photos by Amanda Millius
Neil Hagerty interview by Ben Dyment
We took your invitations
and shoved them down into your eye sockets one by one.
Fly on you fat bastards, fly on hot rod classics.
Out at the ballpark or up in your office
you're never alone while our work goes on.
False impressions are your grave, misdirections across the waves,
come back around to me.
-"(Edge Of The) Ape Oven"
If anybody claims they saw it coming, don’t believe ‘em. When rumours spread this past summer that a one-off Royal Trux reunion was to take place, a mixture of wonder and disbelief played out across channels. Was it an inside joke? A misquote? Could it really be happening? True to form, the group shuffled onto the Berserktown II Festival stage in August (in California), winding a path through a veritable collusion of their past glories. The music was witnessed, the recorded evidence on screen, but still it seemed more mirage than memento. Now the band has announced a second show, this time in December at New York’s Webster Hall. Recent truths spark fresh discourse, so we reached out to Neil Hagerty for the inside dirt.
Many thanks to the good folks at Drag City for making this happen.
PSF: What led to a reunion at this point in time? Would it be right to even consider it a ‘reunion’ in the traditional sense?
NH: Yeh, I think of it as a reunion. I don't really know how it happened, I've just been saying 'no, no, no' for so long. I did an interview just before we got the offer and I think I swore up and down it couldn't happen. But then the offer came in and it was really right on-- and I thought: it has been a really long time, long enough, maybe, that first terrible decade of the century is past, maybe it would be cool, all we gotta do is go out and play those old songs.
PSF: I’ve always thought of Royal Trux as being a particularly prescient band – not so much ‘ahead of its time,’ but always carrying a certain future-ready element within the music, especially on the first three albums. How do you see that work in today’s environment?
NH: It's the future now so there you go, there are a good set of songs we can pick out of the old records to fit any given mood of the week.
PSF: What’s it been like revisiting your older output for the shows? Do you still feel a connection to the initial mindset behind the work and the person who made it, or is there more of a permanent distance now?
NH: I'm grateful to us for setting up some nice tunes we can play, I'm glad we worked hard back then. I mean, I am the same, just the pressures of what I need to do nowadays are different.
PSF: Aside from the obvious differences, how do these shows compare to the Twin Infinitives one-off you did back in 2012? Is there less emphasis on being faithful to previous arrangements?
NH: Yes, the reunion thing is based on how we did things live throughout our original run and not based on re-creating the records, just playing the songs. The Twin Infinitives show, while that definitely opened the door for the possibility of this happening, was a thing for me where I wanted to do something that we never got a chance to do since we fell out for a while after that record happened, we never got a chance to play as that band. And I wanted to justify the music on that record too, demystify it maybe, ruin it for some people probably.
PSF: How did you and Jennifer decide on a rhythm section this time around? Are you planning to use the same people for the December show, or continue your shifting lineup tendencies?
NH: Right away I said to her, ‘you pick the bassist and I pick the drummer but it can't be someone that had played in Royal Trux ever before.’ That way it was kind of balanced as far allies etc. This will be the band that we will be as along as these shows go on.
PSF: Not to dig too far into old graves, but on your old website there used to be a page detailing a couple different parallel album trilogy concepts. Under the ‘Intensionality’ heading, you wrote: "intensionality- I think that you think that I think that you think that I &c. The method with these records is to use transparented forms of commercial music to nullify context/assumption as regards content. The structure (as it is with ANY commercially available recorded music) is the cultural commercial avenue. This trilogy also progresses in a counter revisionist historical mode through the mythic 60's-70's-80's (in the USA)." Do you still stand behind that, and if so, how effective do you think the records are today as products of this concept?
NH: That's right, when we did something, we had all this sub-structure that sort of replaced decision making so the music itself happened in a surprising way. But it isn't really what the records are about, it's just that when people tried to describe what Royal Trux was or was about that we knew there weren't any such intentions embedded in the records, the music. I liked to talk about that stuff sometimes too though because it seemed so pretentious and pissed people off but all we were doing ever was trying to make rock records that kept the wheel rolling on.
PSF: You’ve talked before about Howling Hex offering a more open-ended identity to work within. Now that you’re revisiting Royal Trux, do you find yourself having to re-adjust your playing or sensibilities to match your earlier self, or are you able to bridge the differences?
NH: In Trux, I just go out and play these old songs. With Howling Hex now, I am the guitarist from Royal Trux with my own group. It makes everything a lot less complicated.
PSF: Is there any particular era in the band’s history that still holds particular meaning/relevance for you?
NH: It all matters to me unfortunately because it was my life.
PSF: What keeps you motivated to keep creating at such a constant level?
NH: I don't know, there's always more to do, it's like trying to solve the Furstenberg Conjecture except it's about eternal grooves and jams not ergodicity.
PSF: Are there any future plans for the reunion that you’re willing to divulge?
NH: No, we are just going show by show ‘til no one cares.
PSF: Do you feel as though you’ve built up a core audience over the years, both within bands and alone? Do you find that they tend to move with you throughout your various trajectories?
NH: I don't know, I get uncomfortable thinking about it. I've managed to make a living this whole time so that's as far as I let my mind wander.
PSF: How much sway does harmelodics still carry within your musical identity?
NH: I have to say it is everything to me, it just keeps making a lot of sense.
PSF: you’ve maintained a strong relationship with Drag City since its inception. How involved were they with your decision to do the August show?
NH: Oh yes, they were in the middle right away. Dan is the go-between, sometimes Jennifer and I shouldn't talk directly to each other.
PSF: Is there a particular Trux album that still sticks with you more so than the rest?
NH: Naw, it changes. I don't know what to make of it all sometimes. We're doing about 1 song from each record so I combed thru them all again. Thank You really stood out as a strange record to me for some reason.
PSF: I’ve had a particular fixation with the second untitled album for years – was the decision to strip the sound down to its barest elements and introduce acoustic guitars a conscious effort to distance yourself from the Twin Infinitives sound/style, or did it happen more by chance? I’ve heard shows from the 1990 tour where the third album tracks sounded much closer to TI and I’ve always wondered when the changes came in.
NH: It got down to me and Jennifer and some electronics stuff by ‘90, we liked Suicide and the synth pop duos like Yaz and thought we might go that way. But we both went into rehab and I thought that was it for a while, so I wrote some songs just for acoustic guitar, figuring I'd probably have to go do something like that. When it was time to record & start touring, actual touring was one thing we hadn't done much of so that was going to be the new part of it, we were hanging out again and so we did those old songs and my new ones and it made sense to do it all that way because they could be played live pretty easily with guitars & drums. Almost the reverse of how Twin Infinitives developed.
PSF: Would it be right to think of a lot of Trux music as being inherently non-linear?
NH: Sure, that's harmolodic to me, like there needs to be this skin of sound in rock where you can bob your head and never feel let down by it-- but it can all be put together from discrete sounds and unrelated ideas with a pulse in each that is similar to the thing that ends up next to it. People said we were deconstructionists or something back in the ‘80’s but it's really the other way, building a rock front up with little pieces of tin and chunks of cinder block. It grew during the pre-digital playback era of that continuous wave in the groove, the structural linearity was the band on the vinyl.
Also see our 1999 interview with Jennifer Herrema about Royal Trux,
our interview with Jennifer about RTX, and our 2015 Royal Trux article
and our 2017 article/rant/meditation about Royal Trux
photos by Amanda Millius
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