Billy Zoom of X on his band’s history and Alphabetland

PHOTO: Leslie Michele Derrough

By Leslie Michele Derrough, Glide Magazine

Billy Zoom is in his shed. Chances are, though, his shed is a lot cooler than my shed or your shed.I’m picturing a room with lots of cool guitar gadgets, perhaps a TV and a comfy chair, away from the bustle of a household that includes teenaged twins. With coronavirus out there in the world, Zoom is probably a lot more normal nowadays, more like you and I, than the punk rock legend from X that is usually out on the road playing in sweaty clubs to happy fans. “I’m trying to get caught up,” Zoom told me about his pandemic activities. “You can’t go anywhere. I have this to-do list that I was up to the end of 2014 when the pandemic started so I’ve just been going down that list. I think I’m up to about 2017 at this point. Our governor shut us down again this week but I’m pretty socially distant to begin with so it’s not that hard on me. I go back and forth between the house and my studio, that’s about it.”

X, the perennial punk band that exploded out of Los Angeles in the late seventies, is not usually one to sit at home. They love and feed off of the excitement of the live music. They always have. With the exception of drummer DJ Bonebrake, the other members of X – John Doe, Exene Cervenka and Zoom – are all Midwesterners who made their way to the sun and scene of California, where they launched into their brand of punk after Zoom put out an ad looking for other musicians to play music with a different twist. “I give Billy Zoom most of the credit for including rockabilly in punk rock music,”Doe explained during a 2017 interview with Glide. “The Cramps did it to a degree but with the kind of guitar playing that Billy had or does, nobody else did that at that time. And I think he did it because that’s what he knew. Like for the intro to ‘Johnny Hit & Run Pauline,’ which is a takeoff on Chuck Berry’s ‘Promised Land’ intro, I think he just did it on a whim.”

“In LA, the live music scene was kind of dead. We thought, with a number of other misfits, that we’d kind of try to revive it,” Doe continued about the roots of X. “I think we wanted the simplicity and the speed and we didn’t want the seriousness; we wanted a little more melody and more fun and freedom.” Forty-plus years later, X is still an electrifying experience onstage. Earlier this year, X released an album of new material titled Alphabetland and last week it saw it’s debut on vinyl. Called a “jolt of energy” by Spin Magazine, the album indeed is thrilling. Like typical X, it at times feels like it could go spinning off its axis like a thrill ride but inevitably hangs on to the rails and the listener finishes up with the adrenaline pumping for all the right reasons. Kicking off with the title track and ending with a Jazz-time piano spoken word, Alphabetland is proof that X ain’t rusty.

[What follows are excerpts I found interesting in the interview.]

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You are known for bringing that rockabilly/fifties sound into X but when you started X, you were looking to do something different yet keeping elements of the rockabilly.

         

          

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What did you think of Elvis?

    

              

What about Little Richard?

   

Were you into the blues at all growing up?

   

And the Rockabilly?

   

You couldn’t buy Gene Vincent records either. 

              

We played Graceland.     

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Were you on the lookout [in Europe] for guitars as well?

 

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What do you remember about playing at Farm Aid in 1985?

     

   

    

I feel silly standing up there trying to look cool cause I’m just this old white guy.

   

         

  

Read entire interview HERE

 

 

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