Genius. A word not thrown around easily. Let alone by Bad Sounds. But genius indeed. A man who has lived by his predilection for noize and chaos, shone in the face of various guises plodding along with Pussy Galore, Royal Trux, Weird War, solo records and his current outfit The Howling Hex. Neil Michael Hagerty has changed the way music is, forever.
From the sheer jangly-ness, pure screeching euphoria, dancy-as-fuck-yet-totally-fucked tunes like “Dr. Slaughter”, “Yo Se!”, “SM 57”, et al, he and his cohorts have inspired a plethora of copycats, but remain the esteemed originals. With a penchance for writing books and commenting on the latest political state America finds itself, Neil kindly took some moments to answer some questions.
Where do you call home these days?
I just moved to Denver, Colorado. It’s pretty nice.
What are you working on at the moment?
Since I moved to Denver I’ve been playing clubs and rehearsing all the time. I’m looking for a place here where I can play once a week or so for a long time to come. We’re playing all new music and will go into a recording studio during the Summer.
Going back to the start, how did the Pussy Galore line-up come into fruition? And were songwriting duties shared?
Jon and Julie found me through a guy we both knew, a guy on the scene down in DC. I met them and they really had their shit together so I joined the band. Jon did most of the songwriting in PG, I would work on arrangements and stuff. I wrote a few songs for them but only because we needed a track to fill out the record, a change of pace or whatever.
Royal Trux kinda started in its infancy before PG right? And was then later focused on after you quit PG to move to the West Coast? How did the change in scenery alter your musical vision or inspiration?
Yes, Jennifer and I were working together already. Since we planned to move to NYC later that same year, me joining PG was a good idea, to do some touring and that kind of thing. She was still in high school, I was a little less than a year older. Then after a few PG records I left to concentrate on Royal Trux with her.
We actually stayed in NYC for a couple years after I left PG and then we went to San Francisco. Part of what Royal Trux was about not having a hometown so we planned to move every couple years to a different city, to let it change what we did. So our first LP was a NYC record, the second was a SF record then DC, Chicago etc. You can see how it changed, each record is different I think.
…I think it was their humor and abstract or absurd viewpoints, along with the disciplined musical focus that they all had.
Listening to the Royal Trux introduced me into an understanding or passion for music that’d end up being my ledge in life. Bands like Trumans Water, U.S. Maple, Bardo Pond, Strapping Fieldhands, I doubt I would ever have gotten into had it not been via listening to the Trux first. What bands were instrumental in you formulating your way of songwriting, or giving you the courage to record what/how you did?
In the 70s when I was little I listened to a ton of music, but Ornette Coleman, Television and Black Sabbath (around “Vol. 4”) struck me in a way where I suddenly felt like I was part of the world, too– I think it was their humor and abstract or absurd viewpoints, along with the disciplined musical focus that they all had. Later on then Husker Du, Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Dream Syndicate and Flipper were bands that I saw a lot in high school. They basically set the map for me about what a band did, tour small clubs, make records every a year, and just keep going. Of course, all of them didn’t keep going but there were reasons for that, so that can be a lesson, too.
There is a whole new crop of jangly noise bands that site you/RT/Howling Hex as major influences on their sound. Any that you particularly listen to or enjoy?
Well, I’m not sure who you mean exactly but I think that is awesome. I guess I’d probably like them all.
How did you end up getting involved with Weird War?
We produced a record for The MakeUp, so I knew them well, and I always liked whatever Michelle and Ian were up to so when they suggested we all work on a new thing together I liked that idea. You see, it was like joining Pussy Galore again after Royal Trux broke up, seemed like a nice transition.
Out of all the bands you have been a part of, touring was never much of a priority. Was this due to financial reasons or the fact that you preferred to write and record songs rather than slog in out on van tours across the world?
Well, I have toured a lot over the years but I have to say I didn’t like the way touring evolved through the 90s and definitely cut back. I like nightclubs and a lot of these places in the States are just terrible places to see music. On the other hand, big tours, bigger venues get totally impersonal. The sound engineering is definitely great but if I want to go out I’m more likely to just go to a club with DJs and video stuff. I’d like to establish a place here in Denver that sort of fits what I think is a decent night out to see music. Maybe if I can figure that out in one place then I can replicate it on the road.
Are you obsessive in the studio, pouring over small sounds for hours trying to make them perfect, or more interested in the “feel” of the song and whether it captured some energy.
I am very obsessive but also a disciple of conceptualism– so, process depends on the situation.
You’ve also released 2 books. How do you find time to get so much creative work in?
I never know what I’m supposed to do, I just keep working. Things are always evolving and I want to be part of that.
I guess everyone at some point sites Burroughs, Bukowski, Miller or any other beat writer as part of shaping their writing, would it be fair to say they had a part in influencing your style? Both in your novels and lyrically?
WS Burroughs (plus Philip K Dick and Isaac Asimov) is probably the main dude from that era for me, they were struggling against the construction of reality that implied a necessary continuation of certain kinds of oppression. And they saw different ways of abstracting around it and set it down in prose. It is not as specifically personal as was Miller or some others.
Essentially, we’ve been dealing with the reassertion of The Confederacy in this country, a fascist slave-state that has been waging a literal war, in their minds, against everyone who isn’t white, male, Christian, and a property-owner.
You’ve been extremely vocal politically on your website of late, what do you say is the current feeling in America in your circles? Is there optimism or a general feeling of same shit, different day.
In the 80s I felt like I was too young to really understand things so I held back and watched how the older folks on the left dealt with the first invasion of Conservative ideology, with all the anti-liberal policies being normalized. I don’t think they did a good job. Since 1980 when Jimmy Carter lost that election this country has just had the hand of doom over it, so to speak.
Essentially, we’ve been dealing with the reassertion of The Confederacy in this country, a fascist slave-state that has been waging a literal war, in their minds, against everyone who isn’t white, male, Christian, and a property-owner. If you look at the Constitution of The Confederacy it has all the pieces that have constituted the Conservative agenda. It is simply that obvious: States’ rights, term limits, no unions, no strong taxation or banking authority etc.
So, in my circle, if you say moronic shit like “all politicians are the same” or “both parties are the same” you get slapped upside then head and ignored. Politics in America is really very simple and two-dimensional. People who take it on as a hobby, I don’t think that makes sense. Personally, I’d like to not give a fuck about it ever again but right now the stakes are too high.
Well, do you think our times and the way technology affects us is turning people into quasi believers in multiple causes just by clicking on a link but not really knowing the roots of what they are supporting? Is awareness to the cause at least more positive than complete ignorance? Is anything really changing by supporting online causes but not getting involved physically?
I don’t know, I think it has made a difference in that it allows someone like me, someone who is not really a “joiner” or a team member to at least do something. I think it is up to the people who are creating the online methods to use the interest correctly. It can produce good results.
I heard that Howling Hex are potentially planning to tour Europe soon? Is there a chance we will see you coming up to Oslo?
Within the next couple years I hope to do a really, really long tour of Europe. We’ll see. Oslo, of course, is a place I love so we’ll try to play there as often as possible.
Illustrations by Kjetil Tangen