Interview with Henry Rollins

henry rollins
Henry Rollins

Interview by Scott Preston

Photos by Maura Lanahan

When Henry Rollins turned 50 this past February, he celebrated in the usual way: He set off on a whirlwind, two-month spoken word tour, commissioning renowned street artist Shepard Fairey to create a poster for the event that depicted the Angel of Death hovering just over his shoulder.

Since then, Rollins has refashioned himself into something of a modern Renaissance Man. In addition to his music and spoken word careers, he also pens a regular column for the LA Weekly, hosts a radio show on Los Angeles station KCRW and has authored over a dozen self-published books. (source)

Jamband News: How does it feel to be 50 years old and busier than ever?

Henry Rollins: As far as thinking about being a certain age, in the past its been just another day in that I feel the same as I did the day before.  I really don’t stop to think about it very often, because I am so busy with so many different projects.  But this time around I played 2 shows on my birthday and will play a month of shows honoring the fact I’m 50 but its not really the central theme of the tour.  It’s really just an excuse for me to go out there and make fun of myself.  It’s also not really that big of a deal to me because I hope to be 60, 70, 80 and still going strong.  It is interesting coming from the rock and roll world where you have a “Use By” date stamped on your ass, because a lot of people think its a young mans game.  It feels good to still be around and relevant at 50 years old.  I still get calls for all kinds of projects and people still want to see me on stage which is the greatest compliment I could get.

Jamband News: You have really diversified yourself in the projects that you take on, do you think that could be a reason you have stayed relevant for so long?

Henry Rollins: Absolutely, I don’t think I’m all that talented but I am very tenacious.  I come from the minimum wage working world therefore I really don’t have any illusions in front of me.  So when I was younger and offers would come in to me,  they would ask “Want to be in a movie?”  , I would say sure, I mean really what did I have to lose?  That’s the approach I have been taking for a lot of years now in regards to every project that is presented to me.  It really takes me 7 days a week to keep up with everything.

Jamband News: What led you to performing as a Spoken Word artist instead of music?

Henry Rollins: Well I started doing spoken word tours back in 1985 when Black Flag wasn’t touring.  In the beginning I was drawing about 12 – 50 people each night.  I remember my big goal was to sell 100 tickets to one of these shows.  I believe I hit that goal within the first year.  With the Rollins Band I was able to call the shots and say we will tour from this date to this date and then I am doing a spoken word tour.  I would do 100 shows with the band and then a week later I’m going through those same towns all over again.  The process would repeat it self for much of the 80′s, 90′s, and 2000′s.  I think I did 143 shows last year, this is planning to be an off year with about 50 shows.

Jamband News: How do you feel about being on a major label instead of an indie label?

Henry Rollins: One of the things I enjoyed about being on a major label is the press.  I now have a team of publicity people behind me that make sure people know I am coming to their town.  Our joke in the band used to be we are playing secret shows.  For example, we would get to Boston and goto a record store and someone would walk in and see me and say “Whoa Henry Rollins, what are you doing here?”  I would say we are playing tonight and they would then ask where.  Usually people that would really want to see the band play would find out too late.  With a major label, they have the power to get the radio spots, ad space, etc..  We were never going to sell a ton of records, but we could draw a lot of people to the shows as long as they knew we were coming.  When people would give me grief for being on a major label, I would say look, I am taking advantage of the machine.  They are getting a good record from me, and I get to use them to tell the people where I will be performing. 

henry rollins
Henry Rollins

Jamband News: Since you have been performing for a number of years, you have experienced the music business before the internet and now after.  What are your feelings on the subject?

Henry Rollins: I think its good and bad.  It lets the bands starting out get more attention that they might not otherwise get.  It lets someone who might never be able to afford to make a record the possibility of doing so, which I think is fantastic.  So what if your band sucks, if you want to make a record you should be able to.  Life is short, you should be able to get your ya-ya’s out before you die.  The ability to be able to connect to your audience with such efficiency is just amazing.  I can send out a newsletter to everyone on my list with just a point and click.  It used to be I would have canvas duffel bags  full of the mass mailings we would do.  We would spend $500 to print, fold, staple, stamp, and code bulk mail to get our catalog to a guy in Battle Creek, MI and hope he might check out my new book.  That would be all the money my company would have and you hope it comes back around.  Most of the time what would come back and I’m not exaggerating, is about 10-20 percent of the letters would come back undeliverable because the guy would have moved.  What sucks is seeing 4 of those dirty canvas duffel bags sitting on your front porch, with all that postage completely down the drain.  So now with the internet I don’t have to do all of that work.  Every Sunday or Monday I post my newsletter on my website for everyone to see in just seconds. 

Jamband News: You have said you have been pitched a lot of different project ideas, can you share some of the more unique or unusual ideas?

Henry Rollins: Once a company in Australia had asked me to do a voice over for a Guinness ad.  I’m not an enthusiast of alcohol so I said no.  Then they offered me a pretty fat 6 figure payday for not a whole lot of work, but I just couldn’t take it.  I have walked away from quite a few things like that, because it just wasn’t what I’m all about.  You really have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror the next day.

Jamband News: Are there any younger artists that you are impressed by?

Henry Rollins: There is a singer from I believe New York, Marnie Stern.  She records on Kill Rock Stars, a really good indie record label.  She is just an amazing guitar player and I play her music quite often on my show.  She is new to the world of making records but is doing a great job.  There is also a young songwriter, Dax Riggs, who used to be in a band, Dead Boy and The Elephant Men.  He is really a great songwriter, tremendous vocalist, great lyric writer, just has the all around complete package. 

Jamband News: What are some of the current projects that you have on the table?

Henry Rollins: I have a photo book that’s all finished that comes out in October.  It contains photos from 2003 – 2010.  I’m also working on three other books, editing two and writing one.  They all should be out in the next 1-3 years, putting a book together is a very slow process.  It is very time intensive on every level, it takes a long time to write them and very, very long time to edit them.  I’m also doing some documentaries with National Geographic.

Jamband News: What are the documentaries about you are doing with Nat Geo?

Henry Rollins: The last one I did with them was on tv last December, it was about a gene that thirty percent of men carry in their DNA that skews them toward aggressive behavior.   In the media it’s called the warrior gene.  We interviewed men who were very aggressive and some who weren’t aggressive.  We also tested them for the gene.  I was tested for it, the whole camera crew was tested as well.  We interviewed monks, bikers, ultimate fighters, I was interviewed, guys who have been shot, guys who have shot people, to see if they thought they had the gene.  We tested these Buddhist monks, and they all had the gene, which I found very interesting.  Then there is another documentary coming out in April, which is about an extreme look at people who keep everything from snakes, alligators to 20 foot pythons.

03-24-11 The Great Hall
Toronto, ON
Doors 8:00 PM
03-25-11 Museum of Art
Cleveland, OH
Doors 6:30 PM sold out
03-26-11 Mercury Theater
Chicago, IL
Doors 7:00 PM
03-27-11 Great Hall at University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI
Doors 6:30 PM
03-28-11 Cedar Cultural Center
Minneapolis, MN
Doors 6:30 PM
03-30-11 SPACE
Evanton, IL
Doors 7:00 PM
03-31-11 Otto’s
Dekalb, IL
Doors 7:00 PM
04-01-11 Canopy Club
Urbana, IL
Doors 6:00 PM
04-02-11 The Record Bar
Kansas City, KS
Doors 7:00 PM
04-03-11 Soiled Dove
Denver, CO
Doors 7:00 PM
04-05-11 Alberta Rose Theater
Portland, OR
Doors 7:00 PM
04-06-11 Triple Door
Seattle, WA
Doors 6:00 PM
04-08-11 Historic Brookdale Lodge
Brookdale, CA
Doors 8:00 PM
04-09-11 Independent
San Francisco, CA
Doors 8:30 PM
08-18-11 Queen’s Hall
Edinburgh, Scotland,
Doors 7:00 PM
08-19-11 Queen’s Hall
Edinburgh, Scotland,
Doors 7:00 PM
08-26-11 Reading Festival
Reading, UK,
Doors 12:00 PM
08-27-11 Leeds Festival
Leeds, UK,

My Security Squad from Henry Rollins on Vimeo.