A Conversation with Jennifer Herrema of RTX 

If Jennifer Herrema did not exist, it would be necessary to invent her. The world just needs a badass arty hesher who's part studio rat, part Calvin Klein model, and who rambles about her music in a mumbling drawl, through baseball analogies and apocryphal Van Halen songs. As Royal Trux, Herrema and hubby Neil Haggerty were underground rock's drugged-out power couple; since 2004 -- and the implosion of the matrimonial band -- her raspy wail and Jaggeresque sneer have since been employed in RTX. The band's second album, Western Xterminator, sometimes sounds like The Stooges covering Mötley Crüe (and vice versa) on songs like "Balls to Pass" and "Dude Love."

In 2000, you said that rock 'n' roll has a future -- that "There will be a moment in time where it will be like when I was 9 years old, when the people ran everything." Did it happen?

I believe that there's always a future for rock 'n' roll. ... I was talking to the bartender last night about bands playing live, and he was saying, "Yeah, I really feel like it's kinda becoming obsolete." And I was like, "No, it's bands [that emulate their own recordings] that will just 'X' themselves out." Because they are unnecessary -- I'm not saying as humans, but their performances are unnecessary ... Rock 'n' roll, I think, is something that is amorphous. It's not manipulative. Like, when I watch a band that plays their shit exactly as a recording ... that's an art, and I respect the hell out of it, it's amazing, and I think it's really cool that that people can do that. But I don't care who it is -- it's not rock 'n' roll.

I didn't expect Western Xterminator to be so cock-rock.

At the end of the day, that is what I grew up with. I grew up with punk rock, and big-time radio -- just jammin' the rock stations. I won a pinball machine off of WAVA, which is a big rock station, when I was 15. I was calling in for monster-truck tickets. And I won this old, super-cool pinball machine. I immediately broke it, because it was actual glass, like, old school. I used to listen to the radio a lot.

But then on the flip side, I didn't buy those records -- OK, I bought some of them. The records I bought were things I couldn't hear on the radio and most likely couldn't see live.

Would you have rather won the monster-truck tickets?

Oh, I got the tickets! That was huge, when you're like 15. And them saying your name all over the radio. That was the coolest thing.

Are people gonna hear this record on the radio?

Probably not. ... You know [how] a song will be on the radio so many times that it becomes part of your life? Like you inadvertently remember, "Oh yeah, that was ... that song reminds me of that time," or whatever. I don't think it will be like that. It's on Drag City Records, know what I mean?

Does that have to do with your vocals being nearly indecipherable?

In no way is that willful or intentional. Part of the vocal sound is, I always double- or triple-track my vocals. [...] I listen to it, and the words are clear as day -- every word is clear as day.

What's up with the pied piper, exterminator theme?

It was like synchronicity, basically. I decided I wanted to title the album Western Xterminator -- we were driving down the road and I saw this big billboard for an exterminating company. It's so simple ... and I was like, "if I put that 'X' in there like that, I got my 'R' and my 'T' and my 'X' in it," but I just liked the way it sounded [...] And I wanted to have a lot of different types of people or genres of music represented somehow in the artwork. [...] I kinda wanted it to have a sense of appeal to all sorts of different types of people. If that's what I wanted, then in fact, I am the pied piper [...] It wasn't psycho-conceptual from the start, just weird synchronicity.

I thought that, since Royal Trux gets credited as an influence or inspiration for tons of bands, you were saying, "follow along, kids."

That goes back into the synchronicity thing. Subconsciously, yeah, I'm aware of those sort of things, so maybe it entered. You know, like the subconscious guides. Yeah. Head of the pack, against the grain, you know, you just gotta go -- I have to lead. Like I have to lead the band: They're super-duper killer, but somebody's gotta just call it.

RTX with Totimoshi and The Dirty Faces. 10 p.m. Sat., May 12. 31st Street Pub, 3101 Penn Ave., Strip District. $10. 412-391-8334 or www.31stpub.com

click to enlarge Pied piper: Jennifer Herrema
  • Pied piper: Jennifer Herrema


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