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"People aren't so simple, not even musicians"

For a couple of reasons, one of which is the Drag City reissue of the mighty 'Singles, Live, Unreleased'
the other of which is the soon-come arrival of Jennifer Herrema's new band Black Bananas

Here be something I wrote way back during Halloween in the previous millenium. I interviewed Jennifer in the Columbia Hotel in London. She was the only guest I ever met staying there who LOOKED as rock'n'roll as the hotel's reputation. One of the few, true SUPERSTARS (i.e who exuded superstardom) I ever met, for which I will perhaps excuse her dodgy politics, until it can be confirmed to me exactly how dodgy they are.

ROYAL TRUX: Interview By Neil Kulkarni October 31st 2000.

"If people thought we were dumb, we took the cheque and agreed with them. We're free. They're not. Who loses?"

Damn good question. Royal Trux are adored by so many people now it's difficult to defend them, difficult to find some way of protecting them from misunderstanding when so much of the misguided mythology that follows them around is part of what appeals to so many. Frustratingly, never has a band needed so much demystification: in reading any of the sparse press acclaim they receive you wonder if RTX's obscurantism, their shadowy half-presence in the ether (helped by Neil Hagerty's wintry land-lubber silence and partner Jennifer Herrema's glam-rap sartorial steel) is deliberately contrived in order to keep that mystery unpinned, free to roam the imaginations of every listener.

Say little and people will create your mythology for you so long as the records continue to be so suggestive to that myth, and what information you do know neither confirms or denies any abstruse overthink you care to lose yourself in. So we all know RTX's place: two ex-junkie New York noiseniks emerging from a swamp of scagged-out abjection to the infinite space of Virginia to keep kookily turning out the same record in peaceful bucolic/boho seclusion. It all fits, it all allows you to stop thinking beyond awe, to file them neatly in the 'eccentric genius' bin and wait for the next transmission.

And it's all bullshit. And it doesn't square with my love. I find it difficult to believe, even for a second, in the supposed chaos that RTX reportedly revel in: that would be too predictable, too neatly sewn up from sound to crowd and back again- there's a rupture to an RTX record that has nothing to do with neat notions of auterism, that's just too damn perfect to happen by accident or simply emerge from the wreckage of just the right blend of chemical derangement. Jennifer is talking in London.

Myth one that needs skewering to the floor: RTX are a drug band.
"I guess it's just a lot easier for people to write us off as casualties: that way they can admire what we do vicariously but no further than that."

"That's fine, but the damage drugs do really has nothing to do with the way we make music, we certainly don't feel washed out or like we're fading away in happy, quirky recovery. Without a doubt the experiences we've been through have contributed to who we are but it's always seen as such a one way thing. People aren't so simple, not even musicians!! So there's an acceptance of your past but also a refusal carried with it, a desire to strike out completely transformed. All of it's there, but I think the way we look and the way we're portrayed doesn't help people get over the stereotypes."

She's walked into the hotel bar wearing the Jennifer Herrema wardrobe, neon-blue leather jacket, white fucked-up punk t-shirt, hip-hop jeans, snakeskin stilettos, huge gay-cop shades: what's weird is that the giggly cartoon-objectification she's received from London's grey combat-wearing media-elite for the last few years really does emerge as totally misplaced. It all suits her. That's why she wears it. And as soon as she opens her mouth and starts talking you realise something you'd never known before: she's normal, she's articulate, she's smarter than you and everything you've heard about RTX has been bullshit written by easily scandalised public-school prefects.

Myth two. RTX are walking, talking relics of some hoary old realer-than-the-rest vintage rock'n'roll insanity.

"Personally I think we operated as a model of how a band on a major label should act, and right now I think we're having an effect that most bands our size would find difficult to achieve. We put out exactly the albums we wanted to on Virgin [a stormy three-album deal that gave Trux "Thank You" (1995), "Sweet Sixteen " and a large cheque], took them for everything we could get, played the stock exchange to make it stick and basically created a scenario in which we can still live the lives we want to. We've organised our lives so we can dedicate our time to Trux and still have enough around us to keep us absorbed in other ways."

"You can't achieve that if you're fucked up all the time, you can't do any of what we've done unless you have a plan, a theory, an organisation. The way we're talked about it's as if our records are lucky to get made, as if it just kind of blobs out of us like grog. But every album had a point, every album changed and took on something else that we wanted to do. It's really been very contrived, deliberately so, finding that mid-point between what you want to do and what can just happen, the sounds that you can't control or predict or notice until they're on the tape like ghosts. But even an album like 'Sweet Sixteen', which so many people wrote off as a mess, we were just livid, we could see it all, this massive epic structure that just got derided as a piece of shit. That album really did decide us on whether we'd ever listen to critics. We do. Until we know they're wrong."

And perhaps that's the most frightening thing about Trux: the idea that these sonic monoliths, the plastic they make, didn't happen by accident. The moment when you realise that something so untrammelled and seemingly possessed by some arcane spirit of artistic malevolence is actually done in an entirely generous spirit might be the moment most people stop being interested in RTX. For me, it's the starting point of falling in love (rather than lust) with them - coupled with any chance you get to see them live, cos every time they change your life, every time you realise you've never seen a band so evil, so dangerous, so transcendent and so dirty, so glorious, so good.

Far from being just some pulp fusion of rock's coolest peaks, far from turning a disbelievers penchant for mix'n'match reference and studied style-collage into perfect facsimiles of belief, Trux are documentarians of their own lives and the perceptions of others. And they're honest about it to the point that their intellect isn't denied, that their groins aren't denied, that nothing is denied a place bar what doesn't work, what they feel in their bones isn't lethally accurate to that essentially honest project of describing their reaction to the times we live in. I reckon.

"Lyrics are hard for people. If they listen they'll hear what we hear, see what we see. We're pretty much writing songs about everyone around us, and they aren't living the rock and roll life. They could be at a gas station, in a bar, in an office, anywhere."

"But we see them and we try to imagine their lives, try to talk about them in a way that isn't patronising or reductive. Like, Harmony Korine is the usual spoiled artistic take on everyday life, that transformation of the everyday into some kind of freakshow where the middle-class and the smartasses can spin off on mundanity, either thinking it holds something profound in it, or just cos they think the whole thing's fucking laughable.

"I watched 'Gummo' and I felt like a participant in snobbery. We really aren't that cynical yet, or rather, we came through that kind of attitude to realise how wrong it was, how short it sold things. Rock is based on moments of simplicity. We just base our music on moments where a dozen ideas are happening at once. Because that's how we feel, that's how we rationalise our existence."

All of which has very little to do with being 'rock'n'roll incarnate' or any other such bullshit that sucks so much life out of RTX's suggestiveness and reach. It's the reductive dead-end of so much Trux-acclaim that irritates: the way their records are snipped off mid-launch to be decoded and coped with as the easily contained babble of 'genius', of 'maverick' talent. "Pound For Pound" sent me back an era, forward an eternity, but most pointedly fixed me here, made me feel the terse tectonic rub of time and culture that makes up being here now. And "Sunshine And Grease", the new single, is pretty much a perfectly etched cross-section of the pulls forward, the push back, the dazzle of surface and the undeniable warmth of soul that goes into any moment when pop works. Nobody is looking at music, at life, at art, at love, at the whole modern dance, as clearly as RTX right now: the only band around who believe in rock enough to fuck with it as it so righteously deserves, the only band around with just the right mix of tenderness and tyranny to make their experiment a living breathing index of a livable life.

"It's easy to write about us out in the woods as some kind of refugees from reality. Other bands deny that they're making products, deny that their audience are believing lies, deny that consumerism has anything to do with people's decisions to buy their products, deny that what's going on in pop music is a hell of a lot more complicated than the simple communication of one blank soul to another. We don't deny any of that and we're the demented ones? We don't care about probably not having the audience we aimed for: everything we do to alienate our audience just makes them like us more. If they want myths, we'll be quiet enough to let them carry on the fantasy. We work in 2-D. We'd just like people to know there's more to it than they think."

Meaning RTX have a future, that they're not just a glorious brick wall to slam against whenever they spring up. A whole way of being is there if you want it. "Pound For Pound" and "Sunshine And Grease" are their newest ways up, against and out of your own limits. Follow the leaders.


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