The multifaceted artist discusses The Henry Rollins Show, his friendship with Ian MacKaye and the movie Feast
I got into punk rock at the age of twelve through the Repo Man soundtrack. Filled with such bands as Suicidal Tendencies and the Circle Jerks, I naturally also got into a song on the album titled "TV Party" by a band called Black Flag. Over the years I would listen to records like "Damaged," "The First Four Years" and "My War." The band may have had a few different singers and the argument continues over which one was the best, however, it would be hard to argue that the last singer is certainly the one who is the most well known.
Henry Rollins has had a varied career as a singer, actor, writer of books, owner of a publishing house (2.13.16 Publications) and most recently talk show host on the Independent Film Channel's The Henry Rollins Show. Featuring interviews with a host of mainstream and not so mainstream actors and directors, the show also provides Rollins a forum to break new bands, discuss his views on pop culture, politics and whatever else the other man in black feels like talking about.
At what point in your career, before you started doing your own TV shows, did the idea for something like The Henry Rollins Show begin to form in your mind?
Henry Rollins: It never did. Producers came to me. The guys at the production company, Swift River, they approached me. They said, "We have this idea for this film review show and we like you for the guy. Will you take a meeting?" I'm like, "Yeah! I'll take that meeting." Because I like film, I'm in film every once in a while and I said, "It's a meeting, what the hell?" I took the meeting. What they had to say, my manager and I, we were like, "Wow, that's pretty cool." "Alright, lets do a demo of it." We did the fifteen minute version and shopped it around and pitched ourselves, which is excruciating, there'll never be a shower that'll get that slime off of you.
We did that and the Independent Film Channel said "We like this idea. Here's some money, make a half hour version of the fifteen minute version that you showed us." We did that and they "hemmed and hawed" and thought about it for awhile and said, "Can you make a season of this?" I'm like, "Uh, yeah." So that was last year and they've given us another season and we're employed again. But it was never anything I would have come up with on my own.
As someone who seems to represent and support the DIY work ethic, does your way of working ever clash with the others on The Henry Rollins Show?
Henry Rollins: Every day. Just because I am not used to collaborating in this way, so it's been a growing experience for me. Also, I write a lot of the material for the show but I'm one guy and I can't write it all. So I now must rely on other people to write things for me that are going to come out of my mouth, with a heading, The Henry Rollins Show. I am used to Rollins Band Lyrics by Henry Rollins. A book by Henry Rollins written by Henry Rollins. So it's The Henry Rollins Show partially written by this guy, this guy and Henry Rollins. That's taking some getting used to. And to establish that trust, I'm growing into it and we discuss and argue, in a healthy way, all the time. It's never like, "F*ck you! I hate you!" It's more like, "Okay, this isn't working for me. We gotta tune this up." And we do. We work. TV, as you know, is a ton of work.
In putting together each show do you have a specific goal for each one? Or, maybe a personal goal for yourself?
Henry Rollins: Well, not outside of trying to make it really, really fascinating. Just to make your twenty minutes with us a regret-free environment. Where you go, "Wow, that was cool. Interesting guest. Interesting point of view," whether you agree with it or not, that's fair enough, "Wow, that was a cool band or that band really put my teeth on edge but boy, I'm gonna have something to argue about with my girlfriend at dinner." So we have twenty-five minutes to be compelling. That's the mission.
Is there a talk show host that you're modeling your style after for The Henry Rollins Show? Or, are you blazing a new trail?
Henry Rollins: No, I would never be innovative enough to "blaze my own trail," I'm just trying to be interesting. So I don't look to anyone else as far as inspiration. I don't watch talk shows really, sometimes on Lou Dobbs, the CNN-guy, who I like to watch he'll have guests on, but he's just kind of getting a point of view going amongst very wise people. So no, I'm just trying to bring on people I find interesting and just give them a bunch of questions, they can state their case for whatever audience is out there.
Did you always have it in your mind that you would have this varied of a career? Or, do you think one thing has lead another?
Henry Rollins: Desperation is the secret to my steady employment. I am not interested in downtime. I really like to keep working all the time and I always feel like I'm in the mail room of life; working up. I'm always looking upwards and looking forwards and so when someone says, "Hey, would you consider a TV show?" I say, "Hell yeah, I'll consider that. I'll check that out." I'm not gonna say "No" out of hand. And so things have come my way because I make myself available to it and I've been pretty damn lucky and I work hard. After awhile, every once in awhile, that takes you places.
I talked with Chuck Biscuits and Joe Carducci in 1997 and we got on the subject of what they were currently listening to, and it seemed to me that these two guys from your era of underground music had pretty much stopped keeping up on the underground scene. Yet, you seem like someone who has gone out of his way to keep up with it. What do you think has kept you coming back for more?
Henry Rollins: Well, I'm always interested in music. I might not necessarily be able to tell you what's going on in the underground rave scene or every internet metal band, but I try and keep up on what's happening. I have a radio show every week. I was at a radio station working for hours last night. Being at the radio station, other engineers and other hosts go, "Hey, have you heard this?" I'm like, "No, have you heard this?" "No, lets trade." And so I'm always getting that and I'm always on the internet looking and people send me things. I get letters where some guy goes, "Dude, I think you'd like this." And they turn me on to some website and I can listen to some music.
So I'm always looking, people are always presenting and I have found that every year of my life there's been great bands. All over the world, all the time. So when someone goes, "Music sucks now!" I'll go, "I don't think so. Not over at my house."
What's it like to have worked with Ian MacKaye all those years ago at Haagen-Dazs and look back now and see all that you two have accomplished and are still accomplishing?
Henry Rollins: Well, I've known Ian since I was twelve. We grew up together and we're still best friends. I talked to Ian the other day. I see Ian whenever I can. What's been great for me with all of that, quite honestly, is to watch Ian. The biggest inspiration in my life
is Ian MacKaye. I think he's one amazing dude. So he's been huge to me as far as an inspiration and an influence. It's amazing going through life watching this guy kind of get more and more amazing as he goes, in my opinion.
It's interesting because he cited Black Flag as blazing the trail that Fugazi was going down.
Henry Rollins: Well, I think a lot of bands, Minor Threat included, kind of chopped a path through the forest for a lot of bands that came afterwards. There's bands that came before your band that chopped some trees down. When Black Flag and DOA and all those bands were touring in the early 80s, it was kind of a forest and you just kind of got your way through it. Now it's like a six lane highway with Starbucks every twenty meters. That's just civilization. That's just times changing but there were some pretty intense moments out there the first time around.
Just because you get to a town and the mayor would show up, and the religious groups would show up and protest. And you're like, "We're Satanists? We're Starvationists is what we are. We're not eating everyday. So I don't know why you're trying..." I don't know.
Can you talk at all about your experience working on John Gulager's Feast? And do you have any idea when we might actually get to see that film?
Henry Rollins: No. I have no idea. I don't know and I'm not trying to say I don't care, but I sure don't pay attention in that I saw John the other day, John works on my show. John, when he's not working on other stuff, I saw John last week, he rolled camera on me all day, so I see Gulager all the time. He's a wonderful guy. But, after I wrap a film and I get paid I'm on to the next thing. There's nothing I can do to that film and I'm not looking for a career in the movie business. For me it's important, and I take the work seriously, but not myself. I just go in there to work my ass off and the director says, "That's a wrap on Henry." I go home and I get ready for the next thing to do.
When the movie comes out, what anybody thinks of it doesn't really matter to me. I don't go to the wrap party. I don't go to the premiere. Rarely am I asked. Rarely do I do film press because I'm so low on the food chain of the movie, and for me it's just this thing I did for four weeks before the next tour started. Until I saw John the other day, for all I knew Feast came out and went. And the only way I'd know is if... I get a lot of mail. A kid might write me and go, "Hey man, that movie blew!" (Laughs) So, that's how... oh, it must be out! That's how I know is when someone writes me and goes, "So what's up with that movie you were in?" But past that, I have no idea.
My manager actually saw it. And he said it was good.
I've heard great things about it.
Henry Rollins: My manager said, "Henry, you were good. You got laughs. You were funny. The monsters looked good." He goes, "There was really not any cringe factor. You're gonna be very happy when you see it." I'm like, "Cool!" You know, I'll never see it but that's cool anyway.
With everything that you've done, are you ever thinking about directing something?
Henry Rollins: No. I don't have that kind of eye. I don't have that kind of way of thinking. I've been around enough directors to know that I don't have that.
What do you have coming up next?
Henry Rollins: I'm doing a movie in June, Wrong Turn 2! As opposed to Wrong Turn 1. It's some kind of zombie film and the director I really like a lot. He's just a cool dude and he and I get along great; Joe Lynch. He's got a lot of energy. I like to be around people who are pumped up. And we're gonna have a good time up in Vancouver, all of June escaping blood thirsty zombies. Which is what you need... (laughs) So I'm looking forward to that.
And then after that I go on tour with my band in August and September. Which I'm looking forward to.
The Henry Rollins Show airs Saturday Night's at 10 PM ET/PT on the Independent Film Channel.