Royal Trux: Accelerator Rock
An interview with Royal Trux
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
An Introduction to Royal Trux - Scheda
Royal Trux devoted their last two albums each one to a decade, the Sixties and the Seventies. Many interpreted this choice as a commercial sell-out. {Thank You} (Virgin, 1995) boasted a finally-stable line-up and a professional sound. The leaders, rehabilitated from their drug addiction, turned to playing mostly like diligent disciples of the Rolling Stones (if not Gran Funk Railroad). Last year's {Sweet Sixteen} (Charisma, 1997) did not improve over this mediocre standard. That feticist orgy of glam-rock, new wave and progressive-rock was appealing in a morbid way but still unfocused and only remotely connected to the alternative scene they came from. The songs of these albums are overall pleasant: what they miss is the sparks of genius that embellished masterpieces such as {Twin Infinitives} (Drag City, 1990) and the first, eponymous album, or even unpretentious but tasty offerings such as {Cats And Dogs} (and boy that was some tribute to the Seventies) and the third album.

I was surprised that, while this album marks your return to the independent scene after a stint with major labels, it is by far your most professional-sounding and loud work ever.
"I guess that's the way it came out. We've always been able to play, so it's not like we just improve our technique. Of course, any new album summarizes the previous experience, and that helps to improve. These songs were all written while we were touring last summer and may have benefited from live rehearsal and the positive mood of that time."

Is it true that this album continues a trilogy of tributes to the last three decades?
"Yes, that was the original agreement with the major we signed for a few years ago. We wanted to employ the original recording techniques of each age and, obviously, try to imitate the spirit of the time. This one is about the Eighties, and specifically the mid-Eighties, when musicians started switching over to digital. We used tons of electronics, and maybe that's why it sounds the way it sounds. Also, this album was supposed to be for a major label too, but we ended up dumped. Nonetheless, we decided to finish the record as it was, it would have taken too much work to re-do it. No, we won't get to the Nineties, that whole way of thinking is gone out for us now. Besides, I really wouldn't know what to say about the Nineties: this is just the decade before the millenium, not much else. The trilogy is completed. In retrospect, it plots a linear progression, and offers a counter-revision of the music of the time. By "revision I mean when you romanticize the period, and by "counter-revision" I mean that we actually re-establish the true spirit of the era. A counter-revision counter-acts the phantasy that surrounds an era. Over the last 30 years people have developed the idea that not knowing the past is better than knowing about it. We simply rememeber the icons, the surface. We wanted to go beyond the icons and resuscitate the age as it was. And, yes, it was also a way for us to make a music that is more commercial and skillfully played, so as to please the label."

You sound more like a historian than a musician...
"Well, I am an historian to some extent. Meaning that I am very conscious of the past, of the evolution of style. It is a very important factor and it is sad that people don't pay enough attention to it. People are focusing more on Elvis Presley instead of Chuck Berry, because it's easier to pursue an icon than a real genius who changed the way we play. At the same time, the past is a useful reference, it provides you with a built-in unlimited reserve of dynamics and anger to work from."

Is there a parodistic intention in your mix of exploitation and re-interpretation of classic styles of the past? "Absolutely no. Of course, our method highlights contradictions, but never from a paradistic angle. We are really trying to get some value out of those times. For example, the Eighties in America very supposedly a great time, when champagne was flowing. Truth is that everybody we ever played with was miserable. Period. Now Washington DC even renamed the airport for Ronald Reagan, because Reagan is an icon of those good old times. I think that it's the time to look back. People romanticize his presidency, but there was a lot of horror back then. Same with the Sixties and Seventies. We tend to romanticise different realities from the point of view of pop culture. I have a different viewpoint, which stems from a fascination with history. I want to learn about the mistakes that were made, so that I can say, well, i'd use that strategy but i'll try to correct it. It's just another resource to do something new and better."

What about your obsession with 70's rock (progressive-rock, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, hard-rock, Gran Funk Railroad, Rolling Stones...)?
"I am obviously more emotionally attached to that time, because that's when I was growing up, although sometimes it's a negative feeling. Basically, our music is very much rooted in the blues and all those bands were blues-bands, so it doesn't surprise me that we sound like them. We all sound like the blues! My personal influence was more the independent scene of the Eighties, bands such as Black Flag, Television and Ramones. A lot of stuff I didn't listen to when I was in the 70's until later."

Was and/or is Jon Spencer still an influence on you guys? "Yes, of course, it was an important experience. Now I think of it as the punk-rock band i was in as a teenager. I never wanted to spend my life in it. It was Jon's band, he had his ideas, he was driven by what he wanted to do. I just figured I'd go along a couple of years and will get some experience. It's like being in the national service. It's useful as a credential when I want to do a 20-minute solo... hey I was in Pussy Galore, I have a right to do that! But i don't feel responsible for anything we did. I really had nothing to do with it."

Let's play back your career. Start with the first album.
"{Royal Trux} (Royal, 1988) was sort of a mission statement. We were trying to touch on all possible things we might do in the future. It's pretty consistent. What we did later shouldn't be a surprise because if you look back at our first album everything was already there. Check out the instrumental, [Hashish]: those were already creative musicians."

{Twin Infinitives} (Drag City, 1990)...
"I keep reading that it was recorded during drug orgies in San Francisco and I get a little annoyed by this. Yes, we were into drugs. But that was the problem, that's why it took so long to put it together. All the music was written and played when we were sober. Unfortunately, that wasn't very often. It took us five times as long to organize it. But the truth is that playing and writing was done during the moments of lucidity. We were caught into a thing where people knew we were in drugs and that was our cult status. That was the impression that people had of us and we couldn't escape from it. The truth is that our songwriting had nothing to do with drugs. We simply wanted to push rock and rolll songwriting as far as we could go. It was still rock and roll but people wouldn't see it that way. It was a sincerely anti-authoritarian, class-hatred and so forth statement. Captain Beefheart's "Trout Mask Replica" was a big influence. That's totally the scuplting of "Twin Infinitived". I was fascinated by that time in history, the mid-Seventies, when the record market was expanding so rapidly that labels would allow musicians the luxury to record these ambitious double albums. In a few years so many rock masterpieces came out... the Stones' "Exile On Main Street", Zappa's "Uncle Meat"... We wanted to reach back into that climate. In retrospect, it's very much American art and craft, it's very hand-made sounding. It deals with the mundane details. We were intrigued by how the perception of observation and the system of the language could make mundane details look and sound magical. It's this simple sort of americanized banality that surfaces in all arts..."

The third album...
"It came out in 1992, after a long time. We basically wanted to write songs that we would do live. So it has a somewhat standard rock and roll format. But in a way it is a recaputalition of "Twin Infinitives". I also hope that it gives a more intimate impression of the band. Our reputation was so bad and it wasn't true. Sometimes we would just pick up on things people expected to hear from us. This time we tried to simplify them as much as possible. Then we toured a lot. That's when we started thinking of messing with the main stream..."

{Cats And Dogs}...
After all that touring, we were very familiar with the alternative scene and this was basically a little, affectionate parody of that scene, of all these bands that were so sincere and ambitious and at the same time were struggling to survive. It's not a practical joke, we respected them. We had played with hundreds of bands and we got a really good sense of what was going on at that moment. It was just before Pearl Jam and Nirvana and all that crap came out of Seattle. In a way it's just us being involved in that scene and making a comment on it. I don't have that one extra peice of evilness or contempt to make it a parody. I love people, I love people's frailty and vulnerability. There was something kind of pathetic about all these alternative bands, a certain energy that they put into it knowing that it will never come back. I just wanted to capture that contradiction."

{Thank You} (Virgin, 1995)...
"So we finally signed with a major label. After finishing "Twin Infinitives", we realized that we had credibility. At least that. At the time, bands were being signed for prestige reasons. Of course we knew that labels try to manipulate bands, so we drafted our own contract to defend our independency. This album was one step beyond "Cats and Dogs". This time we employed cut-ups and we pulled lyrics out from popular songs and weave the pieces together. Music and lyrics were randomly constructed. In the Sixties people had a sense of self-importance, the idea that they could stop the world. So we tried to show that kind of attitude. For the first and only time we surrendered control of the actual recording to the producer, so we could be able to get a higher fidelity sound."

{Sweet Sixteen} (Charisma, 1997)...
"It takes the same line of investigation, just applies it to the Seventies. The main difference is that all the songs are very first person, they talk about what we felt. We produced it ourselves on the heels of the way the previous one had been done. We had the rule that every song had to be 4 minutes long or more. If too short, we would pack in an instrumental break. The musicians had real free reins, they could do little jams... It's really just one big chunk of music. The singing is separated by large chunk of music, not even within a song but even from song to song. We tried to achieve a balance of singing and music. We also tried to push the reggae influence by employing the huge double bass. Well, when they heard it, the record company said you have to do it again. We had to bring the contract to a lawyer and force the label to put it out as it was. They only pressed what was required by law. We went on tour we were abondoned by them."

Finally, {Accelerator} (Drag City, 1998)...
"That summarizes our evolution from Pussy Galore to today!"

   {Royal Trux} (Royal, 1988)
   {Twin Infinitives} (Drag City, 1990) 
   {Royal Trux} (Drag City, 1992)
   {Cats And Dogs} (Drag City, 1993)
   {Thank You} (Virgin, 1995)
   {Sweet Sixteen} (Charisma, 1997)
   {Accelerator} (Drag City, 1998)
(Translation by/ Traduzione di )
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