RTX: YOU STARTED THIS PARTY!
RTX is Jennifer Herrema and all the hard parts from Royal Trux with a wall of stone-faced guitar shredders behind her. (One of whom sometimes plays drums.) Although their fall tour was just canceled, their new JJ Got Live RATX releases this month on Drag City. They meet at the Prospector in Long Beach. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
When was the last time you lost all your money at once?
Jennifer Herrema (vocals): I’m not a fuck-up but this actually happened!
Kurt Midness (bass): On the first show of the last tour, Jennifer lost her wallet.
J: Probably in a gutter. Shit happens for a reason.
That’s one of our guiding principles, too.
J: This tour was screwed from the get-go. Straight up. It was rescheduled from last spring, so right there maybe you’re cashing in on your past-dues or past sentiment from when they really wanted to book you. I’d go with a boom box, but it’s not about that. We’ve been building as a unit. There’s no reason not to be able to sit tight. I actually love doing nothing. But I also love touring, but when something is telling me ‘no no no’—it was like, ‘What? Are we gonna die?’ I just feel the right thing happened. And our releases—it’s not fucking like Mariah Carey. It comes out and it takes a good half year for anybody to notice it’s there. We got reviews coming out, and we got press, but press is disposable—it’s bam-bam-bam. I’ll read a review and I can’t even remember the damn band I read about.
What’s an example of shit actually happening for a reason?
J: I guess pretty much everything at the end of the day. From me meeting Neil when I was 15 accidentally to meeting Kurt accidentally in Europe—everything. I guess I don’t like to make decisions. I like to let the situation dictate and it drops me off where it drops me off.
Are you fast on your feet?
J: I’m fast in my head. I was really fast on my feet when I needed to be, but right now—like I was saying—I feel like I need to be slow on my feet. Really move slowly. This whole thing of gaining momentum and leaving stuff behind so quickly—I feel like I’m constantly moving forward and if you want—and not if you want, but you do want—one does want when stuff is released publicly to give them time to sit with it.
What do you want people to do when they get your record in their hand?
J: I’m just writing my own book in my head.
What happens when you all wake up together in a place no one recognizes?
J: We all look at each other like, ‘What?’ It’s happened numerous times in Europe. People are like, ‘Get in some limo!’ They wanna party, and they want you to come with, and you just end up wherever that might be.
Like a castle?
J: Or under a bridge or an abandoned alley. The last time we were in Brooklyn, we woke up in an abandoned house.
K: A place we weren’t supposed to be.
J: My friend from the No Neck Blues Band was there and told me, ‘You came here! You started this party! Someone gave you the key to this place!’ But you just wake up and you’re like, ‘Ok, I need to brush my teeth, and I need toilet paper and I need to pee.’ I’m not like a total wastoid—I just have too much fun! And you got to refuel to have more fun that same night! The night of that morning. That’s what tour’s about—go hard or don’t go! And when you get home, you lay on the couch and watch TV and only go to the pool or only go to the ocean.
K: You’re leaving out key points. We also write songs.
Did you have the idea for the band before the band?
J: There was an idea before I even knew people. It was kind of like waking up in an abandoned house. That’s the idea! I was like, ‘Fuck music! I have no interest—well, not no interest, but I don’t wanna do this!’
So just have an idea and hang out?
J: Yeah, why not? Just for whatever amount of time. Why not? I made enough money. I could just chill but I wanted to do something else. I took law classes and soldering classes. I kept having ideas for songs and thoughts about songs, so I’d just start writing shit down. Then one of my best friends—Sasha—I did a photo shoot and I started RTX when I met his brother. It sounds gay as fuck all, but he’s the yin to my yang. He wouldn’t let me not talk gear and recording—dude, that’s all I want to not talk about! It was a two week photoshoot—thousands and multitudes of thousands of pictures! Anyway, I was like, ‘Ok, send me your stuff.’ And it was him and Jaimo—best friends growing up. Jaimo [Welch] is from Garden Grove and Nadav [Eisenman] is from Fountain Valley.
K: Every time on the last tour we’d try to call Jaimo, she’d call his mom! Middle of the night: ‘Jaimo, go get a one-hitter!’
Did she always pick up?
J: Yeah, she did. She knew it was me. She never said anything. We took Bad Wizard on tour in Europe and came back and went to my mom’s farm in Virginia and brought their singer Curtis, and Curtis was calling my mom in the middle of the night—at four in the morning—and my mom is like, ‘Who the FUCK is this?’
K: You still have a scar from that night.
J: That was a different night.
K: I believe it, but I don’t remember.
J: That’s why I get wasted—to block it out—sike!
You’re really particular about who you play with—why?
J: My gut just tells me. I was born with a magical gut. There’s so much stuff that I like, but I can’t—I don’t know what I can get involved with until I just lay it out. It’s like kinesthesiology. They put the herb in your hand and they try to pull it apart—‘No, my body doesn’t need it.’ But then there’s the stuff that sticks strong. I have no idea—I do but I’m like kindergarten-style right now. I probably sound like a twelve-year-old.
There’s probably clarity in that.
J: In fact, I feel like there’s clarity in my writing.
What is the public going to have to work to absorb off the new record?
J: The sequencing. The record in and of itself. I think it’s like the best of Western Xterminator and the best of Transmaniacon. I feel like people just want—they wanna know what gang you’re in. And we’re in all the best gangs.
The limit is supposed to be one.
J: But we’re not in one. And I will never be in one.
Is it different when you play for the Sunset Strip crowds than when you play 6th Street?
J: We’ve only done it once—with Van Stone. I had a change of heart in the middle of it. I just looked out at the people and I kind of freaked out. It was literally like teams—like rooting for the RTX team. That was a really weird show. I crawled around on the floor the entire time. People say, ‘Oh, Jennifer, you need to respect yourself—respect your image.’ But it’s like, ‘Yeah, I am!’ ‘Well, we don’t like to see you on the floor.’
Do you feel like you have to train your audience?
J: No, I don’t. I’m not that cynical. I don’t feel like I’m the dog whisperer or some shit! We do what we do, and we like the people we like, and we talk to the people we do and shit just does what it does. No money exchanging hands—no fucking payola!
Did you take a big hit when the stock market crashed?
J: That’s a joke in your life but motherfucker I had bank in the stock market four years ago! And I sold it all when I bought my place here. I had the Latin American Equity Fund. But I been putting my brain on hold. I will keep myself from any kind of stimulation.
Is this like how you take the snow chains off the car for the summer?
J: Yeah, but I’m going a couple seasons. I’m just eating the popcorn that didn’t pop off the floor, you know what I’m saying? I’m really in suspended animation—literally no information coming in. I’m saving it up until I can parse it and put it out on my own time.
You said RTX rides a fine line—what is that line?
J: No, look—guess what? You can have allies and affiliations—the right ones—all over the place with no strings attached. And RTX is part of every best gang. And that’s what I mean. I could call in millions of favors on a regular basis, but no—those dudes, it’s all them. I bring it and put the context down and they’re the players. There it is.
Do you feel more like a scriptwriter or a songwriter?
J: No, I don’t ever feel like a songwriter either.
J: I feel I write riffs and melodies and then some words. It’s never like ‘I’m gonna write a song’ and there it is start-to-finish. It always comes in parts. I don’t exist—I cannot do this by myself, period. My vision requires really talented people. If everybody was was gone and I was alone on a desert island, I’d make it work but it’d be half-ass. Because other people need to be part of the world to fulfill it.
What’s Jennifer island like?
J: It’d be like being in my condo! I don’t let a lot of people up in there. Prior to that, the farm in Virginia. This is social anxiety—drink and just talk. There’s nothing really normally social about this interchange. I don’t think.
Are you the same way when you play?
J: No no no—when I become totally conscious of everything, I’m like—I lay down on the floor. It’s called submission!
What’s it take to get you to say no?
J: I’ll take anything—gimme some hypotheticals. There’s always a gut.
What’s going to come after this?
J: I can answer that really easily. That’s the whole thing with bands and band names—you’re supposed to have a different name with different people. I don’t agree. That’s kind of ego-centric but—I am RTX! I wanna stamp that motherfucker. It is gonna do it because I am righteous! I feel like RTX—the sensibility that Brian [McKinley] brings, that Jaimo brings, myself and then you got Mr. Midness—we’re gonna explore all of this. The band is not going anywhere until we’ve explored it all. We’re not there to disturb people.
Do you disturb people?
J: I don’t think we do. It’s very conscientious. Four times a week we’re recording. You want me to release that shit on you? I don’t think so! You only got so much time. People don’t even have enough time to watch the news and feed themselves and drive cars. Why clog up the system?
So it’s about being precise.
J: At the end of the day, it’s not conceptual. I can’t come to you and say, ‘This is what it’s about—blam-blam-blam.’ It’s been happening and we’re grasping it and it’s cooler to give it more time. For me, even. You know how it is. I’m just gonna let it be like that.