John Doe, singer and writer, will be performing songs from his new record The Westerner, at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this Sunday at the LA Soundstage. Dedicated to his friend and fellow artistic soul, Michael Blake, Doe aims to do justice to all that Blake has taught him about writing and art. The Daily Trojan got to chat with Doe about his new record and his appearance at the Festival of Books.
Daily Trojan: Your new record, The Westerner, will be released at the end of the month. The cover is very symbolic, with a boy staring at horses out on a prairie. What sorts of musical vibes can we expect from this album?
John Doe: It was recorded in Tucson with Howe Gelb and has the space and psychedelic elements you can only find in the desert. The cover was created by Shepard Fairey and Aaron Huey for the Protect the Sacred campaign and Honor the Treaties.
DT: In your video for “Get on Board” from the album, you appear to be on a subway platform in New York City, but the song’s lyrics suggest that the train could be traveling cross-country. Does being a Westerner hold any particular meanings to you, as someone who has performed internationally. What inspired you to write and curate a book on the L.A. punk scene?
JD: The video was filmed in Brooklyn and the train is a train of life or a train of death. It doesn’t have to be a train traveling across country. I’ve lived in California for over 40 years and there is a unique space and light in the west. If it wasn’t for the L.A. punk scene, I wouldn’t have a career in music or film. It’s been a dream of lifetime. The reason there are many contributors is because the L.A. punk scene was based on collaboration.
DT: Has writing always been a passion of yours? What made the L.A. punk scene special compared to other cities during that time, such as San Francisco or New York?
JD: Writing has always been a passion. I’ve written 200-plus songs and many poems. This is the first biographical piece I’ve ever written. I realize this book gives the reader a chance to experience L.A. from that era from first hand accounts. L.A. had cars — that’s the biggest difference. And cars are one of the building blocks of rock ‘n’ roll.
DT: L.A. is still considered a main city for ambitious artists to come and make a name for themselves. Do you still think it gives that same opportunity to bands and performers that has been portrayed through the decades?
JD: Everything in art, music, acting is different now than it was back then. L.A. is still a media center but nothing like it was then. Artists like Phoebe Bridgers, The Americans and Silversun Pickups ate carrying on the tradition of DIY artists.
DT: The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is a hub for all sorts of creative minds of different fields and backgrounds to convene. Although it is very different than performing at a traditional concert hall, what are you looking forward to about performing in front of this audience?
JD: Free shows are always fun! The John Doe Rock ‘n’ Roll band is a band of all stars featuring Cindy Wasserman, DJ Bonebrake (of X), Val McCallum (Jack Sh-t), Ryan Feves (Eleni Mandell), and we will be playing new material, favorites and X songs.