Don't Call Me "Punk": A Comfy Chat With Henry Rollins
Henry Rollins gets some again...
From his days fronting hardcore act Black Flag to his current roles as frontman of the Henry Rollins Band, regular on the lecture circuit and occasional actor, Henry Rollins has always been an in-your-face kind of guy. Whether you view him as long-winded and dogmatic or you own personal Jesus, Rollins deserves respect for never, ever withholding an opinion, however controversial. Coated in black ink and chiseled from stone, he's the kind of guy you listen to, whether you agree or disagree.
In February, a retooled Rollins Band will release Get Some Go Again. For the album, Rollins replaced his backing band of ten years with Los Angeles power-rockers Mother Superior. It's a brutal chunk of hard rock that finds Henry's throaty rants in fine form. As one expects from the man, Henry pulled nary a punch during our little chat about punk, the Seattle riots, dropping acid and having babies.
Do you still consider the music you make to be punk?
Punk rock never mattered to me. Punk rock was just a term. I liked the Buzzcocks and X-Ray Spex, but I liked Led Zeppelin the whole time. When I joined Black Flag, those guys had so much open contempt for punk rock. They thought it was the most lightweight music. They treated Johnny Lydon like a hairdresser. It was so amazing to hear them say, "The Damned? Who the fuck are the the Damned?" They were into the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, Sabbath, Black Oak Arkansas, Television. Punk rock was never anything to hang your hat on.
Why an entirely new band for the new album? What happened to the old guys
At the end of '97, when we had finished our shows [in support of Come In & Burn], I really thought that we had realized our musical potential. No one was fired. It was not an "I hate you" thing at all. It was ten years, and we had worked out every possible musical equation. It was time for everyone to graduate and find new people to run around with.
So it was hardly a control-freak issue?
I was the weak link in the chain in that band; I couldn't keep up with them. I was like, "You guys, help! Where does a guy sing on this one?" I'm not very musically skilled and those guys are ridiculously skilled. It became very difficult. A control issue?
When you tour for this new record [beginning in February], are you still gonna do all the songs you did with the old Rollins Band?
Maybe a handful. We're gonna play the new record and a lot of stuff we've written since. We'll do three of four old songs: "Tearing," "What Have I Got," "Hard" and "Do It."
Can you foresee a day when you'll be too content to make angry music? Will you ever get too old to scream?
I don't construct this music so I can scream. I don't run around getting pissed off so I can write a song. I write what's on my mind. It's not so much anger as it is passion in a very excited state.
I've never been very content, and I don't lead a lifestyle that lends itself to being content. I live nine to eleven months of the year, every year, on the road.
I don't stay at big expensive hotels, and I do not have Sherpa guides carrying my stuff for me. You see a guy like Sting or Eric Clapton, they're parked in a nice, mellow tributary, and they make music that sounds very nice. That's the music of men who are fathers. I do not want kids. Love them to death, but do not want any.
I don't think you can make intense music and have kids at the same time. You can't serve two masters -- either you serve art or you serve your family. Something is compromised. I'm not interested in anybody's dad whose making music.
Do you think in retrospect Black Flag has been over-mythologized?
Oh, I don't think Black Flag has been over-mythologized at all. I hardly ever hear anyone mention the band.
Well, you must sometimes hear the word "seminal" associated with the band.
After having so many multi-platinum bands come up to me and say, "Your band is what got us all into music" -- I've heard that from some pretty heavy weight guys, I guess Black Flag was an important band. But Black Flag is [founder/guitarist] Greg Ginn. He wrote the songs. It was his vision. I was the fourth singer. I was in his band. If it was seminal, so be it, but that's a nod to Greg not me.
How has your anger or angst changed from the Black Flag days?
At 38, I don't really have a whole lot of angst. A lot of the things that used to piss me off then still do now: racism, homophobia. But some critic taking a swing at me? I know enough now to not get angry. I know that in the real world I could come across the table and that guy couldn't handle me. I also know that I outgross him, his woman would come with me and that without people like me he doesn't have a job. If I stopped doing what I do, there'd be thousands of letters asking why. If the writer quit his job, no one would notice. I'm putting food on his table. He's not putting food on mine. I realize that in the relationship I am the god. I know in a harsher plane, I'd be king of the jungle and I'd be eating soup from a bowl made of his cranium. Can you dig it? Knowing all that allows me to take a lot of things in stride.
Does the new punk movement -- Blink-182, Offspring, etc. -- matter?
I couldn't tell you what Blink-182 sound like and the Offspring is corny suburban music for thirteen-year-olds.
Compare the release factor of playing a rock show vs. a spoken word performance.
The rock thing is much more physical, more sweat, more calories burned. It's a lot easier than a talking show because the songs are the songs. It's not the hardest thing to sing a song you wrote every night. What's hard is to sing it with power and conviction. But with the talking shows, try going up there for two and half hours and winging it without dropping the ball. Not so easy. I did ninety-nine of those shows this year and it wore me out good.
There's this image of you being a very clean-living person. How much of that is myth? Do you ever drink beer? Smoke pot?
I've been drunk about three or four times in my life, around age seventeen. Had three beers, threw up, didn't like it. Smoked pot once. Didn't like it.
Coke? Speed? Acid?
I've tried acid a couple of times. This was like 1983. It was interesting but noting more interesting than what I can do when I don't sleep for a while. Coke and speed? Oh no. Too scary. I'm not that curious.
If you had been in Seattle at the World Trade Organization riots, do you think you would have been among the rioters?
No. I will not put myself in a position where I might get beaten up by a cop.
But you seem like a buff guy.
I'm not that buff actually. I'm 5' 10". I'm not a fullback. I do not want to get involved with an armed man in a bullet proof vest who has pepper gas, a night stick and the power to arrest and abuse me if he so chooses. That is not good battle strategy. That's the way you get taken out.
Do you have any weapons? Do you own guns?
Oh no, no, no, no. My best weapon is my mind. I'm gonna negotiate myself out of a problem. Physical violence, which is not a problem for me physically or morally, would be a last resort and only in self-defense.
Have you been in a lot of fistfights?
So what's an example of something that's made you go beyond negotiating into ass kicking?
Some guy wailing on me while I'm singing.
(December 23, 1999)