Interview

Henry Rollins: He’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Traveller

From Movies to Music, he has done it all

By Rachel Packota
Published November 7, 2019
Henry Rollins: He’s A Mad, Mas, Mas, Mas World Traveller 1
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Henry Rollins may have slowed down the pace of his musical career, but that doesn’t mean that he’s been at a standstill. A constant traveler, Rollins continues to accelerate between destinations, both literal and figurative.

There’s no question, that as an actor, activist, poet, or punk, Rollins has never failed to unleash his uncompromising opinions on anyone willing, or unwilling, to listen. This January, Rollins set out on an ambitious string of international spoken word engagements which he has aptly dubbed The Frequent Flyer Tour.

Along the way, Rollins will share his professional experiences and personal insights with thousands of fans and detractors alike. He is making an appearance in be in Bruce McDonald’s newest film Dreamland hitting theatres in 2019 as crime kingpin Hercules. On the phone from California, Rollins was eager to talk with CGM Backlot about his upcoming projects, which comes as no surprise, are rooted in his straight-edge, nomadic lifestyle.

CGM Backlot: You have been many things in your career, but the one constant through it all has been your role as a traveller. How has spending the bulk of your adult life on tour affected your identity, or the way you view yourself in the world?

Henry Rollins: Well, that’s exactly it, ‘How I view myself in the world’. The world is my neighbourhood. Not all of it, of course. I know where I like to eat in Tokyo, and I have my favourite neighbourhood to stay when I’m in Melbourne. And these are things you earn by doing the miles and doing the time. ‘Pride’ isn’t a word I like to use, but I’m pretty stoked that I have earned that for myself. My worldview is world-sized. I like when I go to the airport because it means I get back to the world.

CGM: So, where do you get away from the world? What is your home base? Where you bounce back to in between trips?

HR: I’ve got a cool place to live. It’s solid, it’s not fancy, but it holds me. It’s got all my books and records, and a bed. And since mid-October, I’ve been in the building nine days.

Henry Rollins: He’s A Mad, Mas, Mas, Mas World Traveller
He Never Died (2015)

CGM: Considering the amount of time you spend on the road, I guess that’s really where you draw your experience from in terms of the subject matter for your work or spoken word tours.

HR: It informs the book, the photography, what I say onstage, sometimes how I regard my own country.

CGM: With that in mind, how do your travel experiences inform your Frequent Flyer Tour?

HR: Well, I have been travelling. I did ten weeks on my own before the tour started, just me and my camera and backpack, kind of limping around the world. Some of the show definitely addresses all of that. I was in Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, China, Bengal, Mali, and then on tour. All that was quite eventful, and so I’m definitely going to talk about that.

CGM: Considering that you get to share your views through Vanity Fair, on your radio show, and in your writing and photography, you have a lot of crossover capability. I’m wondering if you think of “Henry Rollins”, the persona you have cultivated, works as –

HR: – A corporation?

CGM: – Exactly. Do you feel yourself becoming more of a marketable media personality? And if so, what does that mean to you in terms of positive or negative effects?

HR: Well, one positive is that more doors open, and I can get places and do interesting work. The negative people will put you in the pejorative: ‘Oh, you’re one of those Homo-wood guys? Yeah, you’re some Hollywood guy.’ Ok, what? I live in Hollywood, and now my opinion doesn’t matter?

‘You’re a celebrity, why should I listen to you?’ Well, you don’t have to listen to me, or do anything. I don’t consider myself a celebrity, but I am to some. 

I don’t think about that. I drive my Subaru to the grocery store, and buy my own food. So there’s the potential to be marginalized by all of it, so I try and not to be. But the opportunities far outweigh some radio host with an attitude.

CGM: And now you get to travel for a living, and share your opinions to the world. Was there ever a moment, particularly maybe at the beginning of your career, where you anticipated that this would ever be a possibility for you?

HR: No. I never thought I’d ever be able to pay my rent.

Years ago, I needed a lawyer. I was going to be in a film and there was a contract.  Someone said, ‘Don’t sign it, man, have a lawyer look at it.’ And that lawyer [Gail Perry] became my manager. She said, ‘You need someone to look after you. You need some help.’ I said, ‘Yeah, actually I do.’

We were sitting in my tiny, dank room in this crap house I had rented part of, and she said, ‘Ok, What do you want?’ I said I need money. I got a band to pay, I’ve got expenses. I’m trying to get my book company happening. I need cash. Not so I can buy a Ferrari, but because I need to buy snare drum heads. I got a band here, and people need salaries because they’re paying their rent, too. I need to do the work [and] I need to not worry about the money all the time.

I need to lift the distraction of ‘I’m broke all the time’ so I can really wail on this work.   And she said, ‘Henry, money is not going to be your problem.’ And I said, ‘Gail, I’m going to be broke for the rest of my life.’ And she said, ‘You are going to have problems in your life, but you are going to be really rich.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you’re really funny.’  But she ended up being right.

Henry Rollins: He’s A Mad, Mas, Mas, Mas World Traveller 2
Dreamland (2019)

CGM: That moment with Gail, was that a watershed for you? Was that were you were able to kind of see some structure for what you wanted to do for other projects?

HR: She wanted to help me. She said, ‘Let’s look at the record label you’re on. Well, they’re not very good. Maybe we should get you to another label.’ 

She said, ‘You need an accountant. You don’t have an accountant. Where’s your chequebook? Where are your receipts for your little company?  You’re company doesn’t have an office… I was doing all this out of this bedroom, about the size of a bathroom, where I would roll my futon up under this desk where I would sit at and work all day.   I’m still working at that desk now.

CGM: Whether you are at that desk, or halfway around the world, you always seem to find the energy to explore new interests, and to share them with others. Where does that passion to connect with others come from?

HR: It’s a simple answer – I’m mad. I’m a mad person, and I’m pissed off. But my anger doesn’t make me hurt anybody. It doesn’t make me punch a dog, or something. It makes me go do a fundraiser for this, or go to that country because my president says ‘Be afraid [of them]’… But I can’t live in fear, life’s too short. That’s what I’ve been doing. It’s my anger and my curiosity that had pushed me forward.

CGM: Obviously, you do get recognized, and people do know who you are. But if someone doesn’t know much about you except for Black Flag perhaps, what could they expect from you, and your Frequent Flyer shows?

HR: Hopefully, they’ll walk away going ‘That was half as boring as I thought it would be!’  Maybe they’ll think it was pretty interesting, or add some perspective. Maybe it will lead to some interesting discussion, debate, or argument on the way home. Maybe the hubby hits the couch that night because the discussion about my show didn’t go that well on the drive back home. 

CGM: Generally speaking, do most of your audiences for the Frequent Flyer Tour have preconceived notions of your work? Or do they come to the show with open minds?

HR: Every night it’s whoever shows up, is whoever shows up. As far as who they are, I know them when I meet them. At the show they tend to laugh and clap, but it’s the feedback that lets me know how I’m doing.

I do answer the mail. I do stand out at the tour bus post-show. I answer every question and take every photo, and sign everything. Quite often it takes well over an hour while I’m starving and quite exhausted – but it’s worth it because they showed up, and that’s good enough for me. 

Henry Rollins: He’s A Mad, Mas, Mas, Mas World Traveller 3
Henry Rollins

CGM: If you had to chose, would you prefer to perform to rooms of complete strangers, or to legions of committed fans?

HR: I don’t really have an answer for that. I walk out every night, and they are all kind of strangers to me. What I’m really saying is that I’ll take on anything. I’m just happy they’re there… I used to do shows with Ozzy Osbourne. And he’d say, ‘Did anyone show up?’ Ozzy, there are 18,000 people out there! ‘Really?’ He just was amazed, and he never took it for granted.

CGM: I know you’ve been taking a lot of photos and journaling about the ten weeks you were either by yourself, or on tour. What is the eventual plan for this material?

HR: We’re working on a photo book. Hopefully it will be out next year this time, though that would be a miracle. It’ll be an essay on one page, and a photo on another. It will be a lot of writing, a lot of photos, and a lot of overhead costs.

CGM: Is there any particular theme that this book will focus on? How will it link back to your underlying identity as a traveller?

HR: Everywhere I’ve been in the last few years, I’ve taken photos. Photography’s fun when you know enough to go after something artistically, and when you see what a huge world it is.

It is very artistic, and I’m not an artistic person, but I’m able to get more of what I want to show you into a photo. I can bring it to you and go, ‘That’s what I saw, and that’s how I want you to see what I saw.’ And that took quite a while to get the mechanical prowess to match the intellectual desire.