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Music

X’s John Doe’s quarantine staples: vinyl, history books and riding his pretty horses

John Doe
John Doe still hopes to tour behind X’s new album “Alphabetland” but, he says, “I can’t see 1,500 people crammed up against the stage.”
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

John Doe, the bassist, singer, songwriter, actor and author best known as cofounder of the L.A. band X, is currently a Texan.

Speaking recently from Austin, where he lives with his longtime partner, artist Krissy Teegerstrom, Doe, 67, was a few days away from the release of “Alphabetland,” the return-to-form X album and the first one from the founding quartet in 35 years.

Before the pandemic, he had been a busy man. Along with recording half of the new X album in January, then working on overdubbing and mixing it, he concluded a solo tour with Grant Lee Phillips and Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses). Last year he published, with Tom DeSavia, “More Fun in the New World: The Unmaking and Legacy of L.A. Punk,” their second oral history of the scene.

X was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Los Angeles,” its furious debut album, with a late-April gig at the Wiltern. Instead of a busy summer on the road with a rock ’n’ roll band, Doe has spent his quarantine in relative quiet.

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What’s a typical day been like for you? Do you have rituals?
Yes, I always get up in the morning and I’m very grateful that I do, usually before 9 o’clock. I think it’s important to keep those rituals. I try not to think about 6 o’clock in the evening at 9 o’clock in the morning, especially now, because it can be a little deflating. Like, “Oh s—, I’m just going to be making dinner again.” But it’s giving me a great chance to make dinner with my partner, and I’m enjoying that.

I also wrote a song with Grant Lee Phillips and Sam Phillips. Grant, Kristin Hersh and I did a tour just before this s— hit the fan. So Grant sent me a verse of the song. It’s called “Stay Safe.” It’s a typical country folky song. He recorded a verse, which is a one-four-five progression, and said, “Why don’t you do a verse, and then do a chorus if you feel like it?”

I did and sent it back to him. He sent it to Sam Phillips. She did another verse and a little bit of a different chorus, or bridge. The violin player Eric Gorfain did a lead and sent it back to Grant and he did the chorus again. All this is on video as well. It was so fun.

Have you developed any new vices during the shutdown?
Well, I had stopped drinking for about four months from November to February, and now I’m allowing myself one alcoholic beverage, like, every two or three days. A very slippery slope.

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No other vices. [Pauses] And I don’t know how this sounds, but I don’t care, to be honest. I have these two horses and I go see them. That’s what keeps me sane. That’s my saving grace.

The horses are on Instagram. I put pictures up of them now and then, so I’m not hiding it. Having paid my dues for 40-some years in the entertainment business, that’s one thing I get to do, you know?

What music have you been listening to?
Let me walk over there [footsteps]. “Blues in My Bottle,” by Lightning Hopkins. And a beautiful, kind of smooth jazz — I hate to say it — but Bill Evans Trio, “Waltz for Debbie” on Riverside. Junior Wells, “Coming at You.” Also, my partner turned me on to Chad VanGaalen, “Light information.” Oh, I really like the last Sharon Van Etten record [“Remind Me Tomorrow”]. She finally cut loose a little bit, and that made me happy. And Terry Allen’s last record, “Just Like Moby Dick.” There’s a Fat Possum record by Songhoy Blues called “Résistence.” They’re [Malian], but they have this crazy combo of blues and prog-rock, and you can hear some of that Sahara-type influence.

What about books?
I’m reading a lot of Texas history. There’s a giant tome called “Big Wonderful Thing” put out by University of Texas Press. Being a relatively new resident to Texas, I figured I should learn. I started a few years ago with that book about Quanah Parker, “Empire of the Summer Moon.” Quanah Parker was the last Comanche chief and a truly amazing individual. Parker was part of the Comanches when Crazy Horse was part of the Sioux.

I also read a book called “Mozart’s Starling.” Evidently Mozart had a starling [laughs], so this writer got a starling and wrote a book about it.

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That sounds fantastic.
It goes into some etymology of starlings and a history of Mozart, and the writer’s experiences. And [the Go-Go’s] Kathy Valentine put out a book, and she’s a pal.

I loved “All I Ever Wanted.” What a life.
What a kick-ass book! That’s brave to write all that s—. To live it is one thing. To write about it, as well. It’s like, goddamn, sister.

John Doe and Exene Cervenka
John Doe and Exene Cervenka.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times )

Your plan was to tour in support of “Alphabetland.”
Yes, we still have plans to do that.

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How optimistic are you?
That can happen, but to be honest, I can’t see 1,500 people crammed up against the stage. But there may be some other way that that happens. People wear masks at the show? Or people just say, “Screw it, I’m gonna do this one thing, and then I’m going to be careful the rest of the week” or something. I don’t know.

Thanks for taking time, John, and take care.
You too. We’ll see you on the ... I don’t know. You can’t say “the other side” because I think it’s going to be with us for a long time.


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