Written by John Payne
Their first long-player in 18 years thrusts infamous alterna-rock outlaws Royal Trux back into the public eye, and hey, it’s not exactly like they never left. No, their new White Stuff album (Fat Possum) is chockfulla the kind of ear-druggy surprises we’ve missed from these badass brutes in the intervening years, and the good news is they haven’t stopped evolving (didn’t say “maturing,” let’s not get carried away). Fronted by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor—a.k.a. singer-Moog/ guitar/melodica tooter Jennifer Herrema and guitarist-vocalist Neil Hagerty—the iconic band now bring an updated, heavily head-banging and wickedly weird Trux to the table, and we’ve just got to deal with it on their terms.
For Trux, it couldn’t have been easy picking up where they left off and having a go again in 2018. Or was it?
“Well, yes and no,” says Herrema. “When Neil and I started playing together [live] again two and half years ago, it was as if time had stopped, like, ‘Oh, here we are,’ and everything was great. But when it came to recording new material in the studio, it was more complicated, because in the past Neil and I had always lived and worked together, so we could just banter back and forth.”
The exigencies of modern so-called life determined that White Stuff would have to be created largely via long-distance communication, along with studio time spent together in beautiful downtown Burbank, CA.
“Now it was more like emailing stuff to each other, because Neil lives in Denver [Herrema is based in SoCal], and we had people guest-playing on the album who flew in for the sessions,” Herrema says. “And instead of Neil and I recording and producing it like we always do, we turned over those duties to a neutral party. In the end, it all worked out. But it was a crazy, crazy process.”
The sinister, lurid, hilarious and heartfelt White Stuff is a real return to the glories of the haywiredly eclectic sound that stamped Royal Trux so definitively on the ’90s alterna-rock map. Trux bring both their much-lauded primitive-intuitive raw power and fascinating Bitches Brew-type mashups culled from the pair’s contrasting interests in all things punk rock, hip-hop, jazz, metal, obscure noise and even world music, in songs like the thumping mid-tempo rockers “White Stuff” and “Every Day Swan.” “Suburban Junkie Lady” is a slowish, opiated thing with ace multitracked vocals and frigging congas at the song’s coda, and ambiguous-pop choon “Sic Em Slow” is an EZ-flowing rock/funk jam that manages to incorporate the sounds of a gamelan in its intro. Hagerty’s authentically rock-great flashy axe work on “Year of the Dog” is a joy, and along with the moody snake-guitar instrumentals “Purple Audacity #1” and “#2,” you get rapper Kool Keith throwing down with a stream-of-consciousnessing Herrema on “Get Used to This.”
In taking a hiatus on their Black Bananas and solo-album projects, respectively, Herrema and Hagerty have reforged a relationship that seemingly will never stop vibrating with creative resonance.
“The songs kind of push and pull at each other. It’s like they’re always in a fight, but they’re always finding a middle ground.”
“This album was completely built around weed,” Herrema adds. “That’s kind of why we were slower in the studio on this record, because we would ta ke these long extended weed breaks [laughs]. But that was all part of getting to the end result, which is this record. So it’s all good.”
The two Truxers prefer sativas, though Herrema says they end up doing hybrids a lot “because some of the sativas can get you a little stuck in your head round and round.” Favorite strains include Blue Dream and the mighty Tangie, though neither can boast what Herrema’s latest discovery, flash-frozen live-resin THCA, brings to the game. “It gets you pretty stoned,” she says, “but I swear whenever I smoke that stuff I can see everything so clearly. It actually improves your vision.” Herrema’s down with cannabis for live performances, too, unlike a lot of musicians who feel smoking prior to playing messes too much with their onstage focus. No problem, she says. “I never know what’s going to go on when we play live anyway!”
Originally published in the March, 2019 issue of High Times magazine. Subscribe right here.