By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
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X founder John Doe has found a suitably memorable place from which to talk about KISSINGSOHARD, his first solo album since 1990's Meet John Doe: An eatery in Kentucky, just north of the Tennessee border, called the G&E Drive-In Rest. "They didn't even have room to spell out `restaurant,'" Doe quips. He and the inductees of the John Doe Thing, his current group, are traveling from one gig to the next, and without the slightest hint of apology, he calls the previous night's performance "quite a clamfest. We were making mistakes all over the place. It was reminiscent of a Replacements show, except with no throwing up on stage."
So it goes for Doe, who's been living this life since at least 1980, when X's album Los Angeles marked the true emergence of West Coast punk. The quartet, whose Unclogged disc hit stores this past summer, has had some rough patches since then, even splitting up for a stretch. Today, however, Doe describes the other members of X (vocalist Exene Cervenka, drummer D.J. Bonebrake and guitarist Tony Gilkyson) and his associates in the Thing (Bonebrake, former Blasters guitarist Smokey Hormel, and onetime Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians bassist Brad Houser) as "sort of one, big incestuous family." He notes, "I think that Exene and I and D.J. and Tony all are secure enough to understand that X will continue. And I felt secure enough to include Exene and D.J. on my solo record."
In shaping KISSINGSOHARD, Doe claims he was guided less by a clear sense of mission than he was by strong convictions about what he wished to avoid. "I didn't want it to be country-influenced or roots-oriented," he divulges. "I've kind of worked that flirtation out of my system." Therefore, he says, "I wanted this record to be more like X, and also adventurous--something that might be part of the present or the future, rather than something that's part of the past."
That said, the decision to cut KISSINGSOHARD for Rhino Records, a company best known for reissuing the work of artists long past their prime (and often no longer among the living), might come as a surprise even to those familiar with Forward, the Rhino subsidiary to which Doe is signed. Doe, who entered the Rhino fold due largely to the enthusiasm of Gary Stewart, the company's senior vice president of A&R, acknowledges that Forward staffers "still have things to learn about supporting a record for an artist in the rock-and-roll arena--all the radio stations that need to be called over and over again to be convinced, tour support and all those sorts of things." Thus, he concludes, "it's an ongoing process, as it is with everybody."
For the most part, Doe's fans won't need to be pestered into playing KISSINGSOHARD, which has already received positive writeups in publications such as Newsday and Entertainment Weekly. Nonetheless, the CD's most radio-friendly cut--the single "Fallen Tears"--suffers from a buried vocal track that makes the singer sound a lot like Jackson Browne on a bad day. Likewise, the hard-bitten truck-stop feel of "Field of Dirt" only rarely rises above journeyman quality. Perhaps the album's most effective pieces are the less ambitious "Willamette" and the aptly titled biker ode "Beer, Gas, Ride Forever," which hits the spot as squarely as a fried-chicken dinner at Shoney's.
As for X, Doe believes the band is entering a fertile period. "I think we're more politically involved," he observes just prior to suggesting that fans check out the New Party, a left-leaning alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. "I think we're more direct with what we are saying lyrically. Hopefully we haven't sacrificed the poetry, and the anger or angst is not as scattered. It's more focused, maybe."
In many ways, Doe has been considerably more scattered. For example, he was composing the material for KISSINGSOHARD even as a tour in support of X's Unclogged was being planned. "They both were kind of going simultaneously," he notes, "so basically you have an opportunity, and you put whatever creativity you have towards whatever outlet you have.
"I've been busy," the singer deadpans. "Busy doing X, busy doing acting projects [he appears in Georgia, a Jennifer Jason Leigh vehicle that's received favorable reviews on the film-festival circuit], busy raising a family..."
And busy searching the back roads for a good drive-in rest.
John Doe Thing. 10:30 p.m. Saturday, October 21, Lion's Lair, 2022 East Colfax, $12, 320-9200 or 1-800-444-