From the noisy demise of underground kingpins P**sy Galore came two interesting bands. The first was Jon Spencer's blues deconstruction unit, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; the second was Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema's dissonant junkie nightmare known as Royal Trux. Interestingly, both bands started out as avant-noise combos playing little that resembled traditional rock & roll. That doesn't mean the music they made was bad; it was rather a little difficult to figure out when they were really into it or simply pulling your chain. What's amazing is that after a protracted period of making harsh, nearly inaccessible records, both bands, by the mid-'90s, were making records that sounded like '70s rock, only with gobs more attitude and noise.
Early Royal Trux records (two self-titled records and Twin Infinitives) are, to say the least, extreme. Herrema and Hagerty play mostly beat-to-hell, thrift-store guitars, howl over the noise, and let a crappy little drum machine keep a beat. Both were raging junkies, and running the risk of turning this into a tabloid piece, the music sounds it. It's messy, self-indulgent, and on-the-nod, but's it's also jarring, exciting, and full of potential. Both Herrema and Hagerty "play" like they couldn't care less about what they were doing (and they probably couldn't), but there's a spark here -- maybe an accidental one, but a spark that makes these messy chunks of distortion more interesting than your average underground rant, although it's not what you'd call friendly, inviting music. Most wouldn't even consider it music.
Although their drug problems escalated (in a fit of Miles Davis-inspired bravado, Herrema and Hagerty allegedly spent a recording advance by their label, Drag City, on smack, only to ask the impoverished indie label for more money to make the record), they eventually got sober around the time of Cats and Dogs, their most lucid recording for Drag City. Now employing three other musicians and sounding like an honest-to-God rock band, Royal Trux was making music that sounded grimy and raunchy, the way the Stones did in the mid-'70s. It was an amazing and unexpected turnaround, but well worth the wait. After exhibiting a little stability, Royal Trux were gobbled up by Virgin as part of the post-Nirvana/Pearl Jam alternative rock signing frenzy. While purists were hissing sellout (as they always do), Royal Trux hooked up with Neil Young-producer David Briggs and cut Thank You, a great, greasy glob of lo-fi rock fueled by cigarettes and junk food. Hagerty's guitar playing still gleefully wandered into noiseland, but he was just as likely to cough up a '70s hard rock riff or two. Herrema actually sang, but her voice still hadn't improved much beyond a one-octave cat-growl. Sweet Sixteen followed in 1997, after which Virgin dropped the group and released tapes of 1998's Accelerator to the duo's previous label, Drag City. Veterans of Disorder followed a year later, and in mid-2000 Royal Trux returned with Pound for Pound. After a tumultuous second half of that year, which included family illness and the cancellation of most of their tour dates, Royal Trux disbanded. However, Hagerty released several solo albums and Herrema reformed the band as RTX with two other musicians and released The Transmaniacon in fall 2004. ~ John Dougan, Rovi