Neil Hagerty on "Cult" Status, Performing Twin Infinitives, and Licorice
In this time of literal and figurative Armageddon, nothing is shocking in regard to musical reformations, reunions or resurrections. I could tell you a hologram of Jim Morrison was about to record a duet with Ke$HA at Sun Studios and you probably wouldn't bat an eye. But when rumblings came down the pike a few months back about a reunion between Neil Michael Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema, the two personalities who made up the most enigmatic indie outfit of the 90's Royal Trux, even some of the most jaded eyebrows started to rise.
After much Internet back and forth, it was revealed there was to be no reunion between the two. Rather, Hagerty would be performing the band's double LP opus from '90 Twin Infinitives in its entirety for one night only at Brooklyn's' Saint Vitus Bar without the help of Herrema whatsoever.
Realized and recorded when the duo were in the throes of heavy drug addiction, Twin Infinitives is a patchwork recording of tracks that weave in and out of each other with a singular, stumbling grace. Most of the tracks from the album were considered too difficult to pull off live by Haggerty and Herrema even back then. Suddenly, the whole thing of Neil attempting this without Jennifer took a back seat. Just the fact he was trying to pull this off at all was a mindbender. Even from beyond their grave, Royal Trux is an entity that'll make your scratch your scalp until it's bloody and raw. You gotta love it.
Neil Michael Haggerty was kind enough to answer some questions we had in regards to both the Twin Infinitives album and the upcoming performance. He also answered queries on licorice and Ruth Buzzy. What a fella.
In my world, I always paralleled Twin Infinitives with full lengths such as White Light/White Heat, Trout Mask Replica or Anthem of the Sun. They're albums that people refer to as important, but they are not necessarily records that you listen to casually. It's not something like Rumours or Pet Sounds. Why do you think people revere it when it is something of an impenetrable artifact? There's probably a word for it in Avestan or something but the feeling of going into difficult musical structures with the trust that the builder has a clear intention and can deliver you through it without neglecting you or plaguing you with ideology is a special pleasure.
I've noticed some stink being kicked up on internet message boards about how this performance of Twin Infinitives isn't the '"eal thing." What exactly is the "real thing" in your mind? The "real thing" would be me and Jennifer. But the real thing in 1988 was a four-piece band and that's what I'm going back to for this concert. I'm trying to do that thing like the Miller-Urey experiment, stirring all the ingredients for the chemical origins of human life together under the proper conditions.
I've been thinking this concept is the equivalent to what a band like Furthur does; a sorta tribute band honoring itself. Do you agree at all? It is like that. Talking to Jennifer about it I reminded her of how we always had a scheme to eventually franchise Royal Truxes across the country. She liked the sound of that. Do you feel the need to justify your actions in regards to doing this performance? I hope the concert will justify it. My biggest concern is justifying the music on that record by our performance.
Have you actually been sifting through the recording of Twin Infinitives and relearning the tracks? Oh, yes, work began in August.
Is it strange to come back to these tracks? It was great. To be able to listen to it as a piece of music with the goal in mind of arranging the songs for the Royal Trux 1988 line-up was really fun.
Are you the same person at the time of recording the tracks as you are now? I am the same person but I have done some things now. Back then I felt very disrespected, very much like I was just supposed to be the mark in some big con and who did I think I was to have ideas. So I don't have to deal with that kind of teen angst now. So even though you're the same person, is it still weird to re-live this music It was still weird. I had to work through some things, as they say, and really remember my intentions at the time of the recording.
Does revisiting and playing these tracks stir anything in you? I have to say I started to feel like doing this show was something I had been putting off. Or that it was inevitable and now it was the right time for me to do it. Consequently, I was pleased to discover the musical structure of the record was solid and all I had to do was focus on that and not on the narcissistic, emotional memories in order to play it correctly.
In the press release Drag City sent out about the show, they mention something about Royal Trux being born in Brooklyn even though Twin Infinitives was recorded in San Francisco. We started to record Twin Infinitives when we lived in Brooklyn and then back in the Lower East Side. The band disintegrated over this period of about a year and so we took the tapes we had out to San Francisco. It is definitely like a Marvel Comics 'What if...'-- What if we'd stayed together in NYC and played this record'.
Royal Trux was always a band you either loved or hated. Not to get too deep on the Grateful Dead tip, but it reminds me of that Garcia quote about the Dead: "We're like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice." Why do you think Royal Trux got such a fanatical following? I guess it is like the licorice thing, but I was always very sensitive to the cult label and tried not to exploit our fans or close ourselves off.
But what are your general thoughts on licorice? I do love licorice.
In an interview you gave in the fanzine Bananafish upon the time of the release of Twin Infinitives, you said the recording was a 'Study of American Style'. Do you still feel this way about the record? I do-- within the 1980s "style over substance" debate I have to say American Style in the '80s was more interesting than American Substance. So I remember I wanted to try to free-versify surfaces, write maudlin poetry about cars and shoes -- rather than taking a cool, ironic tone.
Also in that interview, you said the whole of Twin Infinitives was one long track you chopped up into a pop format. By doing that, were you trying to be accessible? Well, we took the tapes we had from NYC and put them all together into one long tape piece, chopped them up and stitched them back with other things thrown in. Then we put all that on multi-track in segments, in lengths we got from throwing dice or whatever. Those segments would be the 'basic track' for each song. Then the Side 3 song "Ape Oven" was built on preset drum machine beats, some salsa and then heavy metal beats played at 16 bpm. It all seemed to be consistent with the pop trends of the time. Or consistent enough so that one could plausibly argue that in court, in a court of 'is this something or nothing'?
Was it done with irony? There was irony in our hearts but we never, never tried to pose 'ironic'-- that was popular then, you know: future's so bright I got to wear shades and all that fun stuff.
Were you just trying to put something abstract into a rock format? We wanted to try and claim some ground, for sure, do something interesting that we could then go out and play as a rock and roll band, like Husker Du or Sonic Youth.
OK...now I'm going for broke...here is my broad question about the whole she-bang: Why play Twin Infinitives in its entirety now? It seemed like the only record that I could do this way. I was talking to Alexis from Hot Chip about the re-release of Accelerator and I remembered some funny methods we used doing that. And thought it'd be cool to go back and just do some of that music straight up as concert music. But when I thought some more about it Twin Infinitives was the only record I could imagine doing that with because it never had a life on stage. And if we could have the same instrumentation as that original band had what would Twin Infinitives sound like? I got pretty excited about it, like I'd found the loophole in the whole thing. I mean, every fucking band is doing this kind of thing-- what is the big deal, really? Do other people own me or something because they bought one of my records in the used bin?
Here's another broad one: Who else is playing this with you and why did you choose them? So right after I had those thoughts I met these three other people and each one was exactly like 'the type' of the other 1988 band members. There was: the Southern stoner dude, the emotionally frail but tough singer, the electronics nerd-- and I could certainly play the strange fellow in the White Light/White Heat t-shirt. And just at that time the singer wanted to get out of Los Angeles for a while so I asked if she'd be interested in doing this show and she was.
Here's another 'broad' question...Tawny Kitaen or Ruth Buzzy....which one do you prefer? I'll be diplomatic and say Jo Anne Worley.
Fair enough...I heard you recently moved to Denver from Silver City, New Mexico. I lived in Albuquerque for a few years. What were some of your favorite spots to dine while in New Mexico? There was one place in Deming called Irma's that was great -- real, traditional Mexican food.
Did you ever dine at the Frontier in Albuquerque or was that place too decadent for you? We seemed to always end up there, I guess just from asking people at the show.
How about Denver? Where's the good place to eat there? So far this place 'City O City' I think is great, vegan, vegetarian, but I haven't been here long enough to really comment.
I like the Euclid Hall in Denver personally. I will try that.
Neil Michael Hagerty performs Twin Infinitives at Saint Vitus Bar Saturday December 8th.
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