FOREWORD: Royal Trux vocalist Jennifer Herrema was responsible for making the drawn-out undernourished ‘heroin chic’ look popular. Of course, as a former heroin user, and proud of it at the time, Herrema and long-time musical partner, Neil Hagerty (who’d played in Jon Spencer’s Pussy Galore), perfectly fit the part. Royal Trux ruff ‘n ready ’88 double-disc, Twin Infinitives, completely turned heads when it came out. Then, ‘93s indelible Cats And Dogs, ‘95s Thank You, and ‘98s Accelerator set the stage for ‘99s Veterans Of Disorder. It was during this time I interviewed Herrema at her record labels’ headquarters.
Looking half out-of-it, she explained the benefits of Prozac and talked about the current music scene in a slowed down soft tone. In ’00, Royal Trux released their last proper studio LP, Pound For Pound. Since then, Herrema shortened her band name to RTX and Hagerty went off on his own, releasing three LP’s to small fanfare. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
A major influence on the entire ‘90s grunge movement (specifically Nirvana), Royal Trux have deconstructed abstract scuzz-rock since the late ‘80s. Now living comfortably in rural Virginia, founding members Jennifer Herrema (an unpretentious hip chick whose ‘heroin chic’ pose in a Calvin Klein ad caused a minor controversy with flaccid conservatives) and Neil Hagerty (formerly of Pussy Galore) shocked the underground with Twin Infinitives, a sprawling improvisational drug-soaked epic sometimes compared to Lou Reed’s speaker-shredding Metal Machine Music.
Signed to Virgin in ’95 during the mad rush for major labels to pick up any band who smelt like teen spirit, RTX made the magnificent Thank You with now-deceased producer David Briggs (an experienced musician from Neil Young’s band). When its follow-up, the uncompromising Sweet Sixteen, failed to sell well, Virgin dropped the extended duo at the hefty cost to the label of a million bucks.
Back at Drag City Records, RTX offered ‘98s Accelerator and ‘99s equally compelling Veterans Of Disorder. Undiluted, obtuse, and exuberant, VOD’s unfinished feel gets exemplified best by the pop confection, “Waterpark,’ the art-damaged psychedelic collage, “Sickazz Dog,” the slippery Blues mistreatment, “The Exception, ” and the tropically twisted “Yo Se.”
Born in DC near RFK, Herrema moved to NYC at age sixteen, where she attended school and befriended former Jefferson Airplane bassist Jorma Kaukonen. When she’s not making music or modeling, Herrema enjoys airbrush designing, riding horses, mountain hiking, and playing soccer. Recently, she contributed an article about the effects of Prozac for Vice.
Who were some of your early musical influences?
JEN: I listened to my parents music – Dylan, Paul Simon, Carly Simon, James Taylor, the Beatles, the Animals and Seals & Croft. My parents didn’t have house, so we lived with my grandparents. When we finally got a house, I learned piano. But I was diagnosed with an eye-hand coordination problem. As soon as I heard that, I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ But that was a cop-out. So I played, learned how to read music, and by seventh grade, I was listening to Chic, Earth Wind & Fire, the Sugarhill Gang, and Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Within the next year, my friend had big teenage brothers who smoked pot in the attic. So we started hanging around, smoking weed, and listening to her brothers’ King Crimson records and awesome stuff by Soft Machine. By the time I was twelve, I had baby-sat a lot and saved lots of money. I went to the import section of a record store and found new punk stuff. I filed through it and got some horrid stuff. But I also found GBH, the Attics, Anti-Noise, and Discharge.
I started going out with this guy about eleven years older than me. He got me into Roxy Music. I loved them. But he got into heroin and became evil and horrible. He’d beat the shit out of me. He died. I cried for a minute and that was it. After that, I met another older guy and he freaked me out.
JEN: No. Mostly because my dad grew up in a family with eleven kids and got pushed around his whole life. His parent wouldn’t let him go to college. He decided he’d never do that to his kids. He figured you live and learn by your mistakes. We had very little discipline. A lot of people found that weird.
Are you more settled and comfortable with your life now?
JEN: I have my moments of insecurity like everyone else does, but I don’t freak out as much.
Twin Infinitives stands as an early triumph for Royal Trux. How did it come about?
JEN: We were wasted when we did it. We knew what we wanted to do. But it was like a delusion. A writer once asked what we were doing with that album. I said, ‘Can’t you tell? It’s our take on Tyrannies And Mutations by Blue Oyster Cult. At the time, I believed that.
How’d you come up with the self-descriptive LP title, Veterans Of Disorder?
JEN: I was watching a Normandy D-Day invasion flashback. There was a tombstone with ‘here’s to the veterans of disorder’ written in, like, charcoal. It stuck in my head.
Do you feel Royal Trux inspired Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene?
JEN: My take on it is it needs to be said in print. It’s not oppressing that we didn’t get credit for that part of history. Our past albums have their place in history. And that’s the past. If anyone would come with any expectations about our past, they’d be disappointed with our evolution. But it’s healthy to change and grow. The past shouldn’t be a blueprint for the rest of all time.
You tend to divert your eyes or wear sunglasses on LP photos. Is that because you’re unsettled with being seen as an egocentric fashion model due to the Calvin Klein ad?
JEN: That’s part of it. But also with the modeling, they asked me to do it because of the way look. I asked how much would I get and what are the residuals. I said, ‘What’s the scene? How do you want me to look.’ But I won’t concede to that ‘chick thing.’ I’d find myself feeling horrible, sleepless, and dreamless if I bought into it. More or less, I role act. I understand how MTV and VH1 do Women in Rock pieces, but also understand the greater picture. I think it does harm to separate males from females and not take it all as a human species thing, It propagates everything feminists are trying to eradicate.
You mean like Bill Clinton getting oral sex from a post-teen bimbo?
JEN: Yeah. He’s fucked. I just have to keep in mind what I can concede and what I can’t. That doesn’t mean it’s not right for other people. I’m just uncomfortable with it.