- Royal Trux: They'll take your money and run.
During the mad rush to sign anything remotely alternative a few years ago, the troublemaking, noise-fucking, and hell-raising duo Royal Trux somehow got itself a major-label record deal. Virgin Records released two albums by the band (which consists of mainstays Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty, plus occasional friends and hangers-on lending a hand here and there), and both sank quicker than Matthew McConaughey's movie career.
Granted, those records didn't stiff without some justification. Royal Trux isn't an easy listen. It can be frustratingly grating and deliberately careless. The center of the Trux sound relies solely upon two things: Herrema's she-bitch vocal/scream and Hagerty's equally caterwauling guitar histrionics.
Now back where they belong in indieville and with a new album, Veterans of Disorder, to show for the past year, Herrema and Hagerty are happy campers. Sort of.
"It's six of one, one half-dozen the other," muses Herrema on the indie/major dilemma. "They both have pluses. With independents we have complete freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want. Like, we just finished another album, and that will come out real soon, too. There are no ties and binds. But with the majors our distribution is better, and that's what sells records. But you can't really do what you want to do. We're right there in the middle."
As she trails off, it's apparent that Royal Trux is operating its own little rock and roll swindle. A strong case can be made for the band's near-intentional sabotage of their two Virgin releases (the cover of 1997's Sweet 16, their last record for Virgin, featured a picture of a filthy toilet and was downright disgusting; the music contained inside was the aural equivalent). Herrema won't cop to this, but she does offer some insight on Royal Trux's plight and flight in the majors.
"The initial factor, money, was taken out to begin with," she explains. "Maybe this was bad on their part, but all the money came up front. Then after that, it didn't really matter to us what they said or what they thought. And basically, that's what happened. They didn't have anything to hold over us. I think they thought that, with the whole musical thing, we'd give them a taste and go back for more. Well, it didn't matter to us. They didn't have that stranglehold on us that they have on a lot of bands.
"So I guess there was a lot there for us at first. It was greed. But there were things we wanted to do and things they wanted us to do, and it broke down to when we finished the third record, they wanted to hear it. We said, "We don't have to play it for you,' and they said, "Well, if we don't get to hear it, then we're not going to put it out.' And we said, "Great, give us the money for it.'"
So they took the money and ran. All the way back to the minors . . . where they started in the first place. Formed in the mid-'80s by Pussy Galore refugee Hagerty (the seminal Washington, D.C. noise band also gave the indie world Jon Spencer), Royal Trux released a series of acid-soaked, grimy punk records that often leaned toward classic rock convention (buried way beneath the noise). Yet, through it all, it managed to maintain a crusty lo-fi appeal. In 1995, the year it signed with Virgin, the Trux released Thank You, the first part of a conceptual trilogy based on the decades ('60s, '70s, and '80s). Last year's Accelerator wrapped things up, which meant that something new had to be forged. Hence, Veterans of Disorder.
"We always do what we want to do," Herrema says. "Veterans of Disorder was definitely broken down into songs. Each song was its own record. Therefore, the production value, the instrumentation, the number of tracks, the mixing, all that stuff was totally different. We took our time in this strange way of doing all the vocals and the tracking on one song and mixing it, like it was the only song. Then we moved on to another one. Instead of laying down all the tracks and then the overdubs for an album, each thing was kind of different.
"It's the simplicity of the lyrics and rhythms. We were satisfied with it a lot of the time. We came up with things in their most simple form. The seed was planted, and then the songs escaped around it. This particular seed can stand on its own, so this record was kind of made on its own."
Yet the album needs the assistance of a real and full band to play the songs live. Royal Trux recently gathered a handful of loyalists and hit the road in support of its new album. And without the benefit of major-label money behind it (or the suits looking over its shoulder), Royal Trux is free to do as it pleases which, Herrema notes, has always been the goal in the first place. No other pretensions fuel this band, she insists.
"It's never been the purpose of Royal Trux to have a big hit," she says. "Although it is a great vehicle for getting all the stuff we've done in the past listened to, stuff that a lot of people don't even know about. [A hit] would be a good thing, but at the same time the expectations of that kind of thing are just screwy. Everything that was requested of us [by Virgin] was pretty much a prerequisite for making a hit, and they don't just happen; they are made. Those prerequisites were confining. Straight up, it just wasn't going to happen. There were just a lot of things we couldn't abide by."
So where does Herrema think Royal Trux fits in the current post-Kurt, post-Seattle, post-alternarevolution universe?
"I don't know when I last listened to college radio," she ponders. "I heard it the other night, and I was shocked by what I was hearing on these college stations. It was unbelievably redundant and totally shitty. That's all subjective, but it was all so much the same. I thought college radio was about bringing in all sorts of players."
So, again, where do they fit?
"I'm clueless," she sighs. "I don't know what the hell is going on. But I kind of like that."