From his early beginnings as one of hardcore music's most intense vocalists to his current role as a documentary filmmaker, actor, world traveler and spoken word performer, Henry Rollins has carved a lifetime out of doing and saying things that others only dream about. And even though the former Black Flag frontman just turned 50, he's not letting old age slow him down either.
Instead, Rollins is taking his lifetime of accumulated experience on the road and this Tuesday he rolls into the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass. to prove to audiences just how little the years have affected his particular brand of wit and wisdom.
Though understandably nervous about sitting down for a Q and A with such an infamous alternative icon, the Northeast Underground recently got the chance to catch up with Rollins via e-mail, and asked him his thoughts on aging gracefully, hosting his own radio show on KCRW and what it's like working with the National Geographic channel.
Underground: What about your life now at 50 is the most dramatically different from your earlier years spent in Black Flag, State of Alert, Rollins Band, etc?
Rollins: Money has changed the way I live. That has been the most detirminant factor. It has allowed me to travel and learn things all over the world, stay up on technology, etc. It has allowed me to work harder and do more.
What lessons have you learned from your various band experiences?
One must work very hard. That’s about it. Music is very hard work.
How do you apply what you have learned to your current solo life on the road?
Discipline, focus, execution, priority, perspective—all these things come into play out here.
What are some of the themes you are currently exploring in your work?
Travel, Democracy, consumerism, past experiences, the future.
How has your age impacted the decisions you have made in regards to material?
I have more of it. I can draw from more sources because of travel.
You are a big supporter of the military and you have frequently participated in events with the United Service Organization. What did you notice the first time you went overseas to visit servicemen and women?
I am a supporter of the soldiers as a human concern. I don’t support the Military Industrial Complex, the bloated budget and America’s ceaseless wars and war economy. I noticed that all these soldiers were just people taking orders. A lot of them didn’t know the history of the country or region they were in, the implications of what they were doing, etc.
What did you make of the experience overall?
What’s it like to work with National Geographic on making documentaries? You’ve already made “Born to Rage” and “Snake Underworld” with the channel, and both specials achieved pretty positive reviews.
I like the Nat Geo team. Very smart and motivated. I hope they keep me around for awhile.
Can you describe other projects you have in the works?
I have a photo book coming out in October called Occupants that’s photos and essays. The photos are from all over the world from the last eight years or so. I have some doc. plans with Nat Geo, other writing projects working, that’s about it.
How would you characterize your role as a DJ on KCRW?
I have a two hour radio show once a week on the station, it’s on Saturdays from 1800 to 2000 hrs. My role? I really don’t know how to answer that.
What goes into putting together a show for the station?
I sometimes use a concept, a period, a genre, etc. Sometimes it’s a mix of music. I try to make it work in ebb and flow, different densities and textures, in order to make the evening have some kind of cohesion.
How long does your preparation typically take?
It’s usually a series of drafts. I play the songs over and over as I work and something will stick out or not work. It can take days. I try to make it as good as I can. I perhaps put too much work into it.
You mentioned in a recent interview that you generally don’t watch television unless it’s on the tour bus or if you own certain shows on DVD. Why? Have you always done this, or is not having a television in your home a new trend?
I had a television for awhile years ago but rarely used it. I wasn’t raised with one. We had a small one but my mother rarely had it on. It was more about books and records. That’s how I am now. I use the DVDs of tv shows for long flights, hotel jetlag.
You have also gone on the record as saying that you’re not very involved in social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). How would you characterize your decision not to use these outlets?
It’s not interesting to me. I get letters from all over the world every day, I talk to people everwhere I go. I don’t think I could handle more human interaction.
What led to your decision to stop making music?
I could not find any way to do it differently. There was nothing new about it for me, so I decided to do other stuff. Too many people in my age group have been making the same record over and over. It might suit them, not me. When I see Mick Jagger still singing “I can’t get no satisfaction,” I have to conclude that he’s either very stupid or not being truthful.
How do you feel about your decision to stop playing now?
Who are some of your favorite artists/ bands of the moment?
Wolf Eyes, Stare Case, Marnie Stern, Dax Riggs, XBXRX, White Suns. I like those artists/ bands.
How would you describe one of your spoken word performances?
I am onstage talking for a long time. Story telling, editorializing, waxing psychotic to the perverted.
What went through your mind the first time you performed a spoken word gig instead of playing a show with a band?
It was 1983, I don’t remember.
Watch video of Henry Rollins performing his own style of spoken word here:
How would you characterize the audience’s reaction?
I remember it went very well and it made me want to do more. It was a 10 minute show as part of a long night of people all getting 10 minutes onstage.
How do audiences generally react now?
They are very kind.
What might those in attendance in Northampton, Mass. expect from your show on Tuesday?
They can abstract from the above questions and formulate a reasonable expectation.
What is your opinion of touring in New England?
My opinion? I like New England just fine.
Finally, how would you sum up your advice for other artists out there? What about some words of warning?
I would recommend you ask an artist. I am not one. I have not one artistic bone or inclination. I just do stuff. A word of warning: you might need a lawyer more often than you think.
"Henry Rollins: 50," March 22, 7 p.m., $30-35, Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass., (413) 586-8686, www.iheg.com. For more information on Henry and future tour dates please visit www.henryrollins.com.