With wild performances, a tumultuous relationship, drugs, and genuine style, Royal Trux's Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty offered an authentic alternative to '90s alt-rock. From 1987 to 2001, the then-couple made beloved albums such as Twin Infinitives and Pound for Pound and performed memorable antics that placed them in the dictionary under "fuck it." They once used an album advance from the label Matador to buy drugs and then signed to Virgin, kicked drugs, and returned to their old label, Drag City.
The band split when the couple broke up. Hagerty became the Howling Hex, and Herrema took the title RTX. They recently reunited and released a compilation of those performances, Platinum Tips + Ice Cream. Now they're headed to Miami for Look Alive Fest, joining Detroit experimental noise act Wolf Eyes, former Coil member Drew McDowall, Chicago avant-gospel group Ono, Miami's Wastelands, and the Siamese Pearl. Launched in 2013, the festival coincides with Miami Art Week and introduces the city to genuinely cool groups with cult followings.
"It’s an honor to host Royal Trux this year," festival founder Andrew McLees says. "Since the late '80s, Jennifer and Neil’s vision has proven as authentic, uncompromising, and singular as rock gets. Look Alive Fest is proud to introduce them to South Florida."
The pair recently spoke with New Times about their hiatus, getting clean, and Herrema's influence on fashion.
New Times: How has it been making/playing music together?
Royal Trux:Energy is the same, but we have more ways to use it now. Since we went so far apart, we cover a lot more territory now. The dynamic is good now. I think we respect what we can do now a little more than before.
What do you think about the way that music has evolved since the late '80s when you began?
I can't imagine that anything would be as it is now had we not done the work we did throughout the '90s.Taking us out of that time period and contextualizing or imagining us as artists just starting to produce work now in 2017 is a moot point... The now would not exist as it does without Royal Trux setting the table in the past. The present landscape could and would never be as it is.
That being said, things seem as far away from people as they used to, like they need a guiding hand. We feel very at home now that things have deteriorated back to '80s levels of need, and we’re glad there's a little less reward to keep away frauds moreover.
How has getting clean affected the way you make music?
Well, hey, it should show you we can do what we want to do; we’re not stray dogs completely.
Jennifer, what role does fashion play in your performance?
I like fashion, but the only role it ever played was one of creating a visual sense of gender neutrality and eschewing costumes. I’ve been consistent and utilitarian since my late teens. I suppose it read as fashion at the start given that there was no one else presenting as I did. Hockey and football jerseys were not in fashion and could only be purchased at sporting goods stores as opposed to Barney's. [Laughs] My “look” is everywhere now, schoolteachers, dental assistants, soccer moms. The Pinterest, Insta world is filled with people dressed like me — whether they are aware of it or not — and stylists rip me off all the time. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so lazy and they were not getting paid.
I must confess, though, that when designing for my own line with skate/lifestyle brand Volcom starting seven years ago, I created items for myself to wear which were then sold to the masses, so I take a bit of responsibility for making certain items so readily available to shoppers. I was named 2010 “Denim Designer of the Year” in the Los Angeles Times' year-end fashion edition, so imitation followed and I saw my “designs” coming from all directions and companies. I had tagged my first collection as unisex, but as so often happens, it was too soon for sales reps to wrap their heads around. Unisex is a huge buzzword in fashion now; so are hockey jerseys and Champion hoodies. I knew they would be someday, but I didn’t think it would be multimillionaires and disposable pop stars that would be inadvertently following the road I started paving at 16 years old. This is not me being an egomaniac; these things are based in fact and nonsubjective.
Do you have any regrets in your career, musically or in business?
Have you been to Churchill's?
No, never been. Don't know what to expect, but every stage we take is an anything-goes stage.
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Liz Tracy has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, Refinery29, W, Glamour, and, of course, Miami New Times. She was New Times Broward-Palm Beach's music editor for three years. Now she plays one mean monster with her 2-year-old son and obsessively watches British mysteries.