VETERANS OF DISORDER

April 2, 2009 – 4:35 am

For those unfamiliar with Royal Trux, it’s time to wake up and get your daily dose of what rock ‘n’ roll is missing. In 2000 when the group was in Philly to promote Veterans Of Disorder – one of the albums in BigO’s 1999 Top 40 list – Ed Mabe got a chance to talk with Jennifer Herrema about the early days of the band and the experience of being on a major label. This article was published in BigO #170 (February 2000).

Formed in the mid-’80s 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 Jaggeresque cockiness and her partner-in-grime, Neil Haggerty, grinding raunchy guitar riffs from Sticky Fingers-era Stones. Without question the Trux are true American originals and their story is one well worth telling.

How did you meet Neil?

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’d been to lots of shows, 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. I just remember being very blown away by them. And I was very young so I didn’t know how to approach a stranger without being a complete idiot.

So you immediately had this amazing crush on Neil.

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. One night people followed Neil back to this warehouse because he had a sheet of acid. I had gone for the purpose of seeing Neil, but also to do the acid. I ended up staying there for three days tripping my ass off. Me and Neil and my friend Holly ended up sitting on this board and it became a ship. It became a boat. So we could not get off the board or we would drown. We stayed on that board for like a day and a half. And we’ve been together ever since.

Neil was in Pussy Galore prior to Royal Trux. Is that right?

No… I finished up high school and he was my boyfriend. Then we moved into an old carriage house together for a year. But the whole year we lived at the carriage house in (Washington) 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’re a couple of Trux songs on the album.

So Royal Trux was a side thing and Neil was making money off Pussy Galore?

No… Royal Trux was his thing. He considered Pussy Galore his national service.

Who were your early influences musically?

I grew up in south-east DC so I was definitely a minority being white. It was mostly like Parliament, Funkadelic, Chic, Rick James, Mary Jane Girls. It was just a lot of funk and disco stuff. But I made a friend early on in eighth 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, these Dischord bands. So I started going to watch them play and started seeing more and more shows like that. Then when I went over to ninth 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.

How about writers? Who influenced you?

My favourite writer in the whole world is Joan Didion. She wrote The White Album, which is probably one of my favourite books. The way she writes is like there’s no waiting period between her thoughts and the paper.

There’s a movie out now called The Source. It’s 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?

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. 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.

You guys signed with a major label in the mid-’90s. How did signing with Virgin Records come about?

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.

The first record for Virgin was Thank You, which is my personal favourite Royal Trux record.

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.

So how long did it take you to record it?

One day. We did three months of pre-production and rehearsal. And David Briggs (who produced the record) just hung out and slept on the floor at our house for a month and we just did it.

How did working with David Briggs influence the music?

David influenced it by making it such a ****ing 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.

Do you ever think about bringing in somebody else to produce? Is there anybody you want to work with?

I don’t know… there are tons of producers it would be interesting to be around. But 50 per cent of my enjoyment in making records is just ****ing around in the studio. Just finding things. And you give up a lot with another producer. Hence, I love producing. It’s a cerebral thing.

You and Neil have produced under the pseudonym of “Adam & Eve.” Who have you produced for?

Palace Brothers, The Make-up, Brother JT, Edith Frost.

After the release of Sweet 16, you guys left Virgin. What happened?

It started basically when David died. Virgin started scrambling to sell us another producer. And that’s when the s*** started.

They didn’t want you to produce your own records?

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 major 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 cheques.”

You had total autonomy over everything?

Total.

That’s pretty ballsy.

Yeah… we figured, what the ****? They had no choice. They sent us the cheques and we built the studio. We didn’t talk to them at all during the production of Sweet 16.

At that time did you tell the record company about the concept behind your work on the Trilogy?

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.

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 ‘80s…

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.

Are you happy with what came out on the major label?

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 three or four times to get it right, after that it’s 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 it’s this kind of distance to it in my mind.

Is Sweet 16 you favourite Trux record then?

Well I like them all. But Sweet 16 is like another band playing Royal Trux music.

How does the new record, Veterans Of Disorder, differ from the past few Trux records?

It’s not all that different really. There’s a lot of Royal Trux influences in there. It’s just a different cast of people.

A lot of the songs on Veterans clock in at under three minutes. Was that conscious decision?

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.

Do you listen to any particular music while you make a record?

I don’t listen to any music while we make a record. I listen to a lot of music before we make a record.

Do you write your songs in the studio?

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 it’s 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 it’s fun. But we like to come up with a plan and stick to it. Stay focused.

Veterans Of Disorder seems to come across as very playful…

Yeah… Like when I wrote Waterpark, it was literally a day after I’d been to the waterpark for three days in a row.

Do you read reviews?

Neil doesn’t read reviews. I do, but I shouldn’t.

How have the reviews been for Veterans Of Disorder?

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 if I 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. I’m like, “Oh, ****! I’d buy that record.”

Note: According to the wikpedia, Neil Haggerty and Jennifer Herrema separated as a couple and dissolved the band following the release of Pound for Pound (2000). Since then, both have recorded albums for Drag City; Hagerty under his own name and as The Howling Hex, and Herrema under the name RTX. In January 2009, Drag City reissued Royal Trux’s first two albums, Royal Trux and Twin Infinitives, on vinyl.

Post a Comment