Music: Royal Truck Ups

The old view of Indie Noise vets Royal Trux as dilapidated screw-ups gives way to a new, mature model

Sep 16, 1999 at 2:06 pm
Royal Trux

Musicians, as a rule, are eccentric. Fine. But Royal Trux do more than dress weird, take drugs or pine for an acting career.

Jennifer Herrema, half of the bluesy sludge/noise band is one part Britney Spears, one part Martha Stewart, one part Don King and a whole lot of Keith Richards.

Like Spears, she has done some modeling (for Calvin Klein), like Stewart and King she loves gardening and boxing, respectively, and like Richards, she has done a lot of drugs, including heroin. Herrema has the slow, monotonous drawl of a high school stoner. The other permanent half of the band, Neil Hagerty, doesn't like to fly so he is at the couple's farm home in rural Virginia, finishing his second novel while she is doing the press tour.

The pair first met in New York City in the late '80s when Hagerty was a member of Pussy Galore, a band that also gave birth to Boss Hogg and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The first (of two) self-titled Trux records came out in 1988, and it is pretty much unlistenable. Shards of noise and howling, pasted and grafted together.

Heroin use does not make for good music, that much is true. The same can be said of the next two records, though to lesser degrees.

In 1993 the group's fourth album, Cats and Dogs, came out, and it contained honest to goodness songs. Coupled with the Lollapalooza feeding frenzy, Royal Trux (and every other vaguely AltRock band) found themselves signed to a major label. With money from their label, Virgin, Hagerty and Herrema bought their home and put in a recording studio, knowing that they wouldn't be on a corporate label for long.

They were correct. Two chances — 1995's Thank You and Sweet Sixteen, two years later — were all they got before being sent on their way and, being smarter than they appeared, it was in their contract that Virgin had to pay them to get rid of them. So they went back to their original indie home, Drag City, for last year's Accelerator and their latest, Veterans of Disorder, a fitting title for the music and the duo's approach. After being together more than a decade and sharing a house in the middle of nowhere, it would seem that the two have a singular focus. That would be incorrect.

The pair disagrees "all the time," according to Herrema. "It's a give-and-take. I think that (for) anybody that's in a band that is around for the long haul, and basically has two people that are ultimately the last word, it's one way or the other. It's all or nothing. You have to go through and make those compromises and see yourself clear into the future. Otherwise you might as well sleep a lot."

They resolve artistic disagreements by looking at the merits of what the other wants to do, she says. But when each person gets one vote, getting things done also involves a lot of planning.

"We come up with an idea, a plan: We figure out the instrumentation, hire the musicians, decide if it's going to be recorded live or track by track — those kinds of things," she says. "Which we end up agreeing on in the end, because nothing gets past that stage until we've come to a general consensus as to how it should be. Since we have the availability of a 32-track studio on the wing of our house, it could really get overwhelming if we were to use it on a daily basis. We'd probably create a lot of bullshit, extraneous stuff that I tend to hear a lot of coming out lately. So what we try and do is limit ourselves greatly."

The meticulous arranging doesn't mean that Veterans of Disorder sounds organized. It is, in fact, a very noisy record. But it has a Caribbean sound in parts, particularly on the skronking and swinging Calypso of "The Exception," something that actually crept into the mix unplanned.

"Veterans of Disorder, it's the culmination of a lot of different sounds and techniques that we've implemented in the past," Herrema says. "The songs on the album are all really different, for the most part. One of the bigger differences is some of the Latin/ Caribbean-type influence that showed up in a couple of the songs. Although we weren't totally conscious of that at the time, in retrospect we realized (it)."

She then offers a non sequitur: "You know, Chuck Berry's (1957 tune) 'Havana Moon' was such an awesome thing. It was so different from him, but it has such a groove. Oscar De La Hoya is about to record his new album, and I find that very exciting."

Wait, you're a boxing fan?

"Yeah, I'm a boxing fan! Though I get fucking ripped off every time I watch pay-per-view, because it's always a bullshit fight."

In addition to watching television, Herrema and Hagerty keep busy an hour from civilization.

"(We) pretty much write at least once a day. Just get on the computer and just go for an hour, regardless of whether it's a bunch of shit or not — just for the discipline of it. I've been doing a lot of painting recently. I just painted a picture for this Los Angeles magazine (Flaunt) that I'm really curious to see.

"I'm a silversmith; I make a lot of custom gold jewelry for stylists. I made an original piece for (Black Crowes singer) Chris Robinson, and Jimmy Page's daughter, Scarlet, hired me to do something," she says, perking up. "It's fun, especially when you get to have conversations about really what it is they want. They never give you sketches or tell you what it should be. They just kind of give you the vibe. I love it."

"I've really gotten into gardening lately. It's quite exciting actually," she continues, listing all the crops she's been raising, like a proud parent. "I think the peanuts are going to make it."

Hmmm, sounds like you're a Punk Rock Martha Stewart.

"I wouldn't go that far," she says. "I basically consider it making our own food for the day when the war comes. We'll be completely self-sufficient so we won't starve to death."

ROYAL TRUX performs at Sudsy Malone's on Sept. 23.