Henry Rollins Interview: On discipline, independent radio and removing his Black Flag tattoo
September 5th 2016
“That’s when you realise, that’s it: I’ve been bitten by this. I’m going to be buying records, going to shows and being a music fanatic for the rest of my life, because nothing is better than this.”
Punk rock veteran, activist and professional rager Henry Rollins dropped by Arvos with Dom O’Connor while in Sydney for the Festival Of Dangerous Ideas. The former Black Flag singer gave us a huge insight into his more than colourful life, and just how physically dangerous it can be to be a rock n roll legend.
From touring with a seminal punk band to his current work as a public speaker, Rollins’ career has required a hell of a lot of discipline. Asked how his experience at military school as a teenager influenced his psyche, Rollins said:
“I did get inculcated into that “yes sir, no sir” thing, which was good for me. It gave me a compass point, because I was a crazy, hyperactive kid.
“But mainly, my discipline was survivalist. I wanted to get away from my parents at a very early age, so I would get jobs, which give you your own income. Not enough to leave home, I was like 15… But to have three jobs, minimum wage paying jobs, you have to be disciplined.
“And then I got into music. If you want to get your band anywhere, you can be the wildest maniac but at some point, band practice needs to happen. You do need to put the time in. I was in a band called Black Flag, and that was like boot camp. I thought I was a hard working guy, and I got into that band and those guys were like the special forces. We would practice for seven hours at a time.”
Proving just how much he endured with the band, Rollins shared some of the injuries he has acquired from his years playing with Black Flag.
“I’ve got cigar and cigarette burn scars on my legs from people putting them out on me. One guy thought maybe my testicles were too cool, so he helped me out and heated them with a lighter. I have stitches from my neck up all over from bottles and things hitting me, me flying into a cymbal and cracking my head open, chipped teeth… all from that band.”
Asked by Dom whether this physicality made the band become more involved in their work, or pull back a bit, Rollins answered:
“It made me invest even more. We did something that made this guy attack me. I don’t know exactly what we did to make the man mad, but it made me go, ‘This is what we do, this is us and this is probably going to kill me.'”
Rollins has made it known that he’s a huge supporter of Sydney record label Rice Is Nice, whose latest signing DEN got a spin during the interview. He also showed his appreciation for local labels Anti Fade, Bedroom Suck and RIP Society. With his own show on Los Angeles college station KCRW, Henry explained his passion for independent radio.
“Anywhere in the world, young people should be listening to other young people make music. It’s great for people to listen to their peers. Listen to music made in your time because it will, in a way, define you. That’s why I advise young people:
‘Rent is gonna turn into mortgage. Boyfriend/girlfriend turns into husband or wife. You’ve got three or four summers to really turn it loose before the world comes crashing in. If I were you, I would be at as many shows as possible. OD on that.’
“A show like yours is so essential. Every city should have ten of these. Because independent music… you can never lose that conversation. We’ve gotta keep fostering these bands, going to the gigs, buying the T-shirts, not stealing the record but buying it – because you know, these people are living on beans and rice. With these labels, no-one is getting rich. Everyone’s getting by.
“When you lose the music, you lose about 98% of what’s great about humanity. Humans redeem themselves from the drone strikes and the homophobia with art. With culture. With culturalising each other. You can’t play enough music, you can’t open enough galleries. You should have access to good art, bad art, pretentious art, it should be everywhere all the time – there should be too much. Because there’s never enough.”
Rollins’ positivity did not extend to his ex-Black Flag bandmates, however. After explaining how he came to the realisation that he would never make music again, he went on to express some pretty strong feelings about the recently reformed group now touring as ‘Flag’.
“I just wish that those guys, with their lives, had been a bit braver. Because in my opinion, they just turned around and dumped on everything they’ve ever done. I think their lives are failures.
“That’s a harsh thing to say. But they took those battle hymns – those aren’t songs, they’re battle hymns – those weren’t shows, they were wars we went into – and they’re turning it into entertainment. And I’m so sorry they did that. I’ve thought about taking my Black Flag tattoo off many, many times.”
Listen to the whole interview above. You can find Henry Rollins’ remaining Australian tour dates here.