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One of the great rock institutions of the past two decades – both for their music and their instrumental role in the rise of independent institution Drag City (their single ‘Hero Zero’ was the label’s first ever release) – Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty’s Royal Trux split in 2001 when the pair ended their marriage.

Since then Hagerty has peddled the lighter, though no less experimental, side of the Trux spectrum through albums with the Howling Hex and solo records like Neil Hagerty Plays that Good Old Rock and Roll, while Herrema, who still practically defines ‘heroin chic’ (she was both addicted to the drug, and became a face for it, in the mid-nineties, when Steven Meisel photographed her for Calvin Klein) plays hard, trad rock metal better than almost anybody around with RTX.

Herrema’s also a writer and journalist, having interviewed John Lee Hooker and Keith Richards (and starting it with a question about ducks to boot) in the past. One of rock music’s most iconic and compelling figures, she recently released the third RTX album, JJ Got Live RaTX. With the band about to tour the UK with Primal Scream, we got in touch with Herrema to talk rock heroes, retro-fetishism and Live RaTX.

When I first heard about the new album [J.J. Got Live RaTX], and I saw the title, I did assume ‘oh right, live album’, but it’s not. It was just recorded live.

“Yes, it is confusing; it’s just not confusing to me, because I know what it means! [laughs] So I forgot about that. And also the pronunciation of RaTX. It’s just like when you say ‘xylophone’, it’s [pronounced as] a ‘z’, and it starts with an ‘x’. So I just assumed that everybody would figure out that it’s supposed to say ‘Ratz’. But, you know, using the ‘x’ in there because it provided an ‘r’, a ‘t’ and an ‘x’. Yeah, it’s kinda goofy, but it all made sense to me, so I was quite certain it would make sense to everybody else, but I just forgot that I would probably need to explain it.”

I do like the energy of the new record.

“Yeah, and that’s a product of us playing simultaneously, as opposed to just tracking in headphones. It provides a lot more energy when you’re all in the same room…”

You feed off each other…


Going back to the RaTX name for a moment. Was that a direct response to the whole Western Xterminator thing? [Western Exterminator is an L.A. pest removal company who objected to the use of the name.]

“It’s not any one thing in particular. With RaTX, we had the imagery of the Pied Piper and we had the different rats and stuff on the Western Xterminator album. And then, having to re-title that album, I titled it RaTX, because of the imagery and because it also had to do with extermination. And then, on this one… we got the live… it’s basically, all the rats that were depicted in the illustration on Western Xterminator, and they were going, you know, towards the ocean? We didn’t lead them out into the ocean to drown. We have them, they’re live. [laughs] No, it’s totally twisted in my head, I just have this picture, like, they didn’t get drowned in the ocean, all the rats. And then we’re also the rats, so we’re all like in a cage together, and we have to, like, I don’t know. It’s just a big painting in my head, it all makes sense… to me.”

Are any similarities with RATT intentional?

“The band RATT? No. I mean, we all love RATT. You gotta love RATT. There’s nothing intentional. I was gonna change the fucking name of the band to RaTX and everybody at Drag City [RTX’s label] were all, like ‘no, no, you can’t do that! You can’t do that!’ But I get so sick of saying ‘RTX’, I just want it to be called RaTX. Not RATT, but RaTX.

“And then all the imagery, the Pied Piper imagery and stuff, I just kinda go on a tangent and a path and I don’t know if anybody else in the band even knows what the fuck I’m doing. But RATT the band, we love RATT. RATT is in our subconscious, you know, from early teenage years, somewhere in there. So there’s gonna be an influence, but it’s definitely by no means the only thing up in the noggin, you know.”

Actually, listening to ‘Cheap Wine Time’, I started thinking of  ‘Home Sweet Home’ by Mötley Crüe. You know when it kicks in?

“Yeah, yeah. Definitely songs like ‘Home Sweet Home’, all the ballads, like the fuckin’ power ballads? My first try at a power ballad in my own way was on Western Xterminator, and it was that song ‘Knightmare and Mane’. And then, on ‘Cheap Wine Time’, it was that but then the guitar has more of a Mick Taylor style to me. So it was kind of like a combination of the Crüe and the Stones. This is all in retrospect. When we were doing it, we were just doing stuff, and it would sound good, and we were like ‘yeah, that’s it’. But in retrospect you can listen and say yeah, this does have certain sensibilities that completely mesh with things that I love. So yeah, totally into the Crüe.”

Sorry for all the comparisons, but ‘Resurrect’ [from Transmaniacon, 2004]: The solo in that song reminds me of C.C. Deville. A lot. Which is great, because he’s one of my favourite guitarists.

“Yeah, actually Brian met C.C. Deville not too long ago, at the Rainbow Room. He was there with his girlfriend. I don’t know, for some reason, and he met C.C. Deville. He was stoked.”

That is brilliant. The whole Rainbow Room thing, that whole era, I just think is brilliant.

“It’s before my time, but I felt as a teenager growing up… there’s just so much imagery, and the songs are so huge, and they were just all over the radio. It was it; that was rock. I used to tear out pictures, put them all over the wall. It felt – what you’re saying – it felt cool as shit.”

And it was so emotional as well. A lot of the current emo stuff is totally biting that sound, it’s just a lot less sexy.

“Yeah, it’s not sexy at all. It’s kinda timid in a way, it’s a little too tame. Those [old] dudes, no matter what kind of voice they have, whether it be Axl Rose, or Bret Michaels, Ronnie James Dio… all those dudes just had voices that could just push, push, like push you up above the fuckin’ stars, sky high. It was just so insane. But emo, it’s like nobody even tries. It’s not about how well you execute, it’s the emotion behind it, and just try. If that’s what you’re feeling, you need to push. And I don’t care if you sound as good as Ronnie James Dio or Axl Rose, just let me hear you give something.

So what do you reckon to people like Andrew W.K.? Because I like the dude, and he doesn’t have a great voice, but he’s going for it.

“I love Andrew. Andrew’s an old friend of mine. Yeah, I was out here with him when he was recording his very first record. Andrew’s a special dude, he’s a freak. Freak, freak, freak. Stone cold freak. In a good way. That’s what he is, he’s great. He does what he does, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t give a shit.”

And that’s why he’s so cool. Because I remember when I first got I Get Wet [his full-length debut, 2001]. I first read about it in The Face. And I was, like, ‘why am I first hearing about this metal dude in The Face, there must be something wrong’.

“Something’s gone wrong, yeah!”

And it rocked so much! And I just thought ‘this is fantastic!’

“Yep, it rocks. Totally. And he’s such a great… just a great composer.”

And he’s insanely enthusiastic as well…

“Yeah, well that occasionally… I swear to God, it’s like ‘down, boy’. Occasionally I’m like ‘God damn it’. But it’s great. It’s him. It’s who he is.”

I kind of got the same feeling when I heard Transmaniacon as well.

“When the record first came out, I did interviews and people were all ‘Trans.. maniac. Trans… maniac-on’, and they were like ‘is that the devil’s skulls? Are you a maniac?’ and these types of things, and I was all like ‘it’s not what the word means, it’s how you say it’. And it really got jammed up at first. Just saying the word ‘transmaniacon’ [pronounced trans-man-I-acon], and it’s just such a badass word. Transmaniacon. So I was, like, oh god, now I’ve fucked that one up too! So I got ‘Rat-X’ instead of ‘Ratz’, I got ‘trans-mania-con’… I don’t know. But it all comes out in the wash. It’s okay.”

There are bands that really excite me at this moment in time, for different reasons, but totally. Because you’ve got you, Andrew W.K., Wolf Eyes, Captain Ahab, and it’s all different stuff, but it’s all brilliant. And it doesn’t sound like anything else that’s out there right now.

“That’s great, I love that. I’m glad we could do that, like, give you something like that. It’s never a conscious decision, like, ‘we can’t sound like anything else’. We love so much different music, and we use all of it when we’re playing. I guess it’s just the chemistry that makes it so it doesn’t sound like anything else. And it means we’re doing a good job of being a band. Not just as songwriters, we have the chemistry of a band on record, which is really important. It; not just good songs, it’s special chemistry.”

And it’s your own sound, which is great. Because I have this problem with bands that are just retro, whereas you get this sound from the past, but you make it so modern at the same time. And that’s why it works, for me anyway.

“I would hope it does. A lot of people maybe just dismiss it because they hear one sound, or something that reminds them of something from the past and all of a sudden it becomes retro to them. But there’s nothing retro about RTX. The only thing that’s retro about RTX is just the fact that our influences are far and wide and many and diverse and these types of things. And the influences are most definitely things that have come before us. They certainly couldn’t have come from the future.

“I don’t know what goes on. I have been really, really indulging this stuff that I grew up with and just loving, and just like ‘fuck yeah!’ I remember being on the bus, on the way to school with my Walkman on, and just fucking listening to Mötley Crüe and being like ‘FUCK!’ And then on the weekday you’d go see a Bad Brains show, ‘cause they’re fucking great too. Just going back and listening to a lot of the stuff that gave me a lot of fucking energy, growing up. There’s tons of other stuff, but that was just the real mainstream stuff that was going on at the time, that you couldn’t avoid. It was just everywhere, and it just was great.”

There’s a bit of a gap nowadays, because you’ve got bands who are really heavy, like Converge, and then you’ve got bands who want to be popular, who sound very MTV. So you don’t really get anybody between those poles, who rock, but don’t sound like grindcore or death metal.

“Yeah, yeah.”

There are some. Because there are you lot, and there’s High On Fire, and there’s Mammatus, and they’re all cool and stuff, but you lot are definitely my favourite.

“It’s something that goes on with RTX that’s kinda gone on my whole musical life, where we definitely have some things in common with that, but we’re not like them, and we always have a hard time pairing up with bands on tours. Because of the fact that we stand alone, but we’re also part of all the best gangs too. We’re part of all the best gangs, but we haven’t drawn blood for any one particular gang, you know what I mean?”

I think that sums it up really, because I remember when I first read about Royal Trux, I just thought ‘that is the coolest-looking band’. And now, I get your albums and I think ‘this is still the coolest-looking band’. And even though there’s only one person from Royal Trux in RTX, I still think ‘goddamn! Very cool’.

“Yeah. We are. We’re pretty fucking cool. [laughs] I love it, that’s all I can say.”

Robin Jahdi

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