“Head of the pack, against the grain, you know, you just gotta go – I have to lead. Like I have to lead the band: they’re super-duper killer, but somebody’s gotta just call it.” – Jennifer Herrema
In a world where cool has become a commodity and rock ‘n’ roll an assumed pose, Jennifer Herrema stands out one of the last few originals we can count on. There’s nothing manufactured about her swagger or style – both of which can hardly be bought or sold – and her brand of cool is all of her own. And who else can lay claim to being the voice that dragged American rock through the underground the ‘90s, the face in a Calvin Klein ad campaign, as much as the artist behind a few gallery exhibitions? Not us, but that badass JH has done so with not so much as a hair out of place.
At a mere 16, Jennifer and her then-beau Neil Hagerty were already trading under the name Royal Trux – the band that would spend a large part of the ‘90s laying waste to every standard notion of rock ‘n’ roll. Thirteen albums are testament to the duo’s experimental range that bridged Aerosmith and Albert Ayler, with Jennifer’s scuzzy snarl forming the perfect counterpart to Neil’s more abrasive and drugged out intentions. According to Jennifer: “It’s like, imagine you have a lot of heaters and imagine the filter that was in the heater had been in for like 15 years, collecting in all the particles and never sifting it out.” It was hardly the most marketable thing, but Royal Trux did manage major label interest: Virgin Records signed the band in 1995, releasing their most palatable album, Thank You. Media attention naturally coalesced around the band, as Jennifer and Neil found themselves installed as underground art’s power couple, hanging with Keith Richards and Timothy Leary, while Jennifer did her part for a Calvin Klein ad campaign.
Jennifer Herrema for Calvin Klein
But old habits die hard: just when Royal Trux was on the verge of rock stardom, they released Sweet Sixteen, a record so punk-damaged that Virgin quickly dropped the band. Three more albums would follow before the band itself imploded. The official reason, according to Neil, was the band was cutting too close to the “standard rock narrative” that it had set out to destroy. Fair enough. Since the split, Neil has stolen away with the more experimental shades of his old band, while Jennifer made off with its pop stomp, its glam bang and even its cigarettes.
From those ashes came RTX (“I gave Neil the letters O, Y, A, L and U, and I took the R, the T and the X”), Jennifer’s new band that delivers on the trailer-trashy promise of AM metal radio. Yes, it’s unabashed cock rock (and no irony intended), and as close as we’re gonna get to Jennifer Herrema’s party – on the borderline between smart and dumb, style and substance: “The idea was to lay a really sturdy foundation that would be immediately visible upon the first listen, but not lack the depth that would allow you to listen to it more than five times and completely O.D. over it.”
With the credentials on her side, Jennifer’s nothing less of an icon in today’s rock circles – or more simply put, a rock star. She continues to lend a hand in music and fashion – lately guesting on MGMT’s Congratulations, and working with Volcom, H&M and Hysteric Glamour – though her time with Royal Trux remains mythical for all the right reasons. Hers is an authentic swagger and style that’s a by-product of a life led in the shadows of rock ‘n’ roll. And as the saying goes, “If Jennifer Herrema didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent her.”
By The Kid