Neil Hagerty's Howling Hex Announces 'Knuckleball Express' - Rolling Stone
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Neil Hagerty Is Back as Howling Hex and He’s ‘100% Real’

Knuckleball Express is out in April

When Fat Possum Records gave Neil Hagerty the finances to record his most recent record as Howling Hex, he made a pledge. “Everyone in the Midwest is walking around high and dying on OxyContin,” Hagerty tells Rolling Stone. “[I told the label] that I would just drive around in the Midwest for 200 days next year with this new band the Howling Hex. Because this fits the times. It’s a mess out there.”

That album, Knuckleball Express, drops April 17th — and Thursday, Rolling Stone is premiering the first single “Lies.” The album also features singer-guitarist Nicole Lawrence and producer Clay Jones (Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello, Townes Van Zandt). It was recorded in Hagerty’s hometown of Denver, Colorado.

“‘Lies’ is sort of my motto, man,” Hagerty says. “I mean it’s just effective. A lie is a lie is a lie. You know, even if you have 100 million people believe it, the energy that you need to sustain that, you know, isn’t worth it. So, I try not to internalize lies. So, this is kind of a fun romp. If you want to die, believe in lies.”

The song, and album, is everything you’ve come to expect from the former Royal Trux member: Screaming electric guitars, harsh-edged vocals and a kind of self-aware absurdity. “I play rock and roll,” he says. “Yeah, it’s got a little spice, a little more clownish. You know, it’s never meant to be heavy. It’s like it’s ridiculous on the face of it. But that was supposed to be the line. There’s a line where you’re looking across the gap and joining the hands and not mocking each other.”

“Rock and roll is what’s missing in bands these days that take a generic approach to playing that’s almost machine-like,” he adds. “We don’t need that anymore because machines can actually do it. I don’t see what the difference is between a precise human drummer playing to a click track and EDM. There’s some weak dad-rock stuff being distributed now by people my age, so I’m just trying to up the ante. I get on stage and say all the words I believe in my daily life. Not every dad can do that.”

Royal Trux ostensibly reunited for 2019’s White Stuff. The band, Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema, was active from the late Eighties to the early Aughts, breaking onto the scene in the aftermath of Nirvana — a period of time when major labels were fiending after alternative acts. They signed a massive contract with Virgin Records but soon decamped to indie label Drag City when the major label and alt band proved a poor fit. Hagerty and Herrema parted ways in the early Aughts — both as bandmates and romantic partners

The duo came together for reunion shows in 2015 and to record White Stuff, but Hagerty says he was muscled out of the recording process of that album and has yet to hear the finished product. Tours for the albums were canceled, and it seems as though Royal Trux is well and truly dead. “It was like the easiest thing in the world we could have done,” Hagerty muses. “Just keep personal things out of it. We can’t manage that ourselves, though.”

“I have a life, you know? So, I went back to Denver,” he adds. “I was hanging out there, smoking weed all the time and writing songs.”

All that songwriting, however, yielded Knuckleball Express, which Hagerty says he’s far more confident about than White Stuff. “I didn’t want to really big get known ‘til I got older. So, this is my one chance to fail,” he says. “I just wanted to make a certain amount of money and not have a second job, man. I’m excited. Because it’s a different thing than Royal Trux. I mean, it’s just literally me being 100% real.”

In This Article: Howling Hex, Royal Trux

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