Royal Trux: “We thought we were avant-garde, but now I guess we’re classic rock"

A shot of royal trux

“We started off thinking we were avant-garde, but now I guess we’re classic rock,” drawls Neil Hagerty, former guitarist with Pussy Galore and now one half of Royal Trux. He and Jennifer Herrema – former stripper, face of Calvin Klein’s ‘heroin chic’ campaign and lecturer in southern rock – were alt.rock’s premier power couple, creating a slew of albums comprising left-field noise and deconstructed boogie. They could have been post-Nirvana contenders but they did things their way. Now, 17 years after their last album, RT are back with a live album and a tour.

Can you remember the first day you met, in 1985?

Jennifer Herrema: I was in high school and Neil was in a band called Jet Boys Of The North West. He was the best guitarist/singer I’d ever seen – like Neil Young and Mick Jagger in one body. He grabbed me and went: “Will you be my girlfriend? We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Neil Hagerty: She was like David Bowie, because she had this ability to transform, chameleon-like.

How about the first day of your reunion, thirty years later?

JH: When I broke up with Neil and Royal Trux, people said: “You guys love each other, what the fuck are you doing?” But we’d been together since we were teenagers. I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes I was making, like when I’d go back to drugs. I had to cut the cord.

NH: She patted me on the head, like a dog, and that was it. Everything was cool again.

Jennifer, you were a wild child and then some.

JH: My parents were very permissive, so I got up to all sorts. When I moved to New York I was kind of MIA. Then I got really sick in San Francisco – I had an infection in my hand from needles, and I was told I might have to have it amputated… After years of not speaking to my mum I told her the whole scenario, and she was so happy that I was on drugs and I wasn’t just crazy.

Was it mainly heroin?

Heroin was the one I had to get multiple times a day. I was living in a homeless shelter for a time, and Neil was on the streets, and then we’d get fucked up again. Then I woke up with my best friend – she was dead – lying on top of me and I kind of lost it. I checked into a place for psychiatric care.

Are you the only rocker who has been a stripper and a lecturer at Princeton?

Yup. I didn’t do stripping because I thought it would be glamorous, it was out of fuckin’ necessity. I never worked at any of the fancy places where you had to behave; there’d be people shooting up in the bathroom.

In the post-Nirvana goldrush, could Royal Trux have been huge?

JH: Well, if we’d been different people. People say we cut off our nose to spite our face, but we cut off our nose because it was in the way! There were a lot of things we didn’t want to do.

Do The Kills and the White Stripes owe you?

JH: Recognition, maybe, but not their bank accounts. A lot of the artistic decisions that made them a lot of money, we would have never done.

Platinum Tips + Ice Cream is released on June 16 via Domino. Royal Trux play London Electric Ballroom on June 1.

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Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.