It is March, and, for John Doe, that means this page in his calendar gets marked with an “X.” Life is a lot like that for Doe at the moment. Having spent the better part of the month on tour with the seminal Californian punk rock band X, Doe is now looking forward to a break in the schedule. And it is said break that will allow him to stop through Santa Barbara for a solo show at The Mercury Lounge this weekend. Then it’s back with the band when Doe & Co. hit the road in celebration of the band’s 31st anniversary. In maintaining such a schizophrenic schedule, it almost seems like Doe is a glutton for punishment.
“No, I’m not a glutton for punishment!” he exclaimed. “Well, maybe in my personal life I might be. That’s probably why I keep writing all these songs of love and loss. But in my professional life, it just comes down to having a lot of different opportunities that I make a point of taking advantage of. I just love to sing. It’s what I really love to do, so it all comes down to that, really. And that’s why I’m coming back to Santa Barbara.”
Switching musical gears never seemed to pose much of a problem for Doe. He gets to lash out every now and then with X, while also indulging his rockabilly yearnings with his other band, The Knitters. As a solo artist, Doe has hit the road with backing bands Luca and Dead Rock West, but he’s no stranger to heading out on the road with nothing more than an acoustic guitar. With so many musical avenues open to him, one can’t help but wonder whether each endeavor stems from separate points of inspiration.
“It’s hard to say,” Doe responded. “I’m just glad that I’m able and interested enough to keep writing, and [that I’m] still able to find something that is inspiring enough to write about. But I do think it all comes from the same place and you just shift the focus. Whether it’s more personal or less personal or louder or quieter, it all comes from some form of creativity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a journal entry or a textbook-they are both creative things, and you just channel it whichever way it needs to go.”
The place from which Doe’s music unabashedly stems is his heart. And nowhere is that more apparent than on his latest record, A Year in the Wilderness. While the album might have been written and recorded quickly, it has been shaped by a lifetime’s worth of experience. And with Doe adopting such a confessional approach to songwriting, the tracks stand out as both a cathartic experience for him and an approachable offering for audiences.
“I think for everyone who falls into that same category -such as Lucinda Williams and the like; anyone who has elements of their personal life in their songs-it’s both,” explained Doe. “You’re doing it because that’s how you feel, and you do it so that someone else can identify with it and maybe feel a little less alone. That’s the amazing quality of music-it works on so many different levels. Not just the lyrics or the melody or the music behind it; it’s all of those things.”
Another thing that music has done for Doe is ensured that he frequents Santa Barbara. While his last visit saw him atop the SOhO stage, Doe has also played at Tales from the Tavern and Sings Like Hell as a soloist. The latter date even served to reunite Doe with the Lobero Theatre-a stage upon which he and his X colleagues got themselves banned from town when their fans became a little too enthusiastic.
“We played the Lobero Theatre when I was with X back in the day,” recalled Doe. “We didn’t know that it was a national landmark. They booked a punk rock band into a national treasure, so it’s not our fault. That was a little bit of a badge of honor for us at the time. Honestly, I don’t really think there was all that much damage. And that’s one of the things that happens when you survive-you end up with a lot of stories to tell. But so far I’m resisting the memoir craze.”
While there might not be an autobiography pending, a 31-year-old musical career ensures that there is always someone around with a tale to tell. “It is always a little frightening when someone comes up and recounts how we hung together 20 years ago,” offered Doe. “I start thinking, ‘Oh my God. What did I say? What did I do? Do I owe you money?’ That’s a little frightening, but it hasn’t been too bad. There hasn’t been anyone who has said that I kicked the crap out of them 20 years ago and now they’re finally going to sue me.”