MEET JOHN DOE. Or maybe you already know him as the bassist/singer/songwriter of X, the seminal Los Angeles post-punk band, and ex- of Exene Cervenka, the band's singer-songwriter whose siren wail was wedded in a harsh harmony to Doe's coyote howl.

But X was never exactly the kind of band you'd see on MTV with any frequency. Their arty angst and acid atonalities earned them heaps of critical acclaim but little play on commercial radio or presence on record sales charts.

So Doe is putting out his hand as a solo artist, appearing Wednesday with his unnamed band, at the 9:30 club. On Doe's strong solo debut -- called "Meet John Doe" -- he's a heartland Everyman standing alone, banging his mug on the bar and sobbing into his beer over a dozen rootsy songs of sadness, drinking and redemption. Sorta like country without the twang.

Or "somewhere between the honky-tonk and the art gallery," says Doe, who indicates that if his album has any kind of theme or undercurrent, it's "sort of the politics of romance. Either that or the ditch-digging of love."

Making a solo record is "more of a personal statement, less of a group statement," Doe says, "and that's liberating and terrifying at the same time. You don't have all the comfortable checks and balances you have with a band you've worked with for years. At the same time you have all sorts of open doors: There are no expectations, {with} a whole new group of influences and musicians to draw from. That was exciting."

Doe says the album's title deliberately echoes the 1941 Frank Capra movie starring Gary Cooper as an embattled, but not embittered, idealist.

"In fact, I had that movie in mind when I first decided to adopt the name John Doe," says the singer, born John Nominson in Decatur, Ill. "The movie's point of view was righteous and the name seemed to encompass everyone, the same way the name X could mean anything to anybody. And of course the first record was the only time I could use that title."

Doe recently played several dates in Canada, and says the border guard at the U.S. crossing got a chuckle out of his name. And it's always been hard to get a pizza delivered.

Doe, 36, spent most of his wonder years in Baltimore, where he played in a series of country-folk-rock bar bands before hightailing it to L.A. on Halloween 1976, where he discovered Exene Cervenka doodling morbid poems in her notebooks. The rest is history. You can catch up on where they've been on the electric autobiography of X's six studio albums, from 1980's "Los Angeles" to 1987's "See How We Are," and in the 1987 independent documentary film "The Unheard Music."

These days, Doe lives on a ranch ("we don't raise cattle or anything") just outside of L.A., with his second wife and two-year-old son. Another child is due in October.

"I hope she can hold on till I get back." He says he's still on good terms with Cervenka, and recorded Cervenka's poignant breakdown ballad "Take No. 52" on the new album, after carrying the unfinished song around in his guitar case for five years.

"We made it a point to keep the friendship alive," says Doe, who adds that Cervenka just finished the follow-up to her fine album "Old Wives Tales" (Rhino) six weeks ago, then went back to Idaho where she's hanging around with her son and husband, sometime X-guitarist Tony Gilkyson. "She asked me to sing on a song, and that was real fun," Doe says. "It all just keeps intermingling."

In addition to the solo work, Doe's developed a healthy side career as a film actor, appearing in such movies as "Salvador," "Great Balls of Fire," and the as-yet-unreleased "Matter of Degrees," directed by W. T. Morgan, who did the X documentary. Most recently Doe did a tragicomic cameo duet with Sandra Bernhard in her film "Without You I'm Nothing." Duded up as a rhinestone cowboy, Doe joins Bernhard in a surrealistic, mournful duet of Hank Williams's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

"That was a mind{blower} wasn't it?" Doe says and laughs. "Actually, I was k.d. lang's replacement. She had some kind of contractual conflict or something. So when they called, I said yes in a second. I had never met {Bernhard} but I felt a kindred irreverent spirit."

But getting movie parts mostly involves a lot of auditioning and waiting, so Doe says he's happy to be out there playing music again, even though touring is "about 22 hours of bull, and about one or two hours of good stuff, which is when you're onstage. A lot of traveling in an RV, a lot of crappy food, a lot of HBO movies you've already seen."

He's traveling with the same band he assembled for the record, including dual lead guitarists Richard Lloyd from Television and Jon Dee Graham of the Austin cowpunk band True Believers, plus bass player Tony Marsico of the Cruzados and Dwight Yoakum drummer Jeff Donavan.

"We tried to think of some names for the band -- um, John Doe and the Ice Floes . . . but nothing stuck," Doe says. "Mojo Nixon told me I should call it John Doe and the Night Watchmen."

Doe hints that X just might exist again. "We've been talking about it. Maybe next year. The door was left so open because we truly love each other so much, Tony Gilkyson included, that we're always talking to each other and writing back and forth. We're all part of the same misfit group, and realize that X is something good."

JOHN DOE -- Appearing Wednesday with Kim Rogers at the 9:30 club. Call 393-0930 or 800/543-3041.