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John Doe and Exene Cervenka

A Conversation with John Doe (continued)

PM: Before we get into the new record, I wonder if you'd turn back the clock for me a minute and say something about the period where, say, that mark the last days of X, and the beginning of what became your solo career. What were those days like? What was that period like?

JD: Well, there really haven't been like the last days of X, exactly. We've taken breaks. I think when I made that first solo record, when Exene made her first solo record, we did it because somebody made an offer, somebody gave us the opportunity to do something that was not X. And at that point we both had children, had our first kid. So it was a good opportunity to express yourself in a different way.

And we kind of had gone through a lot of stuff with Billy leaving the band, Dave Alvin joining the band, Tony Gilkyson sort of replacing Dave, and it was kind of like, poof! I thought, I've kind of done this a lot, 12 years, so what if we did something else for a little while. And then we took off like two or three years, and then made another studio record in '93. At that point it was kind of like X and the Knitters will always sort of be there, but we're doing our own thing. And you just keep shifting the focus as different opportunities come up, you know?

PM: I hear you. [more about X at xtheband.com]

I think A Year in the Wilderness is even better in many ways than Forever Hasn't Happened Yet, which everybody called your best solo record to date. I think "Darling Underdog" is a particularly beautiful song.

JD: Oh.

PM: That's a super song by any standards.

JD: Thank you.

PM: Can you tell us anything about the co-writing process with Exene on that song? How did that go down?

JD: She sent me a number of lyrics because we were still trying to write some X songs, and hopefully we'll get around to finishing and recording some. But I needed two more songs to finish this record, and looked at those lyrics, and thought that they were particularly good. They were longer lines and sort of a softer tone. And I thought, well, since I'm always trying to apply Exene's lyrics to fast songs, what if I applied them to melodic and sweeter kind of ballads? And then I finished writing some of the other stuff that would fill in the missing lines, and like that. [more about Exene at exenecervenka.com]

PM: Maybe you'd tell us about Dave Way, who is instrumental in this record, and perhaps in general?

JD: Oh, Dave Way is a genius, and that's why he gets paid big money to mix records and to record records with Sheryl Crow and Macy Gray, and a bunch of other people--Ringo Starr--all kinds of--I think he even worked on Ziggy Marley's last record. But yeah, he and I got together about 10 or 15 years ago, and didn't really do anything. We did one X track together. And then a while later I called up Dave and said, "I got these demos, what about working together?" 

So this is our fourth record, fifth record together. And he's an incredible engineer, a great co-producer, and producer on his own, because he lets things develop up to a point where they might--they could use a suggestion, and then he'll go, "Would it work if we tried this?" And if you're not sure about something, he's got an honest opinion. And we both like the same sort of music--a little more experimental, a little more adventurous. He gets really true sounds, too, which some engineers, producers have a hard time with--it doesn't sound exactly like the way that you recorded it.

PM: And he sounds, the way you talk about him, like he's a good friend.

JD: Oh, yeah. We have a great time. I wish that we could get a big budget so we could just hang out in the studio for a couple of months, do something really elaborate. But we'll have to wait for that.

[find out more about Dave at daveway.com]

PM: You've done your excellent Muddy Waters type record on Forever Hasn't Happened Yet. Are either the Appalachian or bluegrass styles in your bloodstream or background, so a record like that might happen sometime?

JD: Well, I think I would have to do that with The Knitters. I think the bluegrass--we just amp it up a little more with the Knitters.

PM: Right, exactly. [more about The Knitters at theknitters.net]



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