"My life story... it's pretty deep," says Jennifer Herrema. "It starts out kinda normal but you know..."
You know? Well, if you're a certain type of person, you do know -- how a 15-year-old Herrema came snarling out of southeast Washington, D.C., how she met the similarly visionary (or possessed?) Neil Hagerty and started Royal Trux, who scored one of the fattest post-"Smells Like Teen Spirit" record deals going and used it to make music in 1995 that the nerds and weirdos of 2012 are still trying to fully process. (Somewhere in here, she was a model for Calvin Klein and a journalist who interviewed Keith Richards, too.) When Royal Trux broke up after their 2000 album Pound for Pound, she took half the secret powers and started her band RTX, which later mutated into Black Bananas, who put out a beast of an LP this year on Drag City.
"Jennifer is my generation's Janis Joplin." -- Sara Thompson-Pizarro, Fan
It's clear that Herrema's telling the truth when she talks about doing "anything you can think of" by age 28. Never has the word "anything" suggested a more potent combination of psychedelics, pharmaceuticals, heavy weapons and heavy metal. "I got crazy early," she says, just before a quick story about the boyfriend who tried to burn her house down. (After he broke in.) And then there's the story about her friend and her friend's mom with no legs, who had one of those up-and-down-the-stairs chairs. Turns out that's tons of fun when you're doing bong rips ... at 12 years old.
The people who hate her don't understand what she's doing yet, she says, same as it was in 1989 when Conflict zine swiped at people calling Royal Trux "untalented junkie retards." But those who love her bring her skulls from the desert and jewelry with her name burned in and T-shirts with her name spray-painted on it, and some of them have an all-teenage-girl Pitbull cover band somewhere in heartland U.S.A. She feels lucky to have them.
Now settled -- as odd as that word feels -- in California, she's got a house just down the street from the beach, a private off-the-beaten track recording studio where she and the Black Bananas (and guests like Kurt Vile and Wino) can shred in peace beyond the reach of law and normalcy, and a side gig designing (by destroying) denim for action-sports colossus Volcom. And when you see those girls lined up outside the Echo with their snakeskin boots and Indian jewelry and wild look in their eyes? That's the still-spreading influence of Herrema, transforming the vanguard of yet another generation.
"All you can do is stay true to yourself," she says. "Maybe the more people know my story, the more they'll start behaving as themselves and not what society thinks they're supposed to or whatever."