When Jennifer Met Neil

Jennifer Herrema recalls her first interactions with Neil Hagerty prior to the duo forming Royal Trux, arguably the noisiest – and least likely – major label signing of the ‘90s

Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema Andy Willsher/Getty Images

I guess I was always kind of a loner, but I knew lots of people. After school, I would go over to my friend Anna Connolly’s house, and her sister, Cynthia Connolly, used to go out with Ian MacKaye for many, many years. I’d see them over there – artists in real time. “Hey, what’s up?” I was accepted and everybody knew me, but I didn’t stick around or sit around or create within any of that.

I had started taking piano lessons when I was six. I guess I had been interested in music. My parents didn’t force anything. My dad would pour concrete – he did construction. He would teach me guitar and my dad would give me a job, these types of things. I was always into music. I just never had any plan, like, “I want to do this or be this.” I just was interested in it. I think when I met Neil…we’re very different, but we’re also very similar. He kind of was a loner, too.

We just fucked around with stuff. There was really never, ‘Oh, let’s go write a song.’

He was playing music at a bar in Adams Morgan. I think one of the guys from Government Issue was in the band. I can’t remember who was in it at the time. I had seen a lot of stuff, a lot of live music, and I just thought that he was one of the best performers I’d ever seen. It was an immediate recognition of that. He was just weird, but in a way that was very charming. I mean, even though I’m only 15 years old then, I’ve seen a lot of cool stuff. But he was very unique.

He’s four years older. He had gone to college in Connecticut for one year, and then he got thrown out the University of Connecticut. I think it was a year before I graduated high school – I graduated high school early – when I met him. It took a year to actually even get to really know him.

He had been kicked out of school and was living in Northeast D.C. in a big abandoned warehouse, no showers. He had a bathroom, but it was the hood. It was closer towards where I grew up, so I could walk there. That’s kind of how I ended up getting to know him. Basically, I just would wander over there all the time. He was always playing music. There was different musicians around. He was up for anything.

We just fucked around with stuff. There was really never, “Oh, let’s go write a song.” We would just fuck around, and the first Royal Trux songs that got written were in real-time, me figuring out how to finger in E, A, G, D, something like that. He’s a naturally accomplished musician – not trained to any degree, but he can write music. I was 15, he was 19 – almost 20 – and you just kind of start there. I found out later that he had lived in Belgium and in California, and that his family was military. I just knew that he was different. I know it sounds really hippie-ish, but it really was just one of those things

Royal Trux - Bits And Spurs

It wasn’t even just music. It was just like we knew we would do things. It was never like, “Oh, we’re going to make a band and make a record,” or “We want to do this,” or “This is our future trajectory.” There was really no sense of the day after next. I guess that that’s maybe weird, too. A lot of people I knew and have met, I didn’t think the same as they did. I kind of wish I did, because everything seems easier.

I wanted to be able to do what I wanted to the best of my ability. I never wanted to be in a position where, “Oh, if only I would do X, then I could receive G.” It was never that. It was always only what I brought with me. I’m sure there’s lots of artists that think that way, but recognizing it at a young age is very beneficial. I It was definitely hard. It’s kind of depressing and lonely.

The earlier you dive into the fucking sludge and the muck and the darkness, the sooner you can come out the other end, on the light. I just feel like that was really huge, recognizing things about myself really young. I mean, it’s a series of the cumulative consequence of the types of parents I had, where I went to school or what color I was. All of those types of things led to this pretty amazing circumstance.

By Jennifer Herrema on April 25, 2016

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