Published in the Sunday Herald Sun, Melbourne, Australia - 2/27/00
By: HELEN WITHERS
HELEN WITHERS' office computer is adorned with Henry Rollins stuff. Her colleagues are responsible but she agreed to chat with the big fella anyway
HENRY Rollins plays a mean air guitar -- just like the rest of us who pump up the stereo and leap around the living room when no one else is home.
And after almost 20 years of electrifying and terrifying audiences as frontman for uncompromising American bands Black Flag and the Rollins Band, Hank -- whose only instrument is his tortured voice -- is quite the air musician.
Rollins, who would rather sit back and appreciate the genius of Jimi Hendrix than analyse it, admitted: ``I do air guitar, air drums, air vocals, air spastic in front of the speakers -- I'm like an air symphony.''
But there are ways for him to extract the music inside him and dare the uninitiated to discover it.
The tattooed muscleman-writer-actor and spoken-word exponent is on the promotional trail for the Rollins Band's new album, Get Some Go Again, April's Australian tour and the new-look band itself.
``I was kind of tired of music and the music scene around the end of 1997 -- being surrounded by mediocre bands and watching how well they did in the music world,'' Rollins said, explaining the gap between now and 1997's Come In And Burn album and tour with the previous line-up.
``Because if I'm getting pushed off to the side by this s---, I'd rather go out on my sword than kind of be shuffled off by these mediocre stylists.''
Rollins took his spoken word around the world, used his frequent-flyer points to visit other parts of the globe -- including Africa for a safari -- and produced Deep, the third album for Los Angeles-based club band Mother Superior.
The trio -- Jim Wilson (real guitar), Marcus Blake (real bass) and Jason Mackenroth (real drums) -- and Hank comprise the new-look Rollins Band.
Rollins, who asked Mother Superior to help him tape riffs ``that were rolling around in my head'', said: ``I saw how quickly they worked in the studio and I kind of got into how they were as people and how they related to music.''
The result of Mother Superior helping Rollins with those riffs was, within two sessions, enough material for Get Some Go Again.
After following a bluesier path in recent years, Rollins had re-embraced the spirit of hard, grinding rock 'n' roll and Mother Superior was about to hit the big time.
``These are guys who were raised on rock records; been working in record stores; been waiting for this their whole lives,'' Rollins said.
``So when we hit the road, the only complaints I heard was, `too bad we can't do a second set'.
``These are guys who work for a living. The drummer's got two kids. These are real people and this is what they've been waiting for -- to be able to get out and hit the international stage.''
In June, the band hit the road for 40 gigs in the United States and Europe. Inveterate traveller Rollins seems to relish his secondary role as head guide of ``Hank's World Tour''.
``They're so turned on, so grateful and so happy to be where they are,'' Rollins said.
``They go from playing an LA club to playing in front of 20,000 people in Portugal and opening for Metallica; and having all the members of Metallica walk up after the show and go `you guys rock.' That's kind of cool.''
Wilson agreed it had been pretty hot for the members of Mother Superior to be thrust into such a glaring spotlight: ``Man, when we did the Metallica show, I kept waking all night thinking `whoa, we just opened for Metallica!'.
``Sometimes I look at the guys to make sure it's really happening.
``Our first real show with Henry, in Toledo, Ohio, we realised how intense the crowds can be.''
Ah, intense -- just look at the face above. (NB; new close-cropped B&W portrait)
Rollins is happy to play the huge stadium gigs, but give him a small club or pub date any time.
``There's the audience, like pounding your feet with their fists. They're that close -- that's great,'' Rollins said.
He inspires a fanaticism in which the audience allows itself to be figuratively sucked into a swirling maelstrom of furious vocals and music, then hurled against the walls.
Occasionally it happens in real life. Eleven years ago an audience member in Geelong lost his teeth after spitting beer at Rollins, and the American visitor was in danger of losing a finger on his left hand from an infection that developed after punching out the aforementioned (false) teeth.
``They're not missing, I've got them,'' Rollins said when reminded about the inherent dangers of being too up close and personal with the crowd.
``Someone threw them on stage -- a souvenir. I went to Australia and all I got was a lousy bloody set of teeth.''
Rollins said Mother Superior had been enthusiastically welcomed as the new Rollins Band.
Wilson agreed, saying the trio was enjoying the dual role, and was planning a separate self-titled Mother Superior album (again produced by Hank) after Get Some Go Again.
``It's great after the shows when we meet Henry's hardcore fans and they tell us it's the best show they've seen him do,'' Wilson said.
Get Some Go Again already has received some airplay in Australia, with Illumination the nominated single. Frustratingly, for those who like to read as well as listen, it is the only song with lyrics printed in the CD's booklet.
H OWEVER, Rollins is not driven to scale the music charts: ``With a band like mine, with a voice like mine, a single is but a gesture.''
Even though the radio-friendly song Hotter and Hotter, co-written in 10 minutes with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, would have listeners pounding air guitars and air drums?
``None of that stuff is ever a consideration because radio doesn't favor guys like me,'' he said.
``You don't think single, you just think music and then you think album and you go `oh, that means I get to tour', which for me is the reward.''
The video for Illumination was filmed in January in Calcutta and Los Angeles.
Wilson was blown away by the shoot -- ``the stuff with Henry in India is sooooo cool . . . there's no way they won't be showing this one'' -- and Rollins was blown away by the country and its people.
``I can not wait to go back there,'' he said.
``The weird thing is I knew I could never hack it there, but I also missed it at the same time.''
It was an intense experience for an intense man.
``The whole concept of death is different. You know, I saw 12 dead bodies in two days. The first time I saw a dead man burning on a stack of wood I just kind of stood there -- not revolted, just fascinated -- while kids were walking by me on their way somewhere. The only thing that was curious to them was the dude with tattoos.''
Hank's record deal with Dreamworks allows him to play with whomever he chooses to make up the Rollins Band, and it looks as though Mother Superior will be around for a while.
``We're already working on the next record and we're all together for the tour and we're locked together by the ankles until September,'' he said.
It might sound like a cliche, but it is a dream come true for fan Wilson: ``It's kind of cool to get to make music with Henry as the lead singer. It's kind of like making your own Ultimate Rollins Album.''
`Get Some Go Again' is out now. The Rollins Band plays the Offshore Festival, Torquay, on April 23, 2000.
Thanks to Helen Withers for personally sending the article and granting permission for it usage. All content in NewsText remains the property of News Limited