But what does he have to say?
by John Sewell
Something of a mystery man, The Howling Hex’s Neil Michael Hagerty has straddled the netherworld between pop culture semi-fame and downtown rock’n’roll infamy for well over a decade, playing the bipolar but sometimes intersecting roles of musical renaissance man and louche icon with aplomb at every opportunity. Hagerty, who first appeared on the music scene in the proto-grunge era with then-partner in crime, Jennifer Herrema, as members of the junkie-chic combo Royal Trux, has always been one of those quasi-celebrity arrivistes endlessly sighted in various states of inebriation at star-studded and glamorously decadent parties, photographed with Keith Richards and Thurston Moore, or lurking backstage at the sold-out club shows of this week’s next-big-thing bands. Somehow, Hagerty is a man who has achieved notoriety for being in the wrong places at the right times: He’s famous in the rock world, in spite or because of the fact that his records are, at best, an acquired taste.
Royal Trux had a surprisingly long history, especially considering the expensive and dangerous, ahem, hobbies of its protagonists. When the band finally derailed around 2001, both Hagerty and Herrema had amassed bad reputations that continue to dog them in their post-Trux projects. So, with a déclassé track record (and track marks) permanently inscribed on his rock’n’roll resume, it’s really no surprise that Hagerty chooses to remain an enigmatic presence with his new project, The Howling Hex.
As the auteur and only permanent member of The Howling Hex, Hagerty is more prolific than ever, releasing nine full-length albums in five years, three of which are limited editions now out of print. His newest opus, Nightclub Version of The Eternal (Drag City), is more of the bluesy sludge he’s known for in the Hex muse. Hagerty’s guitar playing follows suit with the “loose, but tight” stylings of Captain Beefheart, Flies on Sherbet era Alex Chilton, Kid Congo Powers, or a host of Mississippi bluesmen. And with lyrics like the repeated cadence of (I think), “Going out out out, bring the canine soap,” well, who knows what he’s trying to say?
When I approached Haggerty’s publicist about an interview, she replied that, “Neil would rather do the interview by email.” Undaunted, I soldiered on, aware that the tricky email interview format can yield good results, especially with more serious artists. So I prepared a volley of multilayered questions, hoping that Hagerty would follow whichever digressions he found interesting.
Apparently Hagerty wasn’t particularly interested in communicating. Revealing little if anything of himself, his terse replies could be interpreted as either purposely opaque, humorous toss-offs, or curtly delivered disparagements of the interview itself. Or maybe Neil was just having a laugh and hiding behind a shroud of mystery, as per usual.
So, rather than play armchair psychologist and make assumptions about the deep meanings (or not) behind Hagerty’s replies, I’ll just display a little bit of our email in the Q&A format.
MP: Are your lyrics with The Howling Hex purposely oblique? Is there anything in particular you’re trying to communicate through the band, a vibe, or even a message?
Hagerty: Ha ha—well, I guess not.
MP: Nightclub Version of The Eternal seems slightly more ‘rock’ than your last couple of releases. Did you consciously seek to impose structure/pop sensibility on the new batch of songs? Is The Howling Hex rock or pop in any way?
Hagerty: I don’t know.
MP: It seems in a lot of ways that Royal Trux received a whole lot of media attention while the music got short-shifted. Do you agree with this assertion? I’ve rarely read anything about you or about Royal Trux that didn’t mention some kind of decadence. How do you feel about your legacy as a downtown media darling or as a poster boy for drugs and dissipation? Does this concern you in any way?
Hagerty: No, I just wanted to earn a living, and that’s how things played out.
MP: Do you have any collaborations in the works? Will you ever play with Jennifer Herrema again?
Hagerty: No. Reunions and shit are bogus.
MP: I’m under the impression that you’re a bit wary of the press at this point, and that you’ve consciously sought to blur your public image of late. Describe the post-Trux Neil.
Hagerty: I’m just myself, a gift to the women of this world.
MP: Are you healthy and happy these days?
Neil: Could be worse.
Who: Howling Hex w/ Invisible Giants