Q&A: Black Bananas' Jennifer Herrema On Rad Times Express, Neil Hagerty, Royal Trux, And The Curse Of Opening For The Stones

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Jennifer Herrema has helped define the underground rock scene since the 1980s, thanks to her constant pushing forward of both music and style. In her youth, Herrema cavorted with the straight-edge hardcore rascals in D.C. (she felt more at home with the stoners); she scurried off to New York City at 16, where she worked at CBGB, lived with then-partner and Pussy Galore noisemonger Neil Hagerty at the local YMCA, and birthed the crusty-assed, blues-oozing, glorious vomit-rock outfit Royal Trux.

From 1988 until the early 2000s. the constantly reinventing Royal Trux was an arena-ready scum-rawk unit, hopping from indie giant Drag City to Virgin and back again before imploding in a drug-addled demise. Hagerty first went the solo route and ultimately formed The Howling Hex while Herrema released a trifecta of Stonesy noise-rock blues epics as RTX (a.k.a. Rad Times Express). Fed up with the RTX moniker and feeling the urge to change things up a bit, Herrema has re-grouped as Black Bananas and is touring behind Rad Times Express IV, a booty-shaking, Some Girls-like slice of disco-ized blooze that, Herrema admits, was inspired by the Royal Trux classic "Shockwave Rider."

Sound of the City caught up with the cussin', super-laid-back Herrema for a convo about changing her band's name, Hagerty and his quirks, and hanging with Mick and Keef.

You don't seem to tour that much. Do you not enjoy it?

No, I love touring, but you know. I mean, we toured... we tour, I guess, actually the last RTX album JJ Got live RaTX, we didn't tour the U.S.

At all?

We toured the U.K. and Europe—tons overseas, and then we just did maybe a couple one-off shows, like locally. But prior to that, we did proper tours for each of the releases. But more and more bands are trying to make money off of their tours and I think that's the impetus. That's not really why I tour. I want to tour under... I'll sleep on floors; I'll sleep in Motel 6's—if it's for a really good cause. Other than that, fuck it, dude. You know, I got the record. We toured a lot already since [the] Black Bananas [record] came out like five-and-a-half-months ago; we've already done a bunch of touring. So, I feel like these next dates... well, we did dates with Sleigh Bells, we did a three week tour with Kurt Vile and now we're doing five shows with the Kills. We've got a bunch of stuff that's coming up for the fall but actually we're almost done with an EP so I think we might push it to the spring.

Are you into doing festivals? That seems to be where the money is to be made for bands these days.

Yeah, yeah. I think so. I think that's the... We had to turn down this one festival up in Seattle, I guess in October, because we won't be around. Yeah, festivals, I think, are good money. I think it might be good money for the bands but I don't think it's a good place to showcase your music or anything because people don't even know what the fuck they're lookin' at—they just wander around. It's just like music is coming from here; music is coming from there. They don't know what bands are what. Basically, I just want to play in front of people, you know, they're there and they're captive [laughing] in a club or a theater.

Yeah, festivals are usually outside and it's like 1000 degrees out. The bands and the audience are sweating their asses off.

Yeah. It's a payday, definitely. I don't think really it's much more than that. Unless you're fuckin,' you know, Kanye or Gaga or someone.

So why did you change the band name from RTX to Black Bananas?

Basically because, the three RTX albums, people started warming up to them more and more but there was a lot of hesitancy to recognize as people continued to think that it was Royal Trux, when, in fact, it's never Royal Trux unless it's me and Neil. Neil had already given the blessing on the name [RTX], but it just created problems. People didn't want to really embrace it and the music was badass. Now, I come to find we actually sold a bunch of fuckin' records. I'm looking at numbers now and I'm like "Damn. I guess we did do pretty well."

That's awesome.

Yeah, and this new stuff that we did it's basically RTX—like the same dudes that I've been working with for the past eight years. It takes a long time to kind of teach them a new language and bring them into the way I want to work and all that. So, we got that down and then we wanted to expand our sound, you know, and expand the foundation we had laid down with RTX. So, I just figured, you know, I was like "Fuck, dude. This has got more going on." You can tell it's us but basically if we put another record out as RTX, people will be like "We know what this is. Whatever, whatever, whatever."

Yeah. Rad Times Express IV maintains your signature sound but it does have a different kind of vibe going on.

Yeah, exactly. That's another thing: no matter how many times I've said it, RTX stood for "Rad Times Express." It did not stand for Royal Trux. RT. Rad Times. But anyway, so I kinda combined it up and I just wanted to just put a fresh face on it so people would look at it differently because people are just, in general, we know that they're like all ADD and actually when it comes to music most people are just floating around, just pickin' up on this and pickin' up on that and next week it's somethin' else. So I just figured, put somethin' fresh to it.

But that [changing the band name] wasn't even 'til the last minute. Honestly, the album was gonna be an RTX album and then we were sending the artwork out and I was talking to [Drag City label founder] Dan Koretzky—he's like one of my best friends—and we were sitting there and laughing and we're like "Fuck. RTX [laughing]." We're like "We should change the name" and I was like "But I hate it when people change their [band] names" cuz it seems like so, like, it's capitulating and I was like "Fuck it. It's so fuckin' stupid that I'm gonna go ahead and capitulate." Then Dan's like "Black Bananas! Black Bananas!" So I was like "That's one of my favorite RTX songs. Let's do it." That was literally like a day before the artwork was going out so we changed the name of the band that day.

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Pier 63

Hudson River & 23rd St., New York, NY

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5 comments
13thirteen
13thirteen

Much love for JJ - the intuitive, mad, pleasure-seeking, beauty and coolness for its own sake aesthetic. 

References to Royal Trux, as eternally underrated as they are, and as mysterious and talented as Neil is, are starting to read like old news, a pre-zero point hit of 90's nostalgia. The deranged production model of Black Bananas, its eeriness and mind-frying badassery, is far more fresh than re-issues of past triumphs.

Andrew
Andrew

 @13thirteen great point! People should surely stop with the past given the big bright future

13thirteen
13thirteen like.author.displayName 1 Like

this record is def my surreal beach soundtrack - jj got live bananas!

Justin
Justin like.author.displayName 1 Like

BLACK BANANAS ARE MAGIC!

Janelle
Janelle like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

LOVE HER!!!!!!!!!!!! Saw her (with Black Bananas)Play with the Kills on Sat. FKN EPIC!!!!!! Made the kills seem super boring. 

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