Thursday, April 19, 2012
Royal Trux:Bad Blood(A History of Genius)
The two met in Washington D.C in 1987, while Neil was playing in local scuzz-rock heroes Pussy Galore. He was never "into" what PG was doing, and considered himself a hired gun because Jon Spencer was the de facto leader in that band. Although the coolest thing that PG ever did was at Neil's behest, a cassette only, song for song cover of the Rolling Stones masterpiece, Exile on Main Street. While still in the band, he was already cooking up his master plan about creating the hippest, coolest, and most dangerous motherfucking band in the world. Jennifer was still in High School, she used to watch Neil's prior band play when they did gigs, and she has often said it was love at first sight. She said he was the "weirdest fucker" she had ever met, so she knew that had to be together. The two started working on songs together, and playing out live, as soon as Neil quit Pussy Galore for the final time! The early shows must've scared the holy fuck out of audiences, as they were already experimenting with instrumentation, lineups, improvisation. Neil said that he formed the band to apply Ornette Colemans theory of musical harmolodics to classic music in the vein of Black Sabbath! They released their debut record, simply titled Royal Trux in 1988. This one was self-released as Drag City had yet to open it's doors. No one really paid attention to it, except an article in Spin where Gerald Cosloy of Matador Records, and uber-snob reviewer Christgau discussed it. Cosloy seemed to really like it, and somewhat understand it, while the snob totally dismissed it. Recently Cosloy has stated that Christgau didn't even listen to the record more than once. If I had to describe that first record(which really is a VERY hard thing to do) I would say it's a sort of drunken blues, psychobilly pastiche, jazz minded, no wave based, brilliant record that must be heard to be believed. The thing with Royal Trux, is that they are not an immediate gratification band, most of the early records you have to spend a lot of time with, in order to reap their rewards, and to soak in the brilliance. I am sure that casual music listeners heard unstructured noise.....and ran!!
As this article/story is going to be far longer than most I write, I can not even begin to touch on all of the 7" singles, EP's, and song contributions that RTX have done. I will say that oftentimes their best work is relegated to one of these formats, and Drag City released a 2 LP compilation in 1997 called Singles, Live 7 Unreleased with most of their stuff of this nature. It works as good or better than some of their records so if you are interested don't hesitate to pick that up, it's the only way to get all of that stuff. Ok, back to 1993, Neil has gotten clean, Jennifer has made steps, relapsed a few times, but she comes totally clean later in that year. So their 4th record, Cats & Dogs, again released by Drag City, is a surprising hit in the indie/alternative world. More musicians are used in the actual recording, so it's the first full-band recording of RTX. The songs are similar to Skulls, except they ROCK a lot harder, again, there are the obligatory spacey, creepy, and usual noisy Trux-styled material. But the Rock songs posses a Sabbath/Zeppelin vibe that immediately garner the duo a lot more fans. One of those fans was grunge posterboy, Kurt Cobain. in those days all it took was a mention that Kurt loved your record, and major labels were biting and pulling each others hair to sign you. That is exactly what happened to RTX! The world's most-unsignable band was signed to Virgin Records in 1994. Jennifer said they laid out all their stipulations such as; retain ALL creative control, a HUGE signing bonus, tour buses, and basically they could release what they want without any input from the label, and those silly fuckers actually signed them!! The 5th record, and 1st for Virgin was called "Thank You", and it surprised/pissed off a lot of RTX fans. I'm sure it gained them quite a few as well. As I said, I had been a fan since the 2nd record, and I had no problem with Thank You at all. In fact, I loved it, it brought out a whole new sound for the band. People should have known they were not going to stick to the same sound for very long. The new Trux, for lack of a better term, and one that they used frequently in that period was a "Boogie Band". Very amped up Southern Rock, that sounded like the Black Crowes played by gutter punks. They had a full band, complete with two drummers, one of them was the son of Lynard Skynards drummer. Jennifer & Neil had also bought a big house in rural Virginia, built their own studio in it, and Jennifer could be seen driving around the sticks in a new Jaguar. Thank You sold reasonably well, but not for major label standards, and the tour was also well attended, despite most of the "indie-elite" calling them sell-outs. Perhaps they had forgotten what attracted them to RTX in the first place? For me, it was the sense that they would do whatever the fuck they wanted to, whenever! Now those same people were bustin their balls for doing just that. Myself, I listened to Thank You everyday for that whole year, I was obsessed by it. The lyrics were printed for the first time, and I loved them, they were morbidly fantastic. If they were "selling out" nobody else knew it. Radio sure didn't play any of the record, and ANY one of the 11 tracks could be played on Rock radio....ANY of them.
RTX walked back to Drag City like the conquering heroes that they were. The record that was completed and intended for release by Virgin, was called "Accelerator" and was immediately released by DC. Many people loved this record, and I though it was a very good & catchy ROCK record again, but I guess the fact that they were back on DC made the hipsters come around again. That's cool, because like I said it's a great record, the songs are (mostly) very short, verse chorus chorus, POP songs done in a very Hard Rock vein. Perhaps like Cats & Dogs without the experimentation? They went back out on tour, and I saw them on this tour. They were very tight and good, but the crowds seems to be smaller than they had been in years. I am sure that has to suck for a band that has being touring for years? Very shortly after that, they cranked out another record, this one called Veterans Of Disorder. Another fantastic record, very similar to Accelerator aside from a couple of songs in the experimental vein that had not been there since Cats & Dogs was released. I personally was very excited about this, as I love any version of RTX I can get, I like when they have a balance of good and catchy rock, and some seriously brain damaged, fucked up tunes. That was after all, what made me fall for them many years ago. I saw them again for the last time on this tour, and I said to a friend, "Jennifer looks fucked up". Maybe she wasn't, part of me wanted her to be, for the sake of the music, but most of me didn't want to see her go back to that life, and to hurt Neil. In another quick succession, the last Royal Trux record, Pound for Pound came out in 2000. It hung closely to the template of the last two records. amazing rock songs, and again some really spacey experimental songs. From what I have heard, the band started the tour, and did a few shows, and then cancelled the tour, and broke up. I had indeed been right, Jennifer was getting fucked up! She offered some excuses, like her Dad was ill, but she still broke their bond of nott getting fucked up!! She wanted to separate, take some time away from Neil and the band, and try to get it together. Neil said no, and I can't blame him. She then asked if they could keep the band, and the couple break up, again he said no, and that was all they wrote! I guess it's hard when a married couple are in a band together? It just sucks for all the fans that they couldn't keep it together. Neil, in a recent interview, said that he would NEVER do a RTX reunion, and that statement broke a small part of my heart. But at least we get two bands out of that one great one. After the break-up, Jennifer continued on as RTX(not Royal Trux, just the abbreviation), she got a new band, and carried on in the very Hard Rock period of the band. Some of it, in fact, is what you would call Cock-Rock, but handled with the usual Jennifer sleaze, it comes out great. She is also very clean now, although I do think she drinks, so that is a great thing. After 3 albums as RTX, she has just changed the name to Black Bananas. It's a mix of RTX, and very danceable funk sound, kind of like a sleazed up Sleigh Bells. I am digging it very much, indeed. Neil released 3 records under his own name, Neil Michael Hagerty, and then assembled a band and called it The Howling Hex. It is very challenging stuff, and holds true to the arty side of Royal Trux. I guess you can say Jennifer took the rock side, and Neil took the experimental side? The Howling Hex has several records under their belt, very prolific, and I think they have about 7 records already!! Well, it has been fun going over their history, and the romantic in me hopes that one day they will get back together, and fall in love, and make some of the most fucked up music that ever ruined my eardrums.