Vagrant Journalism

Published pieces from the past, the present and of the potential future.

3 March 2006: Interview with Exene Cervenka and Jason Edge

Posted by Christina on March 2, 2009

img_0340I got this ridiculous chance to interview one of my absolute idols, Exene Cervenka. When the interview started, I was a shakey, nervous and giggly fan girl but by the end I felt at ease with her, totally comfortable in the tiny room tattered with graffiti, stickers and probably a variety of bodily excretions. Every time I read this transcription I’m in a new world and it’s because she is such an amazing woman and was so generous to sit down and talk to someone like me. When I broke down and let the fan girl out, I took the silliest picture ever, with her at my side.

This was featured in one of the earlier issues of a student-run zine at UC Irvine called Forest Fire. Earlier content can be found on an ICS Major’s website domain at Forest Fire Magazine. It seems now they thrive off their Team Forest Fire Blog and they’re a bunch of talented kids writing about the world around them and worth checking out.

Forest Fire Magazine: Interview with Exene Cervenka

Interview – Exene Cervenka [X, The Knitters, The Original Sinners], Jason Edge [The Original Sinners]
Showcase Theatre, Corona
3 March 06

Christina: I understand you’re friends with Kristine McKenna?
Exene: Yes.
C: I interviewed her for one of my other classes. My project was to find a literary journalist and I found out about her because her book came out, Talk To Her, and I saw your name, actually, that she interviewed you and I thought, “Oh my gosh, who is this?” and I got in touch with her.
E: Well that’s good. She should be interviewed, she’s an amazing woman. Her books are great. She’s interviewed so many interesting people.

C: Tell me a little bit about your art. You had that art exhibition in Santa Monica last year?
E: Yeah and then I had another one in Miami and another one in New York. It’s collages that I make from things that I’ve found over the last thirty years, or so. Things that I get, find on the street, get in thrift stores or people send me. They’ve got all kinds of different images. It’s really a great art form because you can get really lost in it, while you’re doing it and you can juxtapose so many different things to make one message, which is really fun to do in art. So I’m loving that, that’s my favorite thing. If you make art.
C: So it’s kind of like found art?
E: Yeah, it’s kind of found, yeah. And you put things together. Just like if you have a picture of someone smiling and then you find a cartoon-type picture of someone making the exact same face, or something, and just overlap them and then it’s something else.
C: That’s awesome. That’s definitely cool because it’s things that are accessible.
E: Mhm. There’s beauty in the mundane.

C: I was reading somewhere where the name of your new album has to do with the three members of 7 Shot Screamers.
E: Yeah.
C: But why do you spell it with the 7 [Sev7en]?
E: For fun.
C: First thing I thought of when I saw that was the movie Se7ev.
E: Oh, they take the v out? I like my way better. My way or the highway. [laughing]

C: How did you guys all hook up?
E: Well the Sevens [7 Shot Screamers] were a band that I saw in St. Louis and Jason [Edge] was in band called the Honky Tonk…surf band, and I saw them both play the same night and we’ve just, been together ever since. They’re just a great band. Jason asked them to be the band. We try to get together new people and they don’t always play together like a band
Jason: It’s hard to find people that act like a band, you know—sound like a band, feel like a band. You find lots of great musicians in LA but nothing that’s already put together. And they’re our friends, we’ve known them a long time and they’re a wonderful band. We love them and it’s easy to work with them.
C: What makes it easy to work with them?
E: We don’t have issues. You’d be surprised what people take on the road with them. There’s a lot of people out there who just get pouty or something, or throw fits or get angry or don’t show up or whatever it is. There are a million ways a band can go wrong if they don’t have any quality.
J: There’s a lot of time in close quarters. We’re all a good family, for a long time.
C: That’s great. It’s so refreshing to find people you could work with.

C: I was reading on the Nitro website about how Exene says she’s a lot like Chuck Berry.
E: Everyone asks me that and it’s so funny. I don’t even remember saying that. Kristine McKenna wrote that, you know.
C: She’s written a lot of stuff for you guys, like the CD inlays.
E: Yeah well she’s been around. It’s just kind of fun to get to a point in your life when you can pull it through a great, young band together and just go out and play songs. You reach a certain status in life.
J: You don’t necessarily have to start over. She’s already done the work.

C: I have a question about the scene, the kids that you play for. I know back when X was starting the scene was different, new. There were a lot of things that weren’t overdone. What do you see in the difference between then and now, like the kids that were out there?
E: Oh, well, I’ll talk about X shows—X shows are very much like how they used to be because there’s just kids and older people and when punk rock started out it was kids and older people because of the smart people. Some of those people were in their 50’s but they found out about punk rock and they came to see it. The bands all supported each other. Now, I think that’s when you’re really young that you’re part of a scene. I would say that I’m not part of any scene right now.
J: Well and scenes have to be really small to actually work. You have to know the people that you’re working together, making art and music together. A scene that’s national and worldwide, I mean that’s really, kind of…I mean I know we throw bike runs and car runs to get together, have parties and bring in the bands to meet everybody, to meet other people, listen to the same music that they do, have the same lifestyle. But it’s just not the same to know them personally to be working on something, to be amazing and influenced by them.

C: Do you guys consider this being famous? Playing for shows and people coming to see your faces, do you consider that being famous?
E: No, I don’t consider that being famous. I just consider it playing music.
C: So it hasn’t really changed your life in any way?
E: I’ve been doing it since I was 20. So, I don’t know any other way, but to make art and play music. I try to keep it, if anything, at a minimum. I mean, I don’t like it when people get all, ‘Oh my god, you’re so great, I love you so much, you’re my hero’ and all that because I’d rather just meet people down at the same level. Like, ‘What do you do? This is what I do, what do you do?’ I try to minimize that stuff because I think it’s great when people like your music and think you’re an inspiration. I don’t want to seem not like a normal, regular person at the same time.
C: What does it mean for a musician, particularly you with the lyrics or anyone writing music, what does it mean to share your lyrics and your poetry with the fans or on an album? Is it something very personal? Do you confess personal things?
E: Yes, yes. It’s very personal and the more personal it is the more universal it is because if you’re writing about something really specific then other people can relate to that. So I try to keep things, both time and place, specific and put in a lot of details, make people feel like they’re there. You can make a song whatever you want it to be about once you hear it. You kind of let go of it at the same time, people are going to interpret it in their own way.
J: Yeah, Exene’s very brave that way. Lots of songwriters sing outside of themselves, you know, they’re just story tellers. They kind of shield themselves. She’s very brave in that she’s willing to take the bits of her life, good or bad, and put them there and we do relate to them. That’s why we all know them well.
C: I saw some girls out there singing to all your songs. Is that some sort of affirmation for you, when you see that? Or are you just happy putting it out there, period?
E: Yeah, it was nice that they were there. I love that, it’s great. It means that it means something to them. I want to be worthwhile in this world; I want to give people something, otherwise that’d be selfish.

C: I was reading somewhere how they crowned the “punk goddesses” as Chrissie Hynde for the UK, Patti Smith for New York and for Los Angeles it was Exene Cervenka.
J: You’ve got a crown!
E: Actually I think New York is Debbie Harry or Ivy [Kristy Wallace aka Poison Ivy] from the Cramps, definitely much more than Patti Smith.
J: Truly.
E: Patti Smith is kind of an iconic figure that stands on her own and I never thought of her. She’s kind of like a hippie and a punk rocker. But she wasn’t a part of the scene like, start hanging out at shows or come to anybody’s shows or anything like that where you would see Debbie at a show, at The Go-Go’s, or something, Siouxsie, too. It was a great time for women because it was a time when we were equal to men in rock and roll for the first time and women could do anything. All these people were amazing and they weren’t sex objects, they were artists and musicians and singers. We all like that, when women do that, it’s all good.

C: How do you feel about pioneering the LA version of all the other movements?
E: I feel like I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time and meet John [Doe] and Billy [Zoom] and DJ [Bonebreak] and start that band and have all those people around them. I feel like I was just really fucking lucky because I could have, before I moved to LA I could have moved from Florida to Chicago and then something completely different. It would have been good or fun or whatever but I’m glad I did that. That was good.

C: I was talking to Kristine about you and I was reading some of the interviews that she’s done and in the interviews you mentioned how you didn’t really consider yourself as a singer when you first started.
J: She still doesn’t.
C: I was curious about that because you’ve gone off to do so many things, you’ve been in so many different bands and been the singer.
E: I learned my own singing style but it’s not like I’m a singer singer like a girl singer, you know? So there’s a little bit of difference in that aspect.
C: Then what do you consider yourself as, the front-woman?
E: No, I mean, I consider myself a singer now. I just didn’t then as much.
C: So things have changed, obviously?
E: Well I mean in punk rock days anyone could get on stage and do whatever they wanted, you didn’t have to think of yourself as a singer or anything.
C: Yeah a lot of bands didn’t even know how to play their instruments.
E: Yeah, learning in public.

C: Seeing all these different bands that you’ve been in, how important are you band mates to you, personally?
E: Oh, they’re really important—X and The Knitters—I’ve had, let’s see, X, The Knitters, Auntie Christ, my solo stuff and then this band [The Original Sinners]. Oh, it’s definitely, completely important. It’s like a big family, you know, you have some bad family moments and some amazing family moments but like working with John Doe for thirty years, it’s like we’ll always work together.
C: Yeah that’s an amazing relationship, to know somebody for that long.
E: Yeah, it’s something else.

C: I wondered where do you think you would have been had you not moved out of your family situation.
E: I have no idea. I think John saved my life…really, truly.
C: In what ways?
E: Well I came to California because I had a friend here and I didn’t know anyone else and I got a job and met John within a few weeks of coming here and he thought my writing was really good and he met Billy so then they started. The lyrics were good and I didn’t want to just give him my lyrics to make some to them I wanted to be part of it. So it was a big commitment on his part and I think I would have been hugely in trouble if I hadn’t met him because I didn’t really have any other…I didn’t have an education or any of that crap. I was just a young person not knowing what I was going to do or what was going to happen to me.

C: Do you still work in the library?
E: Yeah I still have a job, isn’t that insane? I’ve had a job for six years at this elementary school but after June I’m not going to do that anymore.
C: Which elementary school, in LA?
E: Yeah, a private school.

C: I go out there and I’m in this ridiculous place and I have no inspiration to do journalism.
E: But you found Kristine McKenna.
C: I did! Oh my gosh!
E: She’s someone you should aspire to be like. She’s the first person who ever interviewed me.
C: She was telling me how you used to bring lemons, or something, from your tree.
E: Avocados.

C: I just feel that everything now is so…
E: It’s kind of like everything’s been done. It’s really hard to do anything new so when I first saw 7 Shot Screamers and put our musical styles together, they’re a really good band, they’re really entertaining and they have the right attitude and spirit of rock and roll. I think that’s great and I think that if you’re going to play garage band music if you can do it with the right passion, well, so what if it’s been done. Well do punk rock, so what if it’s been done. But it is a time when I don’t think there’s going to be any new musical form per se, I mean I can’t imagine it hasn’t happened, really. I mean rap music has been around a long, long time since before punk. So, you know, throw that out but, now where do you go?
E: Drink all that beer before you leave. I’m not going to be paying for beer if you’re not going to finish it all up. Take it with you in the van, too.

E: Well I think you’ve got a good thing going on with this idea of yours. When do you finish school?
E: Also, you’re not being a journalist that writes about U2, being a typical rock critic. Well, you know, go back and read all those great people who wrote for Creem, and all those great people, Lester Bangs.
E: He was a very smart person to do that, Iggy Pop. He’s much smarter than he thinks.

C: Bands just don’t do it anymore for the music.
E: Well I don’t know anybody else…their own motivation. Most of the really good bands you’re not going to hear. That’s just the way it is like the punk days to hear about all those bands but there are so many now, there are like a hundred, thousand bands in the country.
C: And MySpace exploded everything.
E: I think people start in a band probably just because there was a thing of MySpace. Just start a band and do a MySpace. But who knows what other people’s motivations are, you know. You can’t tell if that’s what people love what their doing and they just happen to be successful.

C: I remember I went to Borders, bought Los Angeles and drove around in my car until the CD ended.
E: Most people found out about what I do because of Viggo, so that’s good, you know. Yeah, we were married and had our son who’s 18 now. A good thing came out of that.
C: Do you like being a mom?
E: The absolute worst, most hardest, most painful thing and the absolute best, most wonderful, rewarding thing. It’s the extreme experience of both directions and extremely rewarding to have a child and raise a child, see that person grow up to be a man and a good man and a fun man and a neat, cool thrift store-shopping kid. I’m really proud of him but it’s a lot harder than people think to do that. Everybody’s really surprised when they have a kid. My sister just wrote me, she’s got two kids and one on the way and she said today is one of their birthdays, ‘she’s three and very good at it,’ and it’s so funny because I know exactly what that means because it’s so difficult when you’re that age. It does change your life.


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