No Trux Stop Ahead
Royal Trux Cancels Its Summer Tour
By Brian Mock
JULY 24, 2000: This is not your average promote-the-band. Why, you ask? Because the Royal Trux have unfortunately canceled their current tour. The story is more or less straightforward--depending on whom you talk to, that is.
The Web page of the band's label states in a rather humorous tone that the stress caused by an illness in her immediate family led singer Jennifer Herrema to be caught with "an alcoholic beverage in her hand." This raised an alarm, as she and her cohort in life and music, Neil Hagerty, have been clean of drugs and drink for quite some time. It goes on to state that the band returned to its Virginia home to be with family and get Jennifer back to good health.
A representative of the label, Drag City, was much less revealing. He stated by phone that the band was dealing with the illness and would not be touring for some time.
Finally, there's the version given to Solar Culture owner and operator Steven Eye by the band's agent. It goes like this: Herrema's father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given three months to live, and Herrema had suffered some stomach problems at the outset of the tour from the stress she was under. Thus, the decision to abort all plans of touring for the remainder of the year.
But after a 12-year existence that includes a pair of EPs, a double-LP/CD compilation of singles and unreleased material, and nine studio albums (including one fresh off the press) under their thrift store belts, Royal Trux are well worth the attention--even if they aren't scheduled to play anytime soon.
For those unfamiliar with the band, the Royal Trux members are true originals. First there's Herrema, covered in layers of clothes and looking like a walking art project, complete with mirror shades and a fresh cigarette dangling from her mouth. Then there's her partner in crime Neil Hagerty: a book-smart, sports-fanatic recluse with impressive guitar chops, also with a fresh cigarette dangling.
From the outset, you can tell that this is not your average rock duo. Their sound is just as original as their look, and difficult to nail down. A good portion of it consists of dirty, loose rockin' psychedelic boogie à la early '70s Stones and other '70s glam and guitar-heavy acts, but with serious artistic license to branch out and surf many-a-musical tangent to keep it interesting.
The Trux have been known to use drum loops, synthesizers, horns and violins to hone their sound. Couple this with Herrema's patented two-packs-a-day growl and grunt (not to mention duets with Hagerty that sound like an evil Sonny and Cher), as well as a revolving line-up of back-up players, and you get the Royal Trux equation.
Or do you? Their sound is not always an easy one to embrace or predict. In the words of Hagerty, "You have to really like music to like our band." Needless to say, there's quite a history to these anachronistic rockers.
Hagerty and Herrema met in 1984 as teenagers in Washington, D.C., and have been together ever since. Herrema, an art student, and Hagerty, a budding musician, began playing music together almost immediately.
Shortly thereafter, Jon Spencer's Pussy Galore approached Hagerty to join his not-so-merry band of chaotic noisemakers. With Hagerty, the group recorded the now infamous cover of the entire Exile on Main Street album by the Rolling Stones. For this project, Hagerty, a huge Stones fan, taught the band one song at a time as they recorded.
This stint with PG would take Hagerty and Herrema up to New York and give the two the small amount of indie credibility they would need to get Royal Trux up and running as a full-time operation in 1988. But since then, ironically, "indie credibility" has been something the Trux could take or leave. They just want to rock.
But it's their approach to "rocking" that sets them apart from the plethora of indie bands with chops. As Hagerty states in the band's official press bio, "(T)he idea has always been to break it all the way down, and then build it up little by little." Hagerty's take on rock may sound somewhat postmodern, but the "official" theory behind Royal Trux's music is Harmolodics, the theory of improvisation invented by sax great Ornette Coleman in the late '50s. Coleman's theory was a slap in the face to the pecking order of jazz groups and called for celebrating the personalities of the players. Hagerty was attracted to free jazz at an early age as well as to Harmolodics as an anti-bourgeois statement. Hence, the often chaotic song structure and variety of players found on Trux recordings.
After four albums as an "indie" band, including the Twin Infinitives double LP/CD that lies somewhere between Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica and Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation, the two signed a three-album deal with major label Virgin Records in 1995. It was planned as a "counter-revisionist history of the '60s, '70s and '80s," but Virgin cut them loose after the second installment (1997's Sweet Sixteen). This cost the company a pile of money--to the band's benefit--and allowed the Trux to return to their home at Drag City without losing a beat, so to speak.
1998's Accelerator, the final in the three-part series, has been hailed as the band's best "late period" piece. It sought to bring out the sounds of the 1980s via short blasts of compressed stun guitar and catchy riffs and repetitive vocals. Furthermore, with the Virgin money, they promptly bought a huge home in the backwoods and built a state-of-the-art recording studio there. Fans of the Palace Brothers, the Make-Up and The Delta 72 will notice production duties by Adam and Eve, aliases of Hagerty and Herrema.
Currently, Royal Trux seem to be in fine form. With longtime bassist Dan Brown, drummer Ken Nasta and percussionist Chris Pyle, whom some might recognize as the son of longtime Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle, the group is a well-oiled rock and roll machine. Their newest long-player, Pound For Pound, is a testament to this. A much more laid-back and loose record than past efforts, Pound lays everything out for the listener, leaving no stone unturned. It is chock-full of chunky '70s-like riffs that lock the listener into their heavy grooves.
"Sunshine and Grease," however, seems to be a take-off on the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John duet in Grease: "You're just a summer love/But I'll remember you when winter comes." The album's brightest moments come at the end with "Small Thief" and "Dr. Gone."
"Thief" documents the duo's romantic history, with the two switching off singing duties. Each verse ends with "Why you have to act/ Like you stole my love/When I gave it to you?" over Hagerty's light and funky wah-wah guitar.
"Gone" celebrates Royal Trux Rock and Roll. "Take it from the doctor/There's a cure...Rock and Roll they say/Get up, get up!" Then Hagerty proudly belts out, "The doctor is in and it ain't no sin."
An ironic prelude to the unfortunate developments to come in the Trux camp. Let's hope the real-life doctor does his best with Herrema's father, and the Rock and Roll doctor can make a house call sometime soon.
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