We're a Nostalgia Act. We Do Oldies

X guitarist Billy Zoom on the past, present and future of punk rock

It was February of '98 when last we visited with Billy Zoom—Nice Guy, Punk Legend. At the time, OC's resident Guitar God, multi-instrumentalist, rockabilly reunion pioneer, and rock & roll skeptic confirmed rumors that he'd soon be reuniting with X for a series of shows after almost 15 years away from the fray. Zoom insisted his goals were financial rather than musical—he needed cash to finance his Orange amp-repair shop, a recording studio and a Christian record label. He showed no personal or creative enthusiasm whatsoever at the prospect of playing with X again.

So here we are in mid-2000, and X is still playing "reunion" shows (they appear at the Galaxy Concert Theatre on Friday night). Billy Zoom Music, his amp-repair shop, opened last year; he's still in the process of building his studio and starting his own label. But has Zoom softened his strictly business stance on playing with the group? Will there ever be a new X album?

We spoke with Zoom before the recent series of X concerts. As always, he remains astonishingly, brutally honest about his motivations.

OC Weekly: Are you still as cynical about touring with X as you were when you first reunited a couple of years ago?Billy Zoom: Well, I'm a lot less cynical because I got the money I wanted. And I have the situation under control, so it hasn't been unpleasant. Are you the kind of person who, no matter who you're playing with, you wouldn't be happy about it?

As far as playing live, it's not really something I want to do. I really don't enjoy it. I don't like playing live music, and I don't like listening to live music. I like records. I like working in the studio, and I like producing. The first time I ever recorded in the studio, I decided then and there, "This is what I want to do." The whole reason I played with X in the first place or even played music at all was because I had this long-term plan where I wanted to make a little name for myself so I could stop playing live and produce records. You can't just come out of left field and say, "I wanna produce your album" and be taken seriously.

Who are some of the people you've produced?

I produced Eddie Vedder singing with the Supersuckers recently. As far as I know, the project is on hold, but it's available on the Internet, on MP3. The Trailer Park Casanovas. Ummm . . . I have no memory. Last year, I did that Ruby Joe thing. They're a Christian rockabilly/swing band from Ventura.

Bearing in mind your feelings about how much you love being in the studio, why don't you record a new X album?

There won't be a studio one, but there will be a live one. We're in negotiations right now, if some people want to put up the money.

Why not a studio album, since that's what you really love?

What would we do? Would we try to pretend that we were kids again and do '70s punk rock?

Couldn't you write some new tunes?

What kind of music would we play? We'd all be going in totally different directions.

You really don't think there's any way that X could come together to make a new album with mutual musical goals in mind?

We wouldn't have any musical goals in common. Plus, I think it would be bad for the band's reputation. We can't just rehash what we did before. Anything we came up with would offend the old fans and wouldn't excite new ones. You can't go back 20 years and be there again. What would we try to do, hip-hop or something? We're a nostalgia act. We do oldies. We're playing to people who were young when we were first around and are reliving their youth, and then there are some young kids who've heard of X but have never seen it, and they want to know what it was all about. All we do is go out there and play the first two albums, basically.

Does the rest of the band share your feelings about just doing this for the money?

Beats me. I don't talk to 'em. I saw them last September [before the recent shows]. That was the last time I spoke with them. We live hours away from one another and travel in completely different circles. I would assume that whatever John wants to do musically is what he's already doing with the John Doe Thing.

Do you get any sort of enjoyment or satisfaction out of playing with X beyond the money?

Uhhhhh . . . I sort of have fun being onstage and fooling around with the audience. I don't know if it has anything to do with X. When you play that kind of music that loud, it's just a big ball of racket onstage anyway; it's not really music. And that's part of what I don't like about playing live.

Is there any sense of pride in being involved with a group that was so beloved and influential, that many critics say was the best punk band ever to come out of LA?

I suppose a little bit, but it doesn't have to do with playing with the band. I don't have to be playing with the band to think that. Any time someone tells me how much X meant to them, I feel that way a little bit. But that doesn't relate to me playing with the band.

Do you personally like the people in the band?

Oh, I don't know. I kind of like DJ [Bonebrake, the band's drummer].

Okay, it's a perfect world, and you have enough money to do everything you want to. You've got your own studio, your own label, you're financially independent so that you don't even care what your productions sell, you just put out exactly what you want to put out. What are you doing?

A little bit of everything—jazz, gospel, country, a little bit of everything.

Would you play rockabilly again?

I wouldn't be doing any of the music; I'd be producing other people.

But you're so good on so many different instruments—don't you want to play them?

It would be so obsolete by the time I finished. I don't know. Maybe I'd play on something.

Do you have anyone you're looking at and thinking, "I can't wait to get these guys in the studio someday?"

Mmmmmm . . . not really. I'm just dying to get the studio finished and see what it sounds like. I'd really like to get into film scores, too.

Punk is still around, in the hands of hordes of young bands who might not be all that the first string was.

To me, punk was making fun of '70s music. I don't think the people who are into punk today understand that. They don't have to listen to it. It was such a narrow thing in the '70s; there was so little to listen to it was such a closed field. I think the whole punk thing came about because people were so sick of that.

So the music you were playing at the time was basically reactionary as opposed to simply making the music you heard in your head? It functioned strictly as satire?

It was satire, absolutely. It was a combination of "let's bring back the '60s and make fun of '70s rock guys" at the same time.

Who was the worst artist from the '70s?

I really didn't like anything from the '70s except for the Ramones and maybe Asleep at the Wheel.

Conversely, who has inspired you musically over the years?

I don't know . . . ummmm . . . [Patsy Cline producer] Owen Bradley. [Roy Orbison producer] Bill Porter. Ummmm . . . I suppose [producer] Phil Spector to some extent because his was the first stuff where I actually knew who produced it. I like John Coltrane a lot. Sometimes. I love the solos he played on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue album. I've been into Gerry Mulligan a lot lately, too.

Where would you like to be in five years? Will you be done touring with X by then?

Every time we finish a bunch of shows, I figure, "Well, that's that." Then I throw a bunch of money into the studio and think, "Boy, I wish we had some more shows."

X PLAY TWO MORE SHOWS AT THE GALAXY CONCERT THEATRE WITH THE BLEEDERS (7:30 P.M.) AND CREEPER LAGOON (10:30 P.M.), 3503 S. HARBOR BLVD., SANTA ANA, (714) 957-0600. FRI., 7:30 P.M. & 10:30 P.M. $22.50.

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