For legendary Southern California punk band X, the past year has served a renaissance. They’ve toured with Pearl Jam and played some of their best shows in a while, capped off by performing their iconic album Los Angeles at the Sunset Strip Music Festival with the Doors’ Ray Manzarek joining them on-stage. Before they hit the stage at this weekend’s Made In America festival in Philadelphia—where they have a prime slot at 8 PM on the second day of the fest—we caught up Exene Cervenka to hear about life on the road with Pearl Jam, why she thinks the band’s music resonates with fans and who she’s looking forward to seeing this weekend.
It’s been a busy calendar year for the band. What’s been the impetus for this?
Pearl Jam, I guess. They took us to South America and Europe this summer. What we found out was that we could have played to people, they would have liked us. We never played in South American and hardly went to Europe, and even in the United States, it’s hard to get a new audience because we play to the same people—which is great, but there’s other people who might like us but hadn’t seen us before, but now they know who we are.
I guess so. You know the song “New World?” When I wrote that, it was about a bum kind of guy who didn’t know who the president was and didn’t care. It wasn’t a diatribe against anyone. But now with Obama’s controversy, it’s like what’s [his] name? There you go. We’re living in a fascist country now, like, look at what happened in Czechoslovakia when the Soviets took over. They got smart real fast and looked for solutions, even in music. You look for it everywhere.
Size of the crowds aside, what are the differences between the audiences in Europe and South America as compared to those in the States?
We play the same show if it’s 100 people or 10,000 or 70,000. We do the best we can. I think people recognize that in South America right off the bat. Pearl Jam’s fans are not like other fans and what I know about South America is through them—and it’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever beheld in my life. They’re passionate and have an outpouring of emotion. There’s a synchronicity between people and no conflict. It’s a love fest and I’m not exaggerating. In Europe it was similar but not quite as intense as South America and Mexico. But again, it was the same positive vibe and it was just incredible.
Which show in Europe stuck with you?
Probably the Isle of Wight Festival. The people were living in mud for a day and half or two days and its knee-deep mud and pouring rain. When we got there, it was pretty bad, like there were planks behind the stage so we wouldn’t fall in.
We were playing the small stage early in the day, while Pearl Jam is headlining the giant main stage way far away. When we go on, there’s about a 1,000 people total, some watching us, some who are cruising by and hear our stage and like it. Slowly, more people start to come over and it’s early in the day at a big festival so it’s not going to be that big.
Then Eddie Vedder comes out and sings “Devil Doll” with us, and the people in the crowd were probably watching us because they couldn’t get to the main stage since they’d be 10-million-miles away and there Eddie comes to sing with us. Everybody was so happy, so excited and so into it. It was such a nice moment for everyone. When were touring, even festivals, supporting Pearl Jam, a lot of it revolves around them
They liked our band a lot and I guess when Eddie was 15, X played a club and we interacted quite a bit during the show. He remembered that and they asked us to tour with them in the ‘90s and I guess they decided, ‘Hey let’s take these guys.’ We always have a good time.
Is it through this relationship that you were drawn to Made In America?
We were asked to do that and we said, ‘Um, yeah.’ What a great festival that’s going to be!
Who are you excited to check out that you’ve never seen before?
I’m getting there the day before we play so I’m not going to see the first day. But the second day, I want to see Chris Cornell and Santigold I don’t want to miss, but I’m going to try see as much as I can.
Have you been working on/writing any new material as X?
No. I always do and everyone does their own stuff, but not as X, unfortunately. I thought I had nailed there for a second that we were going to work on some songs but it fell apart. I don’t really know what the problem is. I have 75 songs ready to go and I don’t have time to worry about it.
X performs at Made in America festival in Philadelphia on Sunday, September 2. Click here for more info. Also: X performs at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin on November 2-4 (daily schedule TBA). Click here for more info.