Royal Trux interview:
by Ed MabePSF: The first record for Virgin was Thank You which is my personal favorite Royal Trux record.
JH: Yeah... Thank You has a certain kind of energy to it. It's funny because it's such a studio album in its cleanness but it is not a studio album at all, it's a live album. It was recorded as a live album. I was mic'd up through a PA and we played on a stage. It's a live album.
PSF: So how long did it take you to record it?
JH: One day. We did three months of preproduction and rehearsal. And David Briggs (producer) just hung out and slept on the floor at our house for a month and we just did it.
PSF: How did working with David Briggs influence the music?
JH: David influenced it by making it such a fucking great experience. Making it such an exciting way to work. He didn't do anything physically; he didn't engineer and he didn't want to change us in any way, so basically he was there as a father figure or a cheerleader. I came to call him a "vibologist." It was really quite amazing. And he was an amazing person. And his death happened so quick.
PSF: Do you ever think about bringing in somebody else to produce? Is there anybody you want to work with?
JH: I don't know...there are tons of producers it would be interesting to be around. But 50 percent of my enjoyment in making records is just fucking around in the studio. Just finding things. And you give up a lot with another producer. Hence, I love producing. Its a cerebral thing.
PSF: You and Neil have produced under the pseudonym of "Adam & Eve." Who have you produced for?
JH: Palace Brothers, The Make-up, Brother JT, Edith Frost.
PSF: After the release of Sweet 16 you guys left Virgin. What happened?
JH: It started basically when David died. Virgin started scrambling to sell us on another producer. And that's when the shit started.
PSF: So they didn't want you to produce your own records.
JH: Oh no. And they certainly didn't want us to buy and build a studio. That was very against their rules. We had that same manager from LA at that time and he was the liaison between our desires and the labels'. He was really on our side but it was his job to carry the party line for the label. Then there came a time when there was nothing more to talk about. So we fired the manager and did it ourselves. We hired a business manager who was just our accountant basically and we had them call up the record company and say "cut the checks."
PSF: So you had total autonomy over everything.
PSF: That's pretty ballsy.
JH: Yeah... we figured what the fuck? They had no choice. They sent us the checks and we built the studio. We didn't talk to them at all during the whole production of Sweet 16.
PSF: At that time did you tell the record company about the concept behind your work on the Trilogy.
JH: No, that was completely beyond them. We came to them with all sorts of marketing angles, "Exploit this or do that..." But they just didn't get it. There was this college rock thing going on and we're "townie rock." We're there for the "townies." They definitely were functioning on an elitist level where they wanted to have mass recognition for us. At the same time they wanted to hold us in some precious way so that their investment was not devalued.
PSF: What was the concept behind the Trilogy? From reading about it I think people get the idea that with Thank You you were trying to make a record that sounded like the 60s, or on Sweet 16 the 70s, with Accelerator the 80's...
JH: By no means are those records tributes to specific decades. If you hear the records you immediately know they're not tribute albums. It was fun to take the production techniques of that time and the equipment we chose, and the instrumentation we used. It was not trying to recreate something in a new way. It was more a function of taking what we liked about certain things.
PSF: Are you happy with what came out on the major label?
JH: Yeah. It's funny man. We make records and then after we're done with them I don't listen to them for awhile. Then when we do the master; generally you have to get things mixed 3 or 4 times to get it right, after that its very infrequently that I listen to anything of ours.
The only record that I can say that's not the truth about is Sweet 16. I still listen to that record a lot. I can't put my finger on what it is. I think its this kind of distance to it in my mind.
PSF: Is Sweet 16 you favorite Trux record then?
JH: Well I like them all. But Sweet 16 is like another band playing Royal Trux music.
PSF: How did the new record, Veterans of Disorder differ from the past few Trux records?
JH: It's not all that different really. There's a lot of Royal Trux influences in there. Its just a different cast of people.
PSF: A lot of the songs on Veterans clock in at under three minutes. Was that conscious decision?
JH: That just happened. On Sweet 16 no song was allowed to be under four minutes. That was the rule. On Veterans of Disorder there was no general rule like that. When the first few songs were written they just presented themselves that way. We weren't going to change how we wrote them. All these external variables come into play and define how the song ends up.
PSF: Do you listen to any particular music while you make a record?
JH: I don't listen to any music while we make a record. I listen to a lot of music before we make a record.
PSF: Do you write your songs in the studio?
JH: No, we write all the songs before we even go into our own studio. It has to have a special meaning. It's like people that work in their home find it difficult because its all one mind set. We're really cautious about going into the studio. It's in a different wing of the house and you have to go down a long hall to get to the studio. So we write all of our songs prior to plugging in the first guitar. As far as lyrically, we write it all out and then look it over and figure out what the instrumentation is gonna be on it. From there we decide who we want to play. We make all these decisions before we go into the studio because once you're in there's so much that can be done you start second guessing your initial thoughts and game plan. I can go all over the map because its fun. But we like to come up with a plan and stick to it. Stay focused.
PSF: The new record seems to come across very playful.
JH: Yeah... Like when I wrote "Waterpark" it was literally a day after I'd been to the waterpark for three days in a row.
PSF: Do you read reviews?
JH: Neil doesn't read reviews. I do, but I shouldn't.
PSF: How have the reviews been for Veterans of Disorder?
JH: All the ones that I've read have been positive. I know there was one that our press agent told me about. She said it was negative and when she read it to me I thought that if I had read that review I would want the record because it chastised us for playing serious solos and guitar rock in the modern age of Electronica. Oh, fuck! I'd buy that record.
PSF: How's the tour going so far?
JH: It's been fucking great.
PSF: What are some of your favorite places to play?
JH: San Francisco and Italy are my favorite places to play.
PSF: Yeah, I heard you did a tour of Europe recently and also a tour of Japan. What kind of reaction did you get in Japan?
JH: Japanese fans are outta their minds. We've been selling records over there for a really long time but we never go. Finally last year I went over. Neil wouldn't go but I went. We just got a guitar player to play his lines. They could care less.
PSF: Neil didn't go?
JH: No.... we played the Redding Festival without him too. He doesn't fly. But in like Tokyo people didn't care. The audience was flinging themselves onto the stage; crying and screaming. It was like I was taken back in time. I kept thinking "Now what do they expect?"
PSF: What's the worst place for you to play?
JH: I hate Cleveland. I really fucking hate Cleveland.
PSF: How can that be? That's where they put the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
JH: The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of fame is nothing. Its a piece of shit. Neil was just telling me that somebody.... Roger Waters refused induction. It's like a theme park.
PSF: As far as musicians, you tend to go through a lot when touring or recording. Is that just basic Royal Trux philosophy?
JH: Yeah, it is in a way. We try and change around the variables. Because that's what influences us on a day to day basis. "What's going on in the world?, What's going on in the news?" So the more we can change up the variables and tap into that... it just kinda keeps you inspired. To this day I've never had writer's block or inspiration block. There's too much to write about.
PSF: Yeah, the Trux are very prolific.
JH: We do a lot. But we edit ourselves a little bit because we don't want to put any little topic that comes to our mind like the Holy Grail or whatever. We try and put a reign on that.
PSF: How do you split the writing chores?
JH: Its like there's certain songs where we both bring stuff to the table; lyrically, and we go over it. And then there are other songs where it is such a simple thought that one of us comes up with. Like "Waterpark," I just wrote that song. It was not a thing where you go over and think about it. I brought it to Neil and he was like, "well, its done." He just came up with a riff. So we wrote it together and its that kinda thing. There's no real one way for any song.
PSF: Have you ever done any soundtrack work?
JH: We were just shot in the new John Cusak film. "Waterpark" was used. So we'll see if it makes the final cut. We were also in JERRY MCGUIRE but we didn't make the final cut. We were on TV in Cuba Gooding Jr's hotel room when he was watching TV in a scene. But they didn't use it.
PSF: Are you interested in doing soundtrack work in the future?
JH: Oh yeah, if its a project we're interested in. Totally...
PSF: Has anybody ever done a documentary on you?
JH: No... people have talked about it with much enthusiasm but they're not professional filmmakers. They have the desire, and they want to but they don't have the means. So to date nothing has been done.
PSF: Would you be interested in someone doing a documentary on the Trux?
JH: Yeah, at some point. If somebody had an idea or vision as to how they really wanted it. All that kinda shit, like rock bio's... unless there's something of substance going on... unless there's a career involved I'm just not for it. A lot of bands, like Debbie Gibson's rock bio, there's no career... there's nothing there. It like one of those things that if it happens for us, it happens. Actually this past tour for five days in Ohio this writer from Atlanta drove up and followed us. And that's what he's interested in. He's going to write about touring with us and he's actually a pretty good writer.
PSF: Do you ever do music videos?
JH: We did one for "You're Gonna Lose" off of Thank You.
PSF: With just the one video you obviously don't really do it then.
JH: No, we just make movies. We did LIVE AT GETTYSBERG and we made a movie called WHAT IS ROYAL TRUX? and we've got another we've been working on.
PSF: Why don't you print your lyrics?
JH: Well, on Sweet 16 we printed them. Because in our minds they just needed to be printed. It was part of the whole idea of the album being a little bit more complex so therefore it should be presented in that way.
PSF: Is there a reason why you don't normally do it?
JH: I think that it if you listen to it... I know when I was a kid when I listened to a song, I'm hearing it and it does something to me. Whereas when I got something that had lyrics, I would read the lyrics and instantly it would tell me how to hear the song without even hearing the music. A lot of times lyrics are written in the context of the music. An extreme example, if something is really, really goofy and its supposed to be a comment on something; and we haven't really done that, you don't get the full picture. You just read a few words.
PSF: Yeah, cause half the fun of a good rock song is figuring out the words and coming up with these absurd lyrics on your own that are nothing close to the songwriters.
JH: Yeah, well if you ever want any of our lyrics all the Japanese imports have them, because they have to have them. They can't function without them. And a lot of them are wrong. We let them transcribe the songs so they're nuts.
PSF: How'd you end up doing the Calvin Klein ad?
JH: Steven Mizell, the photographer, requested me because we were on the cover of a rock magazine and he saw the picture and wanted to hire me.
PSF: Did you make a lot of money from it?
JH: Yeah, I did. I could use another job like that. Well, I mean... I don't need one but it got me free health insurance. I've had free health insurance ever since through the Screen Actors Guild.
PSF: Most people at the start of the decade probably thought Royal Trux wouldn't make it this far. And with the way things are going now you're really on the rise. What do you attribute your longevity to.
JH: I think it's just time. I know this year a lot of people are starting to recognize that Sweet 16 is a viable album in the "land of Indie-bullshit stuff." Like the elitist are into it six years after the fact. And I don't fault anybody because I am more than happy for somebody to get into it even twenty years after the fact. As long as it does something for somebody at some point and time. I think there are a lot of cynical people and a lot of competition and we just can't abide by that. We can feed into it. It takes too much energy. Rejection of that process that all bands are supposed to go through.
PSF: It seems like your music with each record becomes more accessible. Do you think its the Trux that are changing or that musical trends and audience taste are finally catching up with what you're doing?
JH: It's a little bit of both. Its definitely people tastes have changed because we're always gonna be Royal Trux. Maybe in a couple of years we'll be the most hated band in the world. But we'll still be there in five years when it all come back around. As we all know its just gonna be that way. But we now have the means by having our own studio and an unlimited amount of time; we have the means to explore all forms of production styles. We're always curious about just "doing" and going through the process. And a lot of those things are radio friendly things because that's what we grew-up with. Just to check it out. Like how do you do this. I really shouldn't say "radio friendly"; just more simply structured stuff.
PSF: What's on the horizon for the Trux?
JH: We just finished our last new album. We have another one already in the can and its called Pound for Pound. And its ahhh... I don't know. I don't know what to tell you. I don't know what to say about it...