“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.