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Getting frank with Hank
An interview with Mr. Henry Rollins
By Matthew S. Robinson
(more articles from this author)
2001-04-09
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In recent years, self-made machine Henry Rollins has become a sort of gigantic male version of Martha Stewart. Not because he can make a bed while gardening (neither of which he is all that into, I would think), but rather because he has become an almost omnipresent force in the entertainment industry. From his blistering music and sharp spoken word albums to books, movies, commercials and his own production company, Rollins is everywhere. His latest moguled move is the release of "Get Some Go Again," a typically driving serving of pounding rock which Rollins put together with the west coast trio Mother Superior (whom he had previously produced). Rollins's legend is nearly as big as his physical size and both are more than a bit daunting. Though I was 3,000 miles away, I was still a bit awed by and anxious about the opportunity to speak with this millennial renaissance man.

[Matthew] You've done so much with your career and your life - music, books, films, commercials and TV - what's left to do?

[Rollins] I want a TV show.

[Matthew] Really?

[Rollins] Yeah. Something with me not acting- just being me.

[Matthew] What is the 'me' you want to be on this show?

[Rollins] I wouldn't mind a talk show format....Something like 'Loveline.'

[Matthew] Really?

[Rollins] Yeah. I just hosted a week of the List and it just seems interesting to me right now. I'd take a meeting on that. Otherwise, I want to keep doing what I'm doing.

[Matthew] Talking about television, how do you reconcile your punk, D.I.Y. [(i.e., Do It Yourself)] attitude with doing corporate advertising?

[Rollins] 'Reconcile'?...That's never a verb that occurred to me with that sport. I still D.I.Y. (or, more specifically, D.I.M.- do it myself. You have some things I don't have and vice versa.

[Matthew] What do you mean?

[Rollins] Like a boss. I pick and choose what I want to do. I sign up for voice overs and sometimes I get them sometimes I don't. I've reconciled myself to a life of adventure and goal setting and a life of fun and some failures and some successes and...there I go.

[Matthew] You were nominated for the 'Best Metal' Grammy and won for 'Best Spoken Word.' What do you think of that? Were you disappointed? Were your fans?

[Rollins] I think the Grammys are taken seriously by some people. I gave mine away. As soon as I saw Sheryl Crow with three, I knew it wasn't something I was interested in.

[Matthew] What do you do that gives you the most satisfaction?

[Rollins] Being live on stage with the band is probably the funniest of all of it.

[Matthew] How did you decide on Mother Superior to be the new Rollins Band?

[Rollins] After I finished working on their album, I asked them if they'd help me get some ideas that were in my head on tape. We went into the rehearsal space with the idea to get out some music. There was no album planned. By the end of the week, we had 10 songs in five 90-minute practices. We went right into a studio and recorded them in four days. I did a quick mix and played it for people I wanted opinions from. They said it sounded good and sounded like we were having fun, so we pursued it. Soon, I was sitting on 24 songs. We had not informed the record company. I just did it on my own steam. I handed it to Dreamworks and said 'here it is!' They said 'Really?' I said 'Yeah- While you're golfing, I'm recording' (or some smart-ass remark like that) and they liked it and put it out.

[Matthew] How did you get with Dreamworks?

[Rollins] I took meetings with all the majors in '96 and decided on Dreamworks because of Mo Austin, Michael Austin and Lenny Woroker. It was an experienced team. Mo ran Reprise for Sinatra. He signed Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Madonna, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell...quite a resume. So when Mo said he'd be honored to have me, I was happy to be a part of it.

[Matthew] How does that relate to your company, 2.13.61 [Ed note: Mr. Rollins's birth date]?

[Rollins] That's totally self-sufficient. I use that mainly to handle books and stuff that I don't want to give to others. I give Dreamworks their two albums, per our contract, and they do all they are supposed to with them, but I got a lot of music in me. I'll probably record it this summer, but right now, I'm getting ready for these tour dates. If I make another talking record, I can either shop it or put it out myself.

[Matthew] With all the various projects you involve yourself in, how far in advance do you schedule yourself?

[Rollins] By February, the year's booked because I have to and because I really know what I want to do and am really good with long-range planning. If movie part or something like that comes up, I move stuff around, sleep a little less and do that much more.

[Matthew] Where does your fire come from and how do you turn it on and off?

[Rollins] How does one turn on or off themselves between the bus ride to their girlfriend's house for sex? You're not jumping up and down on the bus and you're not looking out the window during sex....Unless you've been married for along time....Like 5 months. It's what happens when I meet with music. It's almost like a Pavlovian thing at this point- I hear the drum and I get excited.

[Matthew] Psychologically speaking, which controls you more- your ego or your id?

[Rollins] It's a mixture of both. You gotta' keep your head somewhat together to get the words right (people appreciate that), but you also hope that the power of music will sweep you up and that you can be taken by it. That's why I do all my thinking before the show. About an hour before, I start trying to get rid of stuff so that when I go on, all I know that it's me and the music and I'm really no thinking past that. The whole world is the show. That's an attitude that really helps you dive in.

[Matthew] Who are your heroes and what inspired you and gets you going?

[Rollins] I get inspired by a lot of stuff. There's no single person or thing I employ to get me going. Weight lifting, hanging out with some people, reading and listening to things. They all do it at times.

[Matthew] How do people get to know you?

[Rollins] Repetition, mostly. I'm close to the people I work with. I see the band and the road crew almost every day, so we're close. I see my girlfriend a lot too. I keep waking up and there's a naked woman next to me and, after a few months, you get to learn her name and ask her how she feels and eventually, you come to care. I don't go out of my way to make friends, though. I'm pretty busy.

[Matthew] You are known for your quotes and sayings. What is Henry Rollins's motto?

[Rollins] Um....Work is life. Life is work. I don't mean like a workaholic, but work brings joy. Even morning chores give you a place to apply yourself. It's part of life. I've always enjoyed having jobs and working hard and all those rituals. Work has been my life since a very early age.

[Matthew] Why did you start your own production company?

[Rollins] I wanted to be able to do my own thing without others. Once it was working- Once I put my own mask on, I was able to put it on the child, as they say on the airplanes. We got solvent enough to help others, so we did. Though no one ever gave me a hand, I thought it would be cool to give one to others.

[Matthew] How do you pick who to work with?

[Rollins] I pick people by what I am interested in and what I believe in. My logo is me so it has to be something I believe in. I'm not in it for the monetary gain. I'm looking for something original that has meaning to me.

[Matthew] Let's talk about the new album.

[Rollins] Let's

[Matthew] Is it an evolutionary step? Is it different in any way?

[Rollins] It's different because it's straight-ahead flat-out rock. I was not really looking to go anywhere. This is what happens when you put me and these three other guys in a room. It's music I wanted to do. I wanted to make a visceral record that's fun to play loud. That's why I produced it. There's a certain sound and attitude I was looking for.

[Matthew] How do you know when it's a take?

[Rollins] We use the 'Duke Ellington principle:' If it felt good, it is good. We'd do a take and then ask if everyone liked it. If we all liked it and there were no major fuck-ups, we'd give it a listen, vote to see if everyone was happy and if they couldn't do it better. There's no song on the record that took more than three takes. It's mostly second takes. We also recorded in one room, so a lot of the vocals are from live takes.

[Matthew] What are you hoping to do on this tour?

[Rollins] I hope to play the songs well and to have a good time on stage so the music comes through with full colors and...bouquet. I also hope I don't become tired.

[Matthew] Do you see the end of your touring career? Is it becoming tiring?

[Rollins] I see it ending, but not right now. If I am not able to fire on all cylinders, I'll stop. Until then, I'm happy to keep jamming. I think I'll know when it's time to walk off. I hope I do.


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