Interview :: Henry Rollins

Singer, activist and spoken word artist Henry Rollins is coming to a town near you very soon. He took time out of his day to answer our questions.

Henry Rollins is off on his travels once again. The former Black Flag frontman is doing a run of spoken word shows across the UK and although we couldn’t sit down face to face with him, he was more than happy to answer the questions via the power of the internet. We talk to him about the BNP, entertaining the troops and, of course, Black Flag.


Anthony Barlow: You once said that, and forgive me if I misunderstood, you saw the conducting of interviews as selling out. Do you still feel the same way today?

Henry Rollins: No. At that point, I probably thought it was better to do than to talk about doing. I don’t see any problem in elaborating on something at this point.

AB: Your work is, quite often, tinged with humor. This has lead some to compare it to that of stand-up comedians. How do you feel about that?

HR: Sometimes life is funny and I try to deal with it. I don’t know how much of a comedian I am as I think that’s a real skill and that I don’t posess it. I see some things humorously though, it’s true. Rendering it as such is not easy for me though.

Ian Crichley: Greg Ginn is quoted as saying about you: “We couldn’t do songs with a sense of humor anymore; he got into the serious way-out poet thing”. Thinking about the previous
observation, how do you feel about that? do you feel you’ve changed as a person?

HR: Greg Ginn should have fired me if he didn’t like what I was doing, it was his band. I can’t evaluate myself from something Greg Ginn said about me.

AB: Of course, you put across serious messages too. From experience, how well have they been received by those who come to see you?

HR: They’re still showing up after all these years so I guess something’s registering.

AB: You started doing these shows before the break up of Black Flag. What made you want to do that?

HR: It was a gig offered me by a local promoter. I got ten bucks to talk for ten minutes and ended up liking it and went further into it. I liked being onstage and not being tied to a song all the time.

AB: US politics is often a subject in your shows, will you be changing that to suit UK audiences? Will you include anything on UK politics?

HR: I tend to lay off the US political stuff outside of America unless it’s a global issue. I don’t know much about British politics and wouldn’t want to insult an audience by making them think I did.

IC: You’re a respected human rights campaigner, how do you feel about the policies employed by the British National Party?

HR: I think it’s the same old nationalist bullshit. The foreigners are taking our jobs, white power and all that. It’s sad that it still draws and audience.

AB: You’ve done, to my knowledge, four USO tours now. Have those experiences changed you as a person? Is this why you got involved with the IAVA? – I should’ve really done my research here.

Seven. I saw a lot on those tours as well as the many visits I made to the military hospitals. I saw a lot destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq and a lot of mutilated young people in the hospitals. Definitely made me want to work with IAVA.

IC: Is ‘the buzz’ different to performing in a band? Is it better or worse?

HR: Neither. It’s just different. The talking shows are far more difficult.

AB: Have you got any more music-based projects coming up in the future?

HR: Nothing planned.

IC: You and Ian MacKaye are good friends, but to my knowledge you haven’t done any musical projects with him (aside from him engineering stuff for Rollins Band). Is there any reason for this?

HR: To my knowledge, we have never really discussed it.

AB: What do you think of the state of the music industry at the moment?

HR: I think the major lables are getting what they deserve for all their greed.

IC: You seem to be an ‘old school’ guy, but, do you own an iPod, or are you still rocking the cassette player?

HR: I have seven iPods I think. There might be another one around somewhere. They are very handy if you travel a lot. I have several cassette decks for different uses.

IC: Millions of bands have been inspired by Black Flag, out of all the ones you’ve heard, who are your favourite?

HR: There are perhaps a few bands that were inspired by Black Flag but I think it’s more due to Greg Ginn’s excellent song writing than anything else. I don’t know of any one band that fits that particular bill. You would hope that a band wouldn’t want to sound like anyone else.

AB: Are there any bands today you think represent what Black Flag did/does?

HR: I think any band that’s going out every night and knocking themselves out getting the music across is doing what we did because that’s all we did.

AB: Have you heard Dirty Projector’s album Rise Above? If so, what do you think about it? (question comes courtesy of of Robert Ashley)

HR: I have never heard it.

AB: Have you anything to say to those that try and falsely replicate what you guys did?

HR: What did we do? All we did was hit it hard every night. That’s happening all over the world all the time. The thing that made the band unique was Greg Ginn and his songs. Past that, the rest of us were just slamming ourselves against it every night.

IC: Speaking of replicating the band, have you seen the film Lords of Dogtown? If so, do you think Rise Against did a good job at portraying Black Flag?

HR: The scene was at least twenty seconds long, I don’t remember.

IC: Finally, do you feel today Black Flag are more of an inspiration ideologically or musically?

HR: I have no idea. I do know that the band broke up twenty four years ago.

As per usual, we took questions from the good people of the internet and here’s what they had to ask.

How do you think you’ve managed to age gracefully, whilst managing to avoid the “sellout” label that haunts many musicians (question comes courtesy of Arthur Gies)

HR: I do what I want. I think I have a pretty good sense of right and wrong.

Are you aware of the British TV show ‘Peep Show’? If so, what do you think of it? (question comes courtesy of John Berna, tour manager extraordinaire)

HR: Don’t know it.


Thanks a lot to Henry for taking time out to answer these questions. He is currently touring the UK and you can buy tickets here. A lot of his spoken word albums are available on iTunes. For anything else Rollins related visit – www.21361.com

5 Responses to “Interview :: Henry Rollins”

  1. Paul says:

    Bloody hell, not the most free with his answers was he. Still, interesting points and good questions as usual, nice one.

  2. I’ve got a feeling it was because it was done via email. It’s easier to get to the point when you’re writing down answers. I think that’s what it is. Plus, I couldn’t follow up on any of his answers.

  3. Ellie says:

    Interesting, maybe next time he’ll be a bit more open with his answers. But it was great getting to know what he really thinks. Let’s hope there are more opitunities to answer more questions.

  4. Angela Bennett says:

    Hi. I am working on a writing project, ‘Thanks to Hank”, which is a compilation of personal stories of how Henry has inspired some of his fans, or fanatics, as he likes to refer to us. If you have been inspired by Henry and want to tell your personal story for possible publication with the project, please email me at bennettangela@rogers.com.
    PRESS RELEASE – JAN 8/10

    Project of Love From the Fans of Henry Rollins

    Thanks to Hank
    WANTED: Personal stories from the fans, a.k.a, ‘fanatics’, of Henry Rollins. If Henry Rollins has moved you, inspired you to reach higher, helped you in some way, or just makes your life better by way of knowing he is out there, living art and inspiration, and you are willing to share your story in a future publication of Fanatic Stories of Thanks to Hank, please send your story!
    The target goal is to complete the project by February of 2011, Henry’s 50th birthday. All potential proceeds will go to the charity of Henry’s choice.
    Fanatic and novice writer, Angela Bennett, commented on the project today, “Henry has made such a profound contribution to the lives of many thousands, perhaps even millions of people around the world. He is an inspiration to so many people regardless of age, race, or socioeconomic class. This is an opportunity for fanatics to share their stories with, and thank Henry. During the first week of this project, some really moving stories have come in from across North America, from 16 year olds to 50 year olds, in response to an early post on the internet. It’s one thing to be a fan of a band, or an actor, but often it’s about more than that when it comes to Henry. Henry moves people, he is a catalyst in people’s lives. There’s a quote from The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde, that captures Henry well, “…the gift we long for, the gift that, when it comes, speaks commandingly to the soul and irresistibly moves us.”
    People can contact Angela Bennett with questions & stories at bennettangela@rogers.com, or on Facebook (the Angela Bennett with the pic of Henry), or at http://open.salon.com/blog/angelalala. Angela does not work for, or represent Henry Rollins, other than being one of many grateful fanatics in the global neighbourhood.

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