EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Henry Rollins speaks about punk rock
LOS ANGELES, June 12, 2014 — Henry Rollins is a man of many hats. He started out as a singer in the Washington D.C. punk band State of Alert. Then he became the fourth singer for the legendary Los Angeles band, Black Flag in 1981. After Black Flag ended, Rollins went on to start his own band, Rollins Band. He has authored 12 books, including his most recent book, The Grim Detail. He has released ten DVDs and 17 spoken word albums. He tours as a spoken word artist. If all of this wasn’t enough, Rollins can also be seen and heard on a variety of television, movies and commercials, including Sons of Anarchy and Infiniti car commercials. Henry Rollins took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about punk music via email.
Kevin Wells: I read something you wrote regarding you not wanting to play music anymore and wanting to focus on your acting. Could you clarify that? The way I read it, it seemed like you were kicking dirt on bands that still choose to play the style of punk music that has been around since the first hardcore bands started coming out like Middle Class, Black Flag, Minor Threat, etc.
Henry Rollins: I am kicking dirt on no one. I don’t want to play old music. To me, it is fighting battles that are already over and calling yourself a warrior. For me, I see no courage or adventure in doing the old thing over again. If others want to, that’s for them. For myself, I have to move on. Life is too short to live in the past. There is a lot to be done.
KW: What is your opinion of the 13-year-old kid today who discovers punk rock and wants to continue playing that music? He does not want to progress the music or change it in any way, but just wants to write his/her own songs in that same style with lyrics that express his views of society.
HR: I think it’s great that a young person would want to express themselves with music. So what if it’s not completely original. They should do their thing and let it rip.
KW: Do you still listen to punk music? If so, do you get the same feeling you got when you listened to them when you were younger?
HR: I do. I like all the records I grew up with. At this point, they are part of me, they feel like relatives.
KW: What bands do you listen to these days?
HR: Kikagaku Moyo, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, VUM, Le Butcherettes, Jay Reatard, Trin Tran, Julie Ruin, The Fall, Dinosaur Jr., HTRK, Hisato Higuchi, My Cat Is An Alien, Uton, Spykes, ½ Octave Band. Those are some. I listen to a lot of music.
KW: In your opinion, is it wrong for old punk bands, such as Black Flag or Dead Kennedys, to get back together even if it is solely for the money? I mean, there are people who, due either to age or circumstance, were unable to see them during their original runs. If the band still plays the songs well, shouldn’t it really be up to the fans as far as whether or not a band should return? Also, what is your opinion of bands like Bad Religion who just keep doing what they do?
HR: I don’t think there is a right or wrong with that. I think bands should do what they want and the audience will decide. Beyond that, I don’t care as it doesn’t get in the way of what I’m doing.
KW: Comparing performing on stage with a band and acting, do you get the same rush from acting that you did when you were on stage?
HR: I don’t get a “rush” from anything really. I did music for a long time as hard as I could. Acting for me at least, is a far more restrained performance than music. It requires a lot of skill and discipline. I’m not any good at it but I enjoy trying to be good at it.
KW: Are you more or less proud of anything you have done? Or are you equally proud of everything on your resume?
HR: I have no pride about anything I have done. It’s just not the way I think about things. I do the work, always, as hard as I can, to the point of pain, injury, exhaustion, if that is what it takes. Once I am done, I move on. I don’t sit around listening to copies of my records. By the time the thing was mastered, I was long down the road on the next thing. I don’t stop for much.
KW: Does acting fill the same need that music did?
HR: Not really. It’s something you can put everything you have into, that’s why I like it.
KW: Do you get that same rush being on stage when you do your spoken word tours as playing music?
HR: I enjoy the challenge of trying to stay clear and make sense for two hours a night with no notes and a microphone on stage with me. Again, it’s not a rush, a thing that I don’t really know if I have experienced, perhaps so, but for me, it is focus, discipline and execution.
KW: Do you see a difference in taking corporate money for car commercials and bands “selling out” to corporate record labels?
HR: I don’t understand what it means to “sell out” beyond doing something you don’t want to do.
KW: I feel there are still a lot of quality punk bands out there making great music, both new bands and old. What is your opinion on the state of punk rock today?
HR: I think it is very alive and well.
KW: How is it that you were drawn into the lawsuit between Black Flag and FLAG?
HR: Greg Ginn made a mistake he paid for dearly. I give him credit that the checks he cut actually cleared. It must have hurt.
KW: Do you have an opinion on either of those two acts?
HR: It takes guts to move onto the next thing and risk setback and or failure. For myself, I can’t imagine being sixty years of age and playing music I wrote when I was in my twenties. I would rather sail the sea of consequence to new lands. Laps around the shallow end of the pool, not for me.
KW: What are you concentrating your time on right now?
HR: Television show, voice over, new book out, two more different stages of edit, travel plans for later in the year, next film wrapped, will have to do promotion for it at some point, radio show, writing for LA Weekly and Rolling Stone Australia. All this makes for a seven day workweek and often 12-16 hour days but that’s good to go.
Kevin J. Wells is the Sports Editor for Communities Digital News. He also writes about Major League Baseball, punk rock music and food. Kevin plays guitar in the Los Angeles punk band Emmer Effer. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball