Q&A with Henry Rollins
Sheila Rene': Hello Henry! How are you?
Henry Rollins: I'm fine, how about you?
SR: I'm okay. Do you get up early every day?
HR: It depends on my schedule. Unfortunately, when I come out to New York it usually means I've been on the West Coast for quite some time. That three hour time difference hits me pretty hard. I very sensitive to time change which is a drag. I do my best. Even if we hit band practice at noon, if I'm on Los Angeles time it's 9:00 AM for me. Optimum, up at 8:00 AM or earler is great. That way I can get the phone calls done before the phones start ringing.
SR: Do you do your health thing first to get pumped up for the day?
HR: No. I do it last since I like to get four or five meals in me before I go hit the weights. The workouts are pretty brutal and I want to make sure I have as much protein and amino acids in me as possible.
SR: That sounds reasonable to me.
HR: I usually hit it at 8:00 PM. That's the way it has been going. Unfortunately my gym in New York has given away too many memberships and it's packed until about 9:30 PM now. It's very aggravating having to deal with all these people who just fool around with weights. Folks who really aren't serious about it at all.
SR: Were you surprised when Imago went under?
HR: No, not at all. I saw it coming.
SR: Did Geffen, Katzenberg and Spielberg call you up?
HR: Well, when Imago went under and we were without a label for several months, we went looking. All the major labels raised their hand and my manager, Richard and I went to have lunch with all these people. They were all incredibly cool to us and I'm sure that we would have done just fine on any one of those labels. The thing that made DreamWorks, who were the last people we met with...I had to fly out to L.A. just for that meeting. What put it over the top for me was sitting at a table across from David Geffen, Mo Ostin, Michael Ostin and Lenny Warneker. The accumulated knowledge of those four guys is like the Library Of Congress right there. If you see the people they've worked with there's not a whole lot you're going to tell them about the record business. Mo Ostin has worked with everyone from Charlie Parker to Duke Ellington, Billy Holliday to Van Halen and everyone in between in a way. Same with David Geffen. All these guys can pull out these names and experiences. When these people are looking at you and telling you that they love your band and would be thrilled to have you on their label, and that they quit their day jobs to form this label. This is what we're going to be doing when we're about to die, this is our last statement, this is where we're planting the flag. I was very enthusiastic about being part of that. There's more of a buzz about that than any label we've been to that were more established in a way. Warner Bros., Sony and others were very solid but this was just wise men saying we're going to go for this. They said 'are you in or what?' I said, 'Yeah, man I'm in. This is too cool.' It's really exciting.
SR: And then you won a Grammy for your book, Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag.
HR: It was okay. Not major on the excitement scale but cool. I gave it away. I no longer have it in my possession. It's on somebody's mantel.
SR: Wow, on someone else's mantle.
HR: If you put it in my place it looks like stolen property. I don't really have any domestic furniture items where I live. I have audio reference gear, video reference gear, video and audio source like LPs, CDs and cassette master tape, a computer, 500 pounds of weights and a futon. The shelves are full of books. No kitchen table, no living room furniture. Where the kitchen is, it's stocked with books. That's how I live. I eat over the sink and when someone comes over I have to get the folding chair from the wall. I have only one chair, which is what I sit in and work in, otherwise I'm standing to do stuff.
SR: You are lean and mean on every front.
HR: It's just how I'm used to living. I'm used to living pretty low level and that kind of stuff I'm just not really ready to loosen up with. People come by my place (not many people ever come over here) but the few who do say 'this is a nice place man, are you ever going to move in? Nice office, doesn't anyone live here?
SR: Was going to Dublin and playing with the Thin Lizzy guys a high for you?
HR: Yeah, that was way more of a high than The Grammy for instance. On a major thrill level that was an 11 on a 10 scale.
SR: You got to meet his Mom and play with the boys.
HR: Yeah, I hung out with his Mom, who's wonderful and we thanked her on this record. She just wrote me a really nice birthday card a while ago and I still write her ever once in a while. She wrote me this incredible letter that said 'you were my favorite part of the whole thing and I'm so happy you liked my son.' Scott Gorham and the guys in the band wrote me or faxed me and said 'Hey, that was so rockin'. We can't thank you enough.' That really meant a lot to me. It was a great moment being on stage and looking to my left to see Scott Gorham rockin' out. That was major for me.
SR: I interviewed Scott and Phil in 1980 when I drove to Sacramento to see them and again in 1994 or 1995 on Scott's solo album. He remembered me. I was totally blown away. I took my "Collected Works of Phil Lynott" book to be signed by Phil. Major thrill. I also have a Lynott stand up that I've been offered major bucks for, but I'll never sell it.
HR: Wow. There're a lot of people who're really hardcore on collecting stuff. I have some interesting stuff at home that his manager gave me such as two signed poetry books. Someone sent me a present of a signed copy of "Jailbreak" by the whole band. What's interesting is that Gary Moore signed it so it was a later lineup. Phil's mother sent me some stuff. His old bass tech is now our bass tech. He had one of Phil's old pick guards and he said 'hey, would you like to have one of his pick guards? It's sitting at home from the Thunder & Lightning tour." I said 'bring it on.' It's at home just sitting there.
SR: Great memories here.
HR: I was in Japan recently doing some press and they have the greatest CD bootleg markets in the world. I found at least nine or ten new Lizzy bootlegs that I haven't heard yet. One of them is the Reading Festival, 1977 and it was the Bad Reputation tour. They do "Soldier of Fortune" live, which I never heard them perform, and "Bad Reputation." The whole set is really awesome.
SR: How's the Infinite Zero label with Rick Rubin going?
HR: Fine. We've got ten Bevis Frond records coming out and hopefully four early albums by The Fall. We'll release some more Flipper records including an unreleased one that I think was the second half of the Gone Fishing album. We're releasing Going Fishing as well and I think we'll do a re-release of Generic which was on American Recordings. Generic is flipping over to Infinite Zero and what else? We're waiting for some other stuff to clear licensing but we're hot to get this Fall stuff out. I was a major fan of The Fall as you know. They're one of my favorite all-time bands. It took about a year of negations with Mark Smith to get this to come off and finally we got a deal that both sides were happy with.
SR: You did the writing for this album in '95 in New York ala "During A City."
HR: Yeah, we wrote it in '95 and '96. That song is about walking around in Manhattan.
SR: The strongest cut on this album for me is "Shame." I suspect it's a very personal song for you.
HR: That song was a year of discussion, analyzing and it was in the set, it was out of the set and then back again. It went through a lot of arrangement and lyric changes. I was always trying to do lyrics like that--the ones that were really hard to put across. A lot of times I would shy away but on this record, if something felt uncomfortable, I just went for it knowing that that was my job. To go where it's not flattering and where one is vulnerable.
SR: "Starve" is a very powerful song for maybe every one else.
HR: Yeah, that song is one of the funniest of the set to play. We played it yesterday at band practice and it was a major get-off.
SR: It has a deep message of having to starve oneself to work toward defining ones character.
HR: Yeah, it's starving yourself in all ways even from food, but it's like starving yourself away from comfort and from media overload just to get to what's essential. Whatever that is for you. It's different from person to person, but it's very important that some people get to the real deal. It's so easy to be weaned away from yourself these days in modern culture.
SR: It's nearly impossible.
HR: It's impossible to find yourself some days. If you live in a city, good luck. There are so many people in your face, so much media and so much well-rendered media. I never watch television unless I'm in a hotel. I have a TV but all it picks up is video.
SR: I'm hooked on the media. I sleep with CNN just so I won't miss anything.
HR: When you see how easy it is to get to that point. When I'm here (in New York) I watch a lot of TV and if you don't watch for a while or as little as I do, you'll find that TV is really strange. Just what they're coming across with. I mean you shouldn't watch television for about six months. Try it and then watch it. Oh, my God, you'll see how these people are insane.
SR: I understand what you're talking about.
HR: I look at so many ads and I say wow! And all those tabloid shows like "Hard Copy" are utterly repellent stuff. It's just making people into idiots.
SR: Isn't doing commercials like the Saturn one actually paying for your support of other artists?
HR: Sure. Financially, I do the movies and voice overs (and I don't really enjoy the voice overs) mainly for the money I make. I take that money and spend it on putting out other people's books and records. I'm not putting it into my clothes. I don't own a car. The home I live in is very small, it's an apartment. But, I'm putting out 15 CDs a year and seven books a year. I'm financing a great deal of this. That's where my money goes. I'm putting it all into this art because I need very little to live. I'm happy with very little. I like food, books and music.
SR: And sex.
HR: And sex is free. A lot of CDs are free if you know where to go. Books are cheaper than cocaine and collecting Maseratti's.
SR: And a lot better for you.
HR: I used to not having anything so a little for me is a lot.
SR: I'm on the other side of that spectrum. Too much is not enough. I love your new song, "Inhale And Exhale." ...Inhale resolve...exhale ambition... inhale all I need...exhale all I want...inhale love of life...and exhale fear of death. It's just terrific wordage.
HR: Thanks, I'm glad you like it.
SR: Just using two of the favorite words in American politics today. Clinton didn't inhale.
HR: Oh, yeah, Bill Clinton. He should have just said 'yeah, I smoked dope so what?' It would have been 'yeah, Bill so did we.' Everybody would have said 'Yep Bill right on! and you can still be a president and have smoked dope 25 years ago. We don't think its going to effect your judgment that much today.'
SR: He's in trouble still with all the campaign funding questions.
HR: I can pay attention to it only so much because I've got a lot of stuff I need to do. I can't worry too much about a big, strong adult in the White House.
SR: We wake up today with a new Poet Laureate of the U.S.A., Robert Pinsky.
HR: Don't know the name.
SR: He runs the Slate Magazine on the Internet. He has a site where you can go and click on a poem and hear the author read it to you.
HR: That's great.
SR: Yeah, and I think that would certainly work on your 2.13.61 site as well as other sites.
HR: I think that's a great idea. We have audio on our music. I never thought of that. That's tremendous because I've got audio on a lot of our writers. I've got some great Bill Sheilds and Exene Cervenka stuff, Hubert Selby, Don Bajema...a lot of cool stuff.
SR: Listen you're hanging with the best of 'em.
HR: I'd like to think so.
SR: We both grew up with a very healthy appetite for jazz and particularly for Miles Davis. I just flipped when you added the jazz background on your '96 audio book, Everything. I read poetry in front of a jazz band when I was at North Texas State in the mid '50s.
HR: I bet that was fun. Ornette Coleman comes from Texas, I believe.
SR: It was fun. In 1996, I saw you do three and a half hours of stand up with two and a half bottles of water at Liberty Lunch in Austin. Not even a bathroom break. We were all laughing then crying all through it.
HR: (laughing) Yeah, I did that.
SR: How do you get psyched up for that kind of energy?
HR: I just go out there and let it rip. Once I'm out there and it just ...
SR: It just comes to you...
HR: I don't even think about it. I don't know that it's that long. It only hits me afterwards.
SR: You kept mentioning how everybody's tail was getting numb.
HR: I hate to keep them that long but usually I do that kind of thing in a theater where everyone is seated comfortably. That means a lot to me that everyone is comfortable because it's going to go long most times. Also, you know there's an exit door. If it has gone too long you can always leave.
SR: I would be afraid I'd miss something really inspirational or humorous.
HR: I'm not all that into 'give 'em their money's worth.' I am in one way and I wouldn't want anyone walking up asking 'where's the beef?' But, I have no problem going long. I like things that go deep in music, in movies and in all kinds of art. I want to be taken all the way. That's why I go see a performance, to get off and get into it, so I think the speaking thing should be like a real night out. When you come home you say 'okay, don't know if I want to see it next week, but by God once every 18 months that's cool. Otherwise, it's either a lecture or it's stand up comedy which is 55-60 minutes max. Lecture, hopefully the shorter the better. Twenty-five minutes your eyes are closing no matter who it is.
SR: (laughing) I can't close my eyes when you're around.
HR: That what I getting to. I try and keep it going to where three hours pass and you don't even know it. The reaction I always get is 'three hours past and I couldn't believe how I sat there...for three hours and it felt like one hour...'
SR: I couldn't believe it.
HR: It's hard on me as well. Those shows kick my ass.
SR: I appreciate those shows so much. I always come away with several things to think about.
SR: Did you have fun writing with David Lee Roth on his autobiography?
HR: Yeah, yeah. I've known Dave for many years.
SR: Me, too.
HR: He knows that I have a book company. I send him everything that we put out. He reads it all. As you know he's a voracious reader. He just called me up last year and told me was beginning to write his autobiography and did I have any tips. I told him that I thought he should do it on tape because he's not the kind of guy who would be able to sit still and write. He'd be better talking it. I hooked him up with Amy Williams, a Princeton grad, English major and you can't make her blush. You can't mentally outrage her. She's been there, seen it and sharp as hell...a wonderful person. They met and Dave took to her immediately as I thought he would. She's just so cool. She's one of the cooler people I know. They worked for eight weeks and we got 96 hours of tape. We had it all transcribed. The book is phenomenal and I pitched the book to some publishers. My role in this whole thing was to set up the deal. Dave did all the work. Dave and Amy together. I just shoe-horned them together. I lateraled and I got them up to Hyperion Press, who are very good people. I'm not sure but I think it'll be released by them. It's all good. Dave's story is ...whew!
SR: His story is awesome.
HR: Yeah, it really is. It's truly a one-of-a-kind story.
SR: He was certainly a great interview and one of the easiest. All I had to do is turn on the machine.
HR: Oh, yeah. He gives it up.
SR: Roth and Nugent are always at the top of my list. (After this interview Rollins comes in as equal to these guys).
HR: I'm going to get a DAT of this show I did with Ted. Someday you just might hear it. You'd get a kick out of it. Me and Ted just did 75 minutes the other day on his radio show. He drove 105 miles out to Detroit to do the interview with me. We were on air at 8:00 A.M. I said 'Damn, Ted you must have gotten up early for this. I'm honored.' He said (Rollins does a perfect Nugent imitation) 'you better be honored. In fact, you should be on your knees.' I said 'Never!' He went 'alright that's what I wanted to hear.'
SR: I love that guy with a passion.
HR: He's something else. I was raised on his music. I saw the "Free For All" tour, the "Cat Scratch Fever" tour and the "Gonzo" and that was some really high-fiver stuff. That was the genuine article. It gets no better than that really.
SR: I haven't talked to him interview-style since the last album.
HR: He looks great. He's the same in interview and out of interview.
SR: I know...all the time he's just Ted.
HR: Just living it up and having fun.
SR: What is acting like for you?
HR: Not a whole lot. It's interesting for about five days and then it just gets to be a huge pain in the ass.
SR: But working with all these great actors and producers...Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, Charlie Sheen, David Lynch and others. I'm really crazy about Lynch's anything.
HR: That's exactly why I did it. Lynch is the Man. That's why I did all those jobs. Most of the parts were without any auditions. I auditioned for "The Chase" because Fox Films was convinced I couldn't be funny. They said 'we've seen him, he's not funny. No, no, he's not funny. He's anything but funny.' I said 'give me a policeman's uniform. Take my measurements and give me a real policeman's uniform so the shit looks real.' Okay, the director and I went down to Texas and got me a Houston Policeman's outfit, which we borrowed. It fit like it should and I put on the mirror shades, the gun, the holster and went out to the parking lot of this hotel. I said 'turn the video camera on and ask me any question you want and I'll be the cop.' He asked me questions like 'do you think gays should be in the military?' and I was this stupid cop. It was awesome and really fun to do. Then I started talking with a lisp, in a policeman's outfit. 'I love busting people, get up against the wall. I love cuffing people because I cuff people at home' and Fox saw this and thought I was awesome and I got the part.
SR: What's the story with Keanu?
HR: Robert Longo the director of "Johnny Mnemonic" called me up and said he was a fan and would I read the screenplay? I read it and I told him I could do it and he said 'great get up here and do it.' David Lynch called me and said 'hey you want to be in my movie? All I have is a small part but I'm a fan and I think it would be great to have you in this film. I said 'Hey, I'm a fan of yours, I'd be honored to work with you...no part is too small.' I went for it and the same thing with "Heat." They said 'Yeah, you've got a thick neck, it's a small part but you get to work with Al Pacino. I said 'Hey, I'm in there!'
SR: You bet you're in there.
HR: It was cool. To work with David Lynch is a thrill. I worked two nights with Al Pacino. He's a nice guy and I'll never forget it.
SR: Do you think you'll be rockin' as long as you can or will you settle up and just be a publisher, poet, playwright?
HR: I don't know. I have got to see if music is not essential for me in a live and creative format...like to write it and play it...then I'm just going to step off. What I hate is when people are out there--after the fact. There are some people who are great until they die with a guitar in their hand. John Lee Hooker. Those records still work.
SR: I just listened to a new John Lee Hooker. He sounds younger than he did in the '50s.
HR: I haven't heard it yet. It's waiting for me at home. I interviewed him for the previous record, Chill Out. It was smokin' and he still has it. He was born with it and he's going to die with it. Where with other people, you hear the records and you want to say 'why don't you just go home and deal with your kids. You don't need music anymore.' I just can't take Mick Jagger seriously anymore. Rod Stewart just doesn't move me anymore. When you listen to the Faces or '70s Rod you can still hear it. Man, it's awesome. You can't deny it. Page/Plant...I don't believe it anymore. Then a lot of jazz musicians like Ahmad Jamal and Sonny Rollins are better than ever.
HR: I saw James Brown play a few months ago and he was simply awesome! He moves great and he was lean. His voice was in excellent shape. I heard him do "Sex Machine" and I felt good. The day he got his star on Hollywood Walk of Fame I went down and met him. He hugged me and everything. It was a great day.
SR: I have an autographed copy of the 78 rpm "Please, Please, Please." He told me that a guy is still trying to sell him copies of that single. He won't spend money on his own music and he shouldn't have to.
HR: Wow! Someone should just send him one.
SR: It was one of the great highlights of my life.
HR: I bet.
SR: If you were a jazz musician what instrument would you play?
HR: Sax (without a seconds pause). It's my favorite instrument in the whole world. Both lyrical and it's the sexiest and most human instrument as far as reflecting how a person thinks and feels. No one captures it better than a good sax player. When you hear Coltrane or Pharaoh Saunders or Hank Mobley or Charlie Parker. The list goes on and on. That is, for me, the instrument. Tenor and soprano are just incredible.
SR: Do you ever have any guilt when you're not busy? Can you relax, put your feet up and have some chocolate?
HR: No, not right now. There's too much going on and too much I've signed on the bottom line for and I have to be responsible for. My time for relaxation comes at the end of the day when I've done the days work and the workout and I'm just in bed paralyzed with exhaustion. I then do about 20 minutes of reading. On the weekends if I'm in L.A. it means that I'm working at the book company and the weekends are very quiet because most people don't call me unless it's business. So on the weekends I do a lot of creative writing instead of business. I listen to a lot of music and I down shift. I work about 14 hours a day on the weekends but it's more creative. I'm always doing something. I'd never go sit on the beach all day.
SR: "Black Coffee Blues" the book is coming out on audio CD. That one is really doing well for you.
HR: It's past 50,000 now. It's not bad for a little independent book.
SR: I love this new audio book thing.
HR: I'm having fun doing it. The music for that one we did with Chris Haskett, our guitar player and it sounds like him doing the "Paris, Texas" soundtrack. It sounds great. I did a thing with Charles Galen and Rashid Ali was a dream for me. I just called Charles knowing he had worked with Ali and asked if they'd like to do something. He called up Rashid and everyone was in agreement. I called them on Monday and Thursday night we cut it. I was the producer. I couldn't believe it. I'm sitting there mixing these guys...it was a thrill.
SR: Is there anyone out there that you haven't worked with that you might enjoy?
HR: Yeah, sure. I would definitely wonder if I could ever afford to do an audio book project and have Ahmad Jamal do the piano work for it. He's just one of my favorite musicians and live he's the best thing you'll see all year when he plays. I've never seen a bad Ahmad show. I've just seen shows where I walk out with varying degrees of amazement.
SR: I've seen shows where I've had to stand up and yell 'shut-up.' You know how people like to talk to jazz.
HR: Luckily, the shows I've seen and the people in the audience were very reverent. The loudest thing (laughing) at the show was Flea sitting next to me. After one tune, Flea went 'F**k Yeah!' Everybody stopped and looked at Flea with his fluorescent blue hair. Even Ahmad turned around and we're saying 'Sorry, sorry. You're awesome! Proceed Mr. Jamal.' He was that good.
SR: Another April date coming up for you is "Saturday Night Live" on April 19. Any special stunts like coming out barefoot again in your tux?
HR: I'm trying to figure out what I should do. Should I try and make some fashion statement.
SR: I think you ought to spook 'em.
HR: The only thing I can think of is to come out naked, but that's been done. Maybe we should just go out there and play it like we mean it.
SR: That's good enough for 'em. Can you believe that you've been in show biz now for 16 years . It's a long way from dipping ice cream.
HR: Yeah, sometimes when I look at how it has been going. It's pretty unbelievable especially the way I've gone about it. Just living by my wits. You know it has never been on very solid footing. Never very sure, almost as if it has been day to day, week to week. The easiest I feel is when I'm on tour knowing we have six weeks of steady work; we're going to be okay. There's always going to be a meal, we've got per-diem, we're working, we're making money, we're keeping the lights on. Otherwise, it's figuring it out every morning. I look forward to touring.
SR: Don't you stay planned a couple of years at a time?
HR: Yes, '97 is booked and we're looking at what I'll be doing in '98. We're going to do a lot of band stuff and a bunch of speaking dates. We're already booking the speaking dates.
SR: What do you like about producing other bands?
HR: Bringing out something in their music that they didn't know they had or having them get the first recording where they're really slammin'. A lot of bands sonically weren't all that great so I come in and go 'here's what I think and have them say man, thank you.' I've done that a few times.
SR: Who produced this new one?
HR: Steve Thompson who did Guns 'N Roses, Metallica, Butthole Surfers, Blues Traveler, Prince, Madonna, Earth Wind and Fire and on and on.. He's the Man! I want to do my next record with him. It was down to him and Toby Wright, the guy who did all the Alice In Chains stuff. He's a great producer and the reason we picked Steve was that he had just a bit more attitude. Toby, I think would have let the guys run a little roughshod over him. Thompson was more like 'okay, here's what we're doing.' Toby was more like 'what do you want to do?' No no, no. You can't ask my guys that because they'll just own you (laughing). You've got to walk in with some authority. I want someone to be objective. There are five of us in the room at this point and having played this music for 14 months we didn't know if we even had a record.
SR: You've got a record. It's as intense as Weight but delivered without a scream.
HR: We recorded two albums worth of material. There are 22 songs in the can. So, Steve came in with 'You've got a great record here. It's going to be fine no matter who's going to produce it. If I were doing it, I'd do this, this and this.' I said 'I like where you're coming from.'
SR: What's your take on the Internet. It has really gotten up to speed since we last talked.
HR: I think it's cool. I'm waiting to see what the government is going to do. I want to see how they think they can regulate it.
SR: Is there an E-mail address for you?
HR: Uhh, you know (laughing) as much as I like people and everything. I wish no one would write me letters. I come home from tour and there's 400 hundred letters waiting for me. E-mail that takes 12 minutes to download since there are so much of it. I'm one guy who's exhausted and wants to have a moment to himself. All of a sudden my living room is just crowded going 'Henry, Henry.' I beg people just to ... Yes, I like you too and can you please not write me. I feel compelled to answer every one of them. I feel badly when I don't and I'm on the road until January of 1998. I'm not going to even be looking at mail.
SR: Thanks for this time with you. A wonderful time for me.
HR: Sure, it's good to talk with you again.
SR: I can't wait to hear this new masterpiece played live.
HR: Just wait. It'll kill you. We'll be in Austin in June at the Liberty Lunch. So you know your way around there. I'll see you then.