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The X factor

John Doe journeys through his past



John Doe's career has been filled with under-the-radar milestones that mean the world to him, even though his legendary L.A. punk band X hasn't released a studio album in two decades.

In fact, he's currently touring to promote the Yep Roc label's release of a solo greatest-hits anthology, The Best of John Doe: This Far, which includes newly recorded reworkings of his own "Take 52" and X's "Poor Girl."

And then there are the pet projects he does for the creative joy of it. This spring, Doe and his X co-anchor Exene Cervenka will be joined by Robyn Hitchcock on their Rails Express train tour. Additionally, he just appeared in five West Coast concerts with his old pal Chris D. from The Flesh Eaters, whose original all-star lineup is celebrating the reissue of its classic A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die.

Doe was also pleased when fellow singer-songwriter Joe Henry invited him to contribute a track to his historic collection Divided and United — Songs of the Civil War. He was assigned "Tenting on the Old Campground," he says, which really resonated with him.

"You came to realize how much this music meant to people when they were slogging through that shit. I saw a lot of pictures of people at campsites during the Civil War, sitting with instruments. And then they'd throw their mandolin in the back of the wagon with their pots and pans."

Along the way, Doe has managed to maintain an ongoing film and TV side-career. He appeared alongside Kinky Friedman, Malcolm McDowell, and splatterfest vet Sid Haig in the horror flick Zombex, directed by Texas troubadour-turned-director and current tourmate Jesse Dayton.

"I was the guy at the very beginning of the movie who says to the lead actor, 'Now, be careful!'" laughs Doe. "There's always some person who says that, just before the shit hits the fan."

But Doe's juiciest role to date was in 2013's Pleased to Meet Me, in which he stars as a down-on-his-luck, creatively blocked solo artist who hooks up with a new band.

In real life, Doe still has his old band to keep him in the collaborative spirit. Last month, X went out on its annual Christmas tour, which is fast becoming a Yuletide tradition. But this time it was essentially unplugged, opening up the set to vintage numbers they rarely perform, like "Drunk in My Past" and "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes."

That in turn opened the door for Doe's next potential project — a full-length X reunion album.

"This re-imagining of X gives us much more possibility," says Doe. "It weirdly makes the line between what I might do solo, and what X might do, more blurry. But it also takes the pressure off Exene and I to write songs that are just punk rock, exclusively."

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