John Doe

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John Doe was “born” in 1977 when he arrived in Los Angeles and began the punk band X with Exene Cervenka. Before that, he was John Nommensen Duchac from Decatur, Illinois. In 1981 the sophomore album Wild Gift established X’s place in musical history with such songs as “White Girl” and “We’re Desperate.” From 1978-1993, X released six studio albums, half a dozen singles and one live record. Since then he has released eight solo records, the latest being Keeper.

I call him one Sunday afternoon to talk about his journey through Americana as an artist and father.

Your career has evolved over three decades from punk to country to a folk singer style. Is that simply a case of evolving musically, or of getting older? I think it is just a matter of paying homage to what has influenced me along the way, reinterpreting it and making it my own. All good bands, punk or not, have roots. The Doors, Ben E. King, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie influenced X. Once that link to the past is established, and respected, then the band can break it down and make it theirs. With X we wanted to break apart what rock had become and get back to the three-minute song. Punk energy allowed that to happen. But my last album was sort of an exploration of the 1970’s music I loved, The Rolling Stones, The Band, and Joni Mitchell.

You still tour with X. How long can you keep playing punk music? You can play punk your whole life because punk at its core means freedom. Punk is really about freedom of expression, regardless of what genre of music you are actually playing. Or another way of thinking about it is not doing what others tell you but doing the work to find out for yourself. Walt Whitman was punk.

Where are some of your favorite places to play? Barcelona, Spain sound nice. But in the U.S. I love shows in Boston, Chicago, Austin, and the entire West Coast. The West Coast shows are always great.

You have three daughters who are all grown up. Was there a time when raising kids and trying to be an artist was a challenge? I don’t remember! No, really that was a long time ago. But I have been learning lately that you need to sometimes put yourself first. The U.S. culture is so much about putting the kids first, and sometimes they are first in priority, and sometimes it is you. And sometimes it is you and your partner. Just finding a balance for everyone, not just the kids, is key.

You have acted in dozens of films and television shows. Which is more rewarding, the acting or playing music? Music is more important because without music I wouldn’t have a career. Everything stems from music for me. But acting is very rewarding. It is nice to walk in and not be the boss, and not have to be validated by the audience. When making a film, there is no audience. Maybe stage acting is a bit like playing live music. Acting is fun because I don’t have to be the boss. I just do what someone else wants. It’s like playing rhythm guitar in a band. You are not the lead singer, just playing music. On my last album, Keeper, Don Was came and played bass for a few days. He didn’t want to produce. He just wanted to play bass.

Any future projects, either real or just dreaming about? I’ve dreamed about scoring an independent film with my producer friend Dave Way, and I would love to singing in an old fashioned Broadway musical.

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Texy by Bill Carter

THE OBSESSION ISSUE

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