John Doe and Exene Cervenka 'Singing and Playing' on first duo album
The first-ever duo album from X founding singers and chief songwriters Exene Cervenka and John Doe began about three years ago as a humble keepsake they made as a fan-only offer to those who turned out for their 2009-2010 tour as a twosome.
Now it’s been released by a fledgling label, Orange-based Moonlight Graham Records. It the inaugural offering from what is promised to be a string of recordings by Southern California musicians that will also include former TSOL frontman Jack Grisham and beyond.
The eight tracks on “John Doe and Exene Cervenka Singing and Playing Live” constitute a combination of songs written independently and several on which they collaborated. Included are "Never Enough," which Doe recorded in a different version for his 2011 solo album, "Keeper," and "Lonesome War," which Cervenka had written on her own, but never released. ("It was tailor-made for us," Doe said.)
Pop & Hiss sat down with them last week to talk about the album for a profile in Tuesday’s Calendar. Doe, who arrived first to the interview, was invited to talk about the first track, “It Just Dawned on Me,” which stood out as a sterling example of the unexpected directions that he and Cervenka have gone throughout their careers together and apart.
“It’s a typically John-and-Exene song,” he said of this stripped-down, predominantly acoustic affair that demonstrates how they still complement one another more than three decades after X was born on the gritty back streets of the City of Angels.
Its arc begins with the singer’s moment of awareness that a romantic partner has emotionally exited a relationship. Initial reactions of confusion and hurt lead to the realization that maybe the split isn’t such a bad thing after all.
“She had the idea,” said Doe, wearing a brownish-red plaid western shirt, blue jeans and lightly tinted Ray-Ban glasses. “She thought of it more mentally -- of someone being there in a relationship and then not being there; you know, how people just check out of a relationship?
“I immediately interpreted it as physically,” he said, jerking his head in a double take to emphasize the point: “‘What? Where’d you go?’ She had one or two lines: ‘It just dawned on me that you’re gone,’ like the dawn’s coming up and there’s a dent in the pillow where someone’s head was, and they evaporated, they’ve been spirited away. I just kind of framed that within a Johnny Cash-June Carter song style.
“And it’s a little bit of a women-empowered kind of song,” he added, “because at the end, she’s glad that he’s gone.”
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of John Doe and Exene Cervenka outside the Moonlight Graham Records headquarters in Orange. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times.