Published on February 5th, 2012 | by Clara Cullen
There is little that has to be said when one utters the name Henry Rollins. He could easily be described as DIY itself. Having formed one of Hardcore’s most relentless bands in the form of Black Flag, their commitment to touring and DIY ethics has made them one of the most enduring hardcore bands to this day. Rollins for the last 30 years has embarked on many spoken word tours which often last 3 hours or more. These tours have been inspired by his travels around the world. On top of this he’s written many book. His latest being “Occupants” which is out on his publishing company 2:13:61. Henry was kind enough to shoot us over the answers to some question we sent him last week.
1)You’ve written a fair few books. You’ve said in past interviews that “the moment I think of myself as a writer, I just don’t write”. Therefore i’d assume that writing isn’t a meticulous “I have to write 2000 words a day” process for you. Having read many of your books, to me your writing seems like a very internal, personal and an essential outlet for your thoughts. With that, do ideas build up inside until you simply have to let them out, or it more unconscious than that?
Henry: It happens all kinds of ways. Sometimes I let ideas sit for several days as I evolve them in my thoughts and then I start making notes and then I write the thing, ususally a short editorial of 700 to 1000 words. Other things, like journal entries or a piece for the LA Weekly, I just sit down and do it. I try to write some every day, even if it’s just notes on what I am thinking or what I want to research next.
2) Your latest book “Occupants” is a collection of photographs and essays from your travels around the world. As many would expect from you the book isn’t just some simple “coffee shop token picture book”. It deals with human interactions with a really strong sense of empathy and is essentially a humanistic anti war project. Having been all around the world, and interacted with as many people as you have. I don’t believe anyone could stay cynical for long when you see the struggles but also the simply joy that humans face with on a day to day basis?
Henry: I don’t consider myself cynical. I think it’s intellecually slothful and morally lazy to be that way. I have met amazing people out in the world who deal with a lot of very heavy stuff day to day, there is no room for cynicism there.
3) As a result of this anti war stance some people found the idea of you playing shows to soldiers overseas very puzzling. So why did you want to play those shows? And were there any reactions to the shows that surprised you?
Henry: It would be puzzling if you don’t know how American government works. Soldiers don’t start wars, they take orders. You don’t like a war? Take it up with Congress or the president, not the soldiers. I was in warzones as one of Bush’s custodians, cleaning up after the mess he made. The soldiers were really cool to me. Very thankful that someone came to visit them.
4) You have a long running radio show at KCRW which is streamed online around the world. It really shows your varied taste in music. Did radio play a big part in influencing your music taste when you were growing up? Is there anyone/any style that you try to tap into when you are presenting your show?
Henry: My mother taught me a lot of musical diversity. I also listened to the radio a lot. Perhaps the biggest influence on how I do the show is what I learned from a woman named Deirdre O’Donoghue. She had a radio show on KCRW called Snap! that was very good. I would go into the station and watch her do the show and learned how to keep the listeners with you and how to maintain interest and flow. There’s a bit more to it than just throwing on a bunch of songs, which you can do but if you do more planning, you can make it a better experience.
5) Are there any new bands that you’re really excited to play on your show?
Henry: No single band stands out. I play all kinds of music and check out bands and artists that are new to me, at least. New things come in all the time. A kind of new band, True Widow, I like them a lot, Snail is a good band, they have a new album coming out at some point.
6) You recently did a series in which you explored the whole Damned back catalogue. You’ve said previously that they’re one of your favourite bands and Black Flag toured with them. This year will be the 35th anniversary of ‘Damned Damned Damned’ and they’re doing a series of specials shows to mark the anniversary. How did that album impact your life? And on a broader note what is your take on legendary bands reforming?
Henry: It’s one of the best albums I have ever heard and I have no idea how many times I have listened to it. It sounds as good to me now as it did then. When the Damned go out to play this album to commemorate the anniversary, they won’t be using the actual line up who recorded it, will they? I doubt it. So, it will be Captain and Vanian and the others in the band playing songs that are for the most part, in their set on any one of their tours. If Brian James is on guitar, let me know. I think these bands should do what they want. I can go or not go as I see fit.
7) You’ve been friends with Ian Mackaye for most of your life, what lessons (if any) do you think you’ve taught each other?
Henry: I can’t say what I have taught him. I don’t think very much. Perhaps what not to do, although I don’t think he would need me to inform him on that. Ian is a pretty fully-formed person. He is the whole deal, as they say. Even at an early age, he had his own thoughts, his own thing. It was noticeable. I was always wanting to fit in. I wanted friends, people to like me, etc. Ian was his own person and wasn’t trying to impress you—he was just impressive. He is an extremely thoughtful person who works carefully. I have learned more from him than I learned from my parents.
8) You’ve been an advocate and involved in the independent DIY sphere again nearly your whole life, whether that be through Black Flag or your publishing company 2.13.61 or through your touring shows. What do you think is the importance of the independent scene on music be it through record shop/labels/bands or even just in the creation of a sense of “togetherness”.
Henry: I think it’s important that there is always an outlet for people to make records / songs, whatever who are not thinking about commercial success or sales as the main reason for making the music. The labels who are going to look over that side of things are going to be the independent labels for the most part. The importance is that there is always that outlet to allow all that to keep happening. I have no doubt all of that will stay around for a as long as there are people on the planet.
9) You’re a huge vinyl fan. So what are your top 5 record shops you’ve visited around the world and do you have any favourite labels you think people should know about?
Henry: I went to a really good one the other night in Koln but I don’t know what it was called. I can’t think of any top five stores. I can’t recommend any labels but I can list some that I pay close attention to: Dischord, Teenbeat, Sublime Frequencies, Analog Africa, Klimt, Phoenix, American Tapes, U-Tech, Art Yard, PSF, Memoirs of An Aesthete.
10) A lot of the hardcore scene thrived on the mentality that you had to just get out and tour tour tour, as the only way to survive. Certainly Black Flag set a bench mark for touring, to this day you still do over a 100 shows a year, with no sign of slowing down (despite what The Demon jibes!). Where did this DIY ethic come from, was it your family or the people you were friends with, or looked up to?
Henry: Basically, it’s what Black Flag did and it seemed like it must be the right thing to do because it was so damn hard. If bringing your work to the people in a live setting, you have to go to them. How much you do it is up to you. I would rather be out on the road than not.
11) This somewhat relates to the debate going on at the moment about the SOPA/PIPA anti-piracy legislation (which has now been shelved). What are your opinions on illegal downloads, and how do you think the music industry will react and have to change because of it?
Henry: When I download something, like the files of a rare record, it’s because I am curious and want to hear it. If I like it, I start looking for a copy to buy. So, for me, downloading almost always leads to sales. If you download one of my records for free and put it in your i-Pod and never get a real copy, I don’t know what else to call it but ripping off the artist. If that’s what you’re into, that’s you. I don’t think it should be anything that gets anyone sent to jail but you have to admit, it’s pretty weak. For me, I would rather be heard than paid. I am used to being heard more than paid. Labels often rips bands off. SST never pays me anything. Now the fans can do it too. If you’re in a band, or onstage, you have to learn to be pretty tough because there are always fuckers.
12) As some who is very involved in social commentary. What is your take on the Occupy movement (Obama’s States of Union focused quite heavily on aspects of it) and do you think it will influence the upcoming election race?
Henry: I think it’s a good cause and they are right. It has to transform into something that causes legislation to pass though. If it’s just going to be cops macing people in parks, I don’t know what comes of that. The Republicans won’t touch those issues in the election because it is all of their weak spots. President Obama would be wise to keep talking about all those issues.
13) Finally if you had to only use three words to describe who you are and your beliefs what would those words be?
Henry: Good To Go.
For the latest infomation on Rollins’ Tours, Books and general musings head here: http://henryrollins.com/
What’s your view? Let us know in the comments section below…