In the year 1998 the first mass-produced digital audio player was introduced. Will Smith had a huge hit with “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” The Spice Girls broke up. Total Request Live began airing on MTV. And Royal Trux released Accelerator, something solid and not at all plastic or commercialized, something personal and universal. Maybe even a reaction to or reflection of the state of music at the time. It’s a weird and grimy record, full of uncomfortable silences and strange percussion. Opening with the head-rush buzz of “I’m Ready,” and featuring party jams, meditative chants, and balls-out rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes all in the same song, it may have seemed anachronistic at the time, harkening back to the free-wheeling experimentation of the earlier part of that decade, but it sounds almost futuristic now.
Jennifer Herrema was half of Royal Trux. She is a rock’n’roller—she has been since she left home at the age of 15 to bum around New York and be part of all the weirdo punk junkie grittiness that was the rampant in the city then. And she’s still going. Her band Black Bananas has some awesome records you should check out. She’s also designing clothes. And doing whatever else she wants.
Nick Lorden: What are you up to these days?
Jennifer Herrema: I’m just trying to finish up this EP that we’re gonna have out for the spring. It’s like five songs. We started a little bit ago but then I was just in New York for this art opening and prior to that we were on tour, so there’s just kind of been a bunch of things taking us out of the recording process, and now we’re back doing it.
Nick: The EP is with Black Bananas?
Nick: I saw that you put out a record under your own name with Kurt Vile and Wino?
Jennifer: Oh, yeah. It’s a 7-inch. It was, I guess it was under my own name. But not me, not like a solo album. Actually just prior to going to New York last week I just recorded background vocals for Kurt Vile’s new record. It just so happened that our voices just kind of meshed really well, and the same went for Wino, because he was in our studio recording with his new band Premonition 13, and we were kind of fucking around and then we noticed our vocals sounded good together. So he’s the one that actually brought up doing a Stones cover, and then independently of Wino, we had done a bunch of shows with Kurt Vile and he incidentally, or coincidentally, brought up doing a Stones cover with me, so there you go… it was all organized.
Nick: Do you have a studio in your house?
Jennifer: No, I have a condo on the beach. We have a studio that’s about 20 minutes south of here in Costa Mesa.
Nick: And when do you go there?
Jennifer: Pretty much every day, when we’re not in the midst of doing other shit. I’m pretty much there every day, unless we’re traveling. Even if nothing gets done I still go there.
Nick: That’s a good way to work, you don’t have to say we’re going to be here from 9-6 so let’s lock out those hours.
Jennifer: Nothing’s ever like, “We got to do this.” The last RTX record, JJ Got Live RATX, I set some parameters. It had to be written, recorded, and mixed in one month. And that was all cool, and that was kind of the idea behind it, but in general, recording is always a work in progress.
Nick: So do you take the role of producer?
Jennifer: Well, with Black Bananas I’m definitely the leader of the band and I have final say, but I’m not going to say it’s a democracy, because, you know, it’s not made of mediocrity, there’s still a dominant presence. But we all bring a lot of ideas and I know what I want to hear, and then it goes from me to Brian or to Kurt, or to Nadav, and then we all kind of work in tandem.
Nick: I was reading up on you a little bit this week and I noticed you lived all over the States and I was wondering if you find your location had any effect on inspiration?
Jennifer: It does, of course. When I had Royal Trux we were in New York City, and being a teenager, and not having a place to record, lo fi wasn’t really an aesthetic choice. Lo fi was what we had, so you’d duck in and get some recording done or use a four-track or whatever. It’s the product of it’s context and environment. And then when we had a farm out in the country in Virginia where we had a studio that was attached to the house and that was a totally different vibe because you’re just very isolated. There weren’t a lot of external influences for about 6 ½ or 7 years. I didn’t watch TV or anything. So then when I sold that place and moved here, it’s like a whole different thing, where the studio is outside of the house and I watch TV all the time. And it’s like sunny all the time. All these things factor in for sure. But I think some of the lyrics in the last two RTX records and Black Bananas reflect a California vibe which is really actually kind of strange, because it’s laid back, but it’s also psycho uptight, not laid back at all. It’s known for being laid back, especially southern California. I lived in northern California a long time ago. Southern California, it’s laid back because there’s a certain amount of the population who are laid back just because they’re fucking stupid, and then there’s a population that’s laid back because they have the ability to be laid back because they’re rich as shit, and then you have people who are laid back just because, you know, it’s California, and California can propagate, just because it’s so nice out all and you feel like you’re on vacation all the time. But at the same time southern California is crazy competitive. I don’t live in LA, because people are crazy uptight, and competitive, and weird, too. So it’s a strange juxtaposition.
Nick: How long have you been out there?
Jennifer: Oh, I’ve been here for almost nine years.
Nick: Oh wow.
Jennifer: It was a big difference, moving from the countryside of Virginia, but in a way kind of not, just because of the location I picked. There’s no real urban environment. It’s just by the beach and there’s not much that goes on here, so I kept a little of the isolation intact.
Nick: And then touring, that must be a different lifestyle altogether. Do you ever record when you’re on tour or do you just focus on getting to the shows?
Jennifer: No, we don’t really. We’ve recorded some stuff, just for posterity, where we think we’re going to get an idea, but nothing ever really for public release, at least not yet. Royal Trux did a bunch of that, but…
Nick: What kind of stuff have you been listening to?
Jennifer: Actually I haven’t listened to it yet, but I just got the new Bone Thugz N Harmony album. I’m stoked to listen to the whole thing. I’ve been a huge fan for a long time, and I had no idea that they were going to come out with a new record so I’m excited to listen to the whole thing. I’ve been listening to a lot of Zamrock, you know African, straight up rock n roll from the late 70s out of Africa. But it’s just lo fi in so much as that’s just all they had and there’s some cool rhythm sounds and shit. I listen to KDAY all the time (93.5 in LA), so you hear Ice T, Ice Cube, it’s just like a lot of old school rap and shit. When we’re recording I don’t tend to listen to anything, and buying the new Bone Thugz N Harmony was like the first thing I’ve bought in a while, at least since we started recording. I’ve kind of been on hiatus I suppose.
Nick: Do you still go to record stores?
Jennifer: Yeah, I have a huge vinyl collection. I actually just got this awesome Aphrodite’s Child record, it’s the best of. It’s like a gatefold and what’s really weird is that there’s this baby on the cover, an illustration, and I was looking at the baby, and I was like, dude that baby on the cover is like the exact same baby that’s on the cover of one of GBH’s records, and it’s true, I looked it up and that IS the baby. And Aphrodite’s Child is decades prior to GBH and the music couldn’t be more disparate, so it’s pretty interesting. Just a little record thing that I noticed. I haven’t even listened to it yet. I’m going to save it.
Nick: I’m a big record collector, too.
Jennifer: What have you been listening to, anything cool that I should be listening to when I come out of hibernation?
Nick: No, just sticking with the classics like Creedence, early ZZ Top records.
Jennifer: Oh Creedence, fuck yeah. Have you seen that new ZZ Top commercial where ZZ Top is covering that song about selling crack? It is so good. (Describes Jeremiah Weed commercial)
Nick: Yeah, I’m excited for their new record.
Jennifer: I met Billy Gibbons once, he was awesome. I got his autograph. I’m not much for going over like, “Hey, can I have your autograph,” but he was just like sitting there talking to me, so I was like, might as well get that shit.
Nick: You also do clothing, right?
Jennifer: I have a denim line with Volcom for the past three years. I have a couple pieces coming out this month… (strange noise)
Nick: What was that?
Jennifer: Oh, drag racing on PCH. Yeah, a couple pieces for Volcom. And then I just started a new company with Pamela Love. We just got it cleared with the lawyers and everything and it’s called Feathered Fish and it’s named after an unreleased song that Arthur Lee and Love did. We had the hardest time coming up with a name, because we kept thinking of things that were like some of my lyrics or song titles or things that she would think of and like everything had been registered, whether it was in use or not, it was pretty crazy. So we kind of like nailed it with feathered fish and the logo is looking so sick. Her husband’s doing the logo and it’s looking fucking amazing, I’m so excited. So once that launches we have our first product, but we’re gonna get a couple other products under our belt. There’s no collections, there’re just pieces, limited edition pieces every few months. Like, whatever we want. Pamela wants to work on a flask, I think we’re gonna do a flask after the thing we’re working on now.
Nick: That sounds awesome. I know Pam from way back. How much longer are you working on an album?
Jennifer: There’s a bunch of stuff that’s the beginnings of an album. The EP will come out in March. I’m working on a song with David Berman (of the Silver Jews) and he also got real busy and in-demand. He’s writing some songs for the Black Keys’ dude’s solo record . I can’t deny him that, but we’ve been working on a song together for a minute, so just that will be the last thing we finish tracking.
Note from Nick: She sent me a text later: it wasn’t a new Bone Thugz record, it was a repackaged greatest hits.
Photographs by Nick Lorden