She formed influential gutter sleaze-punk metal outfit Royal Trux when she was fifteen, went on to lead the gilt-edged trash of 70s-rock ‘themed’ RTX (Rad Times Xpress), spent time modelling for Calvin Klein (simultaneously bringing ‘heroin chic’ to the mainstream) and now Jennifer Herrema returns with the totally righteous Black Bananas - the new old rock sound of a denim and leather bar-room brawl between Mötley Crüe and the Stooges in a paralleL.A. She makes music, designs clothes for Volcom, surfs and hangs out. Time I spoke to her.
Is Black Bananas more than just a name change? What demanded the creation of Black Bananas?
It hasn’t really changed… It’s the same people, but we’ve been working on the record for a while, and as time went on we just noticed that we were adding a lot more elements to it and using more diverse instrumentation. Right when we finished the record I was like “This definitely has aspects of RTX, and me and the stuff we’ve done before, but it’s totally taken to another level”, so we just decided to re-christen it. Just give it another name. It wasn’t until after the whole record was done that we decided that it had a personality of its own, and demanded a new identity… As it were.
So it’s a step beyond a RTX album?
Yeah, yeah. I mean… When I listen to it, I can tell it’s us, but I can also tell that we’ve taken it a lot further and threw a lot more into the kettle, y’know?
How long did it take to get the album together?
Well the thing is, whenever we’re recording it’s not like we stop… We don’t work on stuff and then be like “Ok, it’s time to make a record” and then just jump in and do it. I mean I don’t work! I just do music and surf and hang around… Basically we’re working on stuff every day. It’s been, like, three years since the last RTX album and we had already started… Like ‘TV Trouble’, that song, I wrote that like a month after the last record came out. But it was figuring out how I wanted to incorporate it on a record. So for three years we’ve just been fuckin’ around y’know, buying new gear and experimenting and exploring Ableton. I set up the whole stereo system at the studio. Before that we didn’t have a stereo over there so we never really listened to music because we were always in the process of making music, but we had such a long drawn-out time, and we wanted to take our time and enjoy ourselves. I’ve got this huge vinyl collection and we’ve all been listening to the same stuff - like stuff from when I was a kid - so over the past three years we’ve really gelled into a separate identity. I just feel like it’s time that we take RTX out of the equation because stuff seems to always be overshadowed by that name, unfortunately. I never wanted to capitulate, because I consider anything that I do to be part of my body of work, which has always been - since I was fifteen - RTX. It doesn’t mean that I can’t name something different and bring myself to it.
So what were you listening to when you were growing up? Most people I know didn’t come to your music through Ratt, or Mötley Crüe or whoever; they came to it through indie rock or something.
When I was a kid growing up, I would go with my older cousin to see Mötley Crüe, you know, all that kind of stuff. Those were the big stadium shows, and I was exposed to that music very early on, as well as punk rock, which had all-ages shows where I could go and see the Bad Brains when I was like twelve. So there’s a Bad Brains influence in there too, but also, I was the only white kid in my entire neighbourhood. For miles and miles. It was all go-go, and rap, and funk, and that’s the kind of stuff I’d hear day to day. Like, we’d be out in the alley hearing that doing Double Dutch. There were no white people. Funkadelic is one of my all-time favourites, and you’ve got Zapp, the Garbage Can Band, the Go-Go Band and then you’ve got Experience Unlimited, Rare Essence… Just a lot of cool DC funk, but not just DC - there was a huge prevalence. But that was the music that I grew up with in my neighbourhood. But then all my older cousins, they weren’t from my ‘hood at all so I was exposed to a lot of different music. I’m really lucky that I have an appreciation for all different types of music. I felt like, early on by introducing stuff that was so hugely exciting to me as a kid, like fuckin’ Mötley Crüe or whoever, that people who liked ‘college rock’ or ‘art rock’ or whatever would like those things too if they were allowed. If somebody were to tell them that it’s ok, that it’s not not cool to listen to some of these sounds.
Is there anything new you’re listening to?
Well, I just listened to the new Sleigh Bells track. I just got it this morning. I thought that was pretty cool. We’re gonna go on tour with them. They wrote me, they were really inspired by Royal Trux, so I think it’s gonna be fun. There’s this other band called Nü Sensae, they’re Canadian and they’re a two piece. I listened to a couple of their songs and I’m into it. I haven’t listened to a whole lot of new stuff, I’m just starting to, because we’ve just finished the record. When we were listening to music in the studio we weren’t listening to Pitchfork top-twenty shit, y’know? We were listening to old stuff. I know there’s stuff out there… Fuck, what’s going on? Are you into anything in particular I should check out?
The Peaking Lights record was really good, it’s this dubbed-out analogue psychedelia. You’d like it. And there’s an amazing remix version of it out now too. You should check that out. What non-musical things influence you?
Visuals, TV, the news, parties…
The visual stuff for Black Bananas looks really good. I saw a really cool one earlier today with all this found footage of explosions and car chases and shit.
The Rad Times Xpress promo video? That one was this guy, he’s a fan, and we met him once years ago when we were playing in New York. He’s been following my music for ever. Like, since back in early Royal Trux days. So he’s got a great insight into the whole pastiche, the collage aspect, of what Royal Trux grew out of and what I’ve always tried to keep as a central theme of what I do. It’s never just one thing, it’s always a mish-mash of shit I love, and am influenced by and stuff. He really nailed it. He wrote saying he wanted to do it, and asking about the different images and stuff, and I was just “Dude, do it!” I did not have anything to do with the making of that but the music is what inspired him - and his intense knowledge of what I’ve done in the past - and I think he’s done a great job! I’m way into it.
What’s happening with Volcom just now?
I got Kim Gordon hooked up with them so she’s gonna put out a bunch of t-shirts with them. That’s coming out pretty soon. I just spoke to her this morning, so we’re gonna do an interview with her to help market that. I have a new denim line that’s coming out for Fall 2012 that I’m just starting to see the samples for, and then for for Holiday 2012 I’ve got a jewellery collaboration with this jeweller Pamela Love. She’s awesome, she’s a sick designer. She and I are doing a jewellery collaboration for Volcom. There’s this sick illustrator who’s illustrated various t-shirts of me and Pamela in these psychedelic situations, and that t-shirt line will come out in Holiday too.
That’s a while away.
Yeah! I’m also really excited about Fuct, you know the dude that runs Fuct?
Yeah, Eric Brunetti! I’m meeting him and his wife at the end of the month, and we’re gonna do like a solid amber natural perfume collaboration. We’re going to start working on that before I go on tour, so that’s gonna be exciting.
How does working with companies like Volcom and Fuct compare to working with somebody like Calvin Klein?
They’re awesome. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and it’s not just all ‘business business’ all the time. There’s a lot of people who have been there since the very beginning that just grew with the company and just learned as they went along, so they’re not just straight out of business college or something. They’re actual real people. I admire them for keeping on the real people.
I admire them for employing Michael Sieben…
Ah, yeah, Michael Sieben’s awesome! And then the stuff that they just did with John Baldessari and the stuff that they’re doing with Kim Gordon. Black Bananas have been doing music with (artists) Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman, and we just did this performance for the MOCA - the Museum of Contemporary Art - and these dudes are just sick. They’re making a video with our music, but we’ve kind of been incorporated into their art, and they’re going to do some artist t-shirts. I hooked them up with Volcom. Their t-shirts will be super sick. I can’t wait to see the finished ones. You should check those ones out, you’ll like ‘em.
Are you planning to tour Europe with this Black Bananas record?
We want to! People are asking us. We’ve had so many different booking agents over there… The idea was to come over early Fall, but we will see. Drag City can handle all that shit. Dates and times, and who’s handling what.
Have you been surfing much lately?
No. I’ve been really sick. Not sick like… You know. Haha! But I went in about a month ago and it was the worst, I had a terrible ear infection. It happens sometimes. I had to have shots of antibiotics, my ears were so infected. I’m not much into surfing in the cold, so I’m not missing it right now.
Are you around skateboarding much?
Kurt, my boyfriend, skates all the time. I haven’t skateboarded since I was 19. I had to have both of my knees drained with needles, I had water on the knee. My knees suck so bad. I’ve jumped on one and gone down the street, but that’s about it. All those dudes over at Volcom skate every day. Every day.
Cool, well, I think I’ve got everything. Unless there’s anything I’ve missed?
I dunno. Haha! Make something up if you need more.
So what’s that, you’re in love with me?
There you go! Stick that in. We can start some whole rumour shit! Haha!