#15: Royal Trux
Who: Jennifer Herrema, Neil Hagerty.
Why: Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I should really be writing about a rock & roll couple like Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin or Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra as an aphrodisiac. But because none of those pairings really count as bands, let’s have a look at indie rock’s craziest romantic pairing; that of Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema in Washington D.C. noiseniks Royal Trux. When the brilliantly named Pussy Galore split up in 1990 after trashing the no-wave punk scene with their deconstructed primal white-boy blues, the ex-members factioned off into two equally badass new groups; Jon Spencer forming Boss Hog and later the Blues Explosion, while the aforementioned Hagerty shacked up with his teenage girlfriend Jennifer in the Trux, who were named after the rollerskates she used to wear. Though they were lovers, Herrema and Hagerty certainly didn’t come together sweetly.
Their early records were nightmare visions; Twin Infinitives the ghastly result of their mutual smack addiction, the aural equivalent of Requiem for a Dream. Structureless lo-fi rock & roll that drives a highway to nowhere, compared to this early stuff there are only a couple of artists who could clear a room quicker; maybe only Merzbow or Peter Frampton. 1993’s Cats and Dogs was a breakthrough though, as the duo emerged from the skag haze of their early recordings and became a fully-functional live band with the addition of bassist Dan Brown (sadly not the atrocious conspiracy-fiction author) and Chris Pyle (actually the son of Artimus Pyle, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer). This new vision yielded more stable, melodic sounds, but the overall mission directive didn’t change – from double-tracked vocal hallucinations to Hagerty’s revelatory freeform guitar work, lyrics shifting from paranoid sci-fi collages to insouciant street jive, the bands’ lowlife existence was painted in broad brush strokes.
That record especially showed signs that the band had been soaking up the loose-hipped swagger of early 70’s Stones, unsurprisingly considering Hagerty had once coerced his bandmates in Pussy Galore to re-record the entirety of Exile On Main Street. But this was the Stones viewed from a freebaser’s fisheye lens; and rather than existing within the debauched bohemianism of Keith Richards’ chateau-housed heroin habit, it was steeped in low-rent apartment scuzz. However, after the success of Nirvana, corporate rock labels were dredging every dripping gutter for grunge, and somehow the Trux ended up getting a $1.4 million deal, despite their rabid, frothing rejection of any sort of accessibility. Of course, the band didn’t change their brand of warped Americana in the face of the rustle of green bills, and the venture ended with them heading back to their old label Drag City despite them having spent their advance from the noble, impoverished indie label on smack earlier in the decade. Splitting at the end of Jennifer and Neil’s relationship, the band forever rode at the furthest limits of grunge.
Influences: The Rolling Stones, The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Neil Young, The Birthday Party.
Influenced: The Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Moldy Peaches, MGMT, Sun Araw.
Sample Lyric: ‘I call the doc and he’s in shock, the shit has hit the feds / Safe as coal he’s in the hole, and I’m right off my head’.
Which Record: Cats and Dogs (Drag City, 1993)