Jennifer Herrema Talks Royal Trux Reunion and Playing Berserktown II
Jennifer Herrema (Royal Trux/Black Bananas)
Photo by Steven Perilloux
On 10 schizo-sounding records released between 1988 and 2002, Royal Trux blew sober brains into druggified chunks of wallpaper. For a time, they were rock & roll's most perverse power couple. Formed in New York in 1987, the partnership of D.C.'s Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty resulted in what sounded like garage blooze melted together with parts of Funkadelic, Damo Suzuki and sci-fi noise. 1990's Twin Infinitives, 1993's Cats and Dogs, and 1998's Accelerator were their avant-garde masterpieces.
The Trux became infamous during the post-Kurt Cobain suicide blitz of 1994, where they scored an absurdly lucrative deal with Virgin Records. For their second album of a three-record-deal, 1997's Sweet Sixteen, a puke-and-shit-filled toilet bowl appeared on the cover. The suits at Virgin didn't get it; the Trux were too weird to be their cash cow. So Herrema and Hagerty collected a boatload of money to go away and remain indie.
In 2001, after releasing three additional albums of sleazy genius on Drag City, Herrema and Hagerty separated and Royal Trux were fini. Herrema went on to front Black Bananas and relocated to L.A., and along the way, both her OG aesthetic and unfiltered interviews became the blueprint for the next generation of women in rock & roll.
It took nearly 15 years and a few false starts, but the Trux are finally reuniting at Berserktown II on August 16. In her first solo interview since the reunion was announced in May, Herrema answered a few questions via email about music today, her inimitable style, Beyoncé, and the timing of Royal Trux's long-awaited return.
You’ve been offered major cash to reunite in the past. What makes Berserktown II the day where Royal Trux will finally get back together?
Strangely, everything lined up perfectly. Neil was in L.A. and we were communicating regarding reissues, meeting up, etc. Graeme [The Church Off York] put the offer out there while we were in the same state and on the same page. The festival itself was very attractive as it was full of interesting bands that were unique to the festival, as opposed to buzz bands that play every festival offered. The festival is very unique and without corporate agendas and sponsorship. Timing wise the show would not interfere with anything else and happens to be in my "backyard," so it all came correct which made it easy.
Will Royal Trux play any additional shows this year?
The lineup for Berserktown is obscure and somewhat dangerous. By comparison, what do you think about the FYF lineup this year?
I'm not sure who is on the FYF festival. It stopped being interesting years ago, about the same time Black Bananas were offered a slot (which we could not do as we were on tour). Most of the festivals have the same bands and the same musical sensibilities. One stage for the new-found stoner-rock "metal" bands, one stage for rap, hip-hop, dance and one for college/K-rock/"psych"/"indie" styles. Berserktown is def on a different level. A very fresh perspective that is most definitely lacking. Other than Burgerama, there are no local festivals of interest to me and I'm looking forward to seeing lots of the bands that will be playing.
There’s really nothing dangerous about rock & roll these days. Any younger bands on the Berserktown lineup that strike fear in your heart?
Hmmm, I really hope so but I don't know as I've not seen most of them. Looking forward to it!
You’ve lectured on Southern rock at Princeton. What if Harvard wanted you to riff on rock & roll – what would you want to talk about and educate the youth on?
For me, music has always been about a way to express oneself, individuality, no rules, and no cares. I don't think it is seen that way so much anymore. Seems that music has presented itself as a viable way to make money, have a career, fit in, belong, and be a part of an industry that is simultaneously growing and shrinking.
I would suggest that if you are getting into music for any other reason than the love of it and exploring new sounds and terrain you should just stop. Get another "job"; music is not a job.
It's hard for people to see the forest for the trees. Companies and corporations are paying tons of money for horrible uninspired unchallenging flaccid commercial or redundant "sounds/songs" to prop themselves up to be perceived as "cool" or "relevant" but the fact remains ... if a song is on a commercial, it is not only not cool, it is no longer autonomous as music or art. It is inextricably linked to a commercial product in a commercial context. But since there is so much money to be made from totally mediocre-to-horrible unoriginal/redundant tunes (content), the pursuit of commercially acceptable mediocrity has been engaged enthusiastically by a new generation of content providers in hopes of landing big money. Music marketing amongst other things has helped to create this music as content/commodity zeitgeist. Don't get it twisted — that type of content is disposable, and the ever-growing trash heap of uninspired content is flooding and polluting the sensibilities of new and old generations alike. It's irresponsible.
You’re always designing trippy threads and turning garbage into cool shit. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever found?
Meth in a San Diego Yellow Pages, heroin in a D.C. taxi, an antique opal ring in a squat I was living in with dirt floors (we were digging a piss hole when I saw it shining). $1,000 in silver dollars in a garbage bag in an abandoned building, a brand new Persian lamb fur coat on top of an NYC garbage can, a pair of $500 vintage Cazals on the dollar table at thrift store, my first iPhone in a Chinese food parking lot, diamond ring in gas station bathroom, and a photo scrap book on a London train.
Speaking of weird. Paranormal Bonnie from Death Valley Girls (an alien rocker), asked me to ask you: Did you get your first tattoo at the age of nine?
Haaaaaa. My cousin tattoo'd a "flower" on my right wrist bone. I wanted it to look like the no-slip stickers we had in our bathtub.
I met Bonnie when she was wearing a Rolling Stones T-shirt. Do you wear any band T-shirts as part of your layered Native American space-cowboy look?
I have in the past and sometimes occasionally (got the new Bone Thugs tee recently when they played Burgerama) but ever since Urban Outfitters and other retail chains started licensing and reproducing every cool vintage tee I ever collected from going to concerts/shows and selling them to oblivious fashion victims ... they kinda lost their specialness and authenticity in my eyes.
Lots of stuff that I wear and how I present myself has been co-opted by clueless stylists, suburban fashion victims, poseurs and wannabe rockers. My two tone "ombre hair," long bangs, tie-dyed tees, Native American jewelry, ripped-up worn denim, Raiders gear, satin tour jackets, cowboy/fedora hats, fur hoods, fur tails, white hair, vintage concert tees, snake skin boots, surf tees, etc. Other people have worn those things in the past and I am not the only one allowed to wear them, but when you put it all together and call it a "look," that shit is mine. I inadvertently created my once "unique" look organically and authentically, starting as a tomboy kid in high-tops, football jerseys and jeans. Poseurs and fashion victims are the worst. Fuckin' learn how to be yourself.
The Rolling Stones changed your life. Did you get to see their "secret show" at the Fonda? More importantly: Do you give a fuck about the Stones at a small venue?
Don't give a fuck about the Stones at a small venue and was too busy to go. I have met them, interviewed some of them, dined with them, declined limo rides with them, seen them from their backstage and front row, six times, all great, and I wanna leave it like that.
You’re working on a Judd Apatow movie. Are you playing yourself?
It's a TV show for Netflix produced by Judd Apatow and Lesley Arfin. Noooo I am not playing myself. It's kinda meta. I'm playing a chick named Roz who kinda wants to be like me buuuuuut is nothing like me at all. Roz is "the girl in the band." Nuff said.
Who should play Jennifer Herrema in a future biopic?
Shit … I don't know. Kim Kelly/Busy Philipps?
I heard you’re an N.W.A fan. So I have to ask: Do you want to see a movie about N.W.A?
No, but once it's on TV I'll probably watch it.
You’ve said you’ll never capitulate to the square-as-fuck world we live in. So let's talk about trendy shit. Give me a quick response on each of these:
Psych-rock kids from the OC: Confused
Riot grrrl: Riot boooy
WWE Monday Night Raw: Entertaining
Heard you're performing at Berserktown with both Royal Trux and Black Bananas. Is that true?
I am not going to do that. Black Bananas is not playing.
People who think My Morning Jacket is genius, probably don’t know Royal Trux. Let’s educate them via a third-grade-level comparison game. If Royal Trux was a _________ if would be _________.
TV Show: A game show
Movie: Lethal Weapon
Finally, what do you want the legacy of Royal Trux to be?
I would want it to be what it already is...lots of original music and art made by inclusive minds that influenced the past, present, and future.
Berserktown II takes place at the Observatory in Santa Ana on August 14, 15, and 16. Tickets can be purchased here.
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