When it comes to punk, no other band has the rock-steady reliability of X. Forty years in, the California quartet comprising Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake has a touring schedule packed to the gills — including a stop at The State Theater in Church Falls, Virginia, Saturday.
No one delivers fast, hard punk rock packed with singalong choruses quite like X, with songs like “We’re Desperate,” “Burning House of Love,” “Los Angeles” and “4th of July.” I caught up with the man most X fans would argue has had the best seat in the house for the past four decades, drummer D.J. Bonebrake, to discuss the band’s roots and upcoming Grammy Museum exhibit.
Question: How many times in your life have people asked you if Bonebrake is your real last name?
Answer: An infinite number of times. It’s an odd name, isn’t it? It was originally “Binebreck.” I didn’t know this growing up, but I had relatives who got into the genealogy in the last 20 years because of the internet. My relatives came here sometime in the 1750s. Daniel Binebreck had about a dozen kids, and they all changed their name to some variation of Bonebrake.
Q: You can understand why people thought it was made up.
A: Yeah. When I joined The Eyes in 1977, it was during the era where everyone was trying to come up with cool punk rock names. I came up with “Donny Awful” to be like Johnny Rotten. That didn’t stick more than a couple days. The guys in that band said, “Use your own name.” So then it was Don Bonebrake.
Billy Zoom later on said, “What is your middle name?” Because John [Doe] and Don sound too much alike. I said, “James.” Billy said, “D.J. Like D.J. Fontana. That’s Elvis’ drummer.”
Q: What drew you to the drums?
A: You can only speculate because you don’t really know. When you’re young you’re just drawn to something. But there are pictures of me at about two and a half years old and I’m pulling out the pots and pans from underneath the sink.
My parents used to jokingly call me “the plumber,” but I think I really was “the drummer. Somehow I ended up with some drumsticks from one of my older brother’s friends. He left them behind. I just started hitting things.
Q: X is the quintessential California punk band, but the reality is you’re the only band member from here. Did you influence them?
A: Probably not. (Laughs) I was the kid from the Valley. No one takes the kids from the Valley seriously. Just being here affected them somewhat.
Q: What was it about John, Exene and Billy that made you want to join then?
A: I just knew it was interesting. When The Eyes were near the end, everything in the scene was sort of monotone. But when I went into the first X rehearsal, there was a variety of songs. I think that was it. I was interested in expanding. I thought the songs and the playing was good. There was a coolness and excitement about it.
Q: What keeps the band going 40 years in?
A: For me it’s 39 years. It’s like the Jack Benny joke: Thinking of it as not really 40 makes it a lighter load to carry. (Laughs) Time just flies and you forget.
It’s a combination of things: The music is good. There is nothing else we can do. Maybe someone else in the band does, but I don’t. (Laughs)
You can’t just start a new band these days. With X people recognize the name and we can make a living. It’s a practical thing. We didn’t make the royalties to sustain ourselves into old age. It’s hard traveling and hard playing really well every night. But when you play a really good show, you know it and really feel satisfied.
Q: What are your favorite X songs to play live?
A: I think the easier ones. (Laughs) There are a couple I like playing like “World’s a Mess.” I just love the song and breakdown section. I enjoy playing “Hungry Wolf,” but somehow that has morphed into me playing a drum solo.
I have mixed feelings about drummer solos. Some drummers love to be in the spotlight. I’m kind of reluctant about it.
Q: Along with the tour, X is now the subject of a Grammy Museum exhibit. Is it odd for your band to be in a museum?
A: Yeah. When we were in D.C., we would always got to the Smithsonian museums. And I remember being in the Natural History Museum and I looked at stuffed birds for hours. You know how you are in a museum intensely looking at something and you get lost in it? When I walked outside, I saw a sparrow, a real bird, and thought, “What’s it doing moving?”
I had a similar experience at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I find it macabre. It’s an honor to be in a museum, but it makes you realize that when I die, that is what’s going to be what’s left of me.
Q: Do you think X will ever record again?
A: Yeah, I don’t know. (Laughs) We are going to release live recordings. When we went on the two tours, South America and Europe, with Pearl Jam, they were nice enough to multitrack record every show. And they just said, “You can have the recordings.”
I can’t say enough as to how generous they are. I just went through a lot of the stuff and that’s in the process. It’s the next best thing.
The X 40th Anniversary Tour comes to The State Theater in Church Falls, Virginia, Saturday. Tickets are $35 by going to TicketAlternative.com.