yeah, it was eventual.

Because I'm 30 and I don't want to think that I'm gonna someday not like my punk rock records anymore.

No, I think you grow apart from it. It's not a conscious decision. I didn't wake up one day and go, "Punk rock sucks. I hate punk rock!" I like punk rock! I like punk rock just fine. I mean, I don't even mind - I certainly like Green Day. I think that Billie Joe is a pretty talented catchy songwriter. I think there's great that there's, you know - even if it's a little overproduced, the fact that it got to teenagers and youngsters like that? I think there's a pretty healthy underground punk rock scene.

Did you enjoy The Nirvanas?

Oh yeah.

Oh yeah?



I thought they were a great band, although I must say I'm kinda surprised that these new recordings are not better. The live stuff - that they don't have better live recordings. I was pretty disappointed by that. You know, the recent releases.

You know, there are a lot of bootlegs out with songs that were never released - a lot of really good songs that were never released.


Yeah! I've got several, like three or four CDs worth of these things. And then they put out this Greatest Hits and announce this unreleased song - this ONE unreleased song - and it's terrible! The one unreleased song is a terrible song!

I thought so too.

But you know, I hear that Courtney Love won't let certain things happen, but what are you gonna do.

Kill her and say that she went to Jamaica?

Oh, like she had Kurt killed?


Ooo! Did you ever see that movie Kurt and Courtney?

No, but I heard it was hilarious.

Yeah, it was pretty crazy. Her Dad is a nut.

Well, she's making her own Hell.

Yes she is.

The poor thing. I mean, I almost feel sorry for her. If she wasn't so - if she wasn't so EVIL, I'd feel sorry for her! But no. That poor kid. Oy vey. Poor kid.

Yeah. So who are all these people - back on the punk rock tip, there's all these people that I'd certainly never heard of that I guess were just fans or something. Gerber something?

Mm-hmm. She was Dix Denney's girlfriend forever. The guitar player who ended up playing with Bob Forrest in Thelonius Monster.

Oh yeah?


Oh okay! I have a couple of their records.

Yeah. I worked with them on one record.

Which one?

Stormy Weather.

Oh! I didn't know you were on that. I still have that on my old cassette.

I produced it.

It's a good record.


Especially the PRODUCTION!

Yeah, but yeah, Gerber was around definitely. Who else?

Gerber was in both books. I think these other ones were just the girls from the Darby book, like Michelle something and Casey Cola.


Casey Cola?

Don't know her.

Who I think they said was the girl who was supposed to kill herself with him?

Oh. Yeah. I didn't know her.

I don't know. Who needs all those terrible memories?

It's hard to keep up with all those terrible memories.

Yeah. Especially when you only have them from reading a book!


Were you surprised when Darby ended up doing that? Or did you fear that it had been coming for a while?

Yeah. I wasn't surprised. I was very much saddened, but not surprised. He talked about for several months, but just like the same thing with Elliot Smith. He was a friend of mine too. I mean, I didn't see him or talk to him all that much, because he kept himself pretty isolated. You know, at this point, it's like if that's what people want to do, they can go right ahead. I feel bad for them, but I don't care. I mean, I do care. I'd rather they didn't kill themselves, but it's like, "You're gonna do it, so just go ahead. Do it. Whatever." At least they're out of their pain.

It's so sad though.

It is sad, but from a 50-year-old's philosophical point of view, I feel like -

If you can't appreciate what life has to give you, then -

Right! And getting old is not the be-all end-all of the world. Being happy is certainly not the only thing in the world. It's nice to have a moderate amount of satisfaction and happiness, but it's not essential. Just like having a family is not essential.

What is essential?

What is essential?


Some kind of balance of all those things. The most essential thing is having a deep well of experiences. Cutting through the shit and having that experience, and feeling as though you've been there. You've stepped close to edge and looked over and said, "Whoa! Look at that!"

What was the deal with Elliot Smith? Do you know? Did he seem really depressed the times you -

He was always depressed. You listened to his songs, didn't you?

Yeah. But it was a clinical thing?

I think so, yeah. And he was a big drug abuser, even in his best days. There was about two years when he moved down to L.A. that he was clean, and he was sort of getting his shit together, and he signed to Dreamworks and all that. And after those records didn't do as well as I think he hoped, he started backsliding. He had an unhappy childhood.

Oh yeah?

Yeah. He had a really abusive stepfather and not a very attentive father. Anyway, he started getting into crack AND heroin.


He was like WOOO!

Oh my. Yeah, I guess you can't do a whole lot for someone like that.

Well, you can try. I know that people tried.

Did you ever like Nick Drake?

Yeah! Yeah.

He was another one that couldn't deal with -

Right, right.

Couldn't deal with much, I guess, from what I understand. When his records didn't sell, I think he kind of -

Yeah. See, that's a funny thing, but you come to terms with it. I mean, I'd love to have everything that came along with selling a hundred thousand records. However, the reason I'm here - one of the reasons I'm here is to make stuff. To make songs and to be an actor and do art and things like that, so that's what's important. You shouldn't worry about what your rewards are. Your reward should be having created that thing.

After you finish a CD, do you listen to it for a few months? Do you enjoy listening to it? Or are you just so tired of the songs, hearing the -

Oh no, I listen to it for a little while. Because I make records really quickly. This record will be done certainly by the end of the month, but I don't have the opportunity to work on it all the time. We'll work on it for a few days and then not work on it for a couple of weeks. Each of the last solo records I've done we've made in probably two weeks. We do all the vocals live, all the basic tracks live. We just sit in a room and play.

See, I've been playing the guitar since I was fifteen and writing songs and this and that. And within the past couple of years, I seem to have lost all interest in it. That's why I'm trying to understand what kind of drive keeps you interested.

How somebody so OLD can -

No! How someone who's been doing it for like 30 years or whatever -

Umm. I can't answer that.

Do you just wake up and say, "Man, I really feel like writing a song"? Or "I really feel like playing the guitar"? Or do you just enjoy playing with people?

Both. I hardly ever wake up and think, "Oh, today I'm gonna write a song." It just happens. And I think it's the same as - again, to get philosophical - a lot of things, the more time you put into it, the more reward comes out of it. So if I'm writing and playing most every day, then more stuff will come out of it. If I put it away, then there's other stuff that's going on in your head. If you have a down period, try not to get frightened of it or don't get spooked by it. Just let it go. Let it go until you feel like playing again. And I think trying to be inventive with yourself and listening to other people and learning other peoples' songs - that's good. I still do that. That's a lot of fun too. And you can figure out the way different chords go together. You can figure out the way that they treat melodies against those chords. And not do like a study of it, but -

Oh, so you don't end up just playing like yourself all the time.


You end up getting new ideas - okay.

Yeah. Learn somebody else's songs. Or the other thing that I've heard, that I haven't actually done, but I've heard can come up with some great results are writing songs like somebody. Saying to yourself, "I'm gonna write a song like John Lennon." Of course it won't be like John Lennon.

No. No, and that's how things end up sounding interesting.

Yeah. And I've had the opportunity to write songs for a couple of movies. Half of `em haven't gotten used - I can think of three that haven't gotten used - but I used all the images that were in that part of the movie or in the whole movie for inspiration. They didn't use my song, which was too bad, but..

Are lyrics more important to you than music? Or are they both of equal importance? Or does it depend on how strongly you feel about the lyrics that you're writing at the time?

I tend to do a lot more culling through the lyrics, and find recently that the small words are more important. Like the "and"s and "if"s and "but"s. Heh. I didn't mean -

Ah, nothing more important than the "butt"s, John! Heh heh heh.

Ha ha ha HA! Uhhh yeah. Anyway, the things that tie them together are really crucial. Music and melody - I've been trying to write more melodies WITH the lyrics nowadays. Try to write it all at once. Rather than mixing and matching. Getting a general idea for the song, and then having maybe some chords but not having a strict structure to them, and then letting things go where they go. Just keep playing guitar! Don't give up.

I think what really killed it - I got this big 16-track. I've never had a 16-track; I had a 4-track. And I put down a whole ton of like the beginnings of songs - like four or five tracks. But sixteen is too many for me! It takes too long to finish one song!

Who says you have to use all the tracks?

Maybe that's just the obsessions talking. I don't know.

You don't have to.

I guess it's good that I'm not in like a 260-track studio trying to put something down.

Exactly. No! I mean, this guy Dave Way that I've made the last four records with? He mixes Christina Aguilera and Savage Garden and shit like that. He's got a gazillion tracks, and we use like - I think there's a couple of songs on this record that have five tracks. Use as many tracks as you need.

How many do you use? Generally. Generally what would a normal song have?

Maybe sixteen.

But you have actual musicians. With me, it's just me.

Well, you could too.

Aww yeah, but then you have to meet people and talk to them..

You even have to be nice to them occasionally.

Ohhhh God.

Oh, that's too much for you, huh?

As long as they don't ask for anything. As long as they just do what they have to do and get lost.

Who's that guy that has a robot playing his songs?


I don't know. Some guy who built robots to play his songs.

I didn't hear about this.

Yeah, I can't remember his name. They're actually like animatronic robots that would play his songs.

Aw neat! I'm gonna have to look that up on the ol' Internet. That sounds neat.

Yeah. He was in some other band, kind of like the guy that did that 69 Love Songs.

Oh, Magnetic Fields?

Yeah, something like that.

Oh okay. Funny.


Okay, I've kept you for over and hour and that's not right.

That's enough.


That'll do. Well Mark, I look forward to seeing it. I'll ask Thom to send me a copy.

Okay, thank you so much and have fun with the blues!

Oh yeah! You know. It's not gonna be a dumb record.

Put on a 12-minute solo for me.


"BUH-BWEEEE!" Like that. "BWEEEE!"

Ha ha! Heh heh heh... NO!

Oh okay.

Sorry. That's where I draw the line. I don't like that "Dwi-tih dwi-tih dwi-tih DWEE!"

Alright, that's good.

Now we've both made guitar sounds to each other. We've bonded.

"BWEE!" Alright. Okay, well, have a good evening.

Same to you.

Alright. Bye.

Reader Comments (James Robinett)
re: Powderfinger
I always thought he was shot by the people on the boat.
definitely the boat people - Neil told me as much.
There was a London punk movie, cleverly called Punk Rock Movie. It actually is very much like Decline and has great performances. Lurid, it has Malcolm's shop, swastika-and-bondage-wear clad kids, obnoxious bands... its pre slam dancing but has all the pogoing you can shake a stick at. The 100 club was London's Masque. Directed by reggae DJ Don Letts (later of B.A.D. and quoted in Johnny Rotten's book, or more accurately "Johnny Rotten and Friends' Book"), the movie features the Sex Pistols, Clash, Generation X, X-ray Spex, Siouxie & the Banshees, the Slits, Alternative TV, UK performances by both Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers and Wayne County and the Electric Chairs (great), and finally great performances by both Eater and Slaughter & the Dogs.

New York, I think D.O.A. and Blank Generation apply. I haven't seen either, save footage of the Ramones from the latter where the dubbing was all off- you would hear vocals to the next song while the footage showed Dee Dee counting off the previous. I think D.O.A. also has the Ramones, and both the Dead Boys and Sid in New York, with a Sid and Nancy interview. And whoever else; it doesn't seem to be highly regarded though. But Punk Rock Movie is great.

X was great. You're getting consistently interesting people to interview lately.
It's KROQ not "KROK," nigga!
John Doe is AWESOME!

I aready told you about meeting him in I will just say....his solo stuff....and I have everything!!....has moved me a number of times to write my own of the songs on my new album is a direct influence from Take 52 and Faraway{From The North Country} Not that I copied them in any way....but if I pointed out a little something here and there to you in the chord progression or just the melody youd see I was on a John Doe train of thought. I think John is one of the best songwriters around and I would love to work with him one day. I will send him a copy of my CD here in about another month to listen to........I just have two more songs to mix......and then its Fame And Fortune for me.....LOL! Really...inbetween John and Dave Alvin being inspiration during the writing and recording of it........It cant lose.
John Doe keeps trying to talk about country, but you keep changing the subject. Why Mark do you disdain country so much that you won't even let the X man say? He's dying to talk about George Strait, the man whom he adores. See John Doe played the rival cowboy in the big George Strait fanboy wank off fest feature film. And they were in ROADHOUSE together, with SWAYZE! My appointment is diss!
John Doe; Quite possibly the coolest mutherfuqer ever to walk the planet.

Marc Arbour
great interview, well done!! love john doe and x Under The Big Black Sun is one incredibly fabulous album and the song White Girl is one of the greatest rocknroll songs ever that most people need to discover.

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