Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux is Back

Article by Miles Raymer

Hagerty was connected enough in the hardcore scene to play guitar in a band with one of the guys from Government Issue, a seminal D.C. punk band, but too genuinely weird to fit in with this subculture’s fairly rigorous social norms. While other D.C. hardcore kids were into political protest and a drug-free, “straight edge” lifestyle, Hagerty was living in a warehouse and dropping huge amounts of acid. One day, Herrema joined him for a three-day acid trip, and they ended up spending the next 15 years bound to each other by love, music, and drugs.

Herrema and Hagerty began making their first music together, laying down the foundation for Royal Trux, in the mid-eighties. At the same time, other former hardcore kids were starting to explore musical directions outside of the genre’s “loud fast” directives while keeping its DIY ethos, in the process creating what came to be known as indie rock.

Hagerty was recruited by one of the early indie scene’s most notorious acts, Pussy Galore, a sneeringly primitivist noise-rock band that flouted hardcore’s political correctness with outrageously objectionable song titles like “You Look Like a Jew.” Hagerty cemented the group’s reputation, and earned a well-deserved place in rock history, when he proposed the concept behind their masterwork, an album-length cover of the Stones’ Exile on Main St. that brilliantly set fire to rock music’s legacy and pissed on its ashes.

After Pussy Galore somewhat predictably self-destructed, Hagerty and Herrema started work on their Royal Trux songwriting in earnest. And as soon as their music got out there, people struggled to categorize it, or even understand what they were doing.

The era’s underground music scene was full of bands deconstructing rock in all kinds of clever ways, but no one went further with the enterprise than Hagerty and Herrema.

They tore seventies boogie rock to shreds until all that was left was a few skeletal riffs, some primordial howling, and a heavily narcotic contact high. It was a singular approach—idiosyncratic to the point of indecipherability for most listeners. The few fans they did have tended to be music critics and owners of small, taste-making record labels.

Their live shows were so shambolic they even managed to affront punk-weened audiences who considered amateurishness a virtue. Around the time of their first album, Gerard Cosloy, the indie-music visionary and Homestead Records exec, described Royal Trux as people who are “barely able to conduct daily order of affairs, whether it’s buying a newspaper or picking up the telephone, trying to be a rock band onstage.”

Still, he found them “really exciting”—more stimulating than Sonic Youth. It was probably the highest praise they received in that era.