Checking In With... John Doe of X - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
John Doe | Photo by Jim Herrington | courtesy of the artist

In times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to check in on your friends and loved ones. Here at XPN, we’re Checking In With our extended musical family to see how they’re holding up during the Coronavirus quarantine…and what music has kept them grounded. Today, Dan Reed chats with John Doe from X.

“It’s much the same,” says John Doe of Austin, Texas, which he calls home these days. When we caught up with him for the Checking In series, he told us, “They haven’t tried to open up the bowling alleys and nail salons, but there’s a lot of difference between the people in Austin’s political views and the rest of Texas. That’s okay, that’s one the reasons I live here. Most people here are taking [quarantine] very seriously.”

John Doe set the scene for us, talking about what a breeze it is driving thru downtown Austin, but also talked about the flipside: he’s part owner of bar and don’t know when that’s going to open again. But, “I’m not going out till the doctors say ‘take your chances but I think it’s a little better.’ Austin’s rates of infections are going up, so that’s not now.”

This year, John Doe’s legendary LA punk band X released its new album Alphabetland on Fat Possum. It’s the band’s first recording with drummer Billy Zoom in 35 years, and the first X album overall in 27 years, though they’ve been doing reunion shows on and off since the 2000’s. “We’ve been staying busy,” John says. “That’s why it took us a while.”

We talked about the decisions behind making the record, making sure the band has everything in line and trusting its instincts. “When you’re a kid, you just do what you do. When you’re older you can get in your head,” he says. “Luckily we did not do that, we just made it really lean and mean, just got in there and did it.”

He talked about continuing to work together over time, getting rid of ego and getting more collaborative, and shared some stories about working with the legendary keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and the lessons he took from The Doors. Hear all this and some of Doe’s favorite music in the player below.

Checking In With John Doe of X

Favorite Song of All Time: “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye

“It’s a song that immediately calms you down, it’s a song that gives you hope, it’s so dreamy, but meaningful. And good God, if I was part of a song like that, I would take the rest of the month off and bask in its glow. When people compare other artists to Marvin Gaye and that record, I always think ‘you didn’t listen to that record, you didn’t listen to either one of those records! It is not.’”

Song that Raises Your Spirits: “Goodbye, Year, Goodbye” by X

“It raises my spirits because it’s about a party gone wild, and that feeling you have as you reminisce about the year gone past, not knowing it was like a whole era that is in the rearview mirror. It lifts my spirits because it’s hopeful that you’ll be at a New Year’s Eve party and things are gonna go off the rails a bit, but there’s a little hope going on in the background.”

Song You’re Most Proud of Working On: Bob Dylan’s “Pressing On” covered by John Doe

“It was so different, it was so unexpected for me to get the call to come and do a gospel song. Joe Henry is the one who called, he’s a friend of mine, Joe was in charge of a lot of the recordings for this soundtrack. I got to work with his crew of top notch musicians Jay Bellarose and Paul Bryan, drummer and bass player, and I could just let it rip and step into a character almost. What would William Bell do in a situation like this? He wouldn’t leave anything on the field, he would freaking go for it. I’m not particularly religious — I’m spiritual, but not religious in the sense of going to church/ But I do believe that in times off trouble and times of struggle you do have to keep pressing on. If things are all screwed up, then you have to strive for some normalcy. If you get up in the morning and feeling depressed, you got to get up and make coffee, otherwise it’ll get worse. And then Joe added a gospel choir, three or four women. I thought oh my God, I never thought I could do that. How did I get to be part of this? And then a few years ago, MusiCares honored Bob Dylan, and he gave them a list of people he’d like to have sing at the dinner fundraiser in LA. Some people you’d imagine — Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young — but then it was also Tom Jones, Aaron Neville, and I got to get up there and do my deal. Don Was was music director. And it was like ‘look, Ma!’ I’ve met Bob a couple times, he’s just as mysterious and wonderful as you’d expect, and the fact that he said hey ‘get that guy,’ and then he gave that crazy wonderful speech with a greek chorus — look it up online, he’ll talk smack about someone, and he’ll say but anyway.”

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