Henry Rollins, 39 the singer of the former punk group Black Flag, is one of the hardest-working people in show business today.
Penthouse “Sounds” with Henry Rollins
An actor, author, and a highly sought-after voice-over talent, the often-opinionated wordsmith has been using a number of speaking dates to take a rest (or, as he puts it, a “poor man’s therapeutic break”) from the tedious rehearsal sessions for the world tour to promote the most recent Rollins Band album, Get Some Go Again (DreamWorks Records).
The heavily tattooed and extremely buff Rollins — born Henry Garfield in Washington, D.C. — seems to have outgrown the music industry. He has been the force behind Rollins Band for more than ten years, and in 1994 he won the Best Spoken Word Grammy for his album Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag, One of ten spoken-word albums the singer has released. The former teenage ice-cream-store shift manager is also a successful businessman. His publishing company, 2.13.61 — developed in the mid-eighties to provide white Rollins calls “an alternative to what in my opinion is a very mediocre contemporary culture” — has put out print, music, and video releases. Not bad for a guy who spent most of the eighties getting harassed by the police and spat at by fans.
You come across as being so complex. How would you describe yourself to someone who knows nothing about you or your work?
[Pauses] I don’t think that I’m very complex. I just do a lot of stuff. Am I supposed to describe myself in a word or something?
Take as long as your like.
I guess I would describe myself as a workaholic. I like to keep busy every day, seven days a week.
You came onto the music scene in 1980 when you became singer for Black Flag, possibly the greatest American punk band ever. Are you surprised that in the nineties punk made a comeback?
I don’t know much about the classifications. For me, personally… this may sound generic, but it’s all rock ’n’ roll to me. It’s the spirit of Iggy [Pop], Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Rock ‘n’ roll is the same thing that Black Flag was trying to do. It’s all about just going out there and expressing yourself. So I think that there is always room for something that is fresh or trying to stand up and be different. I think that’s why punk rock is popular.
I take it then that you’re pleased with the current music scene?
When I hear what’s considered punk rock these days, it just doesn’t do a whole lot for me because it’s a little lightweight. I’m used to something that’s a bit more deadly and destruction-oriented.
It’s no secret that it’s all about the money. With that in mind, is it impossible for rock ‘n’ roll during the nineties not be remembered as being hypocritical?
I think all music has a bit of hypocrisy in it because everyone is borrowing riffs from one another. John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and all the rest of those guys all used blues riffs to do their thin. But these days all the good riffs have been taken. There are only so many ways you can put notes together.
Are there any bands now that you respect?
Sure, there are lots of bands that I think are really good. I like pretty much anything the Beastie Boys do, and I’ll pay attention to anything Frank Black does. There are a number of bands I listen to.
Since Black Flag split up in 1986, you’ve done very well for yourself. Was the end of Black Flag a rebirth for you?
Well, my life changed very much after Black Flag. It seemed all of a sudden I was pretty much on my own. I had to form my own band and take care of my own affairs. I didn’t have and management, either. I was living in this little room with a phone, saying to myself, “okay, make it happen.” I just got very lean, mean, and low to the ground, and very determined.
Speaking of getting lean and mean, you’ve transformed yourself from a skinny long-haired guy into a muscle-bound warrior of sorts. Is the motivation behind your training something more than vanity?
I’ve always been in a very good shape because the shows demanded it. I started putting on muscle mass in the last five years or so just because… I don’t know, the gym is just a nice place to go. I don’t work out for vanity. The kind of workout I do doesn’t give you a bodybuilder physique. I do mostly power lifting, which just gives you bulk. So I look more like a construction worker than somebody trying to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think those guys are a joke.