Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Jebus presents ... Neil Hagerty Royal Trux Howling Hex
"I wish I had a thousand bucks/I wish I was the Royal Trux" - from "Death of an Heir of Sorrow" by the Silver Jews
As a teenager in the 90s, Royal Trux were kind of my Velvet Underground. They had a similar kind of cool underground feel with surface hints of the avant-garde, a we're going to do whatever we want and it's going to be artsy and self-conscious in a rock context. The Velvet Underground went on to influence pretty much every decent rock band to come out after them, and, eventually, were inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. Neil Haggerty, the god behind the Royal Trux, hasn't had that problem.
The first time I heard Royal Trux was on a mix tape a friend made me, which must have been 1995. The song was "Map of the City" from the album Thank You. The song stood out because it didn't seem to fit in any particular category that I was used to, and the lyrics, although melodic and even catchy in places, were sometimes sinister too: "I knew right then I could love her forever even when her breasts were all rotted with cancer," and sometimes absurd: "A sailor has to masturbate until the ship lands/a lot of things happen out on the open sea/I'm gonna sell Arizona to Japan," and even kind of ethereal: "I'm drawing up a plan for the city with ten thousand crooked stairs/some lead up to heaven, some look through you like you're not even there." So I went and bought their albums.
Royal Trux released their first album in 1988, with Hagerty as guitar player/ singer/ multi- instrumentalist and then girlfriend Jennifer Herrenna as singer/multi-instrumentalist. Their second album, 1990's Twin Infinitives, was straight up avant-garde, discordant experimentation - tape loops, spoken word, noise, etc. On their third album (Untitled, 1992) they had begun to develop more of what would become their sound via a low-fi approach. The album has a stripped-down dirty country-rock feel (kind of), via crackly acoustic guitars drenched here and there in distorted guitar fuzz and melodic rambling vocals. Their fourth album, Cats and Dogs, is where they started to really sound like a band. They hired a drummer, guitarist and bass player, and a lot fans consider it to be their best album. The songs on Cats and Dogs are far from polished, but they are a little more cohesive, and Hagerty had begun to delve into an ongoing exploration of 70s rock, albeit from a distance, that would mark the rest of their albums. Songs like "Turn of the Century" and "Teeth" are really awesome. They were subsequently signed to Virgin Records for a short stint (the record company was looking for some hip credibility) and they moved to a farmhouse in Virginia. Their next nine albums would continue to explore 70s rock aesthetic, going deep into guitar-riff based songs on some, jam-type stuff on others, arty collage stuff here and there, always with a distance and enough discordant noise to keep it conceptual enough to retain a cool art factor.
By the time Cats and Dogs had come out (1993) Royal Trux had started to gain a reputation as a semi-underground cool band. Their coolness came partially from their unique sound, a blend of 70s rock and the low-fi indie stuff that was happening in the early 90s. It didn't hurt that the latter was becoming popular, through bands like Smog, Palace, Sebedoh, Pavement, Guided by Voices, The Silver Jews, etc. However, the Royal Trux didn't quite fit in with those bands' sound, mostly because of their 70s rock thing: a "Sticky Fingers"/"Exile on Main Street"-era Stones/Joe Walsh aesthetic filtered through the low-fi indie mode. Grunge had recently "broke" a few years earlier, and it also embraced a 70s guitar rock-type aesthetic (mostly via Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin, Cheap Trick, NY and London 70s punk, etc), but Royal Trux did not fit in there either - even less so, actually. This added to their outsider factor. Also, they openly talked about their heroin use in interviews, which I guess made them seem kind of snarky and rebellious. They looked pretty cool too, indifferent: Hagerty with his shallow pale face, brooding, spaced-out look, Jennifer Herrenna with her sexy, rock god fuck-you look. Haggerty was one of the few indie guitarists at the time (along with J Mascis, for one), who could get away with occasional guitar- god style rhythms and solos, this at a time when overt displays of chops were seen as kind of passé - but it worked because it made his stuff seem like he either didn't give a shit about what other bands were doing or like he was smart enough not to emulate them.
Around 2000, Hagerty and Herrenna broke up, thus ending the Royal Trux. Since then, Hagerty recorded some with Ian Svenonius on his project Weird War, he did a few solo things, but mostly he has been recording and playing under the moniker The Howling Hex with various people. I love the Howling Hex.
In retrospect, Hagerty via Royal Trux was important to me because he filled a certain hole that other low-fi indie artists weren't at the time. I was all about that stuff. LIke a lot of kids, I craved something that seemed new and authentic. Before this, the closest I came was gangster rap, bands like NWA, the Ghetto Boys, Too Short, etc. I think Smog was the first indie lo-fi thing I heard. I really loved Smog, and Callahan's stuff was gritty, smart, minimalist, idiosyncratic and artsy enough to come close to what I craved, but Hagerty had all of that and rocked too, and his playing off of Herrenna added something that a solo artist would miss. Also, he seemed kind of arrogant and egotistical, or at least indifferent (I don't know if he was - he actually probably wasn't), which I liked as a young dude.
Last I'd read, Hagerty had moved to New Mexico, which added to his outsider persona. I hadn't thought about Hagerty for a while and then, last July, I thought of him. I googled his name and read that he now lives in Denver Colorado (where I live) and that his current incarnation of the Howling Hex was playing every Thursday that month at a dive bar a mile from my house. This was completely random and a big surprise. The next night I went to see them.
I didn't recognize Hagerty at first because I was used to seeing pics of him grimacing behind long hair hanging in his face and I expected him to look kind of middle-aged and haggard at this point in his life. But he was sitting in a booth talking energetically to some guys (his two bandmates), clean-cut and looking about 25-years-old. He was skinnier than I imagined, for some reason, even though he was always skinny in pics I had seen of him. I probably could have talked to him, since the place was pretty empty, but whenever I'm around people I admire I never know what to say. So I just drank a beer and waited for them to play.
It was me and about five other guys my age, alone, watching Howling Hex. It was amazing. Here is a pic I took on my phone of Hagerty playing):
There is tons more to know about Hagerty - e.g., he's written and published a book, his work with Pussy Galore, producer, his current obsession with noterna music, etc. The above stuff is just my personal, and limited, experience with his work. Here are some good interviews that go more into depth:
Here are some of my favorite Royal Trux, Hagerty and Howling Hex songs that I was able to find on youtube:
p.s. Hey. Today we get a really beautiful and, if you're not already familiar with the Trux/Hex genius of Neil Hagerty, downright humanitarian guest-post from d.l. Jebus. It's a thrill and a couple of million, so please take advantage and enjoy. Thank you so very kindly, Jebus. ** Misanthrope, You call that ass of yours lazy? ** David Ehrenstein, It was exquisite, David. 'TTT', that is. Is NPH's involvement enough to get you in that spooky house? I guess I don't see you a spooky house kind of guy, but it's not really so unlike The Living Theater with more mascara and without the seats. ** Alan, Hey. Thanks for that option tip. That precisely fixed most of the problems. Why would anyone want to work with that tiresome *br* thing anyway? ** xTx, Maybe it's the Halloween season that's making it creep. I'm in LA from Nov. 3 to Nov. 21. After the usual first few days of zombie-fying jetlag, I should start to be raring to go. Save me some hours. Wow, you'd never seen 'TCSM' before? Is it not a DIY masterpiece of a little thing? ** Steevee, That's interesting. I definitely would have thought it'd be mostly all Connery all the time. But I don't get the Daniel Craig appeal at all. He just seems like he's there and not much else. After reading that near-perfect review of the Kendrick Lamar, I'm definitely going to check that out. That plus your positive add makes it sound quite amazing. I'll give Sinister Servant a listen too. Thank you so much! ** Wolf, Hey. Well, I don't know. I think the idea was they were protecting me from them, so I don't know if that was for my sake or for theirs. Hunh, self-protective ... Yeah, I guess so. Feels much less so these days, at least in some respects. I was kind of looking to break that protection down with the Tarot thing, but c'est la. Certainly the reading was interesting because it was very pragmatic like I am. Can't say that I wasn't desperately hoping the cards would magically form George's name or something, but it was basically saying George is in the work now and not elsewhere. Big if very, very painful duh right there. Your pendulum really intrigues me. Bring to Paree next time. SPD + Wolf = victoire! ** Robert-nyc, Mega-niceness about the poeming. I was kind of hoping so, obviously. Hunh, why is the party called Cheryl. It's nice: Cherylween. There's a grace in its kind of dumbness or something. Grace Jones! That has to be really something. I've never seen her live, but a bunch of my buddies saw her on tour last year or whenever and were very satisfied. My novel proceeds. No Halloween in Paris that I know of, just the no doubt blah EuroDisneyland makeover. I haven't given up searching though. But I might just have to go see 'Looper', which opens that day, and pretend. ** ASH, Hi, man. Oh, I read about that Tully's spooky house thing when I was making the post yesterday. It didn't make the cut, obviously. That system does sound annoying. Wtf?! No Halloween plans yet, but not for a lack of wanting plans. London was quick, but quite nice. I just got the new Pinback yesterday. Yeah, it's a fucking dream. I want to 'strangle' that lazy-brained bore who wrote the Pitchfork review. ** Pascal, Hey! Shit, two things that I am slugging myself on the head with a mallet to be missing. Everyone, and more exactly those of you in London and its accessible environs, d.l. Pascal has two excellent, excellent event tips for you. Here he is to tell you all about them: 'I’d like to share two things that might be of interest to your London people: Firstly a poetry reading I’ve organized with poets Sarah Crewe and Tommy peeps. It’s 16 poets reading new work inspired by Sonic Youth. It’s this Friday 26th October in Stoke Newington and here’s the link. Secondly the Poetry Library Poetic Censorship Open Day at the Royal Festival Hall in Southbank Centre on Nov 18th will have a special section on New Narrative including your very own Little Caesar magazine and other great and rare stuff worth perusing. Here’s the link.' Actually, your second link was broken, so I found a replacement, but I don't know it's the same one or as good as yours. Novel is very tough, but I'm okay all in all, thank you. Very good luck getting through the friends' and family crises. Hugs. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Oh, opth, eyes, duh, I should have gotten that. 'The science of eyes' is a cool word/idea combo, or maybe that's just me. I'm very glad you flew through it. Nice flyer, ha ha. Everyone, if you click this, you can both see the lovely Yuck n Yum flyer designed by our own _B_A and, just as importantly, learn the deadline for submissions to the next issue of that finest of the fine zines of the world. Hit it. ** Sypha, Well, yeah, vomiting gives much more personal information about him, and it creates empathy, which I can't say I feel all so very often towards him. Never have read the 'Illuminatus' trilogy. Have always meant to. I had a boyfriend who read it in bed with me, and I looked over his shoulder at it a bit, that's as close as I've gotten. ** Postitbreakup, Fuck tomes. Long tomes, at least. I go there, but only when I have to. I did sneak a twink or three through my bedroom window, although they were called ... hm, they didn't really have a name back then. One of them fell off the lattice/ladder while leaving and twisted his ankle. Served him right. ** 5STRINGS, No allergies at all?Wow, your genes are the genetic equivalent of skinny jeans. Stockton, ha ha, really? Not sure what the 'stay away' thing was about. It seems like the cards were being nice to me by saying that, but you know me. I think almost everybody and everything is nice. Thank you about my book, man. God knows, but I'm chasing the best possible outcome. ** Frank Jaffe, Hey Frank! Great about you guys and the SPD! Oh, Sereen, I know (of) him. He's hilarious. And he's been saying he's 19 for about eight years now. The election is scaring me almost totally to death. I'm going to LA to vote and to either celebrate or join the mass suicide event afterwards. Vichyssoise is a magic word. Oh, wow, that photo of me on 'Safe'. That was taken during the four days of my post-childhood life when I parted my hair on the side. The front cover photo featuring my lovely ex- Rob is much better. Luke's coming over here! Why? Is he going to give me the great pleasure of meeting and hanging out with him? Cool, if so, and, well, I guess if not too, for him at least, but cooler if so. ** Bollo, Hi, J! Okay, yeah, I'll get my head back into eBook suggesting mode. Give me a day. I saw those show pix on FB. They looked great! I mean your stuff looked great, and they did their job! Oh, ugh, on the social welfare, man. At least you're one of the jet-settiest social welfare guys out there. Paris is nippy, but it's a nice nippy, I think. ** Okay, go back upstairs and hang out with Neil Hagerty and Jebus now, yes? Here's your daily 'Send me Halloween SPD entries' nudge. See you tomorrow.
Posted by Dennis Cooper at 9:59 AM