Punk rock icon Henry Rollins was interviewed on the April 11 edition of “Whiplash”, the new KLOS radio show hosted by Full Metal Jackie. A transcript of the chat follows below.
Full Metal Jackie: I know you’re always all over the place and doing a million different things. First, talk about what this last run you had done a run of your spoken-word tour in Europe.
Rollins: Yeah. December 31st, I flew to Germany — December 31st of last year — and the first show was in Berlin. And so this year, we’re in late March now, I’ve been in 15 countries. And so I did a bunch of shows in Europe, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Scandinavia, U.K. and then came back and I had promotional work. I have three films out this year. And so I’ve got to go, you know, talk nicely about them all over. And so I had to go to Canada multiple times for that. I just returned from Australia. I handed out the Australian Music Prize — the AMP — in Sydney a week and a half ago. And I still have four more trips to Europe to go this year to do shows and promote stuff. And another trip to Australia, one more to New Zealand; I still have to go to South Africa. And then I’ve got October, November, December in North America tour dates and then January in Canada. So I’m kind of flat out, from this moment where you and I are speaking until about late January of 2017, I’m making myself very well acquainted with Los Angeles International Airport and a seat in economy.
Full Metal Jackie: How does it feel to have that kind of a schedule and just know you’re busy for the rest of this year?
Rollins: I’m used to it. I’m 55, and I’ve been living on a compact schedule. I call it living like the president, where like every day is kind of like, “At 10:07, you’re doing this.” I’ve been living that way since I was 20 in 1981. And so, at this point, if you said, “You’ll have a year off the road and you’ll just sit home,” I think I’d go kind of bonkers. I really appreciate getting up tomorrow very early; it’s going to be a very rough four airplanes to whatever point, and then you’re doing this the next day. I like that, because it feels like I’m living at the speed of life, and I will go out of my way. For instance, two weeks ago, when I was in Australia for the 36th time, why did I go? To give Courtney Barnett a music prize. I have her records. I’m a fan. But I did that because they said, “Hey, do you want to come to Australia and hand out this prize?” I’m thinking, “Yeah, I’ll go to Australia, because I’m not there right now. I better go.” And I have that kind of mindset. They’re like, “Why do you want to go all the way there and say congratulations and fly back?” Because it’s an adventure. It’s not waking up in my own bed going, “Oh, look, it’s my driveway again.” And I try to live an eventful life — my aim is to live eventfully. And I invent headlines and put myself in it. “Man goes to edge of Antarctic peninsula,” which I did last November, “meets the three species of penguins,” which I did, Adelie, Gentoo and what’s the third? Adelie, Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. And so I go, “Man goes to Antarctica,” and then I put my name in and I book it. And so I’m trying to do that until I can no longer get up and amble out of the door. And so this year, going into next, that’s kind of normal for me. It’s hectic. It’s a lot of lost sleep and late for the train I got to go. But I’d rather do that then work in a cubicle or have a “straight” job or job security. Like every… 2017, I kind of know what I’m doing. Like, I’ve got January shows; February I got to stick around in town to audition for pilot season. The rest of 2017 will be adventure. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.
Full Metal Jackie: Henry, you’re a prolific writer. In what ways do you consider or in what ways do you continually strive to further perfect your craft?
Rollins: Well, I’m a writer only because… You’re right, I am a writer, but I’m a writer because I own a publishing company and so I sleep with the owner every night. So, if I want to publish a book, the head editor never says no. And so I get to do what I want because I’m DIY. And my books are in translation. They do very well all over the world. But, for me, I’m not F. Scott Fitzgerald by any means, and so I’m always looking to become a better writer. So I read writers that I admire, and a lot of what I admire is journalism. Writers who can take five hundred words and you get it, you understand where that person is, what’s happening, their history of that location and what might happen next week. And so I strive for Robert Fisk, a great British journalist, [who] is, like,… thirty-some years he’s been living in the Middle East. If you want to know what’s going on in the Middle East, read Robert Fisk‘s great columns. I believe he writes for The Guardian. I read all his books on his Middle Eastern reportage. He’s seen everything. Nearly been killed so many times. He’s a wild guy, but he’s a great writer. And so I strive for that kind of clarity and impact. And the main thing that informs my writing is geography. I travel all over the world. I’ve been to almost a hundred countries and all seven continents, and I’m not trying to impress you, I’m just saying that’s what informs my writing. When I can look out of a window and see a whale’s tail come out of the water, which I did last year, and, like, “Okay, I got a topic.” And so that’s what inspires me to keep writing. I have an audience, a lot of them have written me, and I believe their e-mails or what they say to me after shows. They go like, “I’m not going to get to all these countries. I’ve got a family. I work at a bank. It’s not going to happen. And so I live vicariously through you. I like your travel books because I’m not going to get to go to 15 countries in Africa. Probably not going to happen. But you do, and so that’s why I dig your photo books and your travel books.” And that’s an inspiration too to bring back the story, either spoken on stage or in a book or with photographs.
Full Metal Jackie: Wow. It’s amazing how many places you have been.
Rollins: But I work at it.
Full Metal Jackie: Is there anywhere in the world you haven’t been yet?
Rollins: Well yeah. Sure. A lot of Central Africa, and I want to get there. If you go past the Western part of South Sudan, which would be like Darfur, you would go into Chad. And Chad is where a lot of the Darfurians were relocated after the Janjaweed killers from the Khartoum in the north came down there to basically slaughter them. I want to go to those relocation camps and see how those people are living. And so I’ve never been to Chad. I’ve never been to Congo. I’ve never been to Nigeria, except stopping over in the airport. And so there’s a lot of countries. I’ve made a good perimeter on the African continent, like Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt places like that, but the interior. I’ve never been more from the western like Senegal in beyond Mali, but I’ve never been to Mauritania or Niger, Burkina Faso. And so those are places I want to go to. Most of Indonesia I’ve been to, but I’m not trying to impress upon you that I’m some kind of expert. But I’ve never been to Kuala Lumpur, I’ve never been to the Philippines, and so I’ve got to get there. I’ve got to get to these places. There’s some places that are no-go. I’ve been to almost every place every country in the Middle East. I doubt I’m going to get to Yemen, although I’ve had a couple of invites to go with some truly crazy people. It’s a little too cowboy for me. I’m not looking to get kidnapped or beheaded. But I’ve gotten to places like North Korea and Afghanistan and Pakistan when things were going down. I was in Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. She was shot and killed about four miles from where I was and the next morning, she was near the airport in Rawalpindi, I was in Islamabad, which is like right down the road. It’s like from here to the airport, basically just local. And then next day, you look out the window of your hotel and the city is on fire and the airport is closed. I’m locked in Islamabad. I don’t live for anyone’s assassination. But that kind of adventure I’d rather have survived it than not have been given the opportunity to roll the dice on it. And so I go out into the world alone with a backpack full of protein bars and clothes and a camera as often as possible. And so if there’s a country or a land mass or a region I have not been to, you give me a month. Like November of 2014, I was in Central Asia. I went to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, because I’ve already been to Kyrgyzstan. And I spent a month backpacking through Central Asia, which is very informative. What Genghis Khan didn’t level in the early 13th century, Stalin came in and completely ruined the psyche of pretty much all of Central Asia. And they’re still recovering. And so there’s a lot to learn, if that’s the kind of information you want to get. For some people, I’m sure it’s super boring, but not to me. And so this is what I do when I’m not obligated to eighty other things, which is usually the case.
Full Metal Jackie: Have you ever been, in all of your travels, ever when stuff happens have you ever been actually afraid?
Rollins: No. And I’m not a tough guy, I want to be very clear on that. I’m not a tough guy. I’m not brave and I’m not looking for a fight with anyone. The times I’d been kind of in danger… I was in Cairo right after Clinton bombed Iraq during Ramadan. and I believe that was called Operation Desert Fox. And that’s where I met a diplomat on a boat and we are friends to this day. And he recognized me. He said… He has a big government satellite phone. This is the ’90s. He said, “What’s your travel plans for the next few days?” I said, “Well, I’m off this ship in three days like you are and then I’m going through Cairo.” He goes, “Okay, here’s what you’re about to find out. Clinton is now bombing. It’s the first day of Ramadan. You need to get out of Cairo and get back to the West as soon as possible.” And I’m like, “Oh, great. Adventure.” And Cairo was really tense the two days I was transitioning back to London Heathrow back to America. A lot of hard stares. I’ve never had to run for my life. I was in a mortar attack in Bagdad Iraq on a USO tour, but I’m in the building that can withstand a mortar attack. And I was warned all morning, “Sir, the bad guys will probably be dropping two or three mortars over the fence!” And, like, twenty minutes later, two mortars landed and detonated outside of the building. And it was literally like someone taking their fist and punching you in the sternum, the concussion feels like a punch. Like you’re like a ghost just hit me. It knocks the air out of your mouth. It’s incredible. And I tasted this bitterness in the back of my mouth. I went, “Ah, that’s adrenaline.” Because when your adrenaline surges, you can actually taste it. And I was like, “Is that adrenaline?” And someone said, “That’s right, sir!” And I wasn’t scared. I knew I was in a padded building. They reminded me like eighty times. And I’m the talent; they’re not going to let anything bad happen. And so in all these travels, even when Bhutto was killed and the city’s on fire, I’m in a hotel where all the embassies had dumped out into the hotel. So there’s men walking around with uzis under their jackets, so I felt a little safe there. But the times I’ve almost been killed, which is twice, like really close, have been in America, California, to be exact. And so America has nearly taken me out twice. The rest of the world, by comparison, has been very nonthreatening, comparatively.
Full Metal Jackie: We talked earlier about how you had just been on this trip doing your spoken word tour, and obviously you do radio. What makes spoken word and radio a more effective communication platform than a concert stage?
Rollins: Well, you mean being in a band? Well, I stopped doing music. I guess that’s what you’re talking about. I stopped doing music many years ago after about twenty-five years of doing nothing but music pretty much — album tour, you know, rinse, repeat, album tour, collapse, et cetera, which was fine. I had a great time for most of it. Bands have their up times and their down times. One day I woke up without any lyrics and I had a big decision: either I go out as a human jukebox and reiterate the past over and over again and rest on my laurels, or I bravely go forward and roll the dice on being brave and honest with my audience or my lack thereof. I called the manager, “I’m done with music.” Poor guy, thankfully he was sitting. And he’s like, “No.” I’m like, “Yeah.” Because he lives off of fifteen percent of me. I said, “Sorry, man, I got to keep it real.” Thankfully I had already been doing film, voiceover, speaking dates, books, et cetera, and I just let the music get filled in by everything else and now I’m busier than ever. As far as being effective on stage to transport information from my brain to your ears, the talking shows are great. It’s basically stand-up comedy with teeth in that sometimes it’s funny, but when I’m talking about seeing starving kids in the mountains of Haiti, which I did, there’s nothing funny about it, and so it’s a mix. But with that, I can go onstage tonight and tell you about what just happened last week. I can serve it up fresh like moonshine. And it’s hot off out of the wok right in front of your naked steaming eyes, as David Lee Roth used to say. And that’s why I like the talking shows. That’s the effectiveness of it. And that’s what I always liked about doing the talking shows while I was doing music. Because I used to do a whole world tour with the band, take a shower and leave again and do the same lap on my own. I would do, like, a hundred and forty, two hundred shows a year, two different tours, [and] my bandmates went home to their families. I don’t have one so I would just go back on the road and do the whole thing over again on my own. And so the talking shows are super effective in getting information across. Where music is, you know, you’re writing lyrics and you’re turning events of your life into poetry, basically, which is fine. At this point, at age 55, I’d rather be bringing you back information from the field and dispensing it with my own “je ne sais quoi” without a band, without keeping in time with the drummer.
Full Metal Jackie: Success can dole one’s creative edge, what keeps you from being lulled like that?
Rollins: Ignore the money you make and stay fearful of failure and keep an insane itinerary and keep your blood thin. I used to think a lot about money when I didn’t have any, because I had a band to keep on the road. I had a publishing company and a record company to keep afloat operating out of a single bedroom in a house I would rent part of. And so money, for me, was to repair the broken snare drum and the bass player who kept ripping strings apart as they do. But as soon as I started making money to where, “Hey, I can put a down payment down on a house,” I have that kind of money to where I can breathe and not be panicked, I immediately stopped thinking about money, because I’m not interested in being rich; I’m interested in being busy and doing high-quality work that tests me. And so in my line of work, there’s money, and it’s cool, but I only use it to buy camera gear, plane tickets and time to get to a location so I can photograph it, write about it, be in it. Otherwise, I’m sitting before you in a t-shirt that was given to me, pants I bought at an army surplus store, boots I bought off Amazon.com that I’ll wear for the next three years until I’m duct-taping them together. And I fly in economy and I don’t stay at the Four Seasons because none of that interest me. And while my bank account would allow me to live differently, I think that leads to kind of a layer of comfort that allows you to distance yourself from what really happens in the world. And that doesn’t interest me. And you’ve been in business class on an airplane before, right? You get used to that really fast. And after about an hour, when someone comes from economy to use the restroom up in your section, you want to go, “Excuse me, we don’t let the hoi polloi use our restroom.” And you can get really insulated, like you can get like kind of an inch of insulation like around a wire away from the real world. And that, to me, is really boring. And I know some people who used to be very edgy and they got rich and they bought in. And they have a nice lifestyle. But they have like earplugs in their ears. They don’t hear it anymore. They don’t hear what’s going on. And that’s just too boring to me. And so that’s how I stay with it and still, you know, I live fathoms below my means, because that’s the lifestyle that’s interesting to me.
Full Metal Jackie: Do you think that that’s what sometimes when bands become successful and their records later on are not the same as what whatever was so raw about what we liked about them early days, do you think that the success and the money just makes bands sometimes not as hungry and not…?
Rollins: Absolutely. Sure. A lot of the reasons we like a band is because they’re like us; they’re real; they’re from the street. You can see their cheekbones digging out of their faces. Look at the photos of GUNS N’ ROSES at Canters when they were dining and dashing from Canters in the mid-’80s. A great rock band. A great rock band, but they were real. They were living in that awful apartment down the road in Hollywood. You’re, like, it stank from a block away. I remember helping them load in their gear when they opened for the [RED HOT] CHILI PEPPERS October 31, 1986 when they’re using BLACK FLAG‘s PA. And I got $50 to work that day to load in the PA and light it up and power it up and opening for the CHILI PEPPERS and the DICKIES and polonius monster was GUNS N’ ROSES with their broken gear and their body odor. And they loaded it with all this attitude. We’re, like, “Who are these guys?” And they started playing. We’re like, “Oh, damn. I want to buy that record.” And I’m not saying success hurt them, I’m just saying I think the world dug their music, A, because it was really good, but B, they’re coming from a really intense reality. Two years later, after “Appetite For Destruction” comes out, they can afford to have you killed and buy an island and build their own pyramid to themselves. I think people who buy into that, all of a sudden you go from your two bros who used to help you schlep your gear into the venue, now you have a road crew and helping you make your records now is a producer you just met as he walked in and told you what you’re going to do. And all of a sudden, there’s cooks in the kitchen and there’s people telling you what’s up and, “Oh, you need this producer because we’ve got to get you on radio.” I never had that conversation before. “Oh, you need a lawyer too; in fact, you need a bunch of them.” I’m not going to need a lawyer. Really? Because, without a lawyer, you can’t get on the road, because you’re playing twenty-thousand seaters, and if you go on late, the union freaks out and you spend $25,000 getting out of that lawsuit. And all of a sudden, your life can be very complicated. And you married the stripper and now you’re divorced and that is now drama. And you got caught in your Ferrari with cocaine and now it’s everything but the music. And then you see some of these people, they look puffy and the music sounds kind of like they put Vaseline on the lens; it sounds soft. You know those records, like, it will be better if I turn it up louder and the louder, you turn it up, the more it kind of goes away because it’s all digital and there’s nobody on it really? That’s what happens. Success, it’s almost toxic. And I would advise any band if they see the success coming, they might want to forget about part of it and just really stay in the band room and remember what got them to the trough in the first place was just really playing your ass off and playing your guts out every night. I come from punk rock. I come from a punch in the mouth for dinner and, like, no money and bathrooms that don’t work, et cetera. I did, like, a decade of that, and it trained me really well to where now I’m very grateful for anything that comes my way. I’m really grateful, because I still remember “no money, no option.” And so I still kind of fight from that corner. Even though I could live differently, I just can’t rationalize it. But success can ameliorate the talents of writers, dancers, musicians, directors, actors, because all of a sudden, you take your eye off the thing that got you there. Sun Ra, the great jazz musician, he sums it up very well. He said, “Be careful: the music is listening.” And that’s all you really need to remember
Full Metal Jackie: I think that there’s a misconception about punk rock… an idea that it’s just kids that are angry. And you’re not a kid anymore but you’re still very much punk rock.
Rollins: Yeah. Sure. Part of it is kids who are angry, but that would describe any Elvis fan in 1950 whatever. They’re just young people who wanna be. Hormones are raging. You’re trying to find yourself. And what records answer that? David Bowie, BLACK SABBATH, ROXY MUSIC, LED ZEPPLIN, the SEX PISTOLS… all of that helps because it’s answering your hormonal frenzy and all that wonderful confusion and it’s awful when you’re going through it and you hit 30 and you miss it for the rest of your life. And so, to me, punk rock… I come from Washington D.C. Our brand of punk rock was very politically informed, very politically correct. Like there’s a girl in some punk rock band. We never went, “That band has a girl.” Like, “Oh, that’s Toni. She’s the bass player.” We never thought, “Oh, it’s a chick in a band.” It was, “She’s in the band.” She’s like the drummer but she uses a different restroom. We were very PC like that. And that’s kind of the scene I come from, where no one wants to meet you because you’re the singer in the band, they want to meet you because they want you to help them haul some gear out to their car and you just happen to be standing there. So I come from that, where the anger was there, but there’s more purpose to the music. We wanted our own scene. We didn’t want to… We wanted music that was possible and you’re never going to open for LED ZEPPELIN and Ted Nugent and all the arena bands I used to see as a kid growing up. So it’s going to be, you’re going to play in this living room or this basement; it’s going to be a party and that’s what it’s going to be. And that’s what informed my idea of being on stage rather than just buying a ticket. Because I did see LED ZEPPELIN and AEROSMITH and all those bands, it’s was what was on in 1978 when I was a kid when “Walk This Way” was a single and there’s no such thing as there was no term called “classic rock”; it was just what was on. And Casey Kasem was, like, 11 years old, first year in existence. It was me, Abe Lincoln and Tom Waits listening every Sunday morning. But punk rock, for me… it made music possible. And I was angry then and I’m angry now. My anger then was, “I can’t meet girls and I’m mad because the kids make fun of me and throw the ball at my head in the schoolyard.” I’m angry now because I live in a country that has these really ridiculous disagreements about things like marriage equality and voting rights and, like, why would you make people stand for nine hours in line just to vote in a primary? Like, why would you do that Arizona? Like, why did you do that? You’re better than that. And so these are the things that when you see people who could do better and they know better, but they don’t. Shame on you. That kind of stuff makes me really angry. And to go to a lot of the countries that feel the lash of globalization and global climate change, which is very real. If you have a consciousness whatsoever, if you have a sense of right and wrong, you would be angry. To not be angry, to me, is kind of sleeping on the job morally. And so that’s what informs my anger now. I don’t break stuff. I’m not going to kick your wall. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not going to key your car, but a vote. I’m going to write an angry op-ed with a bit of sardonic humor in it and publish it in the LA Weekly or Rolling Stone Australia, who I also write for, believe it or not. And in Australia, Rolling Stone basically looks like a fanzine. It’s like four pages and it’s all stapled together, but I write for them. And so that informs my anger now, but all of that anger, that focused anger comes from being a punk rocker since like tenth grade, right at the end of the Carter administration. Get your history book out, kids.
Full Metal Jackie: You’ve always been a passionate music fan. How does listening to music resonate different with you now compared to when you were a kid?
Rollins: The older I get, the more I need music. I got up really early this morning. I didn’t want to, but I did just so I could get some albums listened to before the phone started ringing and before I had to get to work and do other stuff. And so I make time to listen. On the weekends, if I’m off the road and I don’t have to be onstage, I just pull out, like, three inches of vinyl, like records I haven’t heard yet, and go okay, this is going to happen. And so I’m 55 and music means more to me than it did last year, than it did twenty years ago, thirty years ago, forty years ago. I need it and I need to hear new music and I got to go to the record store and get records all the time. I buy them all over the world. The best record store I’ve ever been to was this year, of all places, in Moscow; 148,000 records, they estimate, was in this building, and my road manager and I, we only had a scant two and a half hours. We kind of walked and went, “Oh, no. Oh no.” And I found so much stuff. And my road manager collects very eclectic — really, like super-eclectic, really weird stuff. He was dying. He was finding stuff he’d only seen in catalogs. He’d never held one in his hand and he’s up there just trying to transliterate Russian English trying to beg the owner to get him a deal on this stuff; his credit card exploded in agony. And so I have a radio show — I have a couple radio shows, actually — and for a minute I’ve got three radio shows. I’m subbing for Jarvis Cocker on the BBC for a month later this summer. And the BBC wanted their shows now. And so last weekend I didn’t sleep, I just put together four radio shows and it takes me like three to five hours to make a really good radio show. That’s all I did last weekend. I didn’t sleep; I just put together good radio. And I have a show on KCRW in Santa Monica and I don’t know what it sounds like to the listeners, but a lot of time and devotion goes into putting that together. And I never enjoyed making music; it was like this painful thing that I had to get out of me, which leads me to think it was real. But I’d much rather be a fan. Last night I was at a show. I saw a show by a band called LE BUTCHERETTES. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them. You should check them out, Jackie. The bandleader is a woman named Teri Gender Bender. She is one of the strongest front persons I have ever seen in my life. I first saw them opening for THE STOOGES at the Palladium a couple of years ago. And we keep in touch. I play her on my radio show all the time. She’s an amazing woman, a ridiculous musician and I was at that show at the Henry Fonda Theater or the Fonda Theater and she crushed it. Like the last time I saw her, but even better. And so I’d rather be at your show, musically, than be the show, musically. I’d rather talk about your record than my record. And so I go to the record stores all the time. I buy records. I listen to music. I’m a music fanatic, really. You got to have music in your life or you can be like my dad and have no music in your life. And you should listen to whatever you want, but if you did it my way, you’d be listening, you’d be looking for music from all over the world and realizing that there’s young people making new music that’s fine, that it doesn’t have to be the records from back in my day. You can dig a 22-year-old person’s music right now, which sends me… usually I’m the oldest person. I looked around me the other night when I saw LE BUTCHERETTES. I was the oldest person I saw, besides one of the guys who runs the venue who said hello to me when I walked in. Otherwise I just looked around me. It was hipsters stroking their beards and looking at their palm smart device sitting in their palms; they kind of half watched the band, but they’re really looking at their screens. I’m usually the oldest person when I go to see gigs. I’m usually the oldest person of anyone that I’m playing on my radio show. They’re all like half my age. It’s the new record from some indie label somewhere in the world. And it keeps me young-minded in that my body, you know, the body ages, but the mind, you have a lot more control of your mind than you do your body. And then I get up, every day everything hurts; my knuckles hurt, my hips and my knees, everything aches because I’m 55, and I worked my body hard. But my mind, I’m never bored, I’m around boring people, but I have an imagination, so I can always escape. And so that’s what I do with my life: I keep myself open-minded, therefore young minded, and that’s the beauty of being a music fan. You can go back to the past, but you can also go ripping into the future with a lot of enthusiasm.
Full Metal Jackie: Henry, what would it take for music to again be one of your creative outlets?
Rollins: It would have to move me honestly. I would have to wake up one day burning with a lyric. I’d have to go., “Oooh, oooh, I got to write this song.” Because every song I ever wrote it wasn’t because I had to because of an obligation to make a record, it was like the alien trying to rip out of my body and I’d much appreciate the thing getting out of me. And so I wrote songs I was like wringing myself like a wet washcloth but it wasn’t water in the washcloth, it was ill, it was venom and I was trying to get it out of me. And so I would have to get more of that in me and feel the need to get it out. I have been on other people’s records. Now and then, somebody will say, “Hey, can you do a guest vocal for this benefit show get up and sing a song?” I sang with DINOSAUR JR. the other night in New York because they kept asking me. I’m, like, “Fellas, why do you want me to pollute your stage?” I was such a fan of that band. They did seven shows for their 30th anniversary. I went to all seven. I became the MC for all the shows. It’s a big fun. And they said, “Come on, man. Come to soundcheck and, like, do one of our songs with us.” I said, “Yes. Because you want me to, I will. But if it’s not good, you need to be honest and tell me, because you won’t hurt my feelings. So if you like it, I’ll do it onstage with you, but if at soundcheck, it doesn’t pass the smell test, tell me and let’s not torture this audience.” And so we did a song of theirs called “Don’t”. It’s a really good song. And it sounded really good — where, even at soundcheck, I’m like, because I don’t like to blow my own horn, but I’m, like, “Wow, that was cool, right?” And they were like, “Yeah.” And we did it that night. And the people came up to me after, [and it] was, like, “Man, like, why did you ever stop? That was so cranky.” I’m, like, because I got nothing new to say to you with a band. And at this point there’s nothing new you can tell me about making a record, going to band practice and not wanting to strangle the bass player. And at this point, if it’s not new, I don’t want to do it. Then why do you do the talking shows, Henry? Because the topics are so new, I can keep bringing fresh vegetables to the salad bowl every night, where with the music, like, hey I got to play those hits. I don’t want to. I’ll go see other bands play them, but I don’t want to do it to myself. When I’m at an airport, which I am all the time, and I see some band in line with all their Annville cases and their laminates and their beards, I go, “Yup. Rumble, young man, rumble.” I don’t miss it at all.
Full Metal Jackie: Henry, what kept you in Los Angeles after BLACK FLAG split up and what do you identify with in L.A. that continues to make it home for you?
Rollins: That’s a really good question. Thanks for asking. I’m in East Coast person. I have an East Coast mentality and East Coast metabolism and I miss my hometown of Washington D.C. I go back to visit now and then, but it’s not a city I can live in anymore just because I don’t want to live where I grew up. I just want to be more adventurous. And whenever I’m there. it’s a lovely city. but it feels very “small town” to me, very slow moving. And so California, I can go and audition and try to be in big TV shows and movies and, like, not get the part, but I can try and get some things and have an adventurous life. But I became a Californian when I joined BLACK FLAG in 1981. And by 1986 when the band had broken up I was kind of my four milk crates of broken stuff and my futon was here in Silverlake. It’s where I was living. And it just became not exactly home but my resting place between tours, and it’s where I started my little record company and my book company and then an office and then a staff and then management and a lawyer and eventually a house and then two houses and then three houses at once. That’s over with. And so I bought a place on the East Coast years ago, and here’s the great irony: I had the money to buy it, but not the time to live in it. Owned it for like nine years; never spent a night in it. Rented it out to different families. Sold it last year; somehow made money on the deal. Never spent a night in it. It was just wishful thinking. And so what makes Los Angeles an analog thing for me and not just a place where I have a bed and pay taxes is I write for the LA Weekly and I have a radio show on KCRW, that is to say, I am local. And you can pick up the LA Weekly, or not, and you can see me in a local paper. And I try and write about local shows and, “Hey, did you see the construction at this intersection? Yeah. Ah.” So a Los Angeles resident can read it and go, “I feel your pain. I drive by that damn intersection every day.” And I can go to my local Trader Joe’s and have someone go, “Hey, man, I loved the radio show last week, man. Thank you for playing that song. What was that band’s name again?” “Thanks for listening. Oh, it’s this band. You’ve got to go to Amoeba. Go get the record right now.” And I can have a real analog “this city has a pulse” relationship with Los Angeles and that’s what makes it kind of, sort of, home for me. I’ve had a radio show. You and I worked together years ago at Indie 103. That really helped me have an analog stake in the L.A. mountain where locals come up to me, “Hey, I heard you on local radio, man. Thank you for playing that band.” Or get an email: “Hey, man. Are you going to that show next week?” And I write back: “Yeah, man I’ll see you there. And I’m at the Troubadour a week later.” “Hey, man, I’m that guy who wrote you.” “Oh. Cool. We’re kind of neighbors.” This isn’t such a city of anonymity, or as Jeffrey Lee Pierce of THE GUN CLUB used to say, “nobodies city.” It is somebodies city. It’s mine and it’s yours and I really enjoy that rapport I have with the listeners and the readers.
Full Metal Jackie: I was reading about this new TV show that you have live at 9:30?
Rollins: I’m part of it. It’s not just my show, but I’m part of it. Yeah.
Full Metal Jackie: Talk about that and what else is to come for you in terms of the million projects that you do.
Rollins: Sure. The “Live At 9:30” is a TV show with bands and musicians being interviewed all around the great 9:30 club in Washington D.C., rated by Rolling Stone as one of the top five venues in America, and I will hold with that in that there’s not a bad seat in the house. You can be in the back of the venue and see the band perfectly. Great sound system. And Seth Hurwitz, who owns and operates the 9:30 club for his production company, It’s My Party Productions, IMP, he put millions of dollars into the 9:30 club, gutted the building, rebuilt the inside. It’s gorgeous. And I’m a longtime ally of the 9:30. I grew up in that club when it was at a different location. And so they asked me to come in, do some promo spots, be interviewed and do stuff for it. I said, “Of course.” And so I just finished that, and when they need more from me, they will contact me, and I will make time and I’ll do it. So that’s the thing I’m involved in. Otherwise, for 2016, I have three films out at once. “He Never Died”, a film I star in; just hit Netflix. It just has finished the festival circuit tour and the big screen tour and now it’s on Netflix so I’m still shamelessly promoting that. I have a film out to this year called “The Last Heist”, which is insane. A lot of blood. A lot of blood. Goodness gracious, there’s a lot of blood in that film. I was covered with it for days and days. And so that’s coming out this year, like, really soon. I don’t have exact release date but soon. And then there’s a film that’s really interesting it’s called “Gutterdämmerung”, and it stars me, Iggy Pop, Lemmy, members of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL, Slash is in it, Nina Hagen is in it, Grace Jones plays Death.
Full Metal Jackie: I saw a trailer. It looks unbelievable.
Rollins: Insane, right? Okay. That’s a writer/director/photographer very famous for his fashion photography in commercials. He’s like one of those like million-dollar-a-day photographers. His name is Bjorn Tagemose. Don’t ask me to spell it. And he’s a Swedish guy who lives in Belgium. And he’s all over the world photographing seven-foot-high women for a living and making big commercials for perfume companies. But he contacted me years ago; came to one of my shows in 2008/10, I forget, and said, “I’ve got this idea; here’s the storyboards of the Devil’s Angel, played by Iggy, who throws a guitar down to earth where it’s received and everyone wants the guitar because it gives the birth to rock ‘n’ roll and the church is trying to get it and rock ‘n’ rollers are trying to get it to preserve it and everyone wants to either preserve rock ‘n’ roll or kill off rock ‘n’ roll and it’s the great epic battle or rock ‘n’ roll.” And that’s why Lemmy is in it and Slash and all these people. And he says, “I want you to write the screenplay.” And I said, “I don’t write screenplays.” And he goes, “Would you give it a try?” And you and your wonderful listeners who’d understand this, Jackie, I come from the minimum wage working world of the 1970s. I parted with an apron at a Haagen Dazs to join BLACK FLAG and many records later, movies, voiceovers, et cetera later, I’m still a guy coming from $3.75 an hour. And so I just kind of go for it because I know what I can go back to, you know, super-sizing your meal and parking your car. And I’m not putting those vocations down, but that’s what I’m trained to do. And so when he said, “Well, you’ve written a bunch of other stuff. Try a screenplay.” Well, why not? Because I’m kind of… I’m not good at any of it, but I’ll give any damn thing a try; well, most things. Anyway, I started writing this screenplay and I really enjoy writing action for characters and just getting put in the situations where I have to write my way out of it. And he knows, “Here’s a scene. This guy runs into this guy and they argue and he eventually goes into this. Write it.” And I’m, like, “Okay.” “And then write the physical action for it.” And so I wrote it and the damn thing gets shot. And I’m watching it. I play three different characters in it. And I’ve been in a bunch of films and TV and whatever, but the most psychedelic surreal experience I’ve ever had in my life as an actor was being in scenes that I wrote. It’s like walking through a dream. I walk into the scene, and on “action,” I say this. And then he says that. And then he walks a crossed and says that. Because I wrote that a year and a half ago and now some guy, who I’ve never met, walks up to me and says those words. It was insane. And I did it day after day. And I watched Iggy Pop read lines that I had written. I’m, like, “Grace Jones is saying these words that I wrote for her.” You’re watching, going, “This is nuts.” It’s never happened to me before. And so that’s a film that plays live in front of a concert audience. Iggy Pop‘s touring band is the band that plays behind the screen at full concert volume. Actors from the film will reprise their roles. They’ll walk out in front of the screen so you’ll see the guy on the screen then you’ll see the guy on the stage. I’m going to be doing that with “Gutterdämmerung” on four different trips I have to make to Europe this year. I’m going to be back-and-forth from LAX to Heathrow like a taxi and I’m going to be doing that from like late May until late August I’m back-and-forth in and out of Europe being the evil priest character live on this stage with “Gutterdämmerung” at the Wacken [Open Air] festival where I’m doing three shows of my own at Wacken, the great heavy metal festival. And one day I’m doing “Gutterdämmerung” and my own show so I’ve got double duty one day. Good thing I drink my V-8 juice. I’m ready.
“Whiplash” airs every Monday night from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on the Los Angeles radio station 95.5 KLOS. The show can be heard on the KLOS web site at 955klos.com or you can listen in on the KLOS channel on iHeartRadio. Full Metal Jackie also hosts a nationally syndicated radio program, which can be heard all over the country.
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