I Might Be Wrong: Neil Hagerty howls for DenverBy Colin St. John | June 6th, 2012 | 1 Comment »
For the benefit of the uninitiated: Neil Hagerty is something of a cult icon in underground music. His first group, Pussy Galore, featured none other than Jon Spencer (of Blues Explosion fame), but it was his next one that made the deepest mark. Hagerty started Royal Trux with his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Herrema, in Washington, D.C. in 1987. The group’s noisy, lo-fi output over the next 14 years would go on to influence — directly and indirectly — groups like the White Stripes, Archers of Loaf and Pavement.
Through a mutual friend, I found out Mr. Hagerty was moving to Denver. It was great news for the local scene and I eagerly attended one of his shows as the Howling Hex at Larimer Lounge in January. It was a wild scene, Hagerty’s dexterity on guitar blending with the oddity of his songcraft. The HH tunes are long and winding exercises; patience with them is not only virtuous, but fruitful. There’s an overarching mysteriousness to Hagerty and the Howling Hex, as the song “A Game of Dice” relates, doubles down on it all. He’ll be exhibiting the bizarre package every Thursday this month, starting tomorrow, at Lost Lake Lounge on East Colfax.
In advance of the shows, I set up a meeting with Hagerty. When his publicist told me it’d be at Ink! Coffee on the 16th Street Mall, I was taken aback by the strange choice. How could a musician so outside of the mainstream pick a joint on Denver’s corporate main artery? (Then I remembered that Royal Trux left Drag City for a few years when it signed to Virgin, for — as legend has it — a million bucks.) Caught in traffic, I arrived 15 minutes late. Hagerty was nowhere to be found. In the music business, 15 minutes late is basically on time (or even early), so I was surprised. But, how could I have been? Hagerty has never quite played by the rules.
What follows is an email exchange we had after our missed rendezvous.
I was only 15 minutes late. Where’d you go?
Sorry, I thought there had been a mix-up so I tried to get a jump on my errands.
What kind of coffee did you order? I had one cup. Black.
I had one espresso, then I paid in advance for a coffee for you; hope they didn’t charge you for it.
Why’d you move to Denver? How do you find it?
I spent nine years in an isolated part of rural New Mexico’s southern desert and then it seemed like it was time to move back to the city. Denver is great, seems very sustainable: grounded but open-minded.
How would you describe the Howling Hex’s music? There seem to be a lot of guitar “waltzes,” for lack of a better term. What do you plan to do at Lost Lake over four nights?
We play Norteño music with electric guitars and drums. We’ll play a variety of songs each of the nights, not the same set.
I read on your site that you support the death of the album. Really? Why? Are you going to record any more of them?
I like turning in a batch of recordings of songs to the record company and letting them figure out how to sell them, one at a time or all together — it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t want to have to buy the whole album if I only want to buy one song. The LP is like the buggy whip and the spittoon, comically irrelevant but interesting to collectors and aficionados.
Do you ever play Royal Trux songs? Do you consider that work to be influential on what you hear today? Any hope for a reunion?
Never play Trux songs and I do not think there will ever be a reunion: the-$$-to-pain-in-the-neck ratio is incredibly high. I don’t know if it is influential or not.
The Howling Hex’s residency runs June 7, 14, 21 and 28 at Lost Lake Lounge in Denver.