Thursday, June 4, 2015

INTERVIEW: Henry Rollins

Photo by Heidi May

Rollins.  Henry fucking Rollins. This is usually the place where I write out some flowery description of the artist and her/his music, but if you aren't clued in to the cultural devastation that this man wreaks across multiple media platforms, then a couple pithy lines aren't nearly enough to do him justice.  Henry was kind enough to take time out from shooting one of his new projects to answer some questions about his wonderful podcast "Henry and Heidi", fighting nostalgia, and how the Bad Brains blew away the Damned back in '79.  Brief, honest, no bullshit...enjoy...

First off, thank you for the “Henry and Heidi” podcast.  Your dynamic with (assistant) Heidi May is so playful and affectionate – as a public person with some fairly strong and iconic imagery attached, the interplay between the two of you and the history you share is really “humanizing”.   What was the impetus behind going into podcasting and taking this tact with it? 

She’s no assistant. She’s the boss. She runs all my stuff. I have different companies and have a hectic schedule. She manages all of it. The podcast was Heidi’s idea. What you hear is how we are with each other. There is really nothing beyond that. I tell her a bunch of stories that never make the stage and she wanted other people to hear them, so she said we were going to do a podcast.

You don’t strike me as a terribly nostalgic person – has it been challenging to revisit certain times of your life or particular stories from your past for the podcast?

No, not really. It’s history to me. So, I recount it as best I can. I think there is a big difference between being able to recall it and wanting to be back in it—that, I have no interest in. I am interested in what’s happening now and what’s happening next.

You are a lifelong music obsessive and your radio show on KCRW has shown off the eclectic nature of your collection.  You honor your influences but also pay heed to emerging artists. With everything you have on your plate, how do you keep up with new music? 

I pay attention to labels, I take suggestions from people, I go exploring for music. The internet is really great for that. If there is a label I like, for example In The Red, or Castle Face, I check out all the things they put out.

Something that I have long found fascinating (and that you speak at length about in a recent episode of the podcast) is the inspiration that your high school teacher Mr. Pepperman had on your personal development. It’s a powerful story and potent thing to recognize that someone other than your father can influence the way you navigate “becoming a man”.  Why do you think that young men have such a difficult time exploring the influences on their masculinity? 

I wouldn’t be the one to ask. I have never considered that they do. It could be that they don’t want to seem like they are not “their own man” or something. I think some men are ashamed of the insecurities of their youth. I think all that stuff is excusable. You’re young, you’re figuring things out. For both males and females in American society, there is a lot of pressure to be this or that. It can lead to distortion. My parents were busy people and didn’t know what to do with a hyperactive, difficult child. So, I looked for other role models.

As a polymath and someone who tends to utilize the little free time you have to take on new projects, how do you find balance?  Is there an area that you haven’t ventured into yet that you wish to explore?

I don’t have much balance. I ricochet around the room. I go way into this and then way into that. I can’t think of anything that I want to do but have not yet done. There are countries I want to go to, that kind of thing but I have no desire to have kids or something.

A bit of a personal connection:  I first saw you back in the spring of 1991 in Rochester, NY opening for Jane’s Addiction.  I was intimately familiar with Black Flag at the time, but was largely unaware of your work with the Rollins Band and it really blew me away.  Do you remember having any similar experiences, where catching an opening act made you a fan for life?

I remember watching the Beasts of Bourbon smoke Nirvana in Sydney many years ago but I was already a fan of the Beasts. I watched Van Halen destroy Ted Nugent in 1978 or ’79, that was pretty incredible. The Bad Brains stood their ground with the Damned at the Bayou in DC in June 1979, that was probably the one. The Damned were great, of course but the Bad Brains was like nothing any of us had ever seen before.

I know that you have largely taken creating new music off the table, but you recently admitted that there are certain collaborations that, should they come to fruition, might entice you to write and get behind the mic again.  Without breaking any confidences (and as a completely fictional academic exercise), who would constitute your “dream” backing band?

I can’t think of anyone because I don’t have any ideas for lyrics. I have it in my mind that all that’s behind me. Once I get an idea like that in my head, it’s pretty much stuck. For myself, I only see my youth and progress in music. When I was a younger person, I was living a life in music. If I did something now, it would be a visit. That’s too lightweight for me. I guess that’s it, I don’t do lightweight anything. I am either all in or not at all. There is not one thing for me to do in music that I have not already done.

What’s on tap for you next? 

I am in the middle of a television show and a film, both shooting at the same time. After that, I will be working in another film that I co-wrote the screenplay for. It is a film that has a live band playing along with it. I will be working on some of that production stuff over the next two years. I have shows starting to fall in for next year and I am trying to get another book edited in time for December. 


  1. Short but sweet. I love when the interviewer doesn't chop up someone's own words. I'd love to see him performing out again.

  2. It is a lovely, rare thing to see two intellects engaging in such a productive, inspiring manner these days. Looking forward to more interactions in the future.

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