For her years of service, Herrema has been repaid with three decades of frowning reviews, audiences perplexed to the point of outrage, and a lifetime number of albums sold that the next Drake single will probably blow past in the first couple minutes it’s available.
If you’re like most people, you’ve never heard a Royal Trux song, never seen a Royal Trux T-shirt, or ever heard of Herrema before you started reading this article. But none of that matters in assessing her worthiness as America’s greatest living rock star. Moreover, music popularity—fame and the money that comes with it—never seemed to matter to her anyway.
“Neil and I always felt out of place,” she says, shrugging. “It’s not like it really bummed us out. There was just kinda this wall we were behind and we didn’t even understand how you get over there where all the normal people were. So we didn’t bother to try. We didn’t get the playbook or something. We decided to be happy with the way we called our own shots.”
One of the many ironies of Herrema’s career is that her entire body of work has been built on an utterly unironic embrace of cock-rock sounds and styles like the Rolling Stones’ smacked-out, early-seventies boogie and the cocaine-shiny bubblegum metal of the 1980s Sunset Strip, but has found most of its audience in the world of indie rock. And this is a world—which she fell into mostly by accident—that has a painfully complicated relationship with that kind of big, testosterone-fueled rock music and the dick-swinging hedonism it symbolized.
JENNIFER Herrema’s musical education began when she was a white girl in a majority-black middle school in funk-obsessed southeast Washington, D.C., during funk’s transition from the gooey, warm lysergic vibes of Parliament-Funkadelic into its more hard-edged, synthesized 1980s incarnation.
In high school, she fell in with a stoner crowd that used drugs primarily as a means to more deeply obsess over Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead records. Somewhere in between, her dad started dropping her off at all-ages D.C. hardcore shows, where she found Neil Michael Hagerty and her musical destiny.