“In the past, all sorts of people hated it and all sorts of people loved it,” says singer Jennifer Herrema, speaking of her previous group Royal Trux from her new home in the L.A. suburb of Sunset Beach. It’s the eve of her latest band’s U.S. tour. “The shows were always different and we were always working things out on stage. That’s a common thread between that and this new band.”
Known for their noisy abandon, strangled singing styles, and twisted (mentally and musically) art-rock experiments, the Chicago-based Royal Trux were scuzzy champions of the indie-rock underground through the 1990s. Led by Herrema and singer/guitarist Neil Haggerty, the group jumped from one strange lineup and punk-tinged style to another through the years before breaking up in 2002. While he went on to record and tour on his solo projects, she took her time, relocating to the West Coast and tinkering with a variety of band lineups until the chemistry was right for her own idea of a hard-rock band — RTX.
“It’s different, but on the same page as well,” says the singer. “The latest lineup played four shows in Australia and three shows in L.A. It sounds great, but it’s still totally evolving. It’s the live interpretation of the studio album. There’ll be quite a bit of difference, sonically, but the flow and the vibe carry through live. The intention is absolutely preserved.”
Nadav Eisenmann and Jaimo Welch joined Herrema on RTX’s 2004 debut, The Transmaniacon (Drag City). Brian McKinley (noted guitar shredder and swordsman) and Kurt Midness (of N.Y. stoner-metal band Bad Wizard) joined the band for this year’s Western Xterminator (Drag City), an edgier collection that recalls the dry, thick-headed riffery of Def Leppard, ZZ Top, and Head East.
“Jaimo was originally on lead guitar but he’s now on drums,” says Herrema. “I’ve been working with him for over four years. He played on most of the first album. It’s easier said than done, putting a new band with a real sound together. Once the first album came out, we set about the task of putting the right live musicians together. Brian McKinley came on about three years ago. A couple of years ago, I hated it [laughs]. I like the people and they were great musicians, but I hated it. It has the right vibe now. I’m looking for people from different places with different sensibilities, but sometimes the vision doesn’t really extend.”
The tight, cleanly-distorted “rock” sound on Western Xterminator contrasts the trashier, looser recording quality and performance style of most of the Royal Trux collections.
“Oh, hell yeah, for sure,” Herrema says. “As far as the way that we present it, production-wise, it definitely takes on a bit of that weight. But at the same time, we can be incredibly tight or incredibly sloppy live. We can suck [laughs]. But I think we’re pretty damn comfortable in the tightness. It can open up and get loose in the right way because there’s a little more confidence, which is exactly where I want this band to be.”
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