Interview by Billy Hell
Rising from the ashes of the legendary Royal Trux, Jennifer Herrema's new trio RTX are moving and grooving on visionary rock kicks with the monstrous intelligence of their debut album Transmaniacon. Zooming down the Pacific Coast Highway, RTX instantly suck lucid listeners into a lexical vortex of time out of joint, as if it's after the end of the world. Just like Sun Ra said, Transmaniacon paints a vivid new picture for rock reflection and resurrection.
When I ask Jennifer what she hates, she gives me her definition of rock, and is over the moon to hear that I think Transmaniacon perfectly embodies it.
Jennifer Herrema (RTX): I hate segregation, marginalization, and using platforms to highlight music. I think that rock music is anything that successfully rapes and pillages the past and brews it up and turns it into something new and of its own.
Perfect Sound Forever: Is the album title "Transmaniacon" a tribute to Blue Oyster Cult?
RTX: It's not a tribute to it, but I love that song and I love Blue Oyster Cult. Even their crazy later albums, but their first album fuckin' kicks my ass! "Transmaniacon," being a fictitious word, the word just sounded like the album to me. The alliteration of it, the way it rolls off the tongue sounded like the album.
The Blue Oyster Cult song "Transmaniacon" is about a motorcycle club. And then John Shirley wrote the science fiction book inspired by the Blue Oyster Cult song. He morphed that word into something else. And then there was this Japanese game where the "Transmaniacon" was turned into an object. It was a lexicon. It was a huge book, a Bible, as it were. It was buried deep under New York City and revealed all the inner workings of Gotham, or somethin' like that. It's like a book. Being a fictitious word, it doesn't mean anything, and it's only been used three times before to my knowledge. Those three times it's been used really made great sense to me but more importantly it was the alliteration of the word that made it the perfect title. It just sounded like the album to me – Transmaniacon!
PSF: The press release describes Transmaniacon as “post-apocalyptic marching music” – do you think that's a good description?
RTX: Somebody at Drag City wrote it and I thought it sounded good. It fit with me.
PSF: “Post-apocalyptic” implies that the apocalypse has already happened by the time you hear the album...
RTX: That's right but there's always gonna be another one!
PSF: Does the notion that the events in the book of Revelations are beginning to unfold now hold any truck with you?
RTX: I don't know what the Hell's going on! I know that it's fucking hot in London and I know that's not normal, so something is wickedly wrong. Things are changing. The ozone layer is depleted. We will fry!
As far as politically and wartime and this-and-that, I think it's all par for the course. I think the apocalypse is much more on the Gaia tip. The universe is one energy; reality could be in a grain of sand. You're effecting change through everything. In maybe fifty years, if people are constantly text messaging all the time instead of using the phone, their arms will grow shorter and their thumbs will grow longer. I'm sure of it, some kinda evolution!
PSF: One Royal Trux album was called Veterans of Disorder and obviously Twin Infinitives is a very chaotic album. Transmaniacon has a chaotic undercurrent as well – is chaos an element you actively pursue in making music?
RTX: It's all part of that test tube that I guess maybe is my brain. It all makes perfect sense to me, but that's because, if it were some kinda crazy stew, I know what herbs and spices I'm puttin' in there. I know what the recipe is. It's like translating the chaos, I guess. The chaos is in the translation. It's all very ordered to me. The chaos may be down to the fact that I can't leave well-enough alone. I can erect the foundation for the record very straightforwardly, but I can't help but overdub. It's like guilding the ceilings and painting the walls, turning the foundation into a mansion. A foundation is easy to see for what it is. At a certain point you wonder what it's gonna turn into. Then you see a skyscraper goin' up! I'm all about guilding the ceilings and painting the walls. Then it becomes a painting. It becomes the “work of art” if I were to be so presumptuous as to say that.
What's really important to me is not for the album to necessarily be understood, but for it to be accepted on first listen, for the superficial value of it; then I want there to be a lot more depth so that on the fifth listen there's still something left for you. The idea behind Transmaniacon was to lay a really sturdy foundation that would be immediately visible upon the first listen, but not lack the depth that would allow you to listen to it more than five times and completely O.D. over it.
PSF: The vocals on the album seem quite computer processed in places.
RTX: On "PB+J" (Peanut Butter and Jelly) there is, all that "Hit Me Baby One More Time" Britney Spears activity. The album was done on Pro-Tools but with a lot of stuff recorded analog and dumped into the Po-Tools. The album was meant to be a raw distillation, distilled into a bottle or a test tube, in a vacuum. A lot of it was meant to break the glass and bust out of the vacuum.
PSF: There's a line from "PB+J" – “I don't want you to know anything about it, I'm headin' right for the door” – does that relate to anything real?
RTX: I guess it's like when personal emotional information is divulged and then absorbed and then used counter-intuitively. If I feel like I'm misunderstood or the information I've given up is incorrectly interpreted I'm out of there! Very literally. There are a lot of different ways to interpret that, I guess.
PSF: Have you ever found that you've foretold the future with the lyrics you've written?
RTX: Yeah, there's a lot. It speaks very directly to this “time out of joint” situation that I've constantly thought I was always in. I'm making vain analogies now, but if I were on a certain page and I was alone on the page and jotting down notes, you're onto the next page. I'm all alone on the page writing everything. And then I'm moving forwards and I get onto the next page, but you’re gone. I wish that there were all sorts of people on the same page with me that I could bounce things off of and be a part of something larger than myself, to be part of some kinda group or movement and find the page I was riding on and writing on was more than just me, myself and I, or just me and Neil in the past.
I'm always on the page, writing the page alone and then flipping onto the next one, which is part of the cycle of moving forward, only to find there are shitloads of people sitting on the page. And I wish they were sitting with me before. So I wanna go back and hang out on that page with them, but I can't because I've gotta keep movin' forward. I don't know if that directly addresses your question but lyrically, musically, experientially, there's always been a feeling of being out of step. The things that I feel, the sentiments that have been laid down in one time always come back to haunt me in a future time, but not of my own doing, because there are so many different people riding on that same sentiment, but at a different time. So I can look back and see it all coming to fruition.
PSF: The last track on Transmaniacon is "Resurrection," and I guess in a way RTX is a resurrection?
RTX: Uh huh, yeah. RTX is a resurrection. It's three letters. I gave Neil the letters O,Y,A,L and U and I took the R, the T and the X. This is one resurrection.
PSF: Do you think you've lived before?
RTX: I'm sure I have. There's always been that feeling. I feel like I'm a hundred and fifty years old. I don't even know how old I am! Really! I've felt like I was a hundred since I was sixteen. I felt like I was a hundred and fifty when I was twenty eight, but you can't have it both ways.
PSF: There are a few phrases you've used in older songs that I was curious about – what is a "Morphic Resident"?
RTX: A "Morphic Resident" is a spirit type thing, to put it into literal terms. Part of the lyrics is, "You helped me change my mind." It's that innocuous nagging in the brain but you don't know where it's coming from. It's intuitive. If I were to make another analogy, it would be intuition which is the "Morphic Resident." It led me to the separation with Neil. It led me to RTX. It led me to this record, and it's a fuckin' bitch! If you don't follow it, it'll fuckin' haunt you, I tell you that!
PSF: On the 3 Song EP one word that jumped out at me was “Brainiac” – was it a reference to the band Brainiac?
RTX: No, that was a great band name but I didn't know those Brainiac dudes. Brainiac is like Motorhead. In America anyone who works on their cars on a regular basis, wrenches in their hands, is refered to as a Motorhead. A Brainiac is a wicked person who is all cerebral and thinking too hard all the time, maybe reading a bit more into things than they should rather than absorbing their immediate surroundings.
PSF: Another word that immediately jumped out from Transmaniacon was “Nazarene” from the second track "Joint Chief" – was that an apocalyptic image?
RTX: Yeah, the Church of the Nazarene. I don't really know too much about that religion but, really, it’s a tour song. We were in Oklahoma and passed by lots of different places of worship. We passed by the Church of the Nazarene, then some other place, and the next thing we know we were on some Indian burial ground. That song is definitely a tale.
PSF: Would I be right in thinking it's a radical reworking of a Royal Trux song?
RTX: Absolutely – "Shockwave Rider" – which was a tour song. It was the only song on the new record that Neil and I collaborated on the lyrics on. "Shockwave Rider" was originally done as a limited edition 7" (the flipside to "Mercury") but it’s on the Singles Live Unreleased box set. I loved the song as we did it, but it was just me and Neil and there was no instrumentation. It was all samples plus Neil's guitar in the back. We didn't even wait to record it in a studio. We just did it in my bedroom. I always heard that song in such a bigger, different way! That's why it's got an entirely different title because to me it's a very different song. It has the same lyrics, but it took on the proportion that I wanted it to do, if given the right circumstances.
PSF: What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?
RTX: I guess it was when I decided to separate from Neil. I didn't want to. It wasn't about each other – we were still best friends. It's like if you're playing cards, and you're dealt the perfect hand, sitting with the card table in front of you, and literally throwing over the card table and letting the cards land all over the place. That was hugely difficult. Maybe that doesn't actually answer the question. I don't know that I actually considered it a risk. I considered taking the perfect hand and waiting on the payout as more of a liability. So the only thing that remained to be done was to throw the card table over. I just felt totally stuck. I'd been with Neil since I was fifteen years old. It was so perfect but at the same time within that perfection it was all feeling way too close to the Earth, almost to the point of burial. So I needed to flip it all back up in the air. It sucked to have to do that, but it was just what had to be done.
PSF: The letters you gave to Neil could actually form a question – R U OYAL?
RTX: No I'm not! Neither is Neil. If I'm the color red and he's the color blue then Royal Trux is the color purple, the color of royalty. So I'm RTX and he's ROYAL and U. I gave him more letters!
PSF: On the album cover are two skulls fusing, and you've used the symbol of the skull frequently in the past. Are skulls very important to you?
RTX: Yeah, like cut to the bone! As a signifier, it's always been something that's been really cool to me. I think it's been used really quite poorly before, but there are so many things that I really like that have used that. Not of the flesh.
Also see our earlier interview with Jennifer Herrema (circa Royal Trux, 1999),
our 2015 interview with Neil Hagerty of Royal Trux and our 2015 Royal Trux article
and our 2017 article/rant/meditation about Royal Trux
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