Henry Rollins is at it again, but then again, he hasn’t really stopped in the last 20 years. Rollins has accomplished more in his 39 years than almost anyone else will in their whole lifetime. As a teenager, he (along with his first band State of Alert or S.O.A.) was part of the now-legendary DC. hardcore scene that spawned a number of bands, such as his best friend Ian MacKaye’s Minor Threat, and laid the groundwork for other sub-genres, such as the straight edge scene.
In the summer of 1981, he was asked to take over vocal duties for his favorite band, Black Flag. They were a band that played by their own rules, not within the confines of what the punk scene (or anyone else, for that matter) wanted them to play. Later that year, they recorded the legendary Damaged album, which arguably created what is now known as hardcore punk. In 1983, the band released the incredible, highly underrated My War album, which owed more to Black Sabbath than it did to any so-called “punk” sound. Over the next few years, Rollins began his highly successful spoken word career, his own book publishing company (2.13.61 Publications), and honed his skills as one of the most intense frontmen in music to date. By 1986, Black Flag disbanded and Rollins was on his own.
He wasted no time, and by the fall of 1986, he had recorded his first solo album, Hot Animal Machine , and an EP called Drive By Shooting under the guise of “Henrietta Collins and the Wife Beating Child Haters.” He soon assembled a band from the rhythm section (drummer Sim Cain and bassist Andrew Weiss) of former Black Flag leader Greg Ginn’s instrumental side project, Gone, and longtime friend Chris Hassket on guitar. Over the next 10 years, the band relentlessly toured and recorded, while Rollins also wrote and published books and performed spoken word shows. In 1997, after 7 fantastic albums, Rollins disbanded the original Rollins Band and started, yet again, from scratch.
Never one to tread the same path twice, Rollins found a new sound with a new line-up for the Rollins Band. This time out, Henry’s picked up the lead from his childhood heroes the MC5, Thin Lizzy, and the Stooges, and created an album that is the brightest hope for rock and roll since albums like Raw Power or Kick Out the Jams . With their new album, Get Some Go Again , the Rollins Band may single-handedly resurrect the decaying corpse of rock.
First off, I want to tell you how great I think the album is. It wasn’t exactly what I expected from the Rollins Band, but then again, this is a new line-up. It’s not rock in the sense of top 40 rock at all. It’s like an MC5 or Thin Lizzy record. What was it that led to Henry Rollins making a full on rock and roll record like Get Some Go Again ?
Part of the reason I did the record exactly how I did [was that] I produced it and wrote a lot of the music for it, and I didn’t let it out until I was done. So there’s nothing where you have to turn the treble or do something to adjust it. It is exactly what I wanted to put out. For me, it was like the vaccine. It’s a record that I would have wanted to buy. I hear so much tepid music these days where I go, “you’re satisfied with that?! That rocks you?!” Because it doesn’t rock me. It’s too lightweight, and I wanted to make a record that you could play loud, and do what you should do when you hear a rock & roll record, wanna drive fast and break shit. That’s where I’m at. So this record is kind of a crystalline example of what I’m talking about. These days, I find a lot of the music that’s a big deal and I just don’t hear the “big deal.” I hear it and go, “oh well, today’s youth must be a bunch of pussies.”
I think the biggest problem is that people wait for the industry to tell them what is the “next big thing” instead of finding it for themselves. The music has become second and the marketing has become the first priority. The labels have their demographics and test marketing research to create what will sell the most. The other thing is that bands are willing to be marketed just for the chance to be on a major label.
Yeah, bands are willing to be shaped and marketed now more than ever. They’re just so happy to jump right in bed with whoever it is. That’s how the industry has finally swallowed up the music. Now, in my opinion, the industry dictates the art when the art should be dictating the industry. So we’re knee deep in it, but all is not lost. There are lots of great bands out there.
Unfortunately, bands seem to think that “rock” is a bad word.
It’s not a bad place to be. It’s done pretty great for me.
You seem to be having a great time with this band. Every time I read something or hear something from you about the band you seem to be really enthusiastic about the lineup and the music.
This band is a lot of fun.
Which is almost the opposite of the other Rollins Band stuff. The older songs seemed much more cathartic and emotionally intense, where this time, it seems like you’re having a really good time and enjoying yourself.
Yeah, the old stuff was very labored music with a lot of part-oriented music, where this stuff was put together very quickly, like stir-fry. Just throw it all in and BAM! it’s there. But yeah, we did have a lot of fun making it and the lyrics are less aggro and more upbeat than previous stuff.
I know that the three guys in the band now were actually a trio called Mother Superior before this band. How did you hook up with them?
They’re an L.A. band, and every once in awhile I’m in that city, and they’re friends of mine. At one point, they asked me to produce a record of theirs called Deep . So I said I’d be glad to.
What about them made you want to use them for the new line-up?
I watched how they worked in the studio. I saw how quickly they worked, like two takes. They were just on it. At the time, I was without a band and I had all these ideas. I said, “can I use you guys? Will you help me get these ideas like out of my head and onto tape? And if you have ideas for me that I think I could deal with, then write something and we’ll do that too.” They said great, so we just all got together in a practice room to see what would happen. At worst, you jam out, have fun, and go home. At best, you get a few songs out of the deal. We wrote “Get Some Go Again,” “Monster,” and something else the first night. By the end of the week, we had 8 songs. By the end of the next week, we were in the studio, and did 10 songs in 4 days.
You seem to be pretty prolific. I remember you saying you had something like two albums worth of material done already.
Well, there’s 24 songs in the can from that session. Then there’s 4 more that we did at Sun Studios.
That place just has so much history in it. What was it like recording in the same place that people like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins started out at?
It was cool. There’s something about that room that really captures something. All I have now are rough mixes. I’ll mix it in the next couple of months when I get back from doing some traveling that I have to do. It sounds cool. Very honest guitar sounds, very interesting guitar sounds on there. It’s very clear. I played it back, and I was like, “Jeff [guitarist], listen to how pure it sounds. It’s right there.” So there’s a bunch of songs from that, about a half-hours worth. There’s 5 new songs we were working on before I left to do these talking gigs I just finished up last night. There’s no shortage of jams. We’re going to be recording between tours this summer. We’ll have like two weeks off between these two different tours, and we’re just gonna go into the studio, and between tours, we’re just going to throw down the basics and get as much as we can done. Then we’ll hit the road again and come back and record more. Then in the fall, we’ll mix it all down, and that will be the new record.
It’s almost unheard of nowadays for a band to release two albums less than a year apart. In the past, it was practically industry standard to come out with a new album every 6 or 9 months, sometimes even more.
Well, there was a lot of record company pressure in those days. Like Brian Wilson always had someone down his neck, or Paul McCartney and people like that. Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra… everybody was just dropping records like a quarterly magazine. Everything’s slowed down now. I don’t think people today have the same talent at the same rate as they used to. I’d love to follow up quickly with another record. It was fun with this record because we weren’t overly pressured with any of it. If it sounded good to us, then that was good enough. We didn’t sit around and go, “well, maybe it needs something. We’ll let it sit for a year and then come back to it,” or, “maybe we should discuss it and find out why something didn’t work.” It was like, “did that rock you? It rocked me. Did it rock you? Well yeah! Well, I guess we’re done.” I never made a record like that before. We didn’t play sloppy. If someone blew out, we’d do the take again, but if it felt good, we’d listen and go, “okay, that’s whoopin’ some ass! Then it must be something we’re gonna put on the record.” It was very liberating to work like that. To write 3 songs in an evening.
You mentioned that you’ve never made a record like this. Is there a big difference in the way the old line-up and the new line-up work together?
It’s like night and day. I’m not saying one is better, but are they different? Absolutely. It’s very different working with these guys. With the old group members you’ve got some very serious musicians. The new guys are too, but in a different way. Take a song like “Shame,” which opened up the Come In and Burn album. That song would be in the pool of potential songs we’d record for a week. Then it would get kicked out for like 3 weeks. Then it would come back in with an arrangement change. Then it would get thrown back out again. In my opinion, the music was kind of getting killed a little at a time, where you take a fresh peach, and by the time it comes out, it’s a canned peach. You kind of lose something in the can and serve process. What I was going for this time around was just to bite into it and, “boy, that tasted good. Now let’s do something else.” Hoping that enthusiasm and kind of gleeful disregard would translate to the tape. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. So this was different than making any other Rollins Band record.
We used to write a song in 5 minutes, and I’d be like, “good, we’re done.” But then it would have to be torn down and evaluated. I just didn’t want to do that this time around. Come In and Burn we wrote for 16 months on and off. That’s to much time for me to spend in my life to write a rock album. I wish I could have done three albums in that time, or done an album, toured, and been onto the next idea. Rather than a year and some to write and a year and some to tour it. That’s just not 2 1/2 years I’m gonna do again.
How would you describe the style of the new material to people who haven’t heard it yet?
It’s in the spirit of Thin Lizzy, the MC5, the Stooges, the Dolls… where you’re just laying down the hard and heavy shit without a whole lot of regard to “Is it a single?” or “Is anyone going to like it?” Because quite honestly, I don’t give a fuck. Now more than ever, I don’t care. I never did much. A guy who sings like me isn’t much of a consideration. After seeing what’s out there and where music is going now, I don’t want to go along.
After listening to Get Some Go Again and going back and listening to Come In and Burn , it seems like a lot of the ideas you used on Get Some Go Again , you were also trying to get out on CIAB , but after being filtered through the old band’s ideas, they really didn’t make it to the finished product.
During that record ( Come In and Burn ), me and the guys started to have some musical differences. Not arguing or anything like, but we don’t listen to the same records. We’re very different in what we’re into. Like I’d put on a Thin Lizzy record on the back of the bus, and everybody would move to the front [laughs]. Just so not into it. So it was like that. Where on a song like “Starve,” one of the guys was riffing on that one day and I was like, “well, there’s a song. I’m outta my seat now! Let’s go!” I remember when we were working on a song on the record called “All I Want,” where Chris had the riff and he was playing it and I was like, “Whoa! Man that’s bad ass!” and he was like, “Ohhh come on. That’s sooo rock.” When he said that I was like, “Whoa. Did he just say that like rock’s a bad thing?” I go, “I think things are different now.” So I just had to accept that and that was that.
You and Rick Rubin (producer and owner of American Recordings) started Infinite Zero Records 4 or 5 years ago. The company was set up to re-issue out-of-print records, and you did re-release records from, among others, Alan Vega, James Chance, Devo, Flipper, and Trouble Funk. But a couple years ago, all of those records went back out of print. What happened with the label?
[Infinite Zero] was a division of American Recordings, which was under the umbrella of Warner Bros. So Rick got dropped from Warners, and they dropped Infinite Zero. I retained ownership of the things bought by Infinite Zero, and the masters that were licensed, I have for the remainder of the licensing time.
Do you plan on re-issuing any of the Infinite Zero records on your own label, 2.13.61 Records?
I’ll be putting out the Birthday Party stuff, which was already put out once by 2.13.61, in April, and probably the Trouble Funk stuff, which was originally re-released by Infinite Zero, in the spring or summer.
What about the Gun Club records that 2.13.61 re-released for a while a few years back?
That stuff’s coming back out again. It’s beautiful stuff. For me, Jeffery [Lee Pierce, singer/songwriter of the Gun Club] got better as he got older. His (the Gun Club’s) last album, Lucky Jim , I just love that record. There’s one album of his that I put out called Pastoral Hide and Seek that I think is magnificent, as is Mother Juno .
The Gun Club and Jeffery have a lot of other records, such as Miami and The Las Vegas Story , which have long been out of print. Do you think you’ll end up re-releasing those as well?
That stuff belongs to I.R.S. Records. His sister and I have made some inquires as to what’s up with that stuff on behalf of his mother. I forgot what conclusion she managed to come to, but she managed to come out of there with this DAT of all this unreleased studio stuff, and man, it’s amazing, and all this live stuff. Unfortunately, no one cares about the Gun Club. I mean, those records sold badly when they came out the first time, and they sold badly when I re-issued them. They’d ( Mother Juno and Pastoral Hide and Seek/Divinity ) never been released in America until I released them. No one cared that time, either. It’s a real heartbreak. It’s too bad when no one cares about good music because it’s not new or it’s not what’s on MTV. That’s when I kind of lose patience with America’s youth. They just don’t investigate anymore.
I remember growing up with a guy named Ian MacKaye (ex-Minor Threat/Fugazi), and we combed record stores just looking for different sounds. We discovered all kinds of stuff from punk to avant stuff. Our ears were inquisitive. We wanted to know. We were reading books by the bag. These days, people do what they’re told more than ever. They’re kind of programmed. Sony says push the pedal for the biscuit, and they do. Instead of going, “Wait a minute! Maybe what you’re doing isn’t cool.”
People have become so lazy about their entertainment that they just lie and wait to be told what they think is the next trend by businessmen and field market research.
Yeah! “Tell us what the next trend is.” It’s like, “well, kid, you should be telling them what the next trend is.” When Sony starts dictating culture, we’re all fucked. That just makes it all the more fun to be in a “real” band and be really outspoken. If you’re outspoken these days, you get hurt, because there’s so many people toeing the line. So many bands toe the line. I feel like a wild heretic. It’s cool, because while everyone else seems to be lying down, I’m having the time of my life.