On Royal Trux’s Out-There Alchemy
The first song Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema wrote as Royal Trux 2.0, “Every Day Swan,” is a rasping, squawking affair replete with cowbells and chaos. It’s a pop song falling down the stairs, a carousel tossing its horses. In short, it’s a Royal Trux song — right in line with off-kilter sing-along classics like 1998’s “The Banana Question” and “Juicy, Juicy Juice.” Quite fittingly, it’s also about the duo itself — at least to hear Herrema tell it.
“We always fight back and forth, like, ‘You want to have it your way,’ ‘No, you want to have it your way,’ so we kind of wrote it to each other about each other,” she tells TIDAL. “Neil was stoked about working on these songs, that he got to write. The lyrics ‘coffee and wood’ was him talking about joints — that he got to chill and write and smoke weed. Then we butt heads and shit like that.”
“Every Day Swan” comes off of the band’s first album since 2000, White Stuff, out March 1 on Fat Possum. The record follows Trux’s much-anticipated reunion in 2015, which saw Herrema and Hagerty finally returning to the stage — then to the studio to record new music. The result is 12 tracks of nearly indescribable, purely fun music that is just uniquely Trux.
“I think that’s what creates Royal Trux,” Herrema says. “It’s not just me and it’s not just him. We’ve both made our own albums, but they don’t sound like Royal Trux because we’re not making them together.”
Royal Trux came up in late ‘80s/early ‘90s DC when Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were riding high on the airwaves and labels launched a bidding war over the wonky work of outsider artist/musician Daniel Johnston. Consequently, the band — who had released albums both on their own and via Drag City — somehow managed to snag a three-record, million-dollar contract with Virgin. It was not a good fit.
“[The general public] do not understand Trux at all,” says John Colpitts, who once drummed with the band. “Trux is chaos and rock & roll. It’s not music school shit. It’s not mannered. It’s not academic. It is those two people making music with their spirits in an unmediated way. It’s not for everyone — but it should be.”
Colpitts, like most Trux diehards, wasn’t sure whether he liked their music at first; it was just so out there. The hooks won out in the end, though — as did the strange dynamic between Herrema and Hagerty, who were once romantically linked. As Herrema touched on in her description of “Every Day Swan,” there’s a push and pull there, an animosity and affection that breeds a delightful kind of chaos.
“It was the worst show I’d ever seen up until that point,” Colpitts says of a 1997 gig that his band Oneida played with Trux. “So bad it shot the moon and became one of my favorites. I was wrong that I thought it was bad because it was actually genius. I’d seen Royal Trux! It was a baptism.”
Emerging from the hills 19 years later — or, rather Southern California and Colorado, respectively — Herrema and Hagerty are ready to preach the gospel of Trux to new converts. Last summer, the duo and their band decamped to Burbank, California, to lay down the album that would become White Stuff. It was a new process for the pair, who used to own a farm Virginia where they could make music whenever they pleased.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve just gone into some random studio for X amount of days and that’s that,” Herrema says. The band spent 12 days recording the album and a week on mixing. “There was some stress that things had to be done on time. We’re all stoners, so we start moving slow. But it all worked out fine; I’m glad we kind of limited ourselves. We really capped it and I think that, in the end, was the perfect thing to do.”
Trux wasn’t aiming to replicate any particular sound, relying instead on the chemistry between Herrema and Hagerty to light the fuse. The result is a collection of tracks weird and wonderful, like “Suburban Junkie Lady,” a rumination on modern-day opiate addiction. “It’s something that just didn’t exist so much at the start, when Royal Trux stopped playing and took a long break,” Herrema says. “It’s a new phenomenon; so many people got taken in by the Oxy thing. It’s just kind of nuts.”
Despite the band’s storied history with drugs — they were reportedly addicted to heroin as a couple — the record’s title and its title track are not necessarily about cocaine. “It’s a song about traveling and what you experience, what you see, what goes on,” Herrema says. “The way I look at it, it could be applied to tons of different things in life. But there’s always an intention behind the simplest of things.”
The album cover, which features lines on a barroom mirror, is meant to be similarly open for interpretation. “We kind of took some humorous liberties with the album cover, but, in general it has to do with people, drugs, things, colors,” Herrema says.
If you’re a Trux fan, you’ll know this is par for the course for the band; the cover of their 1997 record, Sweet Sixteen, is perhaps the grossest in history. That was their last release on Virgin — to the delight of both the band and the label.
So what can fans and new converts expect from Trux and their upcoming album and tour? Judging by the fact that the tour has already been rescheduled once, Herrema is currently wearing an ankle bracelet and Hagerty has been waxing strange on Twitter, it’s really anyone’s guess. Whatever happens, however, it’ll be 100% Royal Trux.
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