Exene Cervenka's X factors: independence, creativity
Artist wrote and produced all the songs on her new album – and she likes that
Exene Cervenka's excellent new "The Excitement of Maybe" offers equal parts heart ("Falling") and hope ("Already in Love"). The South by Southwest veteran, a vocalist for legendary Los Angeles punk band X, performed last week during the fest and returns this week.
"I want to see as much as I can," Cervenka says. "Sometimes you just stumble into a bar and there's someone amazing playing and you're just lucky. I'm determined this time to really see a lot of different people."
The 55-year-old talked with us before her SXSW performances.
American-Statesman: Dave Alvin (who plays guitar throughout) adds great texture to the new album.
Exene Cervenka: Dave Alvin is one of my musical heroes and one of my heroes in general. Dave's a genius, and he can play anything. I love his acoustic guitar playing especially on "Brand New Memory."
Did you write (the album's closing song) ‘Love and Haight' in San Francisco?
I wrote that at the Phoenix Hotel, where I always stay in San Francisco. It was about someone hesitating to cross the street, but the intersection is really between love and hate.
How has your songwriting process evolved since you started?
I've played guitar since 1986. When I first started writing songs in X, I didn't play an instrument. It was (former husband and X co-founder) John (Doe) and I writing together. Now I do it all. I wrote all the songs on the record and arranged them and co-produced the record. I guess the thing that's changed is that I just have more control.
How does (Cervenka's label) Bloodshot (Records) factor into that?
Well, Bloodshot allows all their artists creative control. That's why I'm with them. They're encouraging and supportive and helpful. They'll offer comments, but they don't get in the way of what I'm doing.
Signing with an indie seems more coveted than getting a major label deal today.
I hope so. I hope that the independent labels are what people want to be on. It's the only way to do it. I don't even know who the major labels are signing.
Is the Internet your most essential marketing tool?
Yes, it is, but you know what I like better? Word of mouth. I'm hoping people will tell each other, "Hey, I have this record and I really like it and you should listen to it." The old way is a really good way.
Isn't social media just an extension of that?
Yes, people are sharing information in a way that they haven't in a long time, (but) in the late '70s and early '80s, we managed without cellphones and the Internet to create bands like the Replacements and the Cramps and X. We had a network across the country of clubs and bands and fans that were supportive.
Is it good that social media often lessens the gap between artists and their fans?
That is a goal I've always had. There should be no difference between the artist and the people. That's what punk rock is all about. You were standing in the crowd watching the band, and then you were on the stage watching the audience. You took turns. That's why people started jumping up on the stage before it became sort of a cartoon to dive off the stage and make a mosh pit. It was to blur those lines. If that's happening but bigger, that's fantastic.