flypaper: Henry Rollins Interview...
Henry Rollins Interview, Part One
by cellarist and moxie
If you knock at the door of Henry Rollins' office in the East Village, you don't get a secretary directing you to a waiting room: You get Rollins himself opening the door, showing you to a beat-up couch across the room, and asking you to make yourself comfortable.
Rollins' New York office, which houses his 2.13.61 record label and publishing company, looks more like a struggling artists' loft than the home of a million-selling alternative rocker; but it befits Rollins' workaholic lifestyle--he pours most of his earnings into the label, sleeps in the back room, and divides the rest of his days between band practice and gym workouts. We met the day after his spoken-word performance in New York-- perhaps the best-attended event at the Mac-sponsored Gig '96--and he spoke at length about everything he's up to; even answering some questions from firefly members.
Shortly after we did this interview, we stood with Rollins on the street corner and saw a random fan walk by; his jaw practically dropped when Rollins greeted him with a friendly hello and a handshake. Like us, the fan was probably surprised at how approachable he was.
Q: I'm really surprised when I hear you do spoken word shows. There's a really good natured side of you that only seems to come out in those kinds of situations, the way you relate to the audience.
HR: The music thing is a different energy level, a different format, a whole different context. Beneath it, some people think its really funny. For me it's decidedly very humorless. For me, it's more passionate. People get really tripped out because they see the band and they think, 'God what an asshole that guy is.' And then they see the talking show and think, 'Maybe we could hang out with that guy.' When I write lyrics, it's only when I'm angry or hurt or sad. So lyrically it's never really easy going. And the music, you know, is always really intense.
Q: Does that mean you would have to be angry, hurt, or sad on a regular basis in order to keep writing good stuff?
HR: Yeah. In order to keep writing good stuff, yeah. I'm having a streak of everything going OK; I'm not very productive on the writing thing. We've been working for fifteen months on the songwriting on this new record so we're all pretty involved in that. Yeah, it is kind of corny to say that I can only write when I'm feeling bad. But you know, I don't really write for fun; it's not an enjoyable experience. The stuff I read the other night, that's not fun to write. I have to write that. For me, art, or whatever the hell it is I do, has always been a refuge from that which makes me want to tear my lungs out. That's why I play like I play; I'm not into entertainment.
I'm not a singer. If you've heard any of my records, that's not singing. I have no vocal qualities whatsoever. I've got a lot of enthusisam and I go to the cross, but there's no skill going on there. It's more just intuitiveness. So I do all of this for my own thing ... to get it on.
This university student was writing his term paper on me, and asked me recently, "why do you write?" I said to him I'd like to rid myself of writing, to surrender, to release the venom. And hopefully at some point, I'll be a happy, well-adjusted guy and I'll have no need for all that 'art.' And I'll look back at it and say, "OK, we did that."
Q: Do you think the well-adjusted side of you can be expressed musically, though?
HR: Sure, but it wouldn't be interesting to me. I listen to blues music a lot and that's a good person feeling bad and celebrating that pain by releasing it in that kind of joyous fashion. I listen to pretty hard-core bebop jazz and big band, and even with stuff like Duke Ellington there's a lot of sadness and a lot of beautiful shades of melancholy. And sometimes there'll be kind of a downbeat but there'll be a real up-tempo swinging number next to it. It takes you off into a landscape of emotion. For myself, I don't have that kind of skill; I don't have that kind of need. Music doesn't serve me like that. I don't need it for the good times.