Royal Trux interview:
Glimmer Twin Infinitives
by Ed MabeFor those of you unfamiliar with Royal Trux, its time to wake-up and get your daily dose of what rock n' roll is really all about. Formed in the mid-80's after the demise of underground, noise-rock pioneers, Pussy Galore, the Trux have been twisting and turning their way through the record business like divine rock n' roll royalty yet undiscovered. Imagine early 70s Mick and Keith if Mick had been the woman he always wanted to be. Only in the case of Royal Trux you have the junkie-goddess (now clean) known as Jennifer Herrema prowling the stage with Jagger-like cockiness and her partner Neil Haggerty grinding raunchy guitar riffs from Sticky Fingers-era Stones. Without a doubt the Trux are true American originals and their story is one well worth telling. When they were recently in Philly to promote their new record, Veterans of Disorder, I got a chance to talk with Jennifer about the early days of the band, the experience of being on a major label, and meeting Keith Richards.
PSF: Lets start with your interview with Keith Richards.
JH: It was in 1995 or '96 down in Memphis and their press agent hooked up with our press agent and they brought us to their show. So we went and Neil and I were supposed to interview him and do photos and stuff with him but at the last minute Neil decided he didn't want to meet him. So Neil split. We got outta the limo and Neil's like, "man I'm not fucking going," and he just like wandered into the stadium and watched sound check. So I went into his trailer and he was like... he was like the antithesis of his persona. He's very, very short. And very quiet, but like wiry, animated-wiry. And just very polite. A gentleman. His presence was very animated but it was a small presence. And then when he got on stage it was like fucking huge. It was fucking phenomenal.
I talked to him for a couple of hours and we talked about Patti LaBelle and Sara Dash; just mostly about music. And his press person was in there and I didn't write out any questions or anything, I just kinda talked to him. His press person definitely had specific things he wanted Keith to say. So he would inject certain questions so Keith could give his pat answers. So it would read correctly as a Keith Richards interview.
Then Neil came in at the end for the photographs. They forced him in for the photographs but in the end he ended up talking to him for a long time. We wrote the whole thing out and the transcription was sent with our little side bar comments on it. Then it couldn't go straight to Raygun Magazine, it had to go to Keith's press agent for editing and the press agent just turned everything around. At the time we had a really heavy-hitter manager so we said no way. Raygun eventually sided with us and we got the interview our way.
PSF: I also read one time that you met Timothy Leary right before he died.
JH: Yeah... well I guess he was pretty sick. We went to his house to watch the Super Bowl with him.
PSF: Are you guys big football fans?
JH: Oh fuck yeah, Raiders, all the way.
PSF: They're good this year.
JH: They're excellent this year. They got some straightening out to do but... hey, didn't you see our promo for Veterans of Disorder. It's got different artwork than the regular CD. Its the Raiders logo with Neil's head in a helmet and my head in a helmet next to each other.
PSF: OK, enough football. Let's get back to the Timothy Leary story.
JH: OK, so went there and he had to take naps every 20 minutes. He would come out and start spinning tales. The simplest of stories would suddenly turn into psychedelic events. And after that he would go back into the bedroom and take a nap with the door open. He would be just be crashed out snoring and then 20 minutes later he would be back up.
PSF: What kind of people were hanging out?
JH: Robert Williams, the cartoonist, was there. His son was there. There was a woman there with her kid and her story was she was married to some rich, Hollywood guy. She contracted AIDS and he threw her out so she thought she would go to Timothy Leary and live there with her kid. She gave me the whole story. And there was this Hollywood soap opera, actor-type guy who was real weird. We were all sitting there watching the commercials and one came on for Revlon or something where Cindy Crawford appeared. He says, "yeah man, I should've banged her last week when I was with her." Everybody was like. "yeah...right."
PSF: Did Leary give you any type of advice?
JH: Yeah... we talked. He had just been up in Canada doing a reading and we had played the night before and he came back cause he wanted to come to the show. But he didn't get back till one in the morning and couldn't make the show. We started talking about our music.
PSF: So he knew your music then?
JH: Yeah and he was really into it. He didn't really give me any advice. There was a vibe... a major vibe though.
PSF: Well let's move on to the basic interview stuff. How did you and Neil meet?
JH: Neil and I met in my senior year in high school. He was playing in a band and I went to go see it. I think it was their first show.
PSF: This was in DC?
JH: Yeah he had just moved into DC. And I'd never seen him or met him. So I went to go see this band play. I had been to lots of shows. My dad started dropping me off at shows when I was 13. He would do the very parental thing. All the hardcore show were for all ages so I got to see lots and lots of music. But I'd never seen anything like Neil. It was the way he played his guitar and the way he sang- I'd never seen anything like it.
PSF: Was it his band?
JH: It was his band. Although one of the guys from Government Issue was in the band, it was Neil's band because he wrote all the songs and stuff. I just remember being very blown away by them. Neil was; even more so then, kinda quiet and cagey. And I was very young so I didn't know how to approach a stranger without being a complete idiot.
PSF: What was your first line to him?
JH: There wasn't. I just kinda put myself in a position. I knew they were going to this party down the street and I knew this girl at the club who was really good friends with the person who was having the party so I started talking to her and said, "I'm coming with you." I went there so I could just watch him.
PSF: So you obviously had this amazing crush on Neil immediately?
JH: Yeah... oh yeah. It was like boom... instant. It was just that quick. And then it was a series of maneuverings so I could be at the right place at the right time so I could just watch him interact. And he would talk to me but he was just a real fucking freak. He was so contrary to everybody and very unpredictable. So I would keep a little distance at first. I guess it was like monthes later and he was living in a warehouse with this old man. One night, people followed Neil back to this warehouse because he had a sheet of acid. The old man who lived there drank Colt 45 and he had been tripping for days. When we got there half the room was lined with these bottles filled with piss. Immediately it was a fascinating situation; one to be looked into further.
So I had gone there for the purpose of seeing Neil but also to do the acid. I ended up staying there for three days tripping my ass off. And Neil was tripping his ass off so that was the ice-breaker. He slept on a wooden board with a sleeping bag on it. And me and Neil and my friend Holly ending up sitting on the board and it became a ship. It became a boat. So we could not get off the board or we would drown. Neil suddenly turned into Huey P. Long and he was fucking commandeering the board. We stayed on that board for like a day and a half. And we've been together ever since.
PSF: You guys have a great love story. Has anyone ever told you that?
JH: Yeah, and I'm glad that they do because it's all I know now. And I never want to take it for granted but it seems like this is the way it should always be for everybody. That's just the way it is.
PSF: Neil was in Pussy Galore prior to Royal Trux. Is that right?
JH: No. I finished up high school and he was my boyfriend. Then we moved into an old carriage house together for a year. I had gotten into the New School for Social Research in New York and I didn't want to go to school at all. So we just hung out for a year doing a lot of acid.
I guess Pussy Galore began when Julie (Cafritz) and Jon (Spencer) graduated from Brown University. They came back to DC because that's where Julie's from. They played a couple of shows and they had a guitar player who they didn't like. They'd been asking around town about different guitar players and they kept getting recommended Neil. So they called Neil and asked him if he wanted to play and he said yeah because he didn't have a job. At the time I was working a fucking kite store, if you can imagine. But it was really easy cause not many people buy kites so you just kinda hang for $4.00 an hour. Obviously we didn't have much money; well... we didn't have any money but Julie and Jon had a lot of money so Neil negotiated some cash up front. Then they decided they wanted to move to New York and they wanted Neil to go. I moved up about a month later for school and we got a room at the YMCA together. That's how they started playing together.
But the whole year we lived at the carriage house in DC when we were doing a lot of acid and stuff, Neil and I got a couple of radio shows at Maryland University. It was never said that it was Royal Trux. It was just me and Neil. But it was some of the earliest songs we wrote as Royal Trux. We were doing that for a whole year when Pussy Galore called. We had songs written and we gave a couple of them to the band. There's a couple of Royal Trux songs on the album.
PSF: So Royal Trux was a side thing and Neil was making money off Pussy Galore.
JH: No... Royal Trux was his "thing." He considered Pussy Galore his National Service.
PSF: One last thing about Pussy Galore. Do you guys listen to any of Jon Spencer's stuff these days?
JH: No, not at all.
PSF: Was there any animosity with the break-up?
JH: I don't think that Neil and Jon had anything in common to begin with. At a certain point and time we lived with Jon and his wife for like a year. And we are very, very different. Jon's totally straight-edge and very controlling. They're just the antithesis of what we were. So we were never tight to begin with. Jon would come to Royal Trux shows for a long time but I just never could get into his whole Blues Explosion thing at all.
PSF: So you don't have any contact with Spencer at all.
JH: Not at all. Neil just gets checks. Spencer really works the whole system. I mean he puts something out and immediately cuts it off so that it becomes rare and then it has to be reissued later. It's prolific but its also redundant. That's how he keeps the whole thing going.
PSF: So who were your early influences musically?
JH: As far as actively pursuing music, I guess it was in 6th or 7th grade. I grew up in southeast DC and I went to school there. I was definitely a minority being white so it was mostly like Parliament, Funkadelic, Chic, Rick James, Mary Jane Girls. It was just a lot of funk and disco stuff. I listened to a lot of that.
But when I went into 9th grade all the people there were pretty much stoners. They listened and Zeppelin and the Dead. But I made a friend early on in 8th grade who lived uptown and she went to a big public school up there and she was good friends with the guys in Scream and Void, the discord bands. So I started going to watch them play and I started seeing more and more shows like that.
Then when I went over to 9th grade all the seniors would have parties on the weekends where all the best weed and acid was, so I would be there all night long listening to the Dead and Led Zeppelin. Me and my best friend would also being going down to see Flipper and Scream. And all my old friends from grade school were into Bootsy and The Rubber Band. So I liked all of it.
PSF: How about writers? Who influenced you?
JH: My favorite writer in the whole world is Joan Didion. She's married to Dominic Dunn and she writes a lot now for the New Yorker. She wrote THE WHITE ALBUM which is probably one of my favorite books. The way she writes is like there's no waiting period between her thoughts and the paper. I'm sure she does some editing, but the way it comes out is really great.
PSF: There's a movie out now called THE SOURCE. Its a very good documentary about the Beat Generation. You guys seem to have a lot of Beat in your approach to music. Did you read any of those writers?
JH: Yeah I definitely went through the Kerouac thing and William Burroughs. And with Burroughs it was like I read the books and then I never read it again, but I couldn't even remember it. Still it meant something. It stood for something in my head and I remember just looking at the words and what they actually meant.
PSF: So you guys signed with a major label in the mid-'90's. How did signing with Virgin Records come about?
JH: We were with Drag City for our first few records. At some point our booking agent started getting calls from major labels. Virgin was one of them and they were actually the most tactful and tasteful. They weren't really pushing everything but they let it be known on many occasions that if we were ever interested they would like to talk with us. We went to Virgin and walked in and within 30 minutes they let it be known that they had to have us. And it was that genuine. So when we decided to come to the terms of the contract, once Neil and I decided what it was we were gonna ask for and what it was we had to have to make any kind of move like that. We knew we could go all the way because we just had that feeling that they were gonna do it. And they did.
See Part Two of the Royal Trux interview
Also see our later interview with Jennifer Herrema/RTX and our 2015 Royal Trux article,
our interview with Neil Hagerty of Royal Trux and our 2017 article/rant/meditation about Royal Trux
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