The late 1980s saw the great migration of music that had once been the domain of college radio (at least in North America) - typified by bands like the Pixies, and Nirvana - into the mainstream. In its wake, it dragged a few true outbursts of weirdness.

On the outskirts of that strangeness lurked Royal Trux, formed by Pussy Galore guitarist Neil Hagerty and his girlfriend Jennifer Herrema. At the time of its release, its lo-fi, discordant hustle seemed like the disturbed output of two people with nothing better to do messing around. That hasn’t changed much over the years, but with the expansion of lo-fi and noise rock, Royal Trux’s early work now seems more like a trendsetting first wave, which is reason enough for the band’s U.S. and U.K. labels to reissue their early work.

The Domino Recording Company’s rerelease of the band’s first four albums don’t add anything to the package - the idea of remastered or demo versions of these tracks is somewhat amusing. It does, however, give newcomers to the outsider music scene a better shot at obtaining the band’s output.


'Royal Trux' (1988)

The band’s first, untitled album saw the light of day in 1988 on the duo own Royal Records label, but its first dissemination to a wider public was with Drag City’s first release in 1993 - in the wake of yet another untitled album and ‘Twin Infinitives’. Its lyrics made oblique references to hard drugs, historical blood (for example, ‘Andersonville’ and ‘Jesse James’) and sleazy living, all unsafely wrapped in a cowl of incoherence. Although its sixteen tracks and forty eight minutes aren’t the most noteworthy artistic statement of the band’s existence, it does provide a liftoff point for the band’s slow journey to coherence.

Indeed, Royal Trux’s debut may be one of the least focused efforts ever put to analog tape. Even the song titles are listed in the wrong order on the record sleeve.

The album’s kickoff, ‘Bad Blood’, with its barely diatonic, scrambled guitar, splits the difference between the world’s most inept bluesman and outside rock in the vein of Jandek, while Hagerty chants, “Bad bad, bad blood, bad blood/Yes, bad blood is going to fall over you.”

As often as not the band didn’t even bother composing lyrics, with tracks like ‘Hashish’ feature more deviant guitar plucking trailed by out-of-sync piano plinking.

‘Zero Dok’ seems a little more stable, with Herrema’s bitter growl providing a stream of consciousness rant over duelling, scratching guitars.

The music isn’t particularly earbleeding - ‘Bits and Spurs’ has a stumbling lope to it and some pleasantly intermittent percussion.

Then there’s the aforementioned ‘Jesse James’, with what passes for the album’s duet - first Hagerty’s laconic song-chant, then Herrema’s drug rant, all garnished with madcap flute.

Taken as a whole, the album suggests a great deal of drug-fuelled improvisation.


'Twin Infinitives' (1990)

On their next album, ‘Twin Infinitives’ - originally released in 1990 - the band kept the incoherence but dispensed with what little user-friendly sonics there were.

Some Trux fans admire it for its absolute refusal to sound pleasant, others as an ‘Experimental’ icon, but it probably deserves more respect as the landmark just before the band decided to make a record where the songs were written before recording - the last expulsion of poison.

It kicks off with cheap synthesizer sounds, Hagerty’s deranged street preacher riff blurting out over Herrema’s wandering moan on ‘Solid Gold Tooth’, which burbles away to the buzz, screech and plunking guitar of ‘Ice Cream’ - its lyrics about “Injecting with sweet cream” keeping up the drugs, guns and nodding off in the streets keeping faith with the band’s original junkie vibe.

Herrema sounds a little more coherent and ‘Jet Pet’, even if the microphone she’s singing into sounds like it’s been dropped on the floor a few too many times and Hagerty’s distorted guitar and scratching make for another unpleasant ‘musical’ background.

Childish tooting and percussion and what sounds like random attempts at funk guitar lead into ‘RTX-USA’ while ‘Kool Down Wheels’ - the last song on the first side of the double LP, for those keeping track on vinyl, highlights another stumbling Hagerty vocal of organ and some Herrema’s vocals phased beyond recognition.

On the middle two sides of the original double LP, the band stretches things out a bit (the third side was entirely given over to the 15-minute, ‘Edge of the Ape Oven’) but stick to their previous disregard for comprehensible lyrics or playing in time, though the krautrock immolation of ‘Yin Jim Vs. The Vomit Creature’ does have a certain charm. Then it’s off to the five-song suite that finished off the fourth side, starting with the sheet metal oscillations of ‘Florida Avenue Theme’ sound - somewhat cool for its 81 seconds. That’s just an intro to the depravity anthem ‘Lick My Boots’, the fuzz implosions of ‘Glitterburst’ and more largely tuneless singing.


'Untitled'(1992)

Having apparently sated their need for noise on their first two albums, Royal Trux started a slow climb to indie rock respectability. Their third album (usually called ‘Untitled’, to differentiate it from their first, self-titled album) actually kicks off with some pleasant acoustic guitar, and Hagerty’s somewhat dreamy vocals on a tune entitled ‘Air’. Herrema chips in on the upbeat chorus "Air, air, air, I love you/ Air, air, air, she needs it too!"

Although there’s some sizzling electric guitar, ‘Untitled’ is still largely an acoustic, mostly laidback compilation, and at half the length of its predecessor far easier to swallow. This dramatic pendulum swing may have alienated some of the duo’s more hardcore fans, but there are still a few flecks of the old, bad Trux on hand.

Hagerty’s electric guitar seems to have a mind of its own on ‘Move’, and the drumming sounds mostly like bashing to keep time (said drummer only seems to have one cymbal and a snare,) but there’s listenable vocal interplay between Hagerty and Herrema, who proves she can sing somewhat sweetly.

The band’s drug obsession hasn’t waned either on tunes like ‘Hallucination’ and ‘Junkie Nurse’. Herrema sings like an angry girlfriend outside someone’s window on the former while a tambourine is whacked to set the pace for a buried fuzz guitar riff. The fingerpicking on the latter suggests someone has dug out their Rolling Stones albums, as does Hagerty’s “I could not not love you/More, since I found out/You keep the keys to the safe on the second floor.”

‘Sometimes’ amps things up again, and brings Herrema’s snarling style to the fore, but the song is still well clear of the first two albums' staggering squall, and album closer ‘Sun on the Run’ is another stripped down fuzz rocker, but it seems a bit more willing to fill out the corners with an actual drum pattern and a long lead break of Hagerty’s guitarwork.


'Cats and Dogs' (1993)

Having laid out the ingredients in unmeasured doses on their first three albums, Royal Trux then proceeded to release what is widely considered to be their masterpiece, 1993’s ‘Cats and Dogs’. (though fans of their later phase might raise a hand for 1998's‘Accelerator’).

Bolstered by actual percussionists in the form of Ian Willers and some extra guitar courtesy of Mike Kaiser, the band also ceded the lead vocalist spot to Herrema, who came fully into her snarling street cheetah persona.

It pays off from the first song ‘Teeth’, which alternates between slow burning fuzz and Dinosaur Jr.-style frenzy. The band laid out more fuzz and squall on tracks like ‘The Flag’, but unlike on their first two albums, it’s kept (mostly) in the service of some higher melodic purpose.

After two songs the band does return to some noisemaking on the extended electric guitar workout of ‘Friends’, but even then it’s a more musical effort than anything from ‘Royal Trux‘ or ‘Twin Infinitives’

‘Spectre’ also introduces some Latin American style hand percussion, which would turn up in greater force on later albums. ‘Skywood Greenback Mantra’ kicks in with some slide guitar and some surprising - from Royal Trux - lyrics suggesting that some people should really get their heads together. By ‘Turn of the Century’ things have become positively laidback, with slide guitar and piano grooving alongside Herrema and Hagerty’s slightly out-of-sync dual vocals.

The band brought back the phased vocals and full-neck guitar scrabblings for ‘Hot and Cold Skulls’, but kept things together with a pair of linked brutalist riffs.

That said, as the album comes to a close Royal Trux serves up a few reminders that the band isn’t quite done with trouble and random noise. The relationship breakup-gone-wrong tale of ‘Tight Pants’ and the loose-limbed ‘Let’s Get Lost’ keep the band down at street level, while ‘Driving In That Car (With the Eagle on the Roof)’ gets rid of the guitar for a musical background made entirely of oscillating noise and handclaps.

With such extreme genres as black metal turning mainstream, lo-fi popsters paying only the barest of attention to 4/4 time and avant-garde noise sneaking into the music of megasellers like Radiohead and The Flaming Lips, Royal Trux’s wilful musical alienation doesn’t seem so strange nowadays. Their first two albums still have a power to impress with their total rejection of a need to offer ear-pleasing sounds. They keep the barest of links to what might be recognized as songs (as opposed to pure-noise merchants like Merzbow). The latter two are, however, signposts for slacker rock and a whole generation of lo-fi riff rockers, and helped make the audience who hopefully await their wider availibility.















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19572 Posted By: Myshkin (London)

Andrew, great piece there on the band. Just to add to your bit on the great 'Twin Infinitives' album. Yes, it's infuriating, utterly terrible at times, frustrating (no doubt all due to the smack habits they both had at the time) but its still utterly captivating and enthralling too. I just wish the band got more recognition that it does.


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