Exclusive: The Only Way To Know For Sure... Is To Ask Henry Rollins
By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, July 15, 2002 @ 1:16 PM
ROLLINS: There are a lot of things about it that bug me. First off, I disagree with the verdict and the way the boys were thrown in jail. Even if they were guilty, you canít just throw someone in jail for capitol murder because of some semi-retarded boyís forced confession -- not in America anyway. Thatís the thing that really bugged me. Howís this happening in my country -- the land of the free and the home of the brave? I remember being sixteen to twenty-five, and those were some pretty good years. Now those boys have spent that entire period of their life in prison with no good reason other than having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. After viewing the two documentaries, I got extremely angry and said, ďOkay, Iím in.Ē Right after that I contacted the West Memphis support group and asked what I could do to help. They said they needed everything, so I decided to get involved even though I had never done anything even remotely like this before. Iíve learned a lot so far. KNAC.COM: Did your involvement have anything to do with these three being perceived as outcasts within their community? After all, their appearance and the way they were dressed is believed by many to have been a huge factor as to why they were originally accused. Was there any part of you that said, ďthat could have been me?Ē
ROLLINS: Yeah, I can relate to that in a certain way. I mean, I think every sixteen-year old feels like an outcast for the most part, but having never been raised in anything other than big, glittering urban expanses where I never had to be guarded about being in rock music, causes me to have no concept of what that would be like. I mean, I canít relate to it in the sense that if you look that way, you risk being arrested. Thatís not going to happen in New York or Los Angeles or places like that. Metallica fans and Stephen King readers donít get arrested in Boston or places like that, but that doesnít seem to be the case in certain parts of Arkansas. Even at that, being an outcast is something every kid goes through -- thatís how you find yourself. KNAC.COM: Your involvement is pretty extensive here in that youíre also producing a benefit album comprised of various Black Flag songs and a variety of vocalists.
ROLLINS: Yeah, we did twenty-four Black Flag songs with all kinds of cool lead singers. We have the typical, the not so typical and some surprises, and it will be coming out in the fall. Many people very graciously lent their time to this. The managers werenít always so cool though, but the artists were always flat out great. KNAC.COM: Yeah, I read something about that where you said that you would ask an artistís manager about whether they wanted to participate only to find out that after hearing nothing for a long period, that the vocalist had never actually been approached.
ROLLINS: That happened. We sent videos, DVDs, print outs, cover letters and made a battery of calls over a three week period to the managers, only to have to eventually go through one of guyís buddies to get to the source. Then, after we did, the guy says, ďYeah, I want to do the record. What can I do? When can I do it? No one ever told me anything about it.Ē That just makes you want to go and kick some managersí asses. A friend of ours at Interscope told us at the beginning that we were going to have trouble with some of the managers because they arenít getting any money for this, and they might be resistant. More often than not, we found that to be true. The thing is, this isnít just some Black Flag tribute album where weíre all gonna get paid. The fact is, there are three kids in jail, and these are like, eighty-second songs, and the whole time youíve got some manager going, ďMy guy doesnít have time.Ē Itís like, ďMotherfucker, these guys have been in jail for a decade, and your boy doesnít have ninety minutes? Shut up, donít be such a pig.Ē The arrogance is just off the scale with some of these people. KNAC.COM: On your new live album, The Only Way To Know For Sure, there is a statement about the Ramones and what they meant to you. Can you state specifically what you took from them? What you may have learned from that band regarding the way you approach music or the way you conduct yourself on stage?
ROLLINS: Yeah, can you imagine playing that stuff when they first came out? These days, you and I have seen a lot of music come and go. You know, but when they came out, people were listening toÖ Toto! All those early New York bands were getting pelted at the time. Thatís pretty ballsy to go out there with such a vision where you really have to fend for your own. They kind of came from a vacuum while I sort of came into this furnished room that had been a log cabin. They definitely pioneered things, so bands in their wake can walk where they struggled. Iím sure every remaining Ramone can tell you some really horrible stories of everything from police intervention to religious groups coming down to keep them from turning their children intoÖ I donít know, freethinking individuals? You have to respect people who have a vision and follow through with it. KNAC.COM: The injustice is that they never achieved the type of wide spread acclaim that they deserved. Many bands pay them homage now because itís trendy, but their influence dictates that they just should have been bigger--
ROLLINS: I think time will bear that out. The first four records are timeless, and I think those are going to be records that people are going to continue to check out. I just wish Joe was around to see it. I think that whichever Ramones are left in twenty years are going to see that theyíre a band like Nirvana in that they will continue to be a part of the lexicon of bands that youíve got to check out. You know, when youíre young, somebody better hand you that CD. Thereís a lot to be said for that -- bands being ahead of their time -- people have to catch up with it. Everyone thinks Iggy Pop is cool now, but when he was with the Stooges, that was another band that people didnít get. It takes awhile sometimes. KNAC.COM: Do you think itís even possible for a band to have any type of heightened ideal or punk type aesthetic and still be on heavy rotation on MTV?
ROLLINS: At this point, itís doubtful. No -- weíll put it this way, I have no evidence to support that. Just from hearing what Iím hearing, it sounds like well-adjusted music made by well-adjusted people. It just gets really boring. KNAC.COM: Does it bug you then when a band like Green Day continues to cling to the belief that theyíre punk?
ROLLINS: No, because when I was in Black Flag, Ginn and Dukowski, those guys thought everyone was a poser except maybe for the Ramones, Ted Nugent and Black Sabbath, John Coltrane and the bands on SST. Greg Ginn categorically hated the Sex Pistols. He thought the Clash were posers. I love the Clash. He even hated the Damned, but he hated all this and just thought that punk rock was a bunch of guys with eyeliner. We all listened to the Stooges, MC5 and the Velvet Underground, so if a band like Green Day called themselves punk, weíd just go, ďOh, that means their drummer isnít very good.Ē Thatís what punk rock in a broad sense means to me -- just that the rhythm section is for shit. KNAC.COM: Then what youíre saying is that people can go too far trying to define what punk is---
ROLLINS: No, what Iím saying is that I donít care. Green Day is a good pop band. They have good songs and good playing. Punk rock to me though is something that flies in the face of whatís going on. Green Day just kind of came in, and everyone liked them. Good for them, but it isnít the type of thing Iíd be keeping my daughter away from--actually I would. If I had a kid theyíd be listening to Led Zeppelin IV, then if she came home with a Green Day record, sheíd have to go back to her cage. There is no Green Day in Hankís house. KNAC.COM: Well, is there a part of you that resents having to tour so extensively because you donít get the exposure of a band like Green Day or someone who gets a lot of attention from video or radio?
ROLLINS: No, I resent having to be home for the last thirteen weeks. Thatís what I resent. Iíve averaged 106+ shows per year for the last twenty-two years. Iíve done more shows than Kiss. We looked it up. Have to tour? No, I GET to tour. A band that doesnít like to tour, I am really loathe to see play because thereís somebody in that band whoíd rather be home. When I go to a gig, Iím hoping for $18.50 or $22.50 worth of quality. I would hope they would want to be on stage and not acting up there. KNAC.COM: My guess is that from listening to you is that your reasons for touring are different from some of the other bands out there.
ROLLINS: Weíre not touring for record sales because if we tour or donít, our records donít sell anyway, so we just like to play. I wish I was playing tonight, and Iím sure everyone in my band wishes we were playing tonight. KNAC.COM: Many musicians often look at the actual performance as being secondary to all the peripheral activities that are going on in the rest of the day or the night whether they be parties or chicks, whatever. Youíve never really dabbled in the typical rock clichť of touring, why do you think that is? I mean thatís the primary reason many join a band in the first place.
ROLLINS: I was never really interested in the drug thing or the alcohol thing. I just never liked it, and I was always in bands where the live show was the main thing. Whereas the studio records were a pain in the ass, the live show was what we wanted to get right. Studio records are a dinosaur bone, as soon as you get done with them, theyíre just fossils of what you were six months ago. Since there was never radio potential for a single or anything, we never even thought that way because we just wanted to make the best sounding record we could and get the hell out there so we could go where we belongedÖ on the road. KNAC.COM: How much prompting did the record company have to do to convince you that this live album would enhance your legacy of consistently motivated performances?
ROLLINS: They really loved the band as a live unit. The thing was, these days so many bands have trashed the traditional live album by turning in super overdubbed, really tame-sounding live albums. I wouldnít want to have that perception that I was just trying to gouge our audience or fan base for money. Which a lot of the time, thatís what a live album is. They throw it out for Christmas, and itís like theyíre going for your pockets. I donít need it, and I donít want our people to think of us that way. The record company came and said that they didnít see us that way and that they thought of us as a really solid live unit. Their enthusiasm really had an effect on me. Itís rare to get enthusiasm from a record company these days. Being at DreamWorks was like five years of corporate apathy. I was wondering why they signed me if they were so disinterested upon receipt of masters. KNAC.COM: Like no feedback on new material--
ROLLINS: You canít get it back. You become a pariah. You were goods that were tried, and you failed. Youíre a leper now. Maybe that guy they drop is two albums away from his potential. I love that story of Shaggy getting dropped off Virgin, he signs to the next label, and itís five million sold. Itís like, ďThanks, thanks for the faith, Virgin.Ē If they would have just hung out for another eighteen months, all would have been laughing. KNAC.COM: Thatís not uncommon though. Most labels wonít stick with an artist.
ROLLINS: No, it isnít. Iíd never want to go to back to a major. I was there from Ď92 to about Ď97 or something, and man, Iím glad itís over. KNAC.COM: Iíve talked to musicians who have said to beware of someone who says that selling records isnít important, yet talking to you, thatís the impression Iím getting.
ROLLINS: Iím a player. I love to go out and play. I would hope people would go out and buy our records. When they do, they usually go, ďThat was a damn good record.Ē KNAC.COM: Do you think that having less fans as long as they were completely devoted would be better than having three million or so half-assed ones?
ROLLINS: Letís play Nostradamus for a minute. Next year will there be another Rollins Band record and a tour? Oh yeah. Will there be another Smashmouth record and tour? I donít know. How many more Korn records? How many more Limp Bizkit records? Five more years for the Stone Temple Pilots? Longevity tells the tale. KNAC.COM: When you have those long-term goals, the short term seems to be pretty steady and it doesnít vacillate as much.
ROLLINS: Thereís two ways to think about it. If youíre a money dude, then youíre up and down. If youíre Neil Young, itís ebb and flow. You have a record that does okay and then you have another where no one hears it, like that one he just did, that seemed to slip away. Well, I get the idea that Neil probably doesnít care because heís already looking toward the next album because heís a player. People get that about him. He isnít selling out the forum, but heís been around for the last twenty-five to thirty-five years. Iíll bet heíll be around for another ten just doing his thing, and you can take it or leave it. Thatís the thing I admire about these people is that they stay inspired and they go long. The long distance to me is more important than the brightly shining star that burns out in three years. All that type of career tells me is that youíre a corporate toy and you never really had the guts to go long and play until you were ugly and back in the clubs. You get to see who still loves it when their fame has gone away. No one stays big forever unless youíre Ozzy or Frank Sinatra. Those are very rare cases where youíre that lucky and everyone digs you until youíre eight hundred years old. KNAC.COM: Speaking of bands who just continue to play, Cheap Trick had done a live album at the Metro just a couple of years ago, and they seem to be another case of a band who just loves to play even after the public accolades are gone.
ROLLINS: They still sound good. We played with them last summer, and they were smokiní. KNAC.COM: Thatís a band that doesnít need to do that anymore unless itís something they just really want to do.
ROLLINS: They just love playing. These types of bands used to be a lot more common years ago. Bands like the Doobie Brothers, Chicago and Foghat, laugh if you will, but these guys used to tour and play and they were just like these ugly guys who played really well. They werenít these kind of video stars who are always getting sued or suing or quitting. These were long term guys and gals who wanted to keep playing because itís what they did. These days you donít see that as much. Talk to Axl Rose about the flame out. Cheap Trick just keeps playing, and the set is really good. Zander still hits the notes, and it is really amazing that he doesnít cheat and go under the notes. When we played with them last summer, we all just stood on the side of the stage and went, ďDamn, Iím gonna pull out my Cheap Trick records tomorrow.Ē I did too, and they still sound great. KNAC.COM: You never get the feeling they are going through the motions either. I mean, theyíve done it all a million times, but they remain enthusiastic about their show.
ROLLINS: No, theyíre having fun. We have fun pretty much every night weíre out on tour, too. I mean, youíre living on the road, so some nights youíre tired if youíve got a cold or something, but after the third song youíve got some smiling faces there, and thereís no place youíd rather be. On nights off, you miss it, and when you come home from tour, you really miss it. KNAC.COM: Is there a difference though sometimes between trying to have a career that lasts and has some longevity versus one that just overstays its welcome? There are many Ď80s bands who garnered a great deal of their success through videos and the looks of the band members and who are now going on tour this summer. Can you categorically state that they are on stage because they want to be, or are they performing due to other considerations?
ROLLINS: I think they got used to a lifestyle that takes a lot of money to support because if you really loved it, you wouldnít have gone away from it for ten years. You only reconvene after a divorce because youíre running the risk of having to sell your big house. Thatís why Rush does a new album every couple of years -- they never break up because itís a real band. That new Rush album is pretty damn good, too. You know, when Poison or Ratt gets back together -- Iím not putting these bands down -- but I really got to wonder what the motivation is. Itís like, ďYeah, we really want to play, and I really think that weíre all cleaned up from rehab and our solo projects really did suck. Now, our collective managers and ex-wives really want us to go back on the road.Ē KNAC.COM: The fans are the ones who pay the price when thatís the case, too.
ROLLINS: Yeah, I wouldnít come back and go, ďIím broke. Itís the Rollins Band again,Ē or ďItís Black Flag time.Ē It would just be too gross. Our fans are a pretty cynical lot, and I think if I tried that, they would land on me with their talons out and sink it into my flesh if I dared try to perpetrate such a fraud. KNAC.COM: What do the spoken word albums fulfill that the making of your music doesnít? What are you able to do that youíre not able to within the context of a song?
ROLLINS: Well, a lyric is a pretty compressed statement, and I enjoy working within that because it takes some skill, but there are a lot of things that donít work for me as a song lyric that I still want to write about. You can use a lot more words and paint a bigger picture often with a different type of writing style. Itís extremely challenging. Words are very difficult to put together, like when you read a good book; that is an amazing thing. Iím still more in awe of a good book than a good record because itís just a lot more involved. Youíre on your own. KNAC.COM: Would you say that because writing is a process where there isnít instant gratification, that it makes it more personal?
ROLLINS: Writing is horrible. KNAC.COM: It can be very alienating.
ROLLINS: It is excruciating. The better you get at it, the worse it is for you. If you ever meet someone who writes novels, they usually turn out to be really shitty people because their job sucks. They just sit in a room and beat themselves up all day silently. I donít think Iíve ever met a good writer who is very friendly because their job is just fucked. KNAC.COM: Yet they seem to get addicted to it to a certain extent.
ROLLINS: If I were really good at it, itís probably all I would do. I would really love to be able to write like some of my heroes like F. Scott Fitzgerald or whatever. Thatís why writerís biographies are so interesting to me because their lives are usually such a shambles. The prose it beautiful, but theyíre drinking themselves into oblivion. Their home life is in flames. KNAC.COM: Thatís true pretty much from Poe and Twain on down the line.
ROLLINS: Yeah, I think that real music and real writing is hard on the person and the people around them. To me, the writing has always been good for me because Iím sort of a solo guy. Iím not a very social person, so the writing is something you can do on your own. KNAC.COM: I think it is because you can do that alone that it gets to the point where the author thinks, ďGee, you know I shouldnít be watering the grass or going grocery shopping because I should be writing.Ē
ROLLINS: You shouldnít be going to parties, you should be writing. KNAC.COM: Exactly, itís like any other activity they could engage in becomes secondary to the writing process, and they end up not wanting to do it.
ROLLINS: Well, thatís a purity that few people would understand, and I agree with everything you just said. It is a difficult thing.
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