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  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Royal Trux, 1997

WITH AMY KELLNER AND BOB NICKAS
PHOTOGRAPHED BY TINA BARNEY


When Jennifer Herrema, lead singer for the Royal Trux, stands on stage, legs apart, hips thrust forward, a huge ten-gallon cowboy hat covering her face, and all you see are those big tough lips with that impossibly hoarse voice — and hey, did she just spit at that guy? — it's like stay back, man. And Neil Hagerty hunched in the corner of the stage, all straggly hair and fanciful guitar licks, it's something to be cautiously admired from afar.
And then there's the big Sid-n-Nancy junkie couple cliché, which doesn't even apply to them anymore, but somehow lingers. It's hard to let go of such a juicy and oddly traditional thing. Well, suffice to say, we were prepared for some serious interviewer torment. But guess what? They were so polite, almost parental, as they languidly chain-smoked in their teeny SoHo Grand Hotel room.
Royal Trux basic info: In the '80s, Neil was in the star-studded superband Pussy Galore, then came the Trux, with mostly just Neil, Jennifer, and assorted musical machinery. The sound was deconstructed and demented classic rock. Sloppy, weird and experimental, but also with a serious penchant for muscle-car-boogie-rock. In music lingo, you would say that they've gotten "tighter" recently, with a full band and more structured songs. All of which gives the Trux a serious, new aggressivity.
Their music has changed so much, and maybe they have too, but really what's important is that their brand new album, Sweet Sixteen, totally rocks.



AMY: So Jennifer, you kissed me.
JENNIFER: That was you?!

AMY: That was me.
JENNIFER: Excellent. I have to tell Liz because I have the playing cards and she wants them so bad. That was you?

AMY: I was wondering if you were going to recognize me or not.
JENNIFER: I didn't, because you had really black hair and you were wearing those crazy glasses.

AMY: Those got stolen in Memphis! Those were one-of-a-kind.
JENNIFER: Bummer.

BOB: What are you talking about?
AMY: I gave Jennifer a deck of nudie cards in exchange for a kiss at the Indie Rock Flea Market in Arlington, Virginia last August.
JENNIFER: It was a shit hole.

BOB: What were you doing there?
JENNIFER: I was hawking Dan's wares for Drag City. He came halfway across the United States to do this thing, and he was staying at our house, so I schlepped over and helped him out.

AMY: How did you come up with that idea?
JENNIFER: Oh, we were just bored. I mean, there was nothing going on.

BOB: What happened?
AMY: It was like, ten dollars to get a picture taken of Jennifer kissing you.
JENNIFER: Do you have the picture?

AMY: I do. I didn't bring it, but I'll send you a copy. So did lots of people kiss you?
JENNIFER: Not lots. Probably five or six.

AMY: All boys?
JENNIFER: Yeah, you were the only girl.

AMY: It was the only fun thing to do there. Buy a record or buy a kiss. Which would you want?
JENNIFER: They had a lot of shitty bands playing.

BOB: So, we've been listening to your new record. It was really great to listen to it this morning, after seeing you play last night. There's so much stuff going on, on the record. It's like, chock-full of lots of instruments and sounds. Really action-packed. It seems like everything you've done until now, that you're able to do, you can put into one song. Some songs sound like three different ones spliced together. And really produced. But when I saw you play, I thought, oh, they're actually doing this live. The record brings the two together. It's a really produced, live record.
NEIL: Yeah.

BOB: And you did that yourself, at home?
NEIL: Yeah, we did the initial recording at home and then we had it mixed by this guy. Do you know this band called Collective Soul? It's just some platinum rock …

AMY: They're on like, VH-1, right?
JENNIFER: Yeah, they're generic rock.

AMY: And they produced it?
JENNIFER: No! This has nothing to do with that band. Good lord.
NEIL: The guy just mixed it.
JENNIFER: The engineer.
NEIL: The overseer. He just kind of organizes it along those terms.

AMY: What was that weird drum thing that guy was playing?
NEIL: I have him play electronic drums because he plays really loud. When we first started out, Jennifer played bass and I played guitar. And we had a guy who played keyboards and rhythm machine.

AMY: And what was that weird horn that looked like a bong?
NEIL: Chris, yeah, he just got back from a trip around the world, and he picked up a bunch of horns and stuff.

AMY: And what does the Arabic writing on your banner say?
NEIL: It says Royal Trux.

AMY: I can write Royal Trux out in Hebrew for you.
NEIL: Side by side. "You decide." I guess we like the Arab world now. You know how gangsta rap is dying, well we're gonna start the Islamic fundamentalists punk rock. You know, like Kim Fowley …

BOB: Oh, yeah.
NEIL: He started The Runaways. He's always looking for an idea. One time he was going to have a band that was going to be like, the Martian band. They were going to be like Kiss with green makeup and little antennas, and sing weird songs about Mars. So our project is going to be the Islamic Fundamentalist band. I think it can be successful.

AMY: Oh, that's going to cause a ruckus.
NEIL: Yeah, you know what I mean?

AMY: Shake things up.
NEIL: It's like the way gangsta rap offends parents or something, so kids liked it.
JENNIFER: So, what are you saying?
NEIL: What?

AMY: But you don't believe in that? You just want to do it to shake things up?
NEIL: We're always trying to understand why things are popular.

BOB: I hate to admit it, but I went, out of professional research, to see that movie called Hype
AMY: The "grunge" movie.
BOB: Dead Moon was in it, and they came across as one of the absolutely most honest-to-goodness bands in it.
JENNIFER: Well, they're a great band.

BOB: There was a scene where the guy was actually cutting the grooves into their records.
NEIL: They're totally self-contained. They book their own shows, and press their own records. Everything, man.

AMY: What does their music sound like?
JENNIFER: It sounds a lot like AC/DC. If you like AC/DC, you'll love them.

AMY: Your voice sounds like AC/DC, Jennifer.
JENNIFER: Oh, I love AC/DC, I mean, that's why I love Dead Moon.
[points down to tape recorder] Battery light's going off …

AMY: Bob, I thought you got new batteries.
BOB: No, they're brand new. I think it's okay. I hope.
NEIL: Just a faulty battery light.
JENNIFER: It just blinks all the time. [Neil is staring out the window]
NEIL: There's a guy getting dressed over there in that window. He's got a T-shirt on. He just got off the Health Rider. "Two pounds!"

BOB: So, do you mind if I ask if there's a normal day in the life of Royal Trux? When you're just home, not on tour, doing normal home things, or whatever you do.
NEIL: It's all work.

BOB: Well, we don't want to pry.
AMY: I want to pry.
NEIL: Jennifer gets up earlier.
JENNIFER: I go to the gym.

BOB: I'm personally anti-gym.
NEIL: To each his own. It's a free country.
JENNIFER: I have to walk. I have to walk on a treadmill. I can't get endorphins any other way, other than eating chocolate.

AMY: What about walking outside?
JENNIFER: I don't like it outside.
NEIL: It's gotten dangerous. The roads are very narrow. There's no curbs or sidewalks.

AMY: It's probably really pretty where you live.
NEIL: Yeah, but there's a lot of foxes and a lot of snakes and a lot of shit kickers. Where we take our trash, there's like KKK and that kind of shit on the dumpster.
JENNIFER: My gym is a storefront, that's all. It's about an hour away.

AMY: What do you do when you walk on the treadmill?
JENNIFER: I watch TV.
NEIL: She avoids eye contact.

BOB: Do you have pets?
AMY: Pets! Let's talk about pets.
NEIL: Oh, yeah, we have three great cats.

AMY: Cats! Are you cat people? Oh, I'm so glad. Bob's a dog person. Go away.
JENNIFER: I love dogs but I'm allergic.

AMY: What are your kitties' names?
NEIL: Two sisters named Sam and Rudy, and then …
JENNIFER: A little boy.
NEIL: A little boy named Joey, who's Abyssinian, he's like an AKC-type. They're pure-bred.

AMY: Oh, fancy.
NEIL: Yeah, we had this one boy cat named Leon, and when we were on tour he died.

AMY: Oh, no! Why did he die?
NEIL: He ate thread.

AMY: And he died from it?
NEIL: Yeah, we didn't know. It doesn't break down because it's got fiber inside it, it's wrapped around. They have constant peristaltic action, so the thread acts like a razor. Their intestines are constantly moving, and the thread doesn't degrade. It's almost pure cotton.

AMY: Shit, that makes me really nervous because I have a ball of twine.
NEIL: Oh, twine is okay. It breaks off, yeah. Our cats eat pieces of the rug. The other day, Joey caught a bat and it was insane.

AMY: He caught a bat?
NEIL: He went to the chimney, and there was this little baby bat. It was so cute.
JENNIFER: It was so cute.
NEIL: I got it and kicked him …

AMY: The bat?
NEIL: Well, the cat, he had him. I was afraid of him getting rabies. If a bat gets close enough to you that you can touch it, it's probably rabid because it's crazy. So I stepped on the bat, and I pushed him away, because he wanted to play with it. I was looking for something to get, like a pan, to pick the bat up and put it back outside, but there was nothing, and I couldn't let go, so I grabbed a magazine, like a big Vogue with a thick spine. I had to kill it. It was terrible. But exciting.

AMY: Well, cats are supposed to be able to catch little critters.
NEIL: Oh, yeah, they get mice.
JENNIFER: In the summertime, they catch lizards and then in the wintertime they catch snakes and bats. And all year round, an occasional mouse.

AMY: My cat, she sees a roach in my apartment and she's like, "Oh, a friend," and just plays with it.
JENNIFER: But that's what it is, really. When they catch them, they play with them to death.

AMY: And then she'll eat it.
BOB: You seem to have a lot of wildlife.
NEIL: There's a Walmart about an hour or forty minutes away.
JENNIFER: I love Walmart.
NEIL: See, Walmart destroys …
JENNIFER: You guys must have really strong ideas about things that you will and you won't do. Is there anything that you just won't do, or that you're completely against, as far as like …
NEIL: … supporting the Christian Coalition?
JENNIFER: Well, no …
NEIL: You're saying, morally or personally?
JENNIFER: No —
NEIL: Like, "I smoke pot, but I never do cocaine?"
JENNIFER: No, like, "I don't wear gold."

AMY: You don't wear gold?
JENNIFER: Oh, I wear gold.

BOB: Like, not wearing fur? I don't think men should wear fur anyway.
AMY: What do you mean, men shouldn't wear fur?
JENNIFER: But that's what he thinks.
NEIL: This rationale for wearing fur, "but it's already dead," that doesn't cut it. I don't think it's right.

AMY: I don't understand … something I wouldn't do?
NEIL: Is it class you're talking about?
JENNIFER: No, I'm just asking. A lot of times people won't reach out to something that's right there in the present. It's always like going forward or backward, and sometimes people reject exactly what's happening in the present.

AMY: The moment there's something new on TV or on the radio, people are like …
NEIL: I like The X Files.

AMY: Oh, X Files rules. Did you see the one with the guy who could take pictures with his mind?
NEIL: Yeah, that was a good one.

AMY: That was rad. That was the best one.
NEIL: We don't like Friends.

AMY: Well, god, who does?
NEIL: It's sort of like a funny Melrose Place.

AMY: How did talking about Walmart get to this?
NEIL: Walmart's bad, man.

AMY: Is it?
NEIL: The truth of the matter is, they go into a local economy and they run roughshod over laws of the environment and all that.
JENNIFER: Exactly.
NEIL: They unemploy all these people. They employ people, but it's all like part time, no benefits. They put all the little stores out of business. Like, the little hardware store.

AMY: I actually stole a bunch of stuff from Walmart.
NEIL: That's good. Yeah, steal from Walmart.

AMY: I got a fuzzy steering wheel cover.
JENNIFER: We got a really good car air freshener.

AMY: We got a classy Jesus air freshener.
JENNIFER: We have concerts at our Walmart.
NEIL: There was this bus parked in front of the Walmart …
JENNIFER: It was like a gospel Christian thing going on, and the guy was selling his records.
NEIL: It was like an in-store thing.

AMY: That's rad, Walmart in-store. We should have that at Kmart here.
BOB: We've got two Kmarts in the city now.
AMY: There's one in Penn Plaza.
NEIL: In the train station?

AMY: It's at 34th Street, across from Madison Square Garden. I went in to check out the Jaclyn Smith Collection, but I was really disappointed. I was expecting more rhinestones. There were no rhinestones.
NEIL: No, it's very conservative. They use prison labor and stuff.

AMY: The other one opened on Astor Place!
NEIL: I remember when that Gap opened up on St. Marks. There was a huge protest.

AMY: New York's going down the tubes.
NEIL: It's turning into New Jersey.

BOB: I have a theory that eventually everybody will have all their stuff in mini-storages in the city but they'll all be living somewhere else. The city will just be lots of mini-storages with combinations and lockers. Like, where did everybody go?
NEIL: That would be great. Where we live is like, where people like James Carville and Robert Duvall live, and they put money into the economy. But there's a lot of people that are just week-end people. And they work in D.C. They're under-assistant secretary to Congress or whatever. But all of the people that really lived there their entire lives, I don't know how they make their money. They still have Aid to Dependent Children and the foodstamps and stuff. But we can only live out there because we've got this contract with fucking Virgin, so we're kind of disciplining ourselves …

AMY: Saving up?
NEIL: Yeah, I mean, because after this thing, who knows what's going to happen? It might be the only money we ever get, you know.

AMY: Are you saving up for your retirement?
NEIL: Oh, no, just to have enough to buy food and make records.

AMY: Yeah.
BOB: What's the rest of the day like? You come back from the gym …
JENNIFER: I'm only allowed to go three times a week.

AMY: What do you mean you're "allowed?"
JENNIFER: We have a pact. There's a serial killer around.

BOB: You're kidding.
JENNIFER: No, he's in our county, and he's killed four women, and there's two missing. So we have a time schedule.
NEIL: Where she goes to the gym is the hunting ground.

AMY: Do you pack heat?
NEIL: Well, at home.

AMY: Yeah?
JENNIFER: But I don't take it out, I can't carry it in the car. I don't have a license to do that.
NEIL: In Virginia, there's a concealed weapon law. So you can take a class, and you can carry a damn holster …
JENNIFER: We're going to apply …

BOB: You just leave it on the outside?
NEIL: No, it can be concealed. You carry it in your glove compartment. When you get stopped, you show the guy your license and your concealed weapon thing. But see, the people in Arlington, in northern Virginia, they're really not happy about it because it's going to be like, people from D.C. will cross the river and buy their guns.

AMY: Do you go in back of your house and shoot at cans and stuff?
JENNIFER: I do.
NEIL: I'm afraid that the bullet's going to ricochet.
JENNIFER: I've got a lot of trophies.

AMY: That's awesome. Did you see the movie, Gun Crazy, with Drew Barrymore?
JENNIFER: No, was that any good?

AMY: I would give it a thumbs-up.
JENNIFER: All right, I'll rent it.

AMY: Actually, there's an original from the '50s.
BOB: That's really good.
AMY: But I like Drew Barrymore.
JENNIFER: Why do you like her?

AMY: Why? She's cute as the dickens.
BOB: She's a survivor.
AMY: You don't think Drew Barrymore is cute?
JENNIFER: Oh, I think she's beautiful.

BOB: You know when you were asking about things we're against, well, I'm really against being arrested.
NEIL: I'm with you.

AMY: Well, I'm into the five finger discount.
JENNIFER: But the difference from you getting arrested and her getting arrested is probably pretty big, for some reason.

BOB: Amy was arrested on behalf of the magazine, for illegally putting up posters.
AMY: It was so obvious that they treated me and my friend really well because we were white. And there was this black guy in the holding cell with us, and they were going off on him so much. And he was just like this drunk guy.
NEIL: They probably might try to scare you or something, do you know what I mean? When I was doing drugs, that was the main thing.

AMY: I put on a whole little-innocent-girl act.
JENNIFER: It's cool to break out the girlie action.

AMY: Batting my eyelashes.
NEIL: But isn't that anti-feminist?

AMY: Hey!
JENNIFER: Are you a feminist?

AMY: Of course.
NEIL: That's like a carnal sin, mortal sin.
JENNIFER: To break out the girlie action?

AMY: But you have to know how to use it. It's just about being aware and knowing exactly what the situation is, and playing it for all it's worth.
NEIL: I thought feminists had a responsibility not to ever give in to gender stereotypes
.
AMY: Well, if they would have asked me to go out on a date I would have said no.
JENNIFER: Yeah, what if it came to that? What if they said "You're in here for a week if you don't go out on a date with me."

AMY: Well, luckily that didn't happen.
JENNIFER: What would you have done?

AMY: I don't know what I would have done.
JENNIFER: Isn't that weird?

AMY: Shit.
JENNIFER: What do you think about prostitution and stripping and stuff like that?

AMY: It's not about policing. Do what you wanna do. Feminists get a bad rap, like they're these moral judgment people. But that's just the media perception of feminism. The media is always anti-feminism, so they portray them as being some kind of "femi-nazis." I hate that.
NEIL: Yeah, that's the key. Rush Limbaugh.

AMY: It's bullshit.
JENNIFER: That's how I supported us for five years.

AMY: Oh, really, you stripped?
JENNIFER: Five years.
NEIL: Yeah, she supported us for years.

AMY: Did you feel that you had total power over all the men, even though they think they have power over you?
JENNIFER: Well, I think a lot of females use that as a rationale. Because some people really feel that way, and other people need to find a reason. And so, it's really hard to tell the difference. And people that generally end up unhappy are the people that just can't get with that. They never, in their heart, feel that way.

AMY: Some people who strip talk about how they get addicted to it …
JENNIFER: Oh yeah.

AMY: … how they needed that attention.
JENNIFER: In Atlanta, we played at a strip club on the stage, and the dancers danced with us.

BOB: When was this?
NEIL: '93.

BOB: Was it their usual audience, or a mix of your audience and the strip club audience?
JENNIFER: It was a mix. But the strippers had to dance to our music, so they were on the bars and stuff, it was excellent.

AMY: When you stripped, were there things you had to do? Like, dance moves?
JENNIFER: Oh, no. No, I mean, if you watch, you can see who makes the most money, and it depends on how much money you want to make.

AMY: But there's nothing you have to do?
JENNIFER: You just have to be naked.
BOB: Was that your idea for the band to play a strip club?
NEIL: The promoter did it because there was a time when we were still like, the junkie band, but we were actually clean. So we were still in this sort of circle, like junkie stripper, you know, underground …
JENNIFER: Yeah, the whole thing that's become extremely cliché at this time.

AMY: People still talk about that.
NEIL: We'll do your survivor thing. I mean, we live in Virginia, and for me it's interesting because I moved back to where I went to high school, where I was always getting rejected by everybody. And I'm doing great now, and it's like, everybody said I was crazy or gay or whatever, like throwing names at me all through high school. And now I'm making a heap of money and they're all working in computers …
JENNIFER: In your face.
NEIL: You got to go back and tell those kids that could be like me or you, and say, don't buy into this crap. Because it looks like the abyss …
JENNIFER: That's what our songs and album are about.
NEIL: That's what this new album is about. It's not for like, New York intellectual scenemakers. It's really for middle America.
JENNIFER: It's just for other people, like …
NEIL: We went to New York, you know. We did fine in New York.
JENNIFER: None of it really makes any sense, I mean … being able to wrap a label around me.

BOB: You're saying that this new record is like, looking into the abyss?
NEIL: Yeah, when you grow up in the suburbs it's so weird because you have bourgeois comforts, but you don't have many choices. You have enough of the taste of what it's like to not be a fucking poor working class person that you're just going to buy into what your teachers say or what your parents say.
JENNIFER: Entitlement.
NEIL: Do you know what I mean? Because it doesn't look like there's much choice, other than going really extreme, like dropping out or whatever.
JENNIFER: Then it becomes more political.

AMY: So are all the people who dissed you in high school trying to be your buddies?
NEIL: No, I don't really see them. A couple of people have called me, but hers, everyone suddenly is like, "Oh, Jennifer, you were my best friend."

BOB: They have the nerve to call and say, "Hi, I made your life miserable when you were 14 … "
JENNIFER: They act like it never happened.
NEIL: I mean, I wasn't like, I was just insane. I probably scared more people than anything. But I was trying to say — look, I'm no different from …
JENNIFER: There's a lot of family members that actually speak to me now because I've been recognized by a corporate entity, as a human being.
NEIL: Oh, once she did this CK deal …

AMY: For months, it was like, there goes Jennifer on a bus.
NEIL: We saw that, yeah.
JENNIFER: But isn't that kind of fucked up that my grandfather talks to me now because of that? I'm glad he does, but isn't that kind of weird?

AMY: Yeah, legitimization.
BOB: Did you start playing music when you were really young? Did you actually play when you were teenagers in bands?
NEIL: Yeah, I have.
JENNIFER: Well, I didn't play in the bands, because my high school, there just weren't that many kids around at all. There were twenty people in my graduating class and most of them lived uptown … but I was into music, in my bedroom, by myself a lot.

AMY: What did you listen to in high school?
JENNIFER: I listened to Discharge, GBH, that kind of thing for a long time. Then I got into Van Halen.
AMY: See, with me, it was the opposite. First it was Van Halen.
NEIL: When I first met you, you had the Beastie Boys 7 inch, "Pollywog Stew." You had Tank, and "Long Run" by the Eagles. You had this weird mix of records that your parents bought you and then punk rock singles.
JENNIFER: I loved Tank.
NEIL: She also liked that gothic shit a little bit, you had some of that stuff, Siouxsie and the Banshees.

AMY: Everyone has to go through a goth stage, that's my theory.
BOB: I didn't … Neil, what were you listening to?
NEIL: Oh, I liked Ornette Coleman.
AMY: In high school?
NEIL: I'm a self-made man.

AMY: What's the first show you ever saw?
JENNIFER: Bad Brains. My first stadium show was Rush.
NEIL: Flipper. There's a band I've seen the most of any band. Them and Black Flag are the two. That's my golden era. And the Meat Puppets.

BOB: What magazines do you read?
NEIL: We get The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The Nation, The Wall Street Journal.

BOB: The Wall Street Journal?
NEIL: See, I have a database I'm building up, like, this is part of the day in the life, right? I get up and she goes to the P.O. Box after the gym. Comes back, she wakes me up. We have coffee, we talk. And then she does something, and I'll usually go with the newspapers. Every day I clip out five articles and then put them in our little database, so we have it on a computer.
JENNIFER: It's pretty good now. You can just open your mouth and say a word, and type it in, and a really great article will pop up.

BOB: What kind of articles are you clipping?
NEIL: Just weird things, that sort of hint at like, inadvertent classification in America. There's no classes in America — that's a whole lie. So we take anything that has to do with that, like, some guy makes a liberal point and reveals this totally ingrown homophobia or whatever. There was this thing about feminists against porn, like feminists really having a hatred of the lower class and working class. Because working, lower classes are mostly the consumers of pornography.

AMY: Well, I can just say that feminists against porn is a totally antiquated idea that has nothing to do with contemporary feminism. Feminism's generally pretty pro-porn now.
NEIL: What about propane, that's our field source down where we live. Yeah, we don't use any oil or anything.

BOB: We don't have to run this in our magazine, we can give it to Ms. magazine.
JENNIFER: Is that a subtle hint to change the subject?

BOB: It wasn't that subtle.
AMY: Fuck you! Bob doesn't like talking about anything that I like talking about.
NEIL: In Charlottesville, Virginia we had to lie and say we were married, to get our house.

AMY: They wouldn't let a guy and a girl live together?
NEIL: Yeah, and it's against the law totally.

AMY: No way.
NEIL: But they just ignore it because they answer to a higher authority. It's like, good Lord, think about Barney Frank. He's the only openly-gay Congressman, and they call him Barney Fag. It's the most backward shit.

AMY: See, that's the thing, that's what you hear about in the south, and so when I went down there I was terrified.
NEIL: Everything is very slow. That's what I like about living in Virginia, it's just like, there's no time there. We're trying to get our driveway fixed because the hurricane came and swept it away. And now it's like this pit, rutted, just screwing up our car. So we try to get this guy to come fix it, it's like, "Yeah, I'll be there." But a month goes by and he's like, "Oh, I'll be out there, don't worry." And he just wanders away.
[tape recorder clicks off]

BOB: I guess that's it. Five to nine.
NEIL: I'm gonna go catch The X Files.
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Royal Trux by Tina Barney, 1997
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